City Rising 3: Renewable Energy Jobs with Emily Schapira
On this Episode of City Rising, we take an in-depth look into the green job landscape, the future of work and the climate action workforce. Special guest Emily Schapira is the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Energy Authority (PEA), and she provides insight into her work with the Philadelphia Energy Campaign and how she merged her passion for a substantial energy-related problem into an impactful career path. If this is your first time tuning into City Rising, go back and listen to Episode 1 with Dan Smolen to hear another perspective on the climate workforce.
Tune into this episode to learn:
- How to enter into a career in renewable energy and sustainability.
- Who are the stakeholders and leaders involved in creating clean energy jobs?
- What types of jobs are out there?
- The price of solar energy in Philadelphia
- What companies are hiring in renewable energy right now
- Are federal tariffs affecting the growth of solar panels?
- Details on Philadelphia’s big sustainability goals
- City-wide initiatives for clean energy jobs and training.
- Philadelphia Energy Campaign and the $1Billion investment
City Rising Episode 3: Renewable Energy Jobs with Emily Schapira, Philadelphia energy authority
You can listen to the episode by searching for City Rising or clicking any of the links below. Like the episode? Leave us a review and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google, Spotify, TuneIn or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Here’s episode three for you:
EPISODE Three OF CITY RISING – Solar energy, renewable energy jobs & more
We’ve transcribed City Rising to help make the message more accessible.
Julie Hancher: Welcome to city rising, a podcast that compares how different cities are working towards climate solutions. I’m Julie Hacher, Co-founder, and editor with Green Philly,
Brady Halligan: and I’m Brady Halligan, the director of strategy and business development with the green program. Our goal is to chat with diverse stakeholders about our changing environment on how it connects people planet and creates future opportunities.
Brady Halligan: I’ve invited Emily Schapira from the Philadelphia Energy Authority to talk about the incredible work her and her team are doing in our home city of Philadelphia to create jobs. Let’s get started. Okay. Then. The second guest I have today for the city rising podcast is Emily Schapira, the executive director of the Philadelphia Energy Authority. Thanks for being with me today. Sure. Happy to be here. Fantastic. So would you mind introducing yourself to our audience?
Emily Schapira: Not at all. I’m Emily Shapira. I’m the executive director of the Philadelphia Energy Authority. We’re a city government, we sit in city hall, we were created really to support the city on issues of energy affordability and sustainability. So we run a big initiative that’s really supported by the council president called the Philadelphia Energy Campaign, a $2,000,000,000 investment over 10 years in energy efficiency and clean energy projects in four sectors, city buildings, schools, low and moderate income housing and small businesses with the goal of creating 10,000 jobs.
Brady Halligan: All right, that’s a fantastic goal. And, and that’s why we wanted to talk to you today about the jobs and bringing it back home to our city, Philadelphia, where the green program is headquartered, where we really want to bring this back to the cities, what can cities do and what kind of unique programs and solutions are really coming into include communities into the workforce. Um, create unique partnerships with private-public sector, quasi-governmental organizations because it takes a lot of collaboration to solve these complex issues and we can celebrate the small wins to keep the momentum building. Um, so I’m really excited to dive in deeper a little bit, but I thought since we’re on the topic of the climate workforce and the jobs and figuring out your career path, um, maybe we could just start with, with your career path and kind of what led you to become the executive director. Was there an Aha moment? Was there a mentor? Was it just a, a quick search on Google jobs or Linkedin? This speaks to me, you just talk to me a little about your career path.
Emily Schapira: Sure. Um, well, uh, I’ve been on the board of the Energy Authority since 2011, uh, but just joined as executive director in 2016 and I can sort of say how I got there. I, um, right after Undergrad, spent five years running a consumer heating oil, Co-op here in Philly. So I do a lot of work with low-income energy assistance, and I used to get calls all winter long. My voicemail would fill up every day of people whose teeth were really chattering inside of their own homes. They’re out of heating oil, and they have no way to get more. And so this was a problem that I sort of carried with me throughout my career. And, uh, when there was an opportunity here at the energy authority to really build a program that could address that issue, uh, I leaped at it. So, uh, back in, uh, late 2015, the council president’s staff came to us and said, isn’t there something we can do about jobs here in Philly with energy?
