Chat with Brooke Haman | The Sunnyside Podcast

Chat with Brooke Haman

• Published on August 9, 2022

Episode Summary:

In this episode, Sharon Lee talks with Brooke Haman about the latest innovations in renewable energy and how Georgia Power has incorporated them. Brooke tells us how the solar industry has gone through a multidimensional change that has affected not only the ways in which energy is produced but also the consumers’ desires and needs. Additionally, she deepens on her work values and the importance of mentorship and inclusion for her and how she has translated it into programs on Georgia Power.

Insights from this Episode:

  • What has happened in Sharon’s life lately
  • How did a communication major end up in the solar industry
  • What changes has Brooke Haman noticed in the solar industry
  • How the definition of utility-scale has changed over the years
  • How does Brooke manage mentorship with her co-workers
  • The reason why Brooke’s group in Georgia Power attracts women in the solar industry
  • The importance of accessibility for the renewables programs
  • The relationship between Georgia Power and the Public Service Commission
  • The purpose of the rate case

Quotes from the Show: 

  • “We as consumers look at every single day businesses that we choose to patronize or places we choose to purchase something… and you’ll see that they all have these little stamp that they are carbon neutral or you know, they’re doing their part”– Brooke Haman in “The Sunnyside Podcast”
  • “To me it’s sort of the spirit of mentorship [the one] you have to build, you know, you have to build horizontally and vertically because I can’t do it all on my own right? Um, chicks that know what they are doing”– Brooke Haman in “The Sunnyside Podcast”
  • “We got [Georgia Power] a lot of customers with a lot of renewable goals and needs and we want to be part of the solution, but we just really want to work to find that solution on the front end instead of the back end”– Brooke Haman in “The Sunnyside Podcast”
  • “[About Georgia Power] really trying to be more carbon-free with our generation resources and at the same time provide more renewable programs for customers to participate in as they have those goals”– Brooke Haman in “The Sunnyside Podcast”

Episode transcript:

Sharon Lee:

Welcome to the Sunnyside, the podcast that makes solar energy relatable, accessible, and attainable. Join us as we journey behind the scenes with women taking amazing strides in all parts of the solar industry. I’m your host, Sharon Lee, and thank you for joining us today.

Well, welcome to the sunny side. We are so happy everyone is here and listening today, I’m very excited about this episode, but before we get started, I’m going to dive into Sharon’s corner, talk a little bit about what I have been doing since our last Sunnyside episode. As usual, my life seems to revolve around sports, solar, kids activities and that thing, and with summer vacation coming to an end, that means grumbles are coming from the boys in my house, but I am glad to be back on a schedule, busy as it may be.

So my younger son has moved into nonstop pre-season football practices and hard as it is for me to say he has entered middle school. Ugh. So, yep. I actually got those words out. I’m really proud of myself. So that’s going to be an experience I’m sure. My older son has somehow become a high school sophomore and has his learners permit. So let’s see, we have been honked at, almost run over, pulled out in front of, we have learned to navigate roads with no shoulder roundabouts, they are everywhere now, and imagine my fear when we’re seeing a light turning yellow and he says, “I’m going.” and he presses the gas and off we go, this is not for the week.

So if I don’t survive this next month for the next Sunnyside you know why. But in solar news, I have had some really great conversations recently with a group of local women in the solar and renewables industry, and we are working to get a women’s group together to focus on networking, mentorship, and so forth, and of course that’s the whole point of this podcast. So it all goes hand in hand. So for those of you that are in the Atlanta area, or maybe will be around September 15th, please shoot me a note. Let me know. I’ll get you more information and get you on the invitation list. But for now it’s time for me to introduce my guest, which I already said, I’m excited about, Brooke Haman. She is the renewable customer engagement project supervisor for Georgia Power. Welcome to the Sunnyside, Brooke.

Brooke Haman:

Hi, thank you so much for having me.

Sharon Lee:

Hey, I am so, so thrilled. I love your energy. I love it when we get together. Although I think to get us started, my curiosity is up. How did a communications major from the college of Charleston end up in renewables? Tell us how you got here.

