A Green Career Conversation with Daniel Johnson of Blanco Tackabery

Will Eley from PEA sat down with Daniel Johnson of Blanco Tackabery's renewable energy team to discuss Daniel's first-year in the rapidly growing sustainabilty space. This transcribed interview is part of PEA's ongoing Triad Green Job Center programming. 

Note that Blanco Tackabery was nominated for PEA’s 2023 Green Business of the Year award, for its local impact and its nationwide leadership in the renewable energy space. 

WE: Daniel Johnson, attorney at law, clean energy crusader, and Green Business Network member! Thanks for taking time to chat with PEA this afternoon about your background and your clean energy development work with Blanco Tackabery. 

You and I have talked before about how we both kinda stumbled into the sustainability space, not by chance, but from the side-door, so to speak. And with so many folks who are early or mid-career and thinking about jobs that are climate and sustainability focused, we would love to hear more about your path from law school to Blanco’s renewable energy team. 

DJ: During law school I had hoped to work in transactional law, but was not set on any definitive path. I had not yet considered having a career in a green occupation, largely due to the complexities of what options were available, but was fortunate to have encountered attorneys from Blanco Tackabery who were committed to sustainability. After meeting with several attorneys within the practice, I was enamored with the passion by which this group dedicated themselves to the renewable energy field. 

After passing the bar exam, I was informed that Blanco Tackabery’s Renewable Energy Financing and Development practice group had a need for an associate. I promptly relayed my excitement at the possibility of joining such a growing area of law. I was hired in September of 2022, and soon learned that the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act had greatly influenced the decision by the renewable energy team at Blanco Tackabery to pursue hiring an associate to help manage the growth that the green market continues to experience.

WE: For readers who are newer to the renewable energy space, and who may not even be aware that Blanco Tackabery is a leader in the space, could you give us the 30-second sound bite on both the scope and scale of Blanco’s utility scale solar work?

DJ: Absolutely! Blanco Tackabery provides developers and sponsors with legal services related to the acquisition, development, financing and disposition of utility-scale renewable energy projects, as well as advice on managing risks from pre-construction through the end of the tax-credit recapture period.

Our Renewable Energy Financing and Development Team has worked with clients to close tax credit equity investments, as well as development, construction and permanent debt financing, on both a project-level and back-leverage basis, using multiple deal-structures, for hundreds of projects that now produce multiple gigawatts of clean electricity across the country. We have significant experience identifying and mitigating hurdles to acquiring and financing renewable energy projects and allocating risks among the parties.

WE: Really impressive stuff. Multiple gigawatts! For our readers, just one gigawatt of solar energy is enough to power around 750,000 homes. 

And, as you might expect, I really love that anecdote about The Inflation Reduction Act (“The IRA”) opening up an impactful role for you in the renewable energy space, and right here in Winston-Salem, too! As someone who both worked for a number of years on these policies and takes a lot of pride in Winston-Salem, I must say it's very refreshing to hear that such a revered law firm here in town was able to expand and, as a result, keep you here in our community after your graduation from Wake Forest: a leader in the chamber’s 40 under 40 group; a 2024 Leadership Winston-Salem cohort member…you are really doing big things. 

But like you said, folks do face a lot of complexities when they are thinking about career pathways and pipelines; and the broader sustainability space can feel especially foggy. A tyranny of too many choices, it can feel like. But it sounds like the staff at Blanco Tackabery made time to speak openly with you about their passions and their day-to-day work in renewable energy development. 

Could you share a snippet of some of that advice, or another anecdote, that you think would be helpful to someone who is the position you were in just over a year ago? What’s that kernel of sustainability wisdom that you think current law students interested in your field should know?

DJ: My hope is that law students and people in other fields recognize the strength, versatility, and most importantly, the timing of the sustainability job market. It may seem like this industry has been at full capacity for a while now, but on the national level the market has really started gaining a lot of momentum within the last few years. Individuals who are just beginning their careers, training, or education have a great chance to join a blossoming industry and become experts before market saturation takes place. 

It really is a great time to consider the benefits of working in sustainability, and it’s important to note that not all occupations will be obvious. For me personally, prior to graduating law school I was only aware of a few options for lawyers in sustainability-- such as legislative or advocacy roles. I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to work with a team to finance and develop solar projects. My point being, look for the clear options, but also keep an eye out for ways to become a sustainability expert within your chosen field. I work with plenty of bankers, investors, accountants and other nonlegal transactional parties every day, all working towards developing renewable energy.

If you are interested in a green career and want to learn more directly from sustainability professionals in our community like Daniel, join our Triad Green Career Network here