Emily Schapira: And I said, of course, there is. So I took vacation from work and sort of nights and weekends and helped build this Philadelphia energy campaign and with no expectation that I would come and run it just as a board member, you know, it was something I thought we should be doing. Um, and uh, made some unreasonable ask for a budget for the program and all that kind of stuff. And to my surprise, they, uh, they gave us all the things we asked for. And so I left my job. I was at the time, um, I had been the coo of a lighting retrofit or doing energy efficient lighting work for commercial and industrial customers and we had gotten acquired by a big electric supply company and I had been there for awhile, but, um, you know, I think I’m, I’m an entrepreneurial person and sort of fit better in that environment. So when I had the chance to come and get this started, I came to quit my job and here I am.
Brady Halligan: That’s fantastic. And then it just speaks to kind of the passion drove you to this and allowed you to have the confidence to ask those for those big budget numbers. And because you knew deep down, we didn’t know what you’re getting yourself into. I, I would assume, but you knew there was something deep within you that there could be worked on here. And, and, um, you know, we’re glad that you stepped up in our city and there’s some fantastic work and um, I want to talk about something I just saw actually know through some news and looking at what’s going on in our city. And I saw the Philadelphia energy campaign was recently the topic of an award-winning research paper published at Harvard University. I’m the paper is titled a pathway to preservation planning processes and the intersection of climate change and affordable housing in Philadelphia. Um, which the, if people are interested, the papers published on those city council’s website. But what amazing recognition that is. Um, can you tell us a little bit about the Philadelphia Area Energy Campaign?
Emily Schapira: Yeah. We were, uh, we were really excited to have this master’s student at Harvard come to us. She had really looked at other cities across the country. And the thing that excited her about the work we’re doing is that we’re sort of a, um, you know, blue city in a red state. So we don’t necessarily have support from the state financially to run these programs. And a while there’s a lot of good work happening at the state level. I think we really felt like it was important to do whatever we can in Philadelphia with Philadelphia. So, and, and really part of that came from I’m a Reverend Greg Holston from power, which is a advocacy organization working on, you know, low income energy issues and equity and you know, Reverend Holston really said to me once, you know, don’t wait for Harrisburg, what can we do here and now, uh, to make the changes that we need to make. So we’ve really focused on that with the energy campaign. Um, Philly’s a big market. We have a lot of opportunities. We’ve developed just in our first year over 50 million dollars worth of energy projects that are active, that are in construction. And so we know that, that this market can sustain its own, its own work. And so really just driving energy efficiency here and driving solar and clean energy has been. I’m not hard, surprisingly.
Brady Halligan: Yeah. And it’s really interesting you bring that up, um, because you know, the, from my perspective, what’s going on in the world in renewable energy and then bring it back home and, and you know, the, the onside of the administration and, and, you know, you hear a lot of talk that um, renewable energy jobs, it’s kind of just a fad, and you know, you hear different things in states, but, you know, I was doing some research and come to find out that the solar industry in the US has seen steady growth for six years or so. But with the tariffs on solar imports of a post by the trump administration, you know, some of the top states with robust solar programs, solid dip, nothing too crazy, but a dip and employment in those industries. But Pennsylvania did not. They actually have, um, a very small uptick.
Brady Halligan: And regarding employment in the solar industry. And to me this is huge. It’s a huge signal and it’s true to us a lot of the work that you’re doing and coordinating a lot of these efforts, not just with the Philadelphia Energy Authority, but with the other individual stakeholders in this. Um, that to me is a signal that we’re on a path even with any barriers or that’s going to be a sent our way for the growth. You know, people want these jobs and the companies have opportunities and there’s real passion driving this, um, spearheaded by leadership like yourself. So thank you. Thanks.
Emily Schapira: You know, I think real quick on this solar tariffs, um, you know, that was a, a hit from the federal government that I think the solar industry, uh, uh, did suffer nationally for that. Uh, but it doesn’t change the math in Pennsylvania. We have a not very high priced solar renewable energy credits. We have no subsidies from the state. So this is a grassroots movement here. We’ve really driven Philadelphia to be the fifth fastest growing solar market in the country in 2017 from residential installs, which is not what has happened anywhere else. Um, so our, our programs, Philly, which is residential group buying program, um, helped really drive down the cost so that now in, in Philadelphia, solar is essentially at cost parody with Pico. So what that means is just that you pay the same for solar as you would pay for your regular electric bill.
