Valerie Kitchell - Renewable Energy Specialist | MBA Candidate

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Tell us a little about yourself and the journey that led you to renewable energy.

Valerie has been an active member in the renewable energy industry for the past decade. She’s worked with the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association (OSEA), and has been Manager of Renewable Energy Approvals at wpd Canada Corporation, a large-scale renewable energy developer with a global presence. Val has worked both sides of the coin, as an active policy advocate, and on the development side under the Ontario Green Energy and Green Economy Act. But before she entered the renewable energy industry, Val’s academic interests were moving in a seemingly very different direction – studying health sciences, she had planned to practice medicine. Partway through, it became clear it wasn’t what she wanted to do with her life; job shadowing in the field made her realize it wasn’t for her. She was still largely interested in health and overall well-being, but came to terms that the field of medicine wasn’t the “day-to-day” she was looking for.

From there, Valerie adjusted her academic course, looking at environmental health in First Nations communities. In re-examining her academic priorities, Val had taken the time to think about her next steps – having spent her formative years in Toronto, she was driven to better understand Canadian society more broadly, and quickly became interested in environmental health in First Nations communities. In examining the social determinants of health, Val learned about the connection between human health and energy sourcing; for remote Aboriginal communities for example, reliance on diesel generation can have profound long-term consequences.

On her new career path, Valerie discovered and joined the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association (OSEA); she conducted research on environment and energy policy, which was focused primarily on procurement policies such as the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) at the time. Ontario was positioned to become a North American leader, and Valerie wanted to engage with these ideas and policies. She did research for the Green Energy Act Alliance, then did work for the World Wind Energy Association. From there, she had the opportunity to connect her FIT research with community power, learning from sector leaders across Europe, engaging ideas about how local communities and groups could play a part in our renewable energy future. As a consultant for OSEA, Valerie focused initially on stakeholder engagement within the context of a renewable energy future for Ontario. Coming on board as Special Projects Manager, her time with OSEA included a wide range of projects including the first Community Power Conference; by then, Val’s experience with a non-profit was extensive, and she felt ready to make the next step in her career.

Working in the Wind Industry

With continued exposure to renewable energy development, Valerie’s interest in the design and implementation of solar and wind projects led to her taking on a position with wpd Canada, a large-scale renewable energy developer. It was a natural next step for Val, who was deeply interested in fully understanding how the policies she had worked with translated into a real-world development. As part of the Renewable Energy Approvals permitting department, Val quickly discovered that navigating the private sector came with its own surprises and challenges. The breadth and extent of stakeholder interests, and finding ways to connect and give voice to all communities was an inspiring challenge. At wpd, Val’s interest in renewables continued to flourish, as she learned the ins and outs of wind project development, and associated evolution of government policies and regulations.

Looking Forward

Nearly a decade after the implementation of the Green Energy Act, its become clear that the development of wind energy in Ontario has been a rewarding and challenging process. For Val, having had her finger on the pulse of public sentiment toward renewable energy, she stresses that the development and implementation of these kinds of policies must include the time and energy required to consider all voices, and make sure the benefits and their distribution are laid out in a concrete and clear manner throughout periods of transition. Val emphasized the importance of respecting not just the facts but the form of the message, while always striving to improve one’s understanding of existing beliefs on all sides and continuously informing one’s actions. Through her experiences within the sector, Valerie has grown increasingly interested in systems and the science of change, and continues to contemplate new ways forward.

Involvement with WiRE:

Valerie and WiRE co-founder Rebecca Black met while they were both working for OSEA. Together, they had started Women of Wind Energy (WoWE), with the intention to identify and leverage the opportunities available to ensure the growth of a strong, diverse, and equitable industry. Val continues to advance the cause through WiRE, with a focus on highlighting the contributions of exceptional women in the sector. Valerie was involved in establishing and currently organizes the Woman of Distinction awards, which recognize outstanding women in solar, wind and the energy sector as a whole: it is a way to recognize and celebrate women in the industry, increase their visibility, and inspire other women and men to pursue careers in a sector that demonstrates high standards of diversity. Val is excited to see an increase in the number of nominations of exceptional individuals; it’s a demonstration of continued growing support of successful women in the field.

With her wide breadth of experience, we asked Valerie to talk about what motivates her to take part in industry organizations. Here’s what she had to say:

1)   Being passionate and a believer in renewable energy and environmental protection, Val wants to give back, and support the necessary shift towards a robust low carbon economy

2)   From Val’s university and research path through health, to First Nation communities, to renewable energy, it’s no surprise Val emphasized the importance of being engaged on a broader level, not just one narrow sector.

3)   Val and the WiRE team want to see the sector develop sustainably, with diversity and gender equity as a pillar of the new energy workforce.

4)   Val is also driven by the desire to elevate others. WiRE’s speed mentoring and networking events help women grow their networks, and gives them the opportunity to connect to and learn from other professionals in the industry.

To Val, the importance of personal acts sends a ripple through both professional and personal networks and relationships. A single act can inspire the spark of a hundred more. Increasing exposure to others’ ideas can provide guidance in your personal life, and help you find likeminded people. In offering advice to people who are looking to join the energy sector, Val reminds us how important it is to overcome our fear of what we don’t know. In all aspects of our lives, we’re learning all the time, and we shouldn’t be afraid to draw wider circles to include new spaces and ideas that challenge us. There are a number of competing and intersecting paths to achieving a sustainable future, and these draw on diversified skills and a wide-range of expertise – opportunities may be found in unconventional places.

By Jennifer Ng, WiRE Volunteer