Brooke Haman:

Like everybody I’m sure. My career did not take like a perfectly linear path from college. I have a communications degree, like you said, from college of Charleston, and so I thought I was going to be like some magazine editor or maybe policy writer or some hotsy-totsy reporter and quickly realized right out of college that reporters are woefully under respected and underpaid. So I pivoted and started doing some policy work, which I did that for a couple of years and then that landed me after that at Southern Company where I worked on really, I started with the company doing external affairs on the wholesale side of the business and got to work on a couple of our renewable acquisitions on the wholesale side of the business.

So that was really like my first taste of renewables when we acquired a solar facility in New Mexico and then a biomass facility in Texas, and then moved over to the retail side of the company with Georgia Power, and that was right around the time when we were starting to dip our toes into some really serious renewable programming and they were looking for folks that had any renewables experience. So the timing just worked out and I’ve been doing that since pretty much the end of 2012.

Sharon Lee:

All right. Well, it sounds straightforward to me. Well, we’ve both been in renewables in Atlanta, essentially since there has been a renewables, in particular solar industry in Atlanta. So that’s a great start, but tell me what changes you’ve seen over these last years.

Brooke Haman:

Oh my gosh. So many changes, it’s incredible because there’s been both industry changes, but there’s also been these cultural changes, and I think those have both impacted the industry. Obviously there’s been a ton of efficiency advancements, and so we’re getting more power out of facilities than we used to get, which means that the economics are looking a little bit better on renewable facilities, and just in the renewable industry in general, and then you have technology advancements with more battery storage and new emerging technologies.

So that’s a really cool piece, but then you add in this cultural layer of just, you have more companies that are pursuing ESG goals, and so you’ve got more companies of everyday products, things that we as consumers look at every single day. Businesses that we choose to patronize or places we choose to purchase things from, and you’ll see that they all have these little stamp that says that they’re carbon neutral or they’re doing their part. You didn’t see that 10 years ago. You only saw it with the biggest boldest companies.

So I think we’re seeing some real momentum on that side of just business and industry, and so that is really influencing what we do both as a utility, but also just in general in Georgia, in the Southeast, in how we look at renewable programming because our customers want more programs. It used to be really just a premium program for a select slice of customers and now we’re seeing all customers want more renewable options.

So I think you have those two things, which is, just lower cost renewables, but also a greater appetite for renewables. Just our workforce is changing. We’re getting more millennials and gen-Z zennials. I don’t know, what do we call those? So different attitudes about working. So I think all of that is playing into this industry because it’s a fun still newish industry, and so I think a lot of that is playing into the changes that we’ve seen from 2012 to now 2022.

Sharon Lee:

Right. I love the idea that it’s not just for them anymore, just for the elite. These are for local companies, people that have their own goals for their own reasons and they’re able to attain them and I love that we can hand in hand, get them there. Well, I wanted to share a memory. I was thinking back that we were at the very first WISE event, which is Women in Solar Energy that was done in Atlanta. So at the time I was the president of the Georgia Solar Energy Association, you were representing Georgia Power and you were on one of our panels. Can you remember what your topic was? Where were we talking about back then?

Brooke Haman:

I don’t remember exactly what my panel topic was, if I’m thinking back to that time period I know what I was doing in my career within renewables. I was doing utility scale development, which means that I was building or I was project managing construction of utility scale facilities, or helping with our PPA, our RFP, where we go out. Our requests for proposal to go out and get these large power purchase agreements. So that’s what I would’ve been specifically working on, but if I had to guess, I probably wasn’t fully representing that on the panel. I was probably more just chit chatting like I always do.

But you know what is so cool about that memory though, is that as I’m thinking back on that, and I think about the other people that were there, now keep me honest here, but I think it was you and me and Jamie Barber, who’s with the public service commission, still with the public service.

Sharon Lee:

Still there commission.

