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Women in Renewables: Amelia Hanscombe copy

Amelia Hanscombe is the Legal Manager at Pacific Hydro and Australia’s recently appointed Ambassador for the Global Wind Energy Council’s Women in Wind Program. Amelia shares her career journey so far, advice to other women and explains why we should never be afraid to step outside of our comfort zones.

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Tell us a bit about yourself personally and professionally?

I’m Melbourne born and raised and apart from three years living and eating my way through Tokyo, I continue to call Melbourne home. My husband, toddler and I all live under the iron rule of our bossy and neurotic ginger cat, Willis. Both the toddler and the cat are regular interlopers on my Zoom calls...

I’m a corporate lawyer by trade and first started out at Allens in Melbourne before moving to Clifford Chance in Tokyo, with a brief sojourn in between as an Associate at the Supreme Court of Victoria on Matthews v AusNet Electricity Services and Ors, the landmark class action brought following the Black Saturday bushfires in Kilmore East and Kinglake.

Though I have always practiced law in the energy sector, I moved to in-house legal practice in late 2017 and haven’t looked back.

Where do you work and what do you do?

I’m the Legal Manager at Pacific Hydro, where I manage all aspects of our Australian legal affairs. As Pacific Hydro is a developer, builder, operator and long-term owner of renewable energy assets, my role is hugely diverse – I work on everything from initial land banking through to development structuring and construction, financing, offtake, long-term operations and decommissioning. I’m particularly involved in project financing and work closely with our construction and treasury teams.

Being in-house provides me with incredible opportunities to work on a greenfield project from the very start to the triumphant finish, as well as work with a huge range of talented people across the business – engineers, accountants, designers, procurement experts, environment and planning specialists, project managers, builders and executives.

How did you get into the renewable energy industry?

My first exposure to the renewable energy industry was as a junior lawyer, advising external clients on electricity regulation and later, financing and construction of projects. Corporate law is pretty stale at the best of times, but knowing that my work was contributing to actual, physical assets that were generating real electricity was hugely exciting. Not only were the projects tangible, I was deeply drawn to the industry’s ability to evolve and grow notwithstanding the seemingly relentless policy vacuum.

My interest in the sector continued to grow whilst working in Tokyo, where I worked on a range of solar farms in regional Japan, a wind farm in Senegal (the first of its kind) and a major offshore wind project in Taiwan. As it turned out, the challenges facing renewables in Australia were not so different to those faced abroad (challenging grid connections, wobbly EPC contractors, nervous financiers). It was fascinating to see how other international developers solved tricky projects.

What do you like most about your job?

I gain immense satisfaction by being part of the climate change solution, rather than simply talking about it. In particular, the wind industry in Australia is so adaptable and resilient – we’ve faced some very strong headwinds (grid instability, a patchwork of regulation, the Abbott years…) and yet still continued a trajectory of enormous growth and innovation. Having negotiated the commercial aspects of a project and knowing the economic drivers that underpin their success, I can certainly say that getting a project off the ground is no mean feat. It is satisfying being an active part of the clean energy transition and seeing our projects under construction.

As an in-house lawyer in this sector, I love that my job is hands-on, practical, and never dull. I’m not on the tools, but with my skillset I’m as close as I can be to the action!

What have been the biggest challenges for you as a woman working in a male dominated industry?

On countless occasions (and even still today), I’ve been the only woman in the room – whether that be negotiating with bankers or attending a safety induction on site.

Industry events tends to be dominated by males (whether that be attendees or panel speakers).

Email salutations still begin with “gents”, even when there’s a smattering of females buried in ‘cc.

These examples might seem small, but their regularity contributes to a broader culture in which women’s voices simply aren’t heard. Whether it is conscious or unconscious, the lack of gender diversity in a room does contribute to the overall dynamics.

It takes courage to speak up in a room full of blokes, and can be intimidating to ask questions or contribute to discussions where there might be an underlying assumption you don’t know the “lingo”. I’ve occasionally found myself absorbed in an inner monologue that I suspect my male colleagues aren’t experiencing – Am I being too direct? Was I just accidentally rude? Or am I too nice?!

This isolation can play out at a social level too – I can certainly recall situations where I’ve felt left out or awkward by being unable to contribute to particularly blokey topics of discussion.

What do you think would encourage more women to enter the clean energy sector?

In spite of the challenges I’ve just described, the participation of women in the industry is continuing to increase and I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by some absolute powerhouse women at Pacific Hydro (including a female CEO) who give me, and other women in the sector, the confidence to use my voice.

There are some excellent industry-led initiatives that are working hard to support and mentor women in the industry, including the Clean Energy Council’s Women in Renewables initiative and the Global Wind Energy Council’s Global Ambassadors for Women in Wind – which I am very proud to be a part of.

These initiatives, along with the wonderful friendships and constant support that women throughout the industry offer, should provide great encouragement to women entering the clean energy sector.

What advice do you have for women looking to enter the clean energy sector?

Be open to opportunity and step out of your comfort zone! There is such a huge variety of skills, roles, and life cycles in the development and construction of a project – you never know what you will be good at until you try.

The sector is underpinned by a phenomenal diversity of professional backgrounds, including engineering, finance, planning, construction, environmental science, business, communications, advocacy and law. Due to a commonly held perception that women are unable to progress in highly ‘technical’ fields, so many young women risk being discouraged from considering a career in the sector or even unaware such careers exist.

Not only are there wonderful untapped opportunities, the sector needs women’s voices. It is well known that across the world, the impacts of climate change are experienced by women and men disproportionately. Extreme weather events such as bushfires and floods have a greater impact the poor, vulnerable and those in unstable employment– the majority of whom are women. Despite being disproportionately affected, women’s voices are not equally heard – either in energy markets or in political decision-making spheres.

If we are to tackle climate change effectively and address the challenges the energy transition brings, women need to be an equal part of the solution.

What do you wish you were told when you first started out in our career?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. In a very technical industry, its easy to assume that your questions are silly or irrelevant. Chances are, everyone’s thinking it but no one is brave enough to ask it! You will not learn unless you’re brave enough to explore a topic with total curiosity and openness.

In any event, asking questions will broaden everyone’s knowledge and trigger new issues that haven’t been considered before – this is the good stuff, that is ultimately the foundation for innovation.