Emily Schapira: Uh, in some cases you pay even less, so it’s a great deal, and we think that really everybody should be looking at it to see if the math works for their rooftop and their consumption. Um, so we created a program that helps negotiate both better pricing but also consumer protections and a good quality equipment, so you really know what you’re getting from it. And then the program helps subsidize solar training in the school district for high school career and technical education kids. Um, and also, uh, helps ensure that solar is available to everyone. So we have a program for low and moderate income households that sort of a, a special lease arrangement that we’ve developed that really makes it possible for folks who may not be able to get a loan or pay cash for solar to still do it and still put it on there, on their property.
Brady Halligan: Wow. That’s incredible. And you’re hitting it from all angles, you know, you’re really looking the inclusion, what neighborhoods, how can you get everybody involved.
That’s really how we start to amplify the impact, um, to get all stakeholders involved. And there’s a lot of players in this isn’t just one person doing stuff. There’s a lot of players. Um, could you just quickly talk about who’s involved and with what you’re doing in some of these campaigns are kind of the broader mission.
Emily Schapira: Definitely. So I’m on the solar side. Uh, there’s a huge robust statewide coalition, a PA solar future that’s really been working at the state level to ensure that policies and regulations are as favorable to solar is they can be. They’re working on a community solar legislation now. So we’ve got our fingers crossed on that and then locally we have three installers that participate in our program, uh, and will reopen that again for 2019 to add additional installers. Um, and then, uh, we run training programs in the school district as I mentioned. So we’ve completed two semesters already. So we’ve trained about 36 students now in solar energy efficiency, construction basics, um, that kind of stuff. And then, um, we, this summer we have another cohort of 20 more students plus for the first time, 10 students who went through our program previously will now have summer internships that are paid with employers in this space. So it’s a real chance for them to see what it’s like to work in this industry and um, and see if it’s something they really want to do.
Brady Halligan: Yeah. And to harp on something which I love the paid internship, you got to love, especially for somebody starting out that wants to test the waters, um, that maybe can’t afford to take an unpaid internship or job opportunity. That is a crucial minute little detail but has a huge impact on somebody that’s really looking for that.
Emily Schapira: And all the credit there to the Philadelphia Youth Network, they run a program called work ready, which employs thousands of high school kids in every year with employers all over the region. So we were really lucky to be able to tap into some of the slots in that program that the city gets every year. So we have 25 city slots and Pico was generous enough to support an additional five internships slots for the summer. So kids will get paid to do 20 hours a week of work and they’re with all different kinds of employers. Some are advocacy, some are energy efficiency companies, some are solar installers. Um, and so we really tried to fit each kid with, with the right opportunity.
Brady Halligan: And now a quick word from one of our sponsors based in Philadelphia. The green program is an award winning experiential education program for emerging leaders in sustainable development and climate action with university accredited programs and locations like Iceland, Japan, and Peru. The Green Program connects emerging talent with companies and organizations that are committed to advancing the 17 United Nations sustainable development goals. Check out the experiences and learn how to hire tgp firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s awesome. And you just, um, you just highlighted something that, that was part of my next question is as you know, jobs, right? The job creation in Philadelphia, a $1,000,000,000 leverage 10,000 jobs over 10 years. Um, local, inclusive hiring. You know, you’re touching on a lot of these points. I’m still early on in the 10 years, how you think things are going. Is it what you envisioned when you started off and then you kind of just segue that into what types of jobs are available?
Emily Schapira : Sure. Things are going better than we expected them to go. I think we envisioned year one being sort of a startup year and it was, we did pilots in all four of the sectors. We have a $12,000,000 project with the art museum that is in construction now that’ll save them about 24 percent of their energy consumption. They are actually the highest energy consuming building that the city owns. Yeah. It’s a sensitive building as their facilities guy always says our occupant is the art. So, um, so it takes a lot of energy to, to keep the humidity just right and all that. So, uh, we’re excited about that project and we’ve also got a 20 plus million dollar project with the school district going on now at three high schools across the city that should save each of them about 20 percent of their energy cost as well.
