Do you have an interest in puzzles? Do you like to figure out how something works? That’s where it all started for Sarah Wright. Driven by this curiosity, Sarah became involved with science in school and followed a related career path. Today, she is the founder of Utah Clean Energy and one of the women honored by Women of Wind Energy. WoWe recognized Sarah “for her accomplishments in promoting wind, renewable energy, and efficiency within her state. She effectively fostered diverse partnerships with state agencies, municipal governments, industry, agriculture, and community groups to advance clean energy solutions, and serves as an intervener in regulatory proceedings and a witness in legislative hearings. She also serves on the governor’s Energy Advisory Council and the Blue Ribbon Advisory Council on Climate Change.” ATETV caught up with Sarah this week to discuss her career further.
What is your background?
I have a BS in Geology from Bradley University, Peoria, Illinois and a Master of Science in Public Health from the University of Utah.
How did this lead to your career in renewable energies specifically? Why did you choose this area?
My career path to renewable energy was not exactly direct. My first job out of school was exploration geology for oil, gas and coal. From there I went back to school and then moved into environmental, ambient air quality and occupational health consulting serving industry partners across the West for 15 years. When my son was about two years old, I finally followed my passion, quit my stable consulting job and started exploring ways to utilize my project management, science, industry and regulatory expertise to help create a more sustainable energy industry framework.
This was in 2000 and anyone that was remotely watching energy issues in 2000-2001 remembers the California Energy ‘crisis’ and Enron debacle that had ripple effects across the entire West. At that point many Utah voices were promoting building more coal plants and transmission lines as the best solution to our energy challenges. Seeing a better way, I stepped in and started volunteering in the energy policy and utility regulatory arenas advocating for energy efficiency and renewable energy. I received incredible support and mentoring from clean energy advocates across the West and ended up starting Utah Clean Energy, a non-profit, non-partisan public interest group committed to stopping energy waste, driving clean energy development and building a smart energy future.
What is it like to run your own business?
Given that my business is running a non-profit working to advance clean energy, an issue that I’m passionate about, I love my job. A key for me was knowing my strengths and weaknesses then building a well-rounded team of passionate, smart and extremely capable people and empowering them to excel in whatever role they play for the success of the organization’s mission to lead and accelerate the clean energy transformation with vision and expertise.
What characteristics do you think make you successful in both (as an entrepreneur and as a scientist)?
Honestly, I don’t get to do much science these days. But what makes me successful as a social entrepreneur might be my ability to see the big picture, examine how it all fits together and what levers need to be pulled to facilitate the changes necessary for success. Passion, perseverance, patience and belief in humanity also helps.
Tell us about the Utah Wind Power Campaign?
The Utah Wind Power Campaign is in flux right now. It was a project of Utah Clean Energy, Utah’s State Energy Program in partnership with the Department of Energy’s Wind Powering America Program working collaboratively in a number of arenas to advance wind development in Utah. Due to funding cuts, Utah Clean Energy’s work to advance wind power is now focused on regulatory and policy advocacy to ensure that wind power competes with other energy sources on a level playing field.
It must have been frustrating to have the funding cut. Can you tell us where you see progress being made in the field?
It is unfortunate that some priorities have changed, but we are still making progress removing barriers and ensuring wind competes on a level playing field with other resources in utility planning, procurement, grid access and integration.
How has being a female contributed to your professional experience? What are the related challenges/ opportunities?
Being a professional woman offers both opportunities and challenges. As a change maker, working collaboratively, listening and understanding different perspectives and being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes are critical to success, regardless of gender. On the flip side, there are times when you need to be firm and stand your ground, and I admit that I have been intimidated in certain situations and sadly there is a segment of our society that is uncomfortable with strong women and views them in negative light.
Based on your experience- as a woman, entrepreneur, scientist and leader- do you have any advice for those just starting out? What keeps you going?
Follow your passion, network, don’t be afraid to ask for help and mentoring and keep at it.
If you could do it all over, would you make the same choices? Why? Why not?
I would have taken the leap sooner, left my stable consulting position and followed my passion to create a better future earlier in my career.
Sarah created opportunity for herself by applying her skills and talents to help solve a problem and address a greater need. Think you might also be interested in a career in renewable energy? Why not check out the American Wind Energy Association? They offer up-to-the-minute information on careers, education and industry. Some of which may be just what you need to help you get started!