New Energy Access and Equity leadership at Fresh Energy

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Fresh Energy is committed to ensuring an equitable and just energy transition as we move to a carbon-neutral economy in Minnesota, the Midwest, and beyond. While equity is a central pillar of our mission and a priority across the organization, Fresh Energy’s Energy Access and Equity department is where we focus specifically on policies and programs that reduce the energy burden on under-resourced communities, increase opportunities for and access to public health benefits and job opportunities, and ensure solutions—and Fresh Energy operations—are equitable in both process and outcome. 

Ben Passer, our Lead Director of Energy Access & Equity, built this program and has been instrumental in shaping our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) commitment across the organization during his six years at Fresh Energy. (Learn more in Ben’s recent reflection). This summer Ben accepted a new and important position as Senior Program Officer for Midwest Climate & Energy at the McKnight Foundation and will be leaving Fresh Energy in September.  We are happy for Ben and grateful for his leadership in his years at Fresh Energy.

Times of change are an important opportunity to chart a new path for the future. Fresh Energy recognizes that in many ways Ben was conducting two programs for Fresh Energy, internal DEI work as well as programmatic leadership, and we have two staff members on the team ready to take on new challenges and expanded roles.

Anjali Bains is Fresh Energy’s new Energy Access and Equity Strategy Lead, charged with steering inclusive policy change—at the Minnesota State Capitol, Public Utilities Commission, and in other venues of change—that is laser-focused on an equitable and just transition to a carbon-neutral economy. A Fresh Energy staff member since 2019, Anjali has been leading Fresh Energy’s clean transportation work. Over the course of almost two years, she honed her expertise driving change in multiple settings, most recently providing vital leadership on Clean Cars Minnesota. Contending with equity and access to electric vehicles has been a central element of Anjali’s transportation role, which has also included work on electric bus investments, access to public charging, and a broader sustainable transportation strategy. Anjali brings to her new role experience in the solar industry as well, having worked as a solar developer and financer for almost five years before Fresh Energy. A member of Fresh Energy’s strategic planning team, Anjali played an important role in centering equity in Fresh Energy’s mission, vision, and broader work. 

Anjali will expand her focus on equitable transportation policy in her new role while also engaging with other areas of the energy sector currently covered by the Energy Access and Equity team. In the meantime, Fresh Energy remains committed to transitioning the transportation sector to carbon-free electricity and will soon advertise for a new EV specialist position on the Energy Transition team. 

Janiece Watts is Fresh Energy’s new Director of Culture and Partnerships. In this newly-created role, Janiece will be leading the expansion of Fresh Energy’s DEI and anti-racist systems and continuing and building on the vital equity- and environmental justice-focused partnerships, coalitions, and programs. A Fresh Energy staff member of the Energy Access and Equity team since 2018, Janiece is a recognized leader and spokesperson for centering equity in climate and energy work, with more than a decade of experience as a racial and environmental justice organizer in the Twin Cities. Janiece has and will continue to provide leadership on Fresh Energy’s local government initiatives, particularly in the East Metro, and will be building out new programs as we move forward. 

Mari Ojeda, who joined the Energy Access and Equity team in 2021, will be using her background and expertise in affordable housing to expand her leadership on energy efficiency in multifamily affordable housing, which has long been a central element of Fresh Energy’s equity work. 

Under its new leadership, Fresh Energy’s work will continue and evolve, and our investment in equity will continue to grow. Fresh Energy is committed to maximizing opportunities for our staff to advance and grow within the organization. We are thrilled to have such strong leaders in place who can take our work to a new level. Stay tuned for more details on our plans for this important next phase of Energy Access and Equity at Fresh Energy.  

Tune into the episode of “Decarbonize: The Clean Energy Podcast” where Ben Passer, Anjali Bains, Janiece Watts, and Mari Ojeda discuss the evolution of Fresh Energy’s Energy Access and Equity program.