Emily Schapira : Then we’ve got a multifamily affordable housing program for energy efficiency, solarize Philly, you’ve got a small business efficiency program. Um, and we’re excited that in year one we created about 225 jobs, um, which obviously is not $10,000 but is better than we were expecting. Just getting things off the ground and we’re projecting over $600 for 2018 and we’ve got about a $53 million dollar pipeline at the moment of projects that are going through 2019 basically. So, um, you know, we’re confident that the 10,000 jobs are there. We are on the right path. We know how we get there. Um, and there are all kinds of jobs. So, um, some are construction jobs. So, you know, in the actual implementation phase you’ve got electricians and plumbers and glazers and you know, all the folks that you would think that are there doing the actual construction.
Emily Schapira: You’ve also got project managers, engineers, energy auditors, weatherization texts, um, solar installers, solar sales folks. So it, it’s a pretty broad gamut and I think there’s a lot of entry points. Some of these jobs are union jobs, some of them are residential, so there tend not to be union jobs. So it’s, it’s a really broad swath of opportunity and you know, I think we’re finding that really just everybody is hiring right now. So, um, Pekos hiring folks both in their distributed energy group but also across the company a CMC energy services. Who has the um, low income, multifamily energy efficiency contract with Pico is hiring energy auditors and installers. You know, solar companies are hiring installers and salespeople right now in the city and outside the city. So, uh, we try to keep. Our job board is uptodate as possible. So on our website, it’s Phila energy.org, and that has sort of all the jobs we come across in the city and that’s a good place to look.
Brady Halligan: Yeah. And I’m always looking at, at your job board as well because I know it’s a good place to see, you know, great jobs in our city and renewable energy is we’re continuously promoting those opportunities to our alumni network and to young leaders in the area that are either looking to come to Philadelphia or want to stay and work in this city on, on, on, on these types of topics and career paths. And quite, quite interesting actually to have our alumni, I think actually worked for you maxine, dissonant and Tabane, which is just kind of interesting way how it comes full circle. Um, so, so definitely make sure you check out the job board on the Philadelphia energy authorities website. Um, there’s great resources there and you can keep up to date. But, uh, I wanted to transition, you definitely talked about it a little bit, but, um, you know, I think some of our audience and a bunch of our audience through our network and things are looking to get into this career, this career path or maybe they’re transitioning or like myself, they went into a undergraduate career. I studied environmental policy. But that doesn’t lead you into a specific career path. It’s pretty broad. So let’s just kind of pretend I’m the recent graduate looking to break in the energy and sustainability space, renewable energy in our city, Philadelphia. What types of training, experiences, and you talked about them, but what do you think, what would you recommend for me to do and how can I find these opportunities to apply or what’s going to give me that edge that’s going to drive me into a nice career?
Emily Schapira: That’s a good question. Um, so I think the best advice I can give the recent college graduates is don’t be afraid of the job description. So, um, you know, I hear from a lot of people, well I don’t, you know, I don’t have these years of experience or I’m not sure I’d be good at sales or you know, those kinds of things and I think, you know, look a little deeper when you’re reading them one apply anyway to your enthusiasm will get you a long way. Um, and three of these job titles might not be what you think you’re interested in, but I’m in this space. Every job is interesting. So, um, you know, you need to get a little bit of experience in the industry, whether it’s nonprofit or for profit, um, and, and really understand how these things work because I think that’s honestly the best way to advance good policy and to actually have that impact.
Emily Schapira: We talk a lot about the legislation that we need and all that and there are a few people that work on that in Harrisburg and in the city here, but not a lot of those jobs. A few. So you might not get a job doing policy work, but I’m actually, you’re affecting policy just as much in the private sector or you know, working with advocacy organizations, there’s a ton of those in Philly, so, you know, cast a wide net and I think Philadelphia has so many more jobs than anybody realizes in this space. Um, you just have to be thoughtful about it and don’t be afraid of doing sort of informational interviews. I think all of us in this field are excited for folks who are interested in sustainability and in renewables and the environment. So we’re, we’re happy to help where we can.
Brady Halligan: Fantastic. And I love that you talked about the informational interview. It’s such a crucial tool to figure out what actually the work is because the job descriptions typically don’t tell you and then you speaking to jumping in and getting to work, um, you know, even if you feel like you’re not set, it’s, it’s talking to your own experience. As you mentioned earlier, you know, you were doing something before and, and your passion led you to why aren’t we doing this already? Let’s do something else. And I’m sure you probably wouldn’t have had that kind of Aha moment if you didn’t already have that role in diving into this and kind of feeling where your passion is going to lead you.
