A Green Career Conversation with Yvette Jones of PowerUP NC

Will Eley from PEA sat down with Yvette Jones of PowerUP NC to talk about how their work advocating for a just, clean energy transition is increasing green job opportunities in our state.  This transcribed interview is part of PEA's ongoing Triad Green Job Center programming. 

WE: Yvette, thank you so much for taking time to sit down with PEA and speak about your green career pathway and the critical work that PowerUP NC does across our state to the benefit of communities that are disproportionately impacted by climate change and environmental injustice. 

For our readers who may not be familiar with PowerUP NC, can you give us an overview of y’all’s current mission and priorities, especially for those thinking about a future in community organizing?

YJ: Hi Will and thank you for the opportunity to talk with you about the work we are doing.  I've been working for the North Carolina League of Conservation Foundation Voters Foundation for almost seven years now.  Prior to this work I worked with the Winston-Salem Urban League where I developed a passion for working with the community. PowerUp NC is a grassroots organization that started from our voter registration program 10 years ago. We are a multiracial, statewide team of organizers, leaders and community members who ignite people-power to achieve a just transition to a clean energy economy. 

Why are we organizing for a Just Transition? Dependence on fossil fuels drives climate change that threatens our communities. Our state is already experiencing severe heat waves, droughts followed by historic flooding, and increasingly devastating storms. When we’re struggling to make ends meet, these kinds of impacts just make it harder to care for ourselves and our families. To thrive, we all need clean air, clean water, and healthy food, an affordable and safe place to live, and a high quality job that pays a living wage. Too often, these basic needs go unmet. That’s why North Carolina needs a just transition - a transition away from the fossil fuel-based economy that hurts workers and our communities, to a renewable energy economy that can sustain all of us and protect our environment. For this transition to be just, it must be led and governed by those on the frontlines. The voices of the people most impacted should guide the solutions. 

PowerUp NC is building power to: promote bottom-up solutions; influence local decision-making about economic development and regional planning; establish sustainable economic opportunities, such as green job pathways; unite communities through public education and civic engagement; address climate threats and advocate for climate resilience; and create greater racial equity and inclusion

WE: Thank you for defining a Just Transition for us, and for reiterating the fact that our capacity to engage with our communities and in politics is only possible once our basic needs are met. Politics is what we can do with surplus time: If I’m working multiple jobs and struggling to pay rent and keep food on the table, there is often no time or space to feel part of something bigger. 

I know PowerUP NC does a lot of work connecting people with the Weatherization Assistance Program, which helps under-resourced homeowners make critical upgrades to their homes. Tell us more about that engagement, and how green jobs and energy justice intersect there?

YJ:  Yes, we all have busy lives and finding time to squeeze in other interests can  be challenging. The  PowerUp NC team of organizers and volunteers value the time we have with community members, realizing that even 15 minutes of their time is valuable.  That’s why the Weatherization Assistance Program is an important part of our work. 

We open our conversations about the program so people can  immediately connect with the benefits this program offers, receiving free specific home improvements relating to lowering their energy bills and having a clean and safe home environment.  It’s also a great way to introduce clean energy as well as educate individuals on energy efficiency and how weather-sealing their homes not only improves the indoor air quality but reduces their carbon footprint.  Follow up is also very important to us, to make sure individuals were able to complete and submit the application.  We encourage people to share their experience with family, neighbors, and friends.

I’ve had the opportunity to observe some of the contractor’s work on the homes. I’ve witnessed the detailed explanations and knowledge they give homeowners identifying air leaks and proper exhausts in the home, upgrading to more energy efficient appliances as needed and HVAC systems.  

I’ve also had the pleasure of speaking with new people on the job, one being a recent high school graduate who received training and now on-the-job training who is excited about the work and greater opportunities it brings. Insulation, air sealing, furnace repairs, jobs like these are essential to transitioning to a more sustainable future.  Energy justice is about ensuring that all communities have access to affordable clean energy solutions, regardless of income level or geographical location and this program plays a vital role in promoting that.

WE: You have worked for years as both a community organizer and a public servant. For all of those folks thinking about a green career, what advice would you give someone who is looking for an energy justice focused role? What is that skill or that attribute they should be cultivating right now?

 YJ:  Well first I’d like to say get involved, volunteer with organizations that are working towards a clean energy economy to learn more about various opportunities, that would be a good starting point. Clean energy green jobs are becoming increasingly popular in today’s job market, offering opportunities for individuals to make a positive impact on the environment while also securing stable employment.  Individuals can find a variety of entry level  clean energy green jobs that they can apply for.  Other than those I’ve mentioned with weatherization jobs,  installing solar panels and batteries is another green job possibility, helping to install and maintain solar panels on residential or commercial buildings.

These jobs not only help reduce carbon emissions but also provide a steady income for those looking to enter the clean energy industry.  Solar PV (photovoltaic) installers typically need a highschool diploma. There are community college or technical school courses to learn more about solar installation. Courses range from basic safety and PV knowledge to system design and the course completion time ranges from as little as one week to several months. Another option is turbine technician, installing and maintaining wind turbines that generate electricity from the power of wind.  

There are many clean energy jobs that provide environmental benefits and economic opportunities.  By pursuing clean energy careers, individuals can help build a more sustainable future.  

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