Brooke Haman:

Then I think Mary Briton, and she’s been a guest on your podcast, and then I think Jeanette Gare was there as well, and she’s still pretty involved in the renewables industry. So I want to say there were a couple other folks there, but just as I am thinking about who is sitting to my left and who is sitting to my right, those are still the people sitting to my left and my right, and I love that me. So that’s a cool memory.

Sharon Lee:

That is a cool memory, and I’m thinking about you talking about utility scale programs back then. Utility scale was defined a lot different than it is now. It’s a completely different animal. Much smaller back then.

Brooke Haman:

Also, that’s what we were mostly focusing on back then. We had some distributed generation programs, but we certainly didn’t have all of the DER type of programs or behind the meter focus or any of that stuff that we’re starting to see the industry evolve more into, because it was really more about utility scale is where the economies of scale are, and so that’s what we’re going to focus on, and now we’re really focusing on utility scale, but what programming can we do with those utility scale PPAs? That’s also an interesting evolution.

Sharon Lee:

It really is, but a lot of that whole conference was about mentorship. That is something near and dear to both of our hearts. So do you have either a program that you follow at Georgia Power or do you just have a way of mentoring young women that are entering the industry? Tell me a little bit about that.

Brooke Haman:

Yeah. So that particular event, the women’s networking event, that WISE event, I actually brought five of my female coworkers to that event because I was like, “Yeah, here we go, girl squad, I’m going to be on a panel.” But that to me is the spirit of mentorship is you have to build horizontally and vertically because I can’t do it all on my own. So I think one of my goals since I’ve been in renewables is to one, continue to recruit really great women into the renewables organization, chicks that know what they’re doing, chicks that have great personalities and love to develop other people.

So trying to figure out how to build that crew, just laterally and then really working on what is the next generation of people look like within the renewables organization and just within the utility in general. I think mentorship is so important because we’re considered or looked at as an old school industry or an old school business. So it’s not like the sexiest of places if you’re doing the recruiting fair at colleges. So I think continuing to look for young talent and develop them and give them all of the things that young talent want now, which is flexibility, which is autonomy, which is increased responsibility at a younger age, working towards those sorts of things with that younger generation is super important.

But in terms of a formal mentorship program, Southern Company in general does an amazing job with that. We have all of these employee resource groups for all different types and walks of life of people, and so if there is something that you are interested in, I guarantee you that Southern Company, Georgia Power has an employee resource group, and those really provide the opportunity for mentoring, for you to get matched up with other leaders within the company and to learn about other disciplines within the company.

So that’s one thing that I think we do a really, really good job of as a large company, it’s just ensuring that we give folks a lot of exposure, a lot of experiences, and when folks want a mentor, we find one forum and we hold our leaders accountable to mentoring other folks. So not just inside the company, but also outside the company and we have a big focus on external mentorship as well. So yeah, mentorship is super important to me because at some point I’m not going to live on this earth anymore and there’s got to be other people to do the job. So they can’t do the job unless we train them, right?

Sharon Lee:

That is exactly right. Well said. It’s also interesting when you look in the dynamics of who makes up the renewables arena there. You think of Georgia Power, you’re thinking about it as being very male dominated and that sort of thing, but your group seems to attract women. I know that you in some ways may seek some of them out maybe, but I think it’s just interesting that there is that attraction to that particular division. Is there anything you can elaborate on that about?

Brooke Haman:

Yeah. I don’t know what it is. It might be because it is just a little bit more forward thinking. We’re getting to do a lot of new, cool stuff, that might be part of it. But I think it’s the diversity begets diversity thing, and so the more diverse of a group that you are, I think the more attractive you are to other diversity, whether that’s folks that are later in their career, folks that are younger in their career, black, white, female, male, I think because we’ve done a really good job of creating a really diverse team, and honestly, I would love to say it was super intentional, but it wasn’t, not in terms of what we typically think about in terms of physical diversity.

I know that when I was building my team, when we were three people and we were growing from three to nine, my direct report team, I was looking for diversity and experience because I knew that would help me personally, was to have a bunch of people that had really diverse sets of experience because my team touches so many different parts of the business. So I wanted people that were strong in different areas of the business. So that naturally created some physical diversity within my organization, and I think a lot of companies are focusing on that to be honest, is figuring out how can we continue to build more of a diverse workforce. It’s just, I have the fortune of to already be in a very, very diverse team.

