Executive Director, The Energy Co-op
I’m the kind of person who, if I identify a problem, I am volunteering to be a part of the solution.
Damali Rhett is executive director of The Energy Co-op, a unique green power purchasing collective in Philadelphia and surrounding counties. When the energy industry veteran took on the role late last year, she confronted a classic MBA problem. Membership was declining, causing prices to rise and membership to decline further. Her solution is to reverse the spiral—to spin up rather than down. Increasing the nonprofit’s buying power puts downward pressure on the pricing the Co-op can offer the community, says Rhett, who wants to quintuple the Co-op’s membership from 5,000 to 25,000. Ultimately it’s a way for consumers to express their values through the marketplace.
“I’m an energy person first, who is also an environmentalist,” Rhett says. “All utilities now have renewables in their portfolio. That’s one of the drivers in lowering costs and we take advantage of that.” Members pay a slight premium for clean and sometimes locally produced electricity, which The Energy Co-op provides through tradable renewable energy certificates. This creates a market-based incentive for companies to invest in wind and solar generation, even with the price of natural gas at historic lows. “The price drops for renewables year-over-year have been huge and in some cases producers have been able to generate renewable energy at parity, or even below traditional brown sources,” she says.
Rhett began her career in management consulting, specializing in post-merger integration at Deloitte, where she also led a team studying electric vehicle infrastructure. Her fascination with the energy business grew out of an OnSite Global Consulting project during her second year at Tuck, analyzing power-generation opportunities in the Caribbean for a global client. “Several islands were using diesel which is expensive and dirty, while Costa Rica at that point was 90-plus percent renewable,” says Rhett, who recognized the dramatic impact energy can have on quality of life.
“I like to look at energy as a means of economic justice and social justice,” she says. A chance meeting in the Philadelphia public library galvanized that connection. “I was at a green event at the local library in Philadelphia and I spoke to a woman who hadn’t had heat for 20 years,” she says. “Last year, she did not have electricity. Think about what that does to a child. How can I empower that child to be the next president of the United States if she can’t even read at night? My mission is to make sure energy is available to everyone.”
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