This blog is the first in our series spotlighting leaders in the pursuit and development of Responsible Renewables projects. This series is being hosted in collaboration by Schneider Electric and Korn Ferry. For a background on responsible renewables, we encourage you to start with the primer blog exploring the issues and opportunities.
Avangrid, the third largest renewable energy company in the U.S., has been proactive in going above and beyond carbon emission reduction in their projects. Responsible renewables are in their DNA and they have made community and environmental impacts a cornerstone of their approach.
To explore the role that Avangrid, as a developer of renewable energy projects, plays in the responsible renewables space, we sat down with Laney Brown, Avangrid’s Vice President of Sustainability. We discussed the approach that the company takes when it comes to carefully managing the social and environmental impacts of their projects and how Avangrid has put responsibility at the core of its business model.
Laney Brown, VP of Sustainability, Avangrid
Laney leads Avangrid’s ESG+F strategy and coordination, supporting the company’s commitment to taking comprehensive action on all aspects of sustainability. She also oversees the company’s corporate citizenship strategy through her role as president of the Avangrid Foundation board. Brown has 20 years of experience in the energy sector and has also served on the U.S. Department of Energy's Electricity Advisor Committee for five years.
What fundamental responsible renewables principles does Avangrid have in place that drive your approach to holistic sustainability?
Responsible renewables are not something new for Avangrid, creating a positive impact in the communities in which we are present is part of our DNA. Working in the energy industry gives us an opportunity to make a difference, which is why we have set ambitious ESG+F (environmental, social, governance, and financial) goals that serve as guiding principles for all our business lines. Across the country, our teams work every day to support a clean energy future, while also being mindful of the communities and the environment, and of how we can contribute to their wellbeing with the best practices in the industry.
These values are so deeply embedded that we sometimes find that we have to “pull” this information out of our developers on the ground because they may not realize that the good that we are doing is “responsible”, but rather just “the way we do things.”
"We believe that developing green energy projects is not enough. As an active member of our communities, it is our responsibility to play a positive role in the environmental and social impact in the regions we serve."
Avangrid has been proactive in this aspect and has taken lessons from previous energy transitions, considering externalities and potential for positive outcomes for nature and communities in each new project we develop.
Which value-add are you prioritizing and why?
One of Avangrid's top priorities when developing new renewable energy projects is to work in partnership with the communities to create impactful local benefits and to protect and enhance ecosystems as we grow our operations. These practices lead to better projects and better relationships with our customers. Also, Avangrid employees choose to work here because of our positive environmental impact and high ethical standards.
Our Avian protection plan is an example of these efforts. This plan uses suggested practices developed by the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee designed to minimize risks to birds and other wildlife. In 2022, we conducted retrofits to protect wildlife at 10 operational onshore wind projects, and we installed new wildlife protection equipment at four solar projects and one wind project under construction.
Dr. Laura Nagy, Avangrid’s senior director of permitting and environmental risk management, was named the 2022 recipient of the Andrew Linehan Award for Environmental Excellence for her leadership on this work. The award, given by American Clean Power (ACP), is a testament to Dr. Nagy’s (and Avangrid’s) commitment to improve siting and environmental practices across the clean energy industry.
In addition, in 2022, the Avangrid Foundation provided $136,000 in grants as part of their Wildlife Rehabilitation Program. The funds support the operational capabilities of 15 wildlife rehabilitation centers across the nation.
How does Avangrid reinvest into the community where their projects are located?
At Avangrid we believe companies can – and should – make positive impacts in the communities they serve, including and beyond the services they provide. For us, this includes philanthropic giving through the Avangrid Foundation, corporate donations, employee giving and volunteerism. We also work to understand the needs of our communities through stakeholder engagement, and we seek to create equitable economic development in our communities, for example by increasing our supplier diversity while working to create a clean energy future.
We are currently undertaking several significant projects and initiatives which together represent multibillion-dollar renewable energy investments that will generate significant economic development in our communities.
Our offshore wind projects are an example of this. Vineyard Wind 1, the first large-scale offshore wind project in the U.S., will generate clean, renewable, and affordable energy for over 400,000 homes and businesses across Massachusetts. We also expect this project to create 3,600 competitively paying jobs in the renewable energy field.
We also have a partnership with the Prysmian Group, an offshore wind cable company, to domestically manufacture transmission cables that link Avangrid’s wind turbines at our Commonwealth Wind facility to the electrical grid. This agreement, finalized in 2022, will lead to the creation of a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Somerset, Massachusetts (at the site of a former coal-fired power plant). In total, this project is expected to create approximately 440 to 460 new jobs.
What, if any, has the IRA done to promote more resiliency and social equity in the projects you are bringing to the market?
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is the largest climate initiative in U.S. history, and Avangrid considers it critical to achieving the United States’ clean energy goals. The IRA gives much-needed policy certainty to continue investing in renewables, and it keeps a healthy pipeline of projects that help disadvantaged communities. A just energy transition aims to ensure that the shift to a low-carbon economy does not disproportionately harm low-income and vulnerable communities. The injection of funds and support into this effort allows Avangrid to continue to deepen the work we already do in this area, especially in low-income communities adversely impacted by society’s transition away from fossil fuels.
What do Sellers such as Avangrid need from Buyers to continue creating this shared value for communities and ecosystems?
Collaboration between buyers and sellers is key to creating impact value in the market. As a buyer, it's important to educate the developers about our ESG priorities and financial implications so that Sellers can market their projects accordingly. We don't assume that developers know what we want – We need corporate buyers to communicate their needs clearly and help us understand the value of the various ESG levers we can pull. This will not only ensure that priorities are met, but it will also incentivize developers to continue pushing the envelope and creating positive impact.
Can you share any projects where you are particularly pleased with the outcomes resulting from incorporating responsible renewables?
Avangrid has numerous success stories from past projects that promote responsible renewables, but we are particularly excited about the ones that create compounding impact through education. For example, we have worked with universities in Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) agreements that allow students and professors to access facilities to learn firsthand about the renewables industry and technology. Avangrid also works with non-profits that align with our company mission, including supporting organizations in STEM education to bring more opportunities to diverse students and organizations that help teachers talk about climate change with students.
Another point of pride is Avangrid’s Supplier Diversity program, which has established ambitious goals over the next three years to increase supplier diversity spend to $300 million in 2025. Our efforts to increase our annual spend with diverse suppliers include groups like ethnic minorities, women, people with disabilities, veterans, and LGBTQI+.
Avangrid's unwavering commitment to responsible renewables has positioned them as a leader in the renewable energy sector. Their integrated approach, which encompasses community engagement, environmental protection, wildlife conservation, and social equity, has resulted in projects that not only generate clean energy but also provide lasting benefits for the communities and ecosystems they serve. By prioritizing transparent communication and collaboration with buyers, Avangrid aims to further their mission and enhance the market's understanding of the true value of sustainability. Their dedication to education and knowledge-sharing demonstrates a long-term vision for a more inclusive and sustainable future. As Avangrid continues to innovate and champion responsible renewables, they serve as an inspiration for other industry players to follow suit and embrace a more sustainable, equitable, and prosperous future for all.