Sharon Lee:

Right. Right. Well, so let’s shift gears just a little bit. I think it’s pretty amazing that as large as Georgia Power and the Southern Company is that your team remains very accessible and you actually welcome folks to reach out to you. You can discuss the system that they’re considering or planning to install, guide them and provide resources for them. Tell me a little bit about that.

Brooke Haman:

Thanks for bringing that up. We really do try to be accessible, particularly for our team we’ve seen a tremendous growth and volume in volume of customers seeking renewable programs or participating in renewable programs, or just wanting to know more about renewable programs. So that volume was something we certainly had to get adjusted to, but as we become more adjusted to that, it really is a high priority for us. Nothing makes any of us on our team more anxious than when a commercial customer, for instance, comes to us and they’ve already installed something and maybe they didn’t get perfect information on the front end, or maybe they didn’t get to talk to us before they did their installation, and they’re anxious. They want to get their permission to operate. That makes us super anxious.

Honestly, I think we’ve had a couple of experiences with that have just motivated us to continue to try and make sure that the market, the industry, folks like you know that we’re super accessible. If you have questions, if you want to know if that facility can be connected at that size, at that transformer, and you want to know about that customer’s peak demand, we definitely want to work with customers to help them find the right renewable option that works within our program requirements and works within our rules and regulations. So yeah, thanks for mentioning that because we really do try to be accessible as much as the volume is there, we try to be as accessible as possible because we don’t want customers making bad decisions or stuck with an installation that they can’t operate the way that they want to operate it.

Sharon Lee:

Well, and there’s so many specific rules that pertain directly to specific states and all of that so that local knowledge folks, I’ll say, “I’ll go ahead and plug Velo.” Velo has roots in the community that get to know their local utilities and get to know the specific rules. There’s different rules for EMCs. There are different rules for Georgia Power. So all that stuff is so, so important. I mean, it’s critical.

Brooke Haman:

Yeah. Yeah. The other thing is, is we have a lot of different programs. It’s one of those things that’s a great thing but it can be really challenging because we have so many different programs to participate in. We’ve got DG programs and we’ve got a couple different DG programs, and then we’ve got behind the meter programs, but we’ve got a couple different behind the meter programs. So it’s really about understanding the program requirements for each of the unique programs is super important and that’s not saying that somebody that is from out of state can’t figure all that stuff out, they certainly can, but it is an advantage being instate, particularly if you’ve been involved in the development of those programs from the outside and seeing the evolution of those programs. I think it gives you a little bit deeper of an understanding of the intricacies of those and why the rules are the way they are for each of those programs.

So I think that’s something just critical to keep in mind, and again, underscores that need for reach out to us. If you don’t think you understand it all the way, reach out to us because we want to make sure you understand what can and can’t be done, and we really want to work with the installer community to give customers the right solution for their needs, because we got a lot of customers with a lot of renewable goals and needs, and we want to be part of the solution, but we just really want to work to find that solution on the front end instead of on the back end.

Sharon Lee:

Well, I’ve said many, many times that generally building the solar project is the easiest part, and so I think that’s one hand in hand with what you’re saying right there.

Brooke Haman:

Yeah. Yeah, definitely.

Sharon Lee:

Well, so let’s back up just a little bit just for talking about the way the setup is and that thing. So Georgia Power is a regulated utility, and the Public Service Commission is the regulating body. So can you talk about the relationship and how that works?

Brooke Haman:

Yeah, so you’re exactly right, we are an investor owned utility. We are regulated by the Georgia Public Service Commission and we have I think a really constructive relationship with the Public Service Commission. Working with them is critical to our success. It’s critical to us designing and delivering programs that customers want. It’s critical to us being able to operate our system and our generation that is the most reliable, low cost system. So I think every utility is well served by having a constructive relationship with their regulators.

