The Workforce and Equitable Access (WEA) team supports the growth of a diverse and well-supported solar workforce and increasing equitable access to solar energy for all Americans. This includes workforce initiatives in areas such as training, mentorship, and job placement, as well as initiatives to remove barriers to solar adoption through data collection and analysis, innovative and equitable financing, and increasing community solar access.

Nicole Steele, Workforce and Equitable Access Program Manager

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Nicole Steele joined the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office in January 2021 as a senior advisor for equity and workforce issues and leads the National Community Solar Partnership. She is a nationally recognized leader and expert in clean energy with a focus on frontline communities and workforce development. She has 20 years of experience working with government officials, policymakers, advocates, and entrepreneurs to develop and implement inclusive clean energy policies and programs. Nicole was the founding executive director of GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic, policy director at the Alliance to Save Energy, and ran the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program for Loudoun County, Virginia. She started her career in affordable housing, community planning, and politics. She is an AmeriCorps alumni and passionate supporter of community service.

Anna Balzer

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Company: Boston Government Services

Anna Balzer joined the Solar Energy Technologies Office in June 2021 as the solar community engagement coordinator for the National Community Solar Partnership. In this role, she provides technical support for stakeholder engagement and communications to grow the reach and impact of the program.. Anna is an AmeriCorps Alumni with roots in community engagement, education, and youth leadership development. Prior to joining DOE, she served in and managed the Youth Energy Squad, an AmeriCorps program in Detroit, Michigan, that engages young people in place-based education and leadership on energy burden reduction in their communities. Anna holds a master’s in public affairs from the University of Michigan and a bachelor’s in environmental studies from the University of Colorado Boulder.

Benjamin Burch

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ORISE Science and Technology Policy Fellow

Benjamin Burch (he/they) joined the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office in November 2021 as an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) fellow to support the National Community Solar Partnership on the Workforce and Equitable Access team. Graduating summa cum laude in environmental science and a Diamond Award winner from Temple University in 2020, he spent his time in North Philadelphia working on solar energy development and energy ethics. Specifically, he brought on sustainable development with long-term residents of his block to switch them to renewable energy and promote collaboration between Temple University and the neighborhoods of North Philadelphia. He did his Honors Theses on the concept of energy as a Hyperobject, as well as solar energy development in Tanzania and Uganda. Following his undergraduate degree, Benjamin worked for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory developing data and web platforms for sustainable energy sharing. His work focuses on bringing together technical analysis of a renewable energy transition with a focus on equitable development.

Ariel Drehobl

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Ariel joined the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office’s Workforce and Equitable Access team as a management and program analyst in January 2022. She supports the National Community Solar Partnership’s efforts to advance state-level community solar policy and technical assistance. Ariel is a nationally recognized leader on equitable clean energy policies and programs, and she has authored over 15 publications and presented at more than 40 conferences and events.

Prior to this position, Ariel worked as a manager at the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, where she led research and technical assistance related to energy equity, energy affordability, community-led clean energy, and low-income energy efficiency programs. She served on the National Energy Utility Affordability Coalition’s board of directors from 2019 through 2022. She has also worked for the U.S. Climate Action Network, U.S. Forest Service, and National Park Service.

Ariel has a Bachelor of Arts in history and international studies from Northwestern University, and she has a Master of Science in environmental science, policy, and management from a joint-degree program that awarded degrees from Central European University in Hungary, Lund University in Sweden, and the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom.

Anastasiya Poplavska

Anastasiya Poplavska SETO Portrait

ORISE Science and Technology Policy Fellow

Anastasiya “Anya” Poplavska joined the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office’s Workforce and Equitable Access team as a fellow in August 2022. On this team, she supports the National Community Solar Partnership. She joined DOE shortly after graduating Summa Cum Laude and with Honors from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo where she majored in environmental management and minored in political science.

Prior to her role at the DOE, Anya worked with different communities on pressing environmental issues. Namely, she spent a summer in rural Kansas writing a proposal for a local nonprofit to build a novel EV charging station in the region. Additionally, she has interned for the largest policy association in Silicon Valley to build a stakeholder-based environmental justice toolkit. And, she has researched the inequities of tree canopy distribution for a startup, Cambium Carbon, incubated from the Yale School of Environmental Management. She also has experience working with private stakeholders, as she has written a novel climate action plan for the largest bottler in North America. In addition to her professional experiences, she has a personal passion for community organizing, and she spent her college career leading a dedicated grassroots movement to establish a Green Fund on her campus.

Sarah Wilder

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Company: Boston Government Services

Sarah Wilder is a solar workforce program analyst supporting the Workforce and Equitable Access team at the Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO). She provides technical expertise and programmatic support for SETO’s efforts in developing the clean energy workforce of the future, with a focus on solar energy. Sarah has been working in the solar energy industry since 2002, mostly recently as the program director for the Oregon Limited Renewable Energy Apprenticeship and the director of curriculum and instruction at Solar Energy International. Sarah has held a variety of roles within the solar industry, giving her a unique and comprehensive perspective on the challenges and opportunities associated with expanding the clean energy workforce. These roles include over 10 years of photovoltaic (PV) design and installation work, 4 years as co-owner of a solar installation company, 4 years as technical services manager at two different PV module manufacturers, and about 8 years as a solar educator and technical trainer. Sarah is a NABCEP-certified PV Installation Professional, a licensed Oregon Limited Renewable Energy Technician, and holds a Master’s degree in environmental management from Yale University and a B.A. in environmental studies from the University of Colorado.