We recently sat down with MoNiqueka Smith, Legal Regulatory Manager at Duke Energy to learn more about her career path and what excites her about the future of energy in North Carolina. This feature is part of NCSEA’s celebration of Black History Month and our ongoing focus on elevating women and diversity in clean energy.
Bridging Gaps & Expanding Access
MoNiqueka Smith believes in the power of seizing an opportunity to contribute to the greater good. One of her mantras, “to bloom where you are planted,” has guided her in the direction of expanding affordability and energy access across North Carolina. In this space, Smith relies on her ability to connect with individuals from a diverse set of backgrounds to solve complex problems and leave a lasting impact.
After years working as a paralegal and case manager in the law firm arena, Smith joined Duke Energy in 2017. The scope of her role continues to evolve in the utility space, from overseeing large litigation cases to acting as a liaison between the company and other stakeholders. Throughout her career, she has desired to operate on the cutting-edge of energy, recently accepting a new position with Duke Energy in the clean energy space as Senior Strategy and Collaboration Manager for Transportation Electrification.
“It’s about making the world a better and more sustainable place,” Smith says. “I want everyone to have the opportunity to live in a safe community and breathe clean air. I believe that as long as we want it enough, we can make it happen.”
What Exists Without Energy?
All people need access to reliable transportation and electricity, she explains. Smith navigates the intricacies and interconnectedness of the energy system to expand the reach of communities from the mountains to the sea. In the legal space, she translated information and managed projects across teams to steer regulation and develop meaningful relationships with stakeholders. In her new role focused on transportation electrification, Smith will be entering the business side of the utility and is equipped with the knowledge and skills amassed throughout her career to be successful.
As North Carolina pursues a lower carbon economy, Smith says the time to execute is now. In the wake of the NC Utilities Commission’s recent Carbon Plan order, she is calling for an all-hands-on-deck approach to meet the carbon emission reduction mandates of HB 951 (a 70 percent reduction by 2030 and carbon-neutrality by 2050). Achieving these goals, Smith explains, will call on the expertise and collaborative insights of parties across the energy space, from technological innovations and project development to business and utility participation.
Smith also emphasizes the importance of compromise and forward-thinking planning to work towards a more equitable energy transition. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Smith explains. “It’s essential to look at successful legislation of other states and explore how it could fit within our region, geography and population.”
Above all, Smith states that North Carolina’s energy future needs to be affordable and inclusive of everyone. A shared purpose to address the energy burden is required for the state to tackle pervasive issues proportionately impacting low- to- moderate income households. In order to do this, she says, we must actively seek input from voices and communities that have been historically excluded from energy conversations to more effectively create avenues of access and awareness.
Mentorship & Professional Insight
From an early age, Smith’s mother and grandmother instilled the value of good morals, character, and integrity into her life. She also discovered that it was integral to expose herself to as many unique experiences as possible in order to interact with individuals from varying walks of life. Because of this, Smith actively engages with the next generation of clean energy professionals to help guide their personal and professional development.
She has always been interested in working with the youth because of their ability to approach current issues with a fresh lens. As president of the North Carolina chapter of the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE), Smith is creating a safe space for individuals to open their minds and learn. To do this, AABE offers scholarships to students from historically under-resourced communities to enroll in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) curriculum and training programs. The association also hosts numerous workforce development events and networking conferences throughout the year to connect young people with inspirational energy professionals.
To seed lasting change, Smith stresses that we must move away from the gatekeeping practices of the past to enable more people to succeed. "We need to continue to find ways to open the windows of opportunity across the board regardless of gender, ethnicity, or age,” she urged.
Smith is optimistic about what the future can look like, especially if we can remain nimble and adaptative. She is adamant that each person has an ability to positively impact the greater good by fostering innovation and change. “Stay open and hear what is being said,” she advises. “We must seek to understand first and not necessarily always seek to be understood.”