That doesn’t mean that it’s a perfect relationship all the time. That doesn’t mean that we necessarily get everything we want or that we don’t face scrutiny on our programs or on our requests. We certainly do, and I think that is part of the constructive relationship that you have to have with the Public Service Commission.

The other part about that is that the Public Service Commission is specifically tasked with ensuring that we along with all the other entities that they regulate, that we are doing right by customers and not just solar customers, but all customers, and they also have the opportunity to interface directly with the public, to interface directly with our customers. So we may not always get the direct feedback from our customers about what works and what doesn’t work, and we may not always get the direct feedback from some of our adversaries about what they think works and doesn’t work. So I think the Public Service Commission serves a really critical role in helping to govern that into keeping the channels of communication open and ensuring that at the end of the day, customers are protected.

Sharon Lee:

Right. You all just concluded this year’s IRP which is the integrated resource plan. So I think that we can say that there’s positive takeaways from the standpoint of solar, especially distributed generation solar. Do you want to talk a little bit about what the IRP is and any highlights from this year that you want to talk about?

Brooke Haman:

Yeah, sure. Yeah, you’re right. We just completed our integrated resource plan process. So we file an integrated resource plan every three years. We filed this IRP in January of 2022 and at the end of July, just received, had our final hearing in the IRP process, and we are still waiting on our final order, but the results pending the final order, which should be pretty consistent with the last hearing were really, really positive in terms of renewable growth. We’re continuing to see more and more renewable growth here in Georgia, and just if I’m taking it all the way back from where we started at the beginning of this conversation, we were talking about 10 years ago and I think about where we were 10 years ago with the first big solar procurement program that was approved, the advanced solar initiative. That was, I think the first little chunk of that was 210 megawatts.

Sharon Lee:

That’s right.

Brooke Haman:

Now here we are 10 years later and we just had more than 2,000 megawatts approved in this integrated resource plan of renewable procurements and programs, and that’s in addition to additional battery energy storage demonstrations, that’s in addition to some distributed energy resource management research that we’re going to be doing. So I think what we’re really seeing in this IRP is we used this term transformational, which is a little cheesy, but it really is spot on because we are literally trying to take our system from this system that was this large central station generation. We had a lot of coal, lot of natural gas and taking it into the future and really trying to be more carbon free with our generation resources, and at the same time provide more renewable programs for customers to participate in as they have those goals.

So we’re really trying to do two things, and I think with this IRP we took another step in the right direction of those two things, which is figuring out how to clean up our own portfolio and make sure that we can continue to provide reliable, low cost energy with clean resources, but then also delivering programs to customers so that they can participate in additional renewable programs outside of our generation resources. So yeah, this IRP was really good progress towards that and I think ultimately we’re projecting to be over 50% carbon free resources by 2030, I think is our latest statistic. It might be a little bit above that including the results from this most recent IRP. But that’s great news for all of our customers, is that just by virtue of being a Georgia Power customer, you are continually getting the benefit of clean energy.

Sharon Lee:

Right. Well, and a lot of people think of the rate case as being the same as the IRP or at least that they go hand in hand and they do, they build off of each other but they’re not the same thing. So can you talk about the difference between that and the rate case that’s still going on?

Brooke Haman:

Yeah, yeah. Good point. So we have our regulatory year. So the beginning of the year starts the IRP and then the end of the year is the rate case. So we filed our rate case, that’s also a three year process. I was remiss in saying the IRP is filed every three years, but it’s supposed to be a 20 year look on how we’re going to serve customers reliably and for the next 20 years. So the rate case follows right after the IRP, and that’s really where we take a look at, okay, we know how we’re going to serve customers now, what is it going to cost to serve customers? What’s the impact on customers to serve them that way.

So we filed our rate case in June, and that should be completed sometime mid to late December. It follows a similar regulatory path. We make a big filing, and then there are folks that intervene in the process and we continue to take feedback and make sure that we’re considering everything from all angles, and then ultimately the Public Service Commission will vote on our rate case and approve some things and maybe not approve other things. But again, that’s part of that constructive regulatory relationship and environment, just ensuring that we consider all sides of it.