Emily Schapira : Yeah. And I’ve done this in nonprofit, in government and in the private sector and you know, I think in each of those opportunities I really looked for a way to engage on the issues that I care about and sort of weaseled my way in there. So, you know, right out of college I thought I was going to be, you know, an environmental advocate and I took a job with a nonprofit and they said, hey, we have this weird co op, will you run it? And I said, okay, I don’t know anything about heating oil but I’ll try and you know, that that led me down a really interesting path. And I had an internship when I got my Mba, you know, between my first and second year with Intel. And my internship was at Intel capital doing sort of marketing and portfolio company management stuff. But, um, I had extra time.
Emily Schapira : I, you know, I wasn’t taking up all the time, and so I went and introduced myself to the head of the ecotechnology at Intel and said, hey, anything I can do for you, I’m already getting paid by Intel. I might as well, you know, do some extra work and got a second internship and, you know, got to learn how to do carbon footprint analysis and you know, skills that I didn’t have before I went there. So, um, you know, you have to take the initiative and really look for it. I think employers don’t know how to advertise these jobs any better than they advertise the regular job. So you have to really look for it and figure out where can you add some value and you know.
Brady Halligan: Yeah. And it’s, it’s so true that they don’t know how to market these jobs a lot of times. And I talked to a lot of students that they look for sustainability and the job title or renewable energy and it’s just not. Sometimes you have to use that as your underlying my mindset and value to bring that to a job and figure out where you can make an impact. It’s incredible
Emily Schapira : and I think small companies don’t have the job marketing budgets that big companies do, so you might look on indeed and not find, you know, the kinds of jobs you’re looking for, but you know, check out local organizations and you know, do a little research on the market and find, you know, solar states is one of the companies that we work with are kiss electric and those guys are hiring both installers and salespeople right now. And you don’t necessarily have to have any experience to do that work. You just need to be a competent person, you know, who’s interested in the field and willing to work hard. So, um, cast a wide net.
Brady Halligan: Yeah. And that’s one thing I always mentioned to is like a lot of times people shy away from the sales, but when you’re working in this type of work with complex issues where there’s a lot of stakeholders, you’ve got to be able to share your passion, what you’re doing. And that comes down to sales, so that experience, especially early on in your career, can have a longterm impact on your career trajectory.
Emily Schapira: Yeah. I learned more in sales than I think I learned in almost any other space in my career. I was a ceo of a lighting company, and you know, I was selling big global projects to big companies and that helped me understand the ins and outs of the industry, how these things work, what’s a good deal and what’s not a good deal and you know, how a facility owners think about energy efficiency or don’t think about energy efficiency, um, and, and how to start to talk about those. And I think that industry experience really did change the way I’m able to be a policy entrepreneur inside city government now. So it’s important to experience to think about all the different sectors that you could participate in here too.
Brady Halligan: Beautiful. Um, what emily, where can someone, our audience learn more about your work and the work that everybody’s doing part of the Philadelphia Energy Thirty and Philadelphia in general and in renewable energy and climate action in these. Where can they look for just to learn and maybe find the jobs?
Emily Schapira: Sure. First and foremost, go to our website, philaenergy.org. We have a job board and we’ve got a whole bunch of information. What we’re looking on, we’re releasing our year one energy campaign report, uh, this week. So it’ll be up on our website right away. You’ll have all the details. I would also recommend you check out Philadelphia’s office of sustainability website. They’re doing a ton of amazing things. Our mayor committed to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030. So we have some big goals in Philadelphia, including 80 percent carbon reduction by 2050. And the office of sustainability is really leading the way on those things. So there’s a ton going on and it’s worth checking it out. Well, I want to thank you so much for joining us. The conversation is very insightful and as a Philadelphian working in this space are excited to have you lead the way on this and love. They’re very collaborative and figuring out the ways because it’s exciting to see the transitions in our city and to get people involved.
Brady Halligan: Thanks for tuning into city rising. We hope this podcast helps you understand how climate change is presenting opportunities in our urban environments. Check the show notes for links from today’s podcast. This podcast is brought to you. Thanks to funding from cusp, the climate and urban systems partnership. For more information, visit cusp project.org.