WAITING TO BE READY IS A HINDRANCE
Linda Merritt is the Director of Quality for Signal Energy, a Chattanooga-based renewable energy company responsible for large scale and distributed generation projects across North America and Australia. She is responsible for overseeing the company’s Quality Program development, execution, and continual improvement.
How did you hear about WCS and what prompted you to join?
I was looking for a course in negotiation and I came across the WCS one How to Negotiate Like A CEO. I joined and of course, that came with the desire to meet more women in renewable energy.
Tell us a bit more about yourself, what would you like the WCS community to know about you?
I am a high-functioning introvert and usually when I see these kinds of requests I’m like “no, no!” I have to stop doing that. I am “every woman”, I am completely normal and I want more women to enter the industry instead of waiting to be “ready”.
Out of college, I became a bench chemist for a petroleum company. Then went into plastics manufacturing, then semiconductors, then healthcare followed by aerospace, and finally: renewables. All of the skills that I’ve learned through my lifetime of experiences have contributed in some way or another, it’s all been meaningful and helpful.
The question of why I wanted to join renewables, it’s a bigger question than carbon and energy. It’s about stewardship. It’s about leaving the planet in better shape than you found it. It’s also about community – the way that we treat the area around us. Yes, carbon reduction is important but it’s also about the inclusiveness and the health of our communities holistically.
Back to why I’m doing the “Member of the Month” interview. I noticed from an online mixer there were dozens of women “waiting until ____” but hadn’t applied or entered into the renewables market yet. Waiting to be “ready” is a hindrance. I wasted two years thinking I wasn’t qualified for the renewables industry. I was. (Sure, there was a lot of self-teaching and there was a lot of learning on the job. I didn’t know construction – but nobody’s born knowing construction.) WCS members already have valuable skills and knowledge. We need more women, please jump in now, not later.
What most impresses you about Signal Energy’s large installations?
They are a sight to behold. As much as we talk about conservation and about using less carbon, we’re never going to use less electricity. “The Cloud” is made of big buildings (usually in the desert) that keep records of everything. All of humanity’s data.
Once renewable energy became cheaper than building a new natural gas plant and technology companies could finitely calculate the cost of producing their own energy for X number of years, they started to build their own fields. Other solar and wind fields are for regular businesses and homeowners. They’re only going to get bigger from here.
What kind of advice would you offer to our members who are impatient to see an energy economy with a far smaller carbon footprint?
The message needs to be – get involved now, don’t wait. When I post a job opening I get lots of resumes from people who don’t have all the skill sets I’m typically looking for. And they’re all men. Women don’t apply.
If there’s a job that you want to do, and you’re worried about your exact skill set, apply anyway. You’re ready now. If you see a job that lights your fire, go do that. Don’t wait for the education to be perfect. Don’t wait for the skillset to be perfect. The men aren’t waiting.
When I worked in health care, I regularly drove past the First Solar building. I really wanted to join them. When I looked at the jobs they were offering, I didn’t see how my skills matched. So, I didn’t apply. That was part of the problem. It took two years to see a fit. When I got the job, the situation changed. That construction work I didn’t think I was qualified to do? Turns out I was. You know more than you give yourselves credit for.
What is an interesting anecdote about your work?
One of the nicest parts about the whole industry is that it’s low risk. When inspectors who are new to the industry (especially when they are used to nuclear or oil/gas), the first question I ask them is “Do you know what we do when lightning strikes a transformer?” As the scenarios race across their faces, I answer – we let it burn, the risk is far higher to touch it. There are a million fail-safes and an orchestrated repetition of controls to prevent further damage to the site. There’s no risk to the community. The fire doesn’t spread and the rest of the plant continues to put energy on the grid.
Are you expecting change within the renewables industry from the new Biden administration?
I don’t expect things to change under Biden very much. Even under Trump, and during a pandemic in the US, our industry increased over 22% this past year. We expect to build as many megawatts of renewable energy as we can. I do think the tariffs on solar panels, steel, and aluminum, which has largely benefitted India and China, will be diminished, which will only help the industry.
Interviewed by Jeanne Trombly, Writer in Residence for Women in Cleantech and Sustainability.