Sharon Lee:

Right. Well, we might have to pick this conversation back up after the 1st of the year and talk about how things actually did play out and then what the outlook for the future will be because of how they wound up.

Brooke Haman:

These things date themselves very quickly when you’re talking about just our regulatory filings, because had we had this conversation in January, even though that doesn’t seem like that long ago, probably what I would’ve said, would’ve been a little bit different than what I’m saying right now, just because it’s so dependent upon that entire regulatory process and what comes out of that process. So yeah, definitely January, we’ll definitely have more information in January about what the future holds. So I would love to come back.

Sharon Lee:

Well, I’m calling it a date. We’ll definitely do that. But in the meantime, tell folks where they can find you if they have questions or want to discuss renewables in general.

Brooke Haman:

So you can always go to our website, georgiapower.com/solar, and you can get information about all of our solar programs, whether that’s our procurements or whether that’s just our solar programs. You can find all of the information you want, utility scale, distributed generation, behind the meter. It’s all there. My team in particular, we run the behind the meter programs. So if you’re very interested in the behind the meter programs, you can go to georgiapower.com/btm and find more information there. Then there should be links on both of those pages for folks to be able to reach out to us via email, if they need information beyond what’s on the website.

Sharon Lee:

We’ll make sure we put those links on our website as well when we load this podcast up. Well, Brooke, it has been great chatting with you today. I can’t thank you enough for joining us and talking through what all is going on. I look forward to our next walk down the belt line, of course, and hearing more about what’s going on at Georgia Power as things are constantly changing.

Brooke Haman:

Thank you so much. Thank you for this opportunity. I love you. I love our history together. I love-

Sharon Lee:

Me too.

Brooke Haman:

As I told you, when you invited me, anytime someone gives me the opportunity to stand up and talk about renewables, I’m going to stand up and talk about it. I’m sure my friends, family, coworkers, they’re all sick of listening to me talk, but thank you for providing me another avenue to broadcast my voice. Whether or not people want to hear it is still to be seen, but thank you for giving me another soapbox to stand on.

Sharon Lee:

Well, fantastic, and I look forward to seeing you at our women’s event and all around the belt line.

Brooke Haman:

Thanks so much.

Sharon Lee:

All right. Thank you. We’ll see you soon.

Brooke Haman:

Bye.

Sharon Lee:

Thanks for listening to the Sunnyside Podcast. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review. You can also email questions, suggestions, and compliments to sharon@velosolar.com. The Sunnyside is produced by the Podcast Laundry production company and executive produced by Sharon Lee.

Sharon Lee:

Sharon Lee taps over a decade of solar sales experience, having led the creation of a solar division for a leading manufacturing/construction firm, resulting in over 17 MW of solar in its portfolio as well as solar ultimately becoming its highest-grossing revenue vertical. Lee has been involved in the GA Solar Energy Association, serving on the board of directors as the marketing chair, organizing the annual conference, as well as vice-chair, and ultimately the first female chair of the organization in 2015. She is also a charter member of the Professional Women in Building chapter of the Greater Atlanta Homebuilders Association, a member of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), and Women in Solar Energy (WISE). Lee earned her B.S. degree in communications with double minors in marketing and psychology from Middle Tennessee State University, after spending three years at the University of Tennessee in the pre-health curriculum. Lee is the mom of two boys, ages 14 and 11, and a rabid college football fan. She and her husband, John, spend most of their free time at the baseball or football fields unless they can steal away for a quick round of golf.

Brooke Haman:

Brooke is in charge of the managing strategy, design, and implementation of renewable energy procurement and self-build programs in Georgia Power. Throughout her trajectory, she has worked with companies like the Southern Company system teams and industry stakeholders like an External Affairs Project Manager to investigate and include emerging technologies as part of Georgia Power’s generation fleet and/or customer offerings. Brooke has worked on Georgia Power for over 10 years as  Renewable Energy Principal, Renewable Development Lead, Green and Renewable Energy Project Manager, Metro Sales, and Energy Efficiency Project Manager. She is currently the Renewable Customer Projects Supervisor.

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