This article was originally published in the February issue of NCSEA's Clean Energy Storyteller.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of chatting with one of North Carolina’s stellar leaders in clean energy, Starlette Hodge. Our Executive Director Ward Lenz initially brought her work to my attention, naming her “one of his favorite people.” So I was more than excited to learn about Star’s career as a Black woman in clean energy.
Our conversation started at the very beginning where she talked about her love for math as a young girl—an interest she developed from the influence of her father who was also great at mathematics. Excelling in math led Star to her high school’s math team which focused on algebra, geometry, and pre-calculus. When she joined as a freshman, she was one of two Black women on the team. One day, their guidance counselor asked what kind of career they wanted, and the other young woman confidently responded, “I want to be a mechanical engineer.” Though Star didn’t know what she wanted to be at that time, she was inspired by this young girl who was just like her. If her teammate could become an engineer, then so could she.
Star went on to get her engineering education at North Carolina State University. While there she started a co-op job with the US Army Corps of Engineers working with projects that mostly happened on the base. Once she graduated, she returned back to North Carolina and worked for the city of Rocky Mount where they designed utility lines, performed land assessments, and found ways to reduce utility bills for customers. In 1999, Star began working for the North Carolina Department of Energy where she has served for the last 22 years.
Today, Star is the state’s Energy Program Manager which consists of her providing technical assistance as well as programmatic and financial support for the programs in the energy sector. When I asked about the challenges she faced in building a network in an industry that is predominantly male and White, she simply said, “I’m one of the fortunate ones to have had Black leaders surrounding me.” Admittedly, she acknowledged the lack of diversity that was present whenever attending energy conferences on a national level. “If there were 300-500 people at the conference, then maybe you’d see 10-12 African Americans there. But I learned to navigate that. I felt secure because I had already saw African Americans in the energy field when I started.”
Within our conversation, Star also shared a deep respect and admiration for Secretary Michael Regan, who will soon be the first African American to lead the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President Biden’s administration. We talked about the importance of celebrating Black history in clean energy, particularly as it relates to North Carolina’s energy landscape. And even the advice she’d give Black professionals or people of color seeking to get into the energy industry. Her advice was, “I think we have to learn that they are not our enemies. We work together as a team to make things happen. Utilize the resources that they have to help you get to where you want to be in clean energy.”
Having accomplished many things over the last two decades, Star is proud to have been a part of conceptualizing the North Carolina Utility Savings Initiative, a program which started in 2003 and has helped the state avoid more than $1 billion in energy costs. She takes the most pride in being a part of the renewable energy programs and initiatives that directly impact underserved and lower-income communities across the state. She said, “I’m always proud when we get to do something that has direct impact to the residents.”
As a newbie to the energy sector, getting to know another Black woman in clean energy—one who is brilliant and has accomplished amazing things for our state—was nothing more than a blessing for me. It is my hope that we all celebrate Starlette Hodge for the clean energy star that she is. That we will continue to celebrate and recognize her contributions to the clean energy economy in North Carolina way beyond the month of February, but also in many years to come.