Pitching a Big Tent in Texas: TREIA Board President Melissa Miller
The renewables revolution in Texas is touching all ends of the spectrum. In this first in a series of profiles of TREIA members, aimed at capturing the true lives and stories of our states’ renewables leaders, we embark to catch up with the energizer-bunny of our organization, Melissa Miller.
As members learned in the April TREIA newsletter, the Board elected it’s President in February - Melissa Miller. Melissa agreed to be profiled but we had to twist her arm. She always wants to bring it back to the great team and members around the state. As President, Melissa leads an energetic new board that is committed to the mission of 50% renewables in Texas by 2035.
Miller’s depth and breadth of experience in the wind industry has earned her plaudits and support from across the industry. She has been actively involved with wind development for over a decade, back when Texas had practically zero wind resources developed. Miller’s first project involved securing a 37-mile transmission line for a project, and she remained involved with that specific undertaking for a ‘two-year tour of duty,” doing everything from performing mechanical inspection climbs, to knocking on the doors of various landowners, to being the last person completing the project punch list.
According to Melissa, the Texas energy economy is full of possibility. Here is a refresher on where Texas is today in terms of Renewables adoption: The Global Wind Energy Council statistics show that if Texas were a country, it would be the fifth largest host for wind energy and about to nudge Spain out of the way for fourth place. Add to that, 4.5GW of solar under construction in 2018, and tens of thousands of megawatts (MWs) of solar energy to be built in the coming years. Additionally, now the residential and local level energy efforts are really sizable – there are over 100MW of Distributed Energy Resource projects in the State of Texas today.
A conversation with Melissa Miller
The Texas clean energy economy is booming, and Miller wants to ensure that TREIA continues its role as a convener and collaborator across the various groups that make up the ‘renewables industry.’ TREIA has a big tent of members – not just solar installers and renewables industry, but also the construction and energy efficiency sectors, cities, environmental groups, investor-owned utilities as well as city-owned and member owned utilities.
I caught up with Miller as she was in the middle of a four-hour drive coming back from a project. As her pick-up (if you are out knocking on doors signing up land for wind and solar farms, it helps to have a pick-up) ate up miles of Texas asphalt, we discussed Miller’s background, her commitment to TREIA and the renewables space, and the vision she and the board have for TREIA in 2018 and beyond.
Communicating the value of renewables as an economic development tool
These days, as a Project Development Manager for EDF Renewables, Miller’s job is to oversee everything related to project pre-construction, which covers a broad range of activities. Much of this effort involves coordinating with landowners to negotiate terms and obtain development rights, discussing tax abatements with local authorities, and ensuring that the projects involve as much local content - from local contractor labor to purchases of concrete and fuel – as possible. That helps with community buy-in and creates positive economic ripple effects.
In our conversation, Miller’s passion for renewable energy also quickly became evident. She’s been involved in about 1,000 MW of wind development so far, which translates into 3,000 to 5,000 lease negotiations. Miler observed that seeing the economic boon to local landowners – in some cases protecting them from having to sell off land during recent droughts – has been perhaps the most rewarding part of the job.
“I see the benefits of turning dirt farmers into wind famers. Those are real jobs we are saving. Being in an energy space that has positive benefit to the environment, while also having economic benefits, makes sense.
Miller cautioned that a common-sense approach is important in evaluating energy resources. To succeed, renewable energy technology has to be economically sustainable as well.
“It’s not enough to do something just because it feels good. It has to actually be viable. It is important to create sustainable change – not just for the environment but for the economy.”
Communications and purposeful storytelling
That pragmatic passion – and her ability to communicate and effectively connect the dots - translates into her work at TREIA, where she has been active since 2002 and is now in her third year as board president. At its essence, TREIA is all about making connections and communicating the value of the new energy economy to all who will listen. Miller wants to help TREIA become increasingly inclusive and create ‘one big tent for the renewable energy sector and storage, energy efficiency, and smart cities.’ TREIA is a ‘connector and convener.’
TREIA has been a communicator as well, with a newsletter that has always been a place to find relevant news of interest. This year, Miller and the board intend to place more emphasis on TREIA’s role in highlighting the successes and challenges of the industry, and investing in what she calls ‘purposeful storytelling.’ The goal of this initiative, she noted, is to create meaningful content on the website in the form of stories,
“adding commentary and context. This will create an even more interesting evolution and sharing of that information. We are well beyond wind energy 101. Nobody wants that anymore. You can Google that. We want to get to the next level of information, to synergize sectors to work together because we are creating new things.”
Miller and specific members of the board are creating a campaign of stories that will cover the industry from various perspectives, highlighting the activities of members, and addressing issues of interest and concern. These narratives will ultimately tie into TREIA’s annual jewel in the crown: the GridNEXT conference, and they will help serve TREIA’s goal of pitching a bigger tent to invite all comers from the state’s sustainable energy community.
Miller’s goal is to see TREIA become even larger and more robust in the coming years. Her message during our conversation was clear: Everybody is welcome to join and become involved and – like much of life – one gets out of it what one invests into it.
“There are a lot of great places to get involved, from data and policy, to luncheons and webinars, to helping with GridNEXT. It’s a place to cross-pollinate, network and share ideas, and a very rich environment for real relationship building. It’s highly motivated people that want to work on projects together. They don’t get involved because their company told them to. It’s because they genuinely want to be involved.”