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Black entrepreneurs exploring offshore wind industry for opportunity while tackling climate change

Suppliers and vendors are lining up for offshore wind contracts with developers in the renewable energy sector.

Black entrepreneurs exploring offshore wind industry  for opportunity while tackling climate change
Photo by Nicholas Doherty / Unsplash

When Deidre Helberg wanders into a conference room hall occupied by construction companies, shipping firms and cable manufacturers, she is usually the only Black woman in the room.

After nearly two decades of running a business that sells electrical equipment to utilities, transit authorities and universities, the 60-year-old is used to the treatment she gets when she attends a trade show for the prospect of supplying equipment to an offshore wind project near Long Island, N.Y.

“I don’t even really exist,” the CEO of Helberg Electrical Supply told E&E News, seeing the largely white people moving about a plain conference room at a nearby Marriott hotel.

Helberg Electrical Supply supplies power generation equipment, lighting, and energy-efficient products for various sectors. The company recently partnered with the National Supplier Diversity Institute to provide training and business and career pathways to people from BIPOC and underserved communities.

These days, she hopes that she will be able to expand her business through renewable energy and sustainability projects to train a new generation of Black entrepreneurs in the power industry.

“I tell people all the time, ‘If you are involved in climate change and want to help the planet, you have to really understand that this is about humanity,’” Helberg told E&E News. “When you say, ‘diversity and inclusion and justice,’ that includes everybody, all of us as human beings. And so, it’s just opening up the door for careers, jobs training and a new industry that really is not new.”

U.S. President Joe Biden and other governors in the northeast are looking at offshore wind projects to boost the green sector and create jobs.

However, it remains difficult for BIPOC entrepreneurs to break into renewable energy and sustainability sectors and serve as suppliers and vendors to offshore wind project developers.

New York offers a program that links major corporations with businesses owned and operated by people of colour. But many business owners struggle with the certification process, which can take two years, according to Helberg, who also serves as the executive director of the non-profit U.S. Coalition of Black Women Businesses, which supports Black female entrepreneurs.

The wait can be expensive for offshore wind developers who scramble to secure project suppliers and vendors. In addition, she is concerned that the delay would prompt offshore wind companies to say they cannot partner with minority- or women-owned businesses, fearing they cannot handle projects of that scale. In her job, Helberg has come across similar justifications.

“You’ll get, ‘I can’t find anybody,'” she said. “I go, ‘I’m right here.'”

She wants to sell transformers, arresters, and other electrical equipment to offshore wind businesses. Although the developers appear to be making a genuine attempt to collaborate with people of colour, she said they are up against bureaucratic obstacles and the legacy of deeply engrained bias in American society.