Stacey Abrams is on a newish mission: helping all Americans, especially low- and middle-income Americans, understand how they stand to benefit from electrification.
Rewiring America on Tuesday announced that Abrams will join the nonprofit in a consulting role as senior counsel, tasked with helping explain to the masses how electrification can tackle climate change, curb air pollution, improve people’s health and save them money. Abrams has her work cut out for her, as the US push to electrify vehicles, home heating, stoves and other appliances has at times been caught up in the nation’s culture wars.
But Abrams knows a thing or two about overcoming challenges, and about the energy transition. She hails from Georgia, a surprising hub for cleantech manufacturing in the South. Abrams is also well known for founding two voting rights organizations: the New Georgia Project and the more Fair Fight Action, though she does not currently hold positions with either group. And while Abrams lost successive bids to become Georgia’s first Black woman governor, her work was largely credited for Democrats clinching Georgia’s Senate seats in 2020 and 2022, effectively turning the Southern state from red to purple. Outside of politics, Abrams is also a successful writer, with three nonfiction books, two children’s books, eight romance novels and two political thrillers (the second comes out in May) under her belt.
Abrams takes on her new role just as billions of dollars are being made available to transform the nation’s energy system, thanks to last year’s passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. “The resources that are being made available because of the Inflation Reduction Act are generational,” she says, adding that this is the time to ensure all consumers know what they stand to gain. “How do they get to upgrade their appliances and improve their vehicles and reduce their bills?”
Abrams spoke with Bloomberg Green about why she’s pivoting to the normally wonky world of electrification, the lessons she’s learned from years spent organizing on voting rights and why the clean energy transition in Georgia isn’t unique to the state. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Why did you decide to jump into electrification?
Well, for me, this is not new. I’ve spent years working on issues of the environment and environmental justice. I wrote my senior thesis in college on environmental action that needed to be taken where I grew up in the Gulf Coast area. I interned for the EPA for two different summers, one in North Carolina; the second in the newly created Office of Environmental Justice under then-President Bill Clinton. And so for me, this conversation has been an ongoing one. It was a part of the work I did in the legislature. It was part of my daily life when I was deputy city attorney, and it was part of my last two campaigns for governor — the promise to create green energy jobs and reduce energy costs. So the opportunity to be a part of Rewiring America is part and parcel of how I’ve always used my role and responsibilities.
I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit more about what your specific goals will be in your role at Rewiring America?
I’m here to help. I’m going to help launch and scale their outreach. I’m going to work very closely on their education campaigns, but also thinking about how we run this conversation. It’s about people knowing what’s out there and understanding how it affects their lives. What I’m excited about at Rewiring is that they’ve got tools and, more importantly, the skillset to really magnify what this opportunity looks like. My goal is to show up. Look, in my campaigns and actually in my office when I’m a politician and other times, my staff will tell you that their first question is: How can I help? That’s my question at Rewiring America.
There’s been a bunch of polling showing just how little the public actually knows about the IRA. There’s clearly this huge awareness challenge. How do you plan to tackle that?
Making it relevant to their daily lives. No one needs to read the IRA in its entirety. But what people want to know is: How does it impact my life for better or for worse? And in this case, it is all for the better. It is billions of dollars that will be made available, not only for people at the point of their need — whether it’s for their bills, or for their healthcare, or their comfort — it’s also about the job they have. It’s about the investments being made in their communities. We want people to know where it comes from. But the best way to get people to know where it comes from is to show what it does for them. And that’s where I enter the conversation. My vision is to make certain that average folks know what their fair share looks like. And that means talking to homeowners, but also talking to renters. It means having conversations with the churches that get phone calls late at night when someone can’t make their power bill. It’s meeting people at the point of their needs and the point of their interest.
Is that a lesson you’ve learned in getting information out about voting rights and voting access? How have you learned where the starting point is for different people?
This has been part of my life for a very long time. When I was in college trying to get people to sign up to vote, there’s almost no one more disinterested in filling out a voter registration form than a college kid on a Friday afternoon. I learned! I learned a lesson that you meet people where they are, not where you want them to be.
And where people are right now — they’re concerned about their bills, they’re concerned about their families. There’re those who are concerned about the environment, some come from a place of energy independence, others come from a place of wanting better and greater resilience. Some people want to have an impact on the climate, and some just want better jobs. So part of my goal is to be part of how we talk about each of these pieces in front of the audiences that are ready to hear them, and also some audiences that don’t even know it’s a conversation.
Since you’ve spent so much time working on these issues in Georgia, what does the energy transition there look like and what could it say for the rest of the country?
Georgia has enjoyed bipartisan efforts on clean energy for a while. During my time in the legislature, there was actually a moment where a group of us were referred to as the Green Tea Party. Very interesting alliance on energy issues. I’m proud of the work I was able to do working across the aisle. Sometimes I reached across, sometimes they reached across. But we have seen the conversation unfold in Georgia for years. We’ve seen regulatory improvements that have made solar easier in Georgia and in some other states. And so we know that the economic promise of clean energy is real in Georgia. We know that jobs are coming to states and that those jobs are having a real impact on people’s lives. So being able to use Georgia as an example is important. But it’s also critical that we tie the success in Georgia to the success in other states. The worst outcome is for people to think this is location-specific. This is something that can work everywhere.
Do you think it’s fair to say Georgia signals a shift in politics around clean energy?
I think Georgia, for various reasons, has come to understand the importance of bipartisanship in specific ways. But I don’t think it’s unique to Georgia. Rewiring is coming at it not from a political space but from a personal space. When your neighbors are talking about the fact that they were able to go to the local hardware store and get their new induction stovetop, the one they saw on TikTok, and they are cooking with it, not that they were compelled to do it but because they saw there was a sale and they realized they could afford it. Politics is not a leading edge in conversation. It follows. And so our responsibility is to make sure that the people demand what they need. Fundamentally the reason I’m involved in Democracy efforts, in voting rights, is that voters should dictate what happens.
Finally, is there a piece of the energy transition or the climate crisis in general that keeps you up at night?
I grew up on the Gulf Coast and that was an area that was assailed with environmental challenges because of petrochemicals. Low-income communities, communities of color were divorced from political power and they were divorced from economic opportunity. There will be billions of dollars poured into our economy for good reasons to do good things. What keeps me awake at night is that the communities who need the help the most and who could benefit the most from this economic opportunity get left out. That’s why I am here.
((Corrects years of Democrats’Senate victories in Georgia in third paragraph.))
To contact the author of this story:
Zahra Hirji in Washington at email@example.com