Fighting biases

Mentorship and communication identified as key aspects of ending gender inequalities in the energy industry

At WIN's inaugural event, attendees were asked to respond to questions about gender biases. Getty Images

Last week, female engineers and entrepreneurs from across the state gathered for the inaugural Society for Petroleum Engineers Gulf Coast Section' Women-in-Energy Congress.

Attendees were able to hear from speakers, like Susan Dio, chairman and president of BP America, who delivered the keynote address, as well as opt into breakout sessions and discussions, like "The New Age of Startups."

Throughout the day, the attendees were asked to respond to questions regarding their experience as women in a male-dominated field. The results show that mentorship and communication are both keys to ending gender biases in the workplace, while things like politics and lack of female mentors hold back results.

When asked about how men could be allies in the workplace to women, over 48 percent of respondents said male coworkers could do a better job of checking their unconscious bias in themselves and in others.

More than 47 percent responded that the biggest positive impact for their careers has been a boss, mentor, or sponsor, and almost 70 percent of those polls said that direct managers or people in the C-suite had the greatest impact of eliminating gender biases in the workplace.

For women seeking support in their careers, it was clear from the event that the solution is looking to other women who may have been in similar situations. Almost 100 percent of respondents said they have considered or pursued a career change in the past — half of those wanted a career change to expand their skill set and over a third felt like they have growth opportunities in their current role.

Texas ranks as the top state for female entrepreneurs, so there is potential for success within larger companies. According to the speakers and conversations at WIN's event, there's a lot both women and men can do to end gender biases for future business operations.

Courtesy of WIN

The coffee company announced three Houston-area solar projects. Courtesy of Starbucks

Coffee shop chain Starbucks is plugging into Texas' solar energy industry in a big way.

Two 10-megawatt solar farms in Texas owned by Cypress Creek Renewables LLC are providing enough energy for the equivalent of 360 Starbuck stores, including locations in Houston, Humble, Katy, and Spring. Separately, Starbucks has invested in six other Texas solar farms owned by Cypress Creek, representing 50 megawatts of solar energy; Santa Monica, California-based Cypress Creek is selling that power to other customers.

Three of the eight solar farms in the Texas portfolio are just outside the Houston metro area. One is in the Fort Bend County town of Beasley, while two of the projects are in Wallis and Wharton.

Starbucks already relies on a North Carolina solar farm equipped with 149,000 panels to deliver solar energy equivalent to powering 600 Starbucks stores in North Carolina, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

"Our long-standing commitment to renewable energy supports our greener-retail initiative and demonstrates our aspiration to sustainable coffee, served sustainably," Rebecca Zimmer, Starbucks' director of global environmental impact, says in an April 15 release about its solar investment in Texas. "Now, we are investing in new, renewable energy projects in our store communities, which we know is something our partners and customers can appreciate for their local economy and for the environment."

The solar commitment in Texas aligns with Starbucks' goal of designing, building, and operating 10,000 "greener" company-owned stores around the world by 2025. The Seattle-based retailer expects this initiative — whose features include renewable energy, energy efficiency, and waste reduction — to cut $50 million in utility costs over the next 10 years.

U.S. Bank's community development division teamed up with Starbucks and Cypress Creek on the Texas solar farms. Chris Roetheli, a business development officer at U.S. Bank, says solar tax equity investments like those undertaken by Starbucks are growing in popularity among non-traditional investors.

"Starbucks is taking a unique approach — investing in solar farms regionally to support a specific group of its stores," Roetheli says in the announcement of the solar collaboration. "This is a new concept, and one that I think other companies are watching and may follow. It's an interesting model that allows them to talk specifically about the impact of their investments."

Starbucks' investment comes as Texas' stature in the solar energy sector keeps rising, along with the state's role in the wind energy industry.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, more than 2,900 megawatts of solar capacity are installed in Texas. That's enough energy to power nearly 350,000 homes. Among the states, Texas ranks fifth for the amount of installed solar capacity.

Solar investment in Texas exceeds $4.5 billion, with about 650 solar companies operating statewide, the association says. The solar energy industry employs more than 13,000 full-time and part-time workers in Texas, according to the Texas Solar Power Association.

With more than 4 gigawatts (over 7,000 megawatts) of solar capacity expected to be added in Texas over the next five years, the national solar association reported in 2018 that "Texas is poised to become a nationwide leader in solar energy … ."

As it stands now, though, solar supplies less than 1 percent of Texas' electricity.

A 2018 state-by-state report card for friendliness toward solar power assigned a "C" to Texas, putting it in 34th place among the states.

The report card, released by SolarPowerRocks.com, lauds the backing of big Texas cities like Houston, Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio in encouraging residential solar installations.

However, the report card adds, outlying areas in Texas lag their urban counterparts in support of residential solar, "and we'd like lawmakers here to codify more protections and goals for solar adoption, but in the most populous areas, the Lone Star [State] shines."