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Doreen Harris President and CEO of NYSERDA

A Chat With NYSERDA President Doreen Harris

The Future of Clean Energy Jobs and a Reflection on Diversity and Progress in the Industry

Doreen M. Harris has served as NYSERDA’s President and CEO since April 2021, after serving as Acting President and CEO since June 2020. Previously, President Harris spent over a decade advancing clean energy development as Vice President of Large-Scale Renewables at NYSERDA.

To commemorate Women’s History Month, President Harris joins us to discuss her experience entering the clean energy industry, role models who helped shape her career path, and the future of clean energy jobs in New York.

What inspired you to pursue a career in clean energy?

I've always been interested in technology. I started with a strong focus in science and technology in high school, where I competed in various competitions around science and engineering. The Science Olympiad was one of my favorite things to do in high school, where I became a master entomologist and a world rally champion.

From high school all the way to today, I have been interested in solutions that can improve people's lives. And when I think about clean energy, it represents just that – an opportunity for engineers like me, and people all over the world, to deploy technologies that can provide impact. Our homes are more efficient, and therefore we're more comfortable. We have transportation solutions that are cleaner and more fun. I’d say that's the exciting thing to me, that we are contributing to change, and I would say a change for the better.

What has your experience been as a woman working in the clean energy industry?

President Harris speaks at PUSH Buffalo West Side Homes groundbreaking event. President Harris speaks at PUSH Buffalo West Side Homes groundbreaking event.

President Harris speaks at PUSH Buffalo
West Side Homes groundbreaking event.

College is where I realized clearly that I was not in the majority in the engineering field.

I remember in my first engineering class at the University of Rochester that out of sixty students, there were only six women. That’s a challenge that I internalized and try to think about in my day-to-day work, because it matters that you see yourself in the industry that you’re joining. And it’s true in our work today that we need to build up the capacity of many diverse people to build into the clean energy industry.

Women are still underrpresented today in fields related to technology, engineering, and the clean energy industry. But we do see improvements over time. I myself am represntative of that. Starting in a world where I was lucky to have 10% of my engineering classmates as women, we now really see more equal representation in these fields. So we’re filling the pipeline of diverse candidates to build this industry into the world that will bring us into the next century. There’s still more work to do, but I’m pleased by the greater representation I see in graduating classes and the industry today.

Are there any role models who played a pivotal role in your career?

During my time at the University of Rochester, an incredible role model for me was an engineer named Kate Gleason. She is a mechanical engineer and someone who really inspired me through the ways in which she applied her technical thinking to expand the field and raise up women in the industry. Her contributions were felt across the Rochester area and in the Society of Women Engineers, an organization I was proud to be a part of as well.

Another incredible role model, here at NYSERDA, is someone who took me under her wing when I came on board in 2010. She’s now retired, but her name is Janet Joseph. She’s a scientist, and someone who is still working in the clean energy field. She’s someone who took the time to help me grow in my career and explain how more diversity in this industry is going to help all of us in growing clean energy writ large.

What do you see as the key jobs of the clean energy future?

President Harris visits South Fork Wind President Harris visits South Fork Wind

President Harris visits South Fork Wind's
first turbine installation

As we continue along the path of New York’s clean energy transition, we’re looking at hundreds of thousands of new clean energy workers coming into our economy.

Of note, we see current and future job growth in the buildings sector stemming from our investments and the work to decarbonize New York’s homes and buildings. But I’d say in many cases, all workers will see themselves as clean energy workers, whether it be installers, accountants, engineers like me, or attorneys. It runs the gamut because it is going to become part of our broader economy.

Additionally, I’m really excited about the ways in which we’re growing the diversity of New York’s clean energy workforce. NYSERDA conducts an annual study, the New York Clean Energy Industry Report, which is a multi-year, longitudinal study of clean energy workers across New York’s economy. We look at the jobs numbers across sectors and track the areas of expansion, as well as the diversity within our clean energy workforce.

We’re seeing increased representation of all forms of diversity within clean energy. But as we look to the future, it remains a huge opportunity for continued growth.

What advice do you have for aspiring and early-career clean energy professionals?

I tell everyone I can that clean energy is the place to be, including my own children, because it is such a growing sector of our economy and an opportunity to contribute to your community. From both a mission and economic perspective, it’s an extraordinary space to be in for people of all skill sets.

We have a need for deep decarbonization of our economy that opens opportunities of all kinds for people to contribute in tangible ways. We’ve only just scratched the surface on this work, and I look forward to seeing what new entrants to the field and future generations will bring.

Thinking back to when you started at NYSERDA 14 years ago, what developments in clean energy have surprised you the most?

I joined NYSERDA in 2010 at a time we had just installed some of our first renewable energy projects across New York State and we were just learning about the potential renewable energy would have in the expansion of our goals, but also the change in our economy.

Where I sit today, I would say the biggest surprise to me – and it’s a good surprise – is the pace of change, not only with respect to the ways the industry has responded with new technologies, but also cost reductions that help us deploy these technologies at scale. Typically, this level of transformation is achieved over generations, rather than something we may contribute to and witness in our own lifetime. We’re literally seeing a movement that is advancing in a manner that is not only unprecedented, but in my world, unexpected.

The shift in public sentiment around climate change is another noteworthy change since 2010. More people are acknowledging climate change, but more importantly, there’s a movement to do something about it. It’s impressive to see the progress and that the public can drive change forward, because that’s really what we need: a global movement. The support of the public at large is a real driving force for the scale we’ve realized as a State.

Exploring Careers in Clean Energy

Opportunities abound in New York’s clean energy economy for people with a wide range of skills and interests. From designing efficient buildings to installing renewable energy systems and manufacturing clean energy equipment, clean energy jobs are in demand today and poised for continued growth.

Many careers in clean energy don’t require a college degree, and certain positions may come with paid training to earn while you learn.

Explore Clean Energy Careers

More on Clean Energy Careers

The clean energy transition is powering a greener future and job growth across New York State. Read on for more opportunities and insight to start building a career in clean energy.

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