In December 2021, we welcomed Rachael Estes and Carson Harkrader as our new CCEBA Chair and Vice Chair. These clean energy business leaders bring a wealth of experience to the organization, and we are excited to have them lead our board. We recently sat down to chat with both of them about their background and where they hope to guide our organization as we gear up for the new year. 

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your experience prior to your current role?

Rachael Estes: I began my career on Capitol Hill working for U.S. Representative Kathy Castor (D-FL) who served on the Energy and Commerce Committee. During that time, I learned a lot about our Nation’s energy infrastructure, but the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster was a pivotal moment for me. Watching the oil spew into our gulf unabated for months on end, I realized I wanted to devote my career to the shift to clean energy. I worked on the RESTORE Act, the ultimate response to the BP oil disaster, and staffed Congresswoman Castor on the Gulf Coast Caucus. Congresswoman Castor is now the Chair of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

After I left the Hill, I got my Masters in Public Policy from Duke University and then went to work for the North Carolina Conservation Network as their Energy and Climate Manager. In that role, I spent several years lobbying the North Carolina legislature on clean energy issues and represented the environmental community during HB589 negotiations. 

I am now the State Affairs Director at Apex Clean Energy where my region includes PJM and the Carolinas. Apex is a renewable energy IPP focused on utility-scale wind and solar. We have projects throughout the US and Canada. In my current position, I engage with government leaders, coalition partners, and manage a team of lobbyists in various states throughout the region to advocate for stronger renewable energy policies. I also serve on the board of the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition (MAREC) and in 2018, I was appointed by Governor Roy Cooper to serve on the North Carolina Energy Policy Council

Carson Harkrader: Right out of college, I took a job in international development in Southeast Asia. I enjoyed the work, but I always questioned whether I was making the most impact that I could when it came to helping people. My dad, Richard Harkrader, has spent much of his career in the  renewable energy field and suggested I try looking there. I worked for nearly a decade at GE Energy selling wind and gas turbines and structuring energy contracts across complicated policy landscapes. I also got my MBA in Finance Strategy while working there. When my dad retired, I took over as the CEO of his company, Carolina Solar Energy

Q: What do you work on now?

Rachael: At Apex, I manage our political and regulatory strategy for the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic. My work includes developing political and policy strategy for our states, working with coalition partners and key stakeholders to block bad legislation or help pass good legislation, and ensuring a favorable regulatory environment for renewable energy development. 

Apex Clean Energy is a rapidly growing renewable energy IPP. Although our main focus is still in utility-scale wind and solar, we’ve expanded into DER, green fuels, and energy storage. I am really proud to share that our company will offset nearly half a billion tons of carbon dioxide over the lifetime of built projects.

Carson: I serve as the CEO for Carolina Solar Energy, an early-stage solar developer. The company has a long history of working on utility-scale solar projects, and was the first firm to build a utility-scale project in North Carolina in 2007. Today, we operate primarily in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Louisiana. Our specialties are land acquisition, permitting, community engagement, and interconnection. For example, we recently partnered with the City of Charlotte to develop a 35-megawatt solar project that will be funded through the Duke Energy Green Source Advantage Program. This project alone will help Charlotte meet a quarter of its zero-carbon goal by 2030. 

What do you see as key priorities for the Carolinas clean energy industry in the next year? Where will CCEBA primarily focus?

Rachael: I am excited about the opportunities for clean energy in the Carolinas this year, but also realize it may be a bit challenging given how much work there is to be done. Outside of our typical intervention with IRPs and commission dockets, I believe Implementation of HB951 will be a main priority for the organization as it’s really laying the foundation for our state’s clean energy goals. It will also be an important goal of ours to continue to encourage competition and market reform both in North and South Carolina. 

On a personal note, I am excited to work closely with our existing members as well as grow our membership. North and South Carolina are dynamic states with good solar and wind resources and I am looking forward to continuing the shift to clean energy in this region. 

Carson: My priority is to find ways to help energy users in the Carolinas that want to source clean energy. As regulations are written for HB 951, we need to be deeply engaged alongside other stakeholders. A big goal is to ensure that clean energy can provide all of the benefits envisioned by HB 951, at the least possible cost to ratepayers. The renewables industry has a big role to play in figuring out how to do that and CCEBA is a key player in helping these businesses work together. We also need to focus on addressing issues with transmission, community acceptance of renewables, and integration. We have to work to find ways that clean energy and storage can help create and contribute to a resilient grid.