Bite-sized challenges, spinach-in-the-teeth moments, and her approach to hiring the best Talent
In our latest Women of Borrego blog series, we spoke with the leader of our New York project development team, Amy McDonough. Amy is a geologist and environmental scientist who has developed more than 150 megawatts of ground-mounted solar in New York and Massachusetts. She works closely with public and private entities and landowners who lease their land for community solar projects, which provide clean, pollution-free energy to local communities. We asked her to share her professional experience, career advice, and insights for women in the solar industry.
Q: In your position of leading our NY project development efforts, what are your main responsibilities?
AM: My primary responsibility is to deliver high-quality, well-planned solar projects that offer great value to our customers. This includes spending a lot of time thinking about policy and understanding how policy changes might impact our projects.
As the most experienced project developer on my team, I also help identify any potential risks or challenges for our solar projects. It’s my responsibility to look further ahead than my employees with less industry experience might do to anticipate and help remove obstacles. This way my team members can be successful solar developers and good partners for the customers who buy our solar projects.
As New York state has expanded its community solar policies over the last few years, I have also helped Borrego improve its processes and the way we approach critical issues such as taxes and planning with local communities. Towns and County leaders where solar projects are being built have become much more familiar with solar, especially the critical issues of taxes and permitting.
We want solar to be a win for everyone, and we know that open, transparent conversations with the town are the best way to approach this.
Having worked closely with so many customers, local agencies and communities, we know it’s best to have these critical conversations early in the process, so we’ve built transparency into our entire process starting from the very beginning. We want solar to be a win for everyone, and we know that open, transparent conversations with the town are the best way to approach this.
Q: What’s your educational background?
AM: I have a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Science in Geology, with a focus on sediment and soil science. I actually started college as a business major, but quickly fell in love with geology and never looked back.
Q: How did your career path bring you to solar?
AM: I began my career as an environmental scientist working for traditional environmental consulting and engineering firms. I worked on projects evaluating brownfield sites, doing soil samples and borings, and developed environmental clean-up plans for public and private entities.
My career path was driven by the fact that I could write well and create reports and feasibility studies that could be easily understood by non-scientists. Eventually, I began putting my environmental and technical knowledge to work on real estate transactions and environmental insurance policies for a wide variety of large, multi-million dollar cleanup and engineering projects.
Several of my projects were related to renewable energy assessments and environmental feasibility for wind, hydro, and biomass projects. I was initially introduced to Borrego many years ago while working for a third party company on the environmental permitting for Borrego’s Easthampton Landfill project. I joined Borrego soon after that, first in the Boston office developing solar projects in Massachusetts. In 2013, I opened our New York office and built a great team of solar and energy storage experts who are developing and building high-quality projects for our customers.
Q: Have you faced challenges being a woman in this industry?
AM: Like other women in construction and engineering roles, I’m often the only woman in the room or on a jobsite. I’ve often been talked over, and had my opinions ignored. And there have been times when it felt as if forging ahead in the face of these obstacles would be almost insurmountable.
Q: How do you overcome challenges like this?
AM: Earlier in my career, I was not willing to make waves or challenge the status quo, and I let a lot of things go that I probably shouldn’t have. With more experience, I’ve concluded that in general, the direct approach is always best. When I found out that many of my female employees were experiencing the same concerns, I realized it was my job as their leader to model self-empowering behaviors. It’s important for me to set the example by tackling these issues head on.
Now, I approach this as a “spinach in the teeth” moment. Generally, I find that people who may be speaking over another person, or ignoring another person’s ideas, don’t realize they’re doing it — and they would prefer to know about it and learn from it. When these situations arise, I try to talk directly and focus on how we can better work together. Being direct often results in fixing a lot of these behaviors.
Q: Which skills have brought you the most success in your career.
AM: Without a doubt, having good people and organization skills have been important. But one of the most helpful skills, or techniques, that has consistently brought me success is to break challenges into bite-sized pieces. This is based on my belief that you can always figure out the one next thing you can do to move toward your goal. Even if you’re unsure about what you’re doing, each step will shed light on the next one or two so you can move forward on your goals.
Q: Any advice for managers trying to foster diversity and inclusion as they build their teams?
AM: For starters, I see all candidates — women and men — in terms of their talent. As a manager, it’s important to acknowledge that there are many ways to approach skills and qualifications in a candidate. The ingredients that go into an ideal candidate don’t always have to be the same from person to person, and you’re never going to find all those qualities in a single person. One person may shine in one area, and someone else may shine in another area. Be aware that there are many different combinations of qualities — different recipes and seasoning for each candidate — so it’s important to be open to all the possible qualities when looking at candidates.
My kids call me the “solar supermom,” and that brings me a lot of pride.
Q: What do you enjoy most about working in the solar industry?
AM: Like many people working in the solar industry, I feel good every single day working to improve the environment and reverse climate change. I’ve dedicated my career to this. My kids call me the “solar supermom,” and that brings me a lot of pride.
Also, I like working in solar because it’s a young industry with an entrepreneurial spirit and a lot of growth opportunities for women. Anyone at any time can step forward with the next great idea. This is in stark contrast to long-standing engineering firms that may never deviate from how they do business.
Q: What do you love about working for Borrego?
AM: I’m a process improvement person, so I’m always looking for ways to do things more efficiently. One of the things I really value about Borrego is how much process improvement is worked into our company culture and the effect it has on welcoming new ideas. At Borrego, we see both opportunity and failure as a chance to improve our processes, and we don’t criticize for mistakes or strife. This culture is really fostered by our management team and our CEO, Mike Hall — and it’s a wonderful work environment for taking risks and trying new things.
Q: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
AM: Don’t wait to tackle a challenge until you believe you can do it successfully. Tackle it before you think you’re ready, because you’re fully capable of learning. Push yourself to rise to challenges you may not feel you’re qualified for, and you’ll prove to yourself you are ready for it. You are capable of it!