Community Wind Power Company Founder
Information about Jake Burnyeat
"I‘d come to the view that the world has a
lot of problems, and that renewable energy is a good start for fixing
some of them."
I’m Jake Burnyeat, and I’ve recently started my own company, GreenTrust Wind.
Our aim is to make local wind power more attractive to people, by using the profits from new wind projects to directly benefit them and create sustainable, low carbon economies in their area.
I’ve been interested in social and environmental matters since my university days. I knew that I wanted to do something involved with renewable energy and something good with money – but I had no specific plan. To understand more about how money worked, I started by getting a job with the renewable energy sector of a renowned financial organisation, then spent a total of 6 years working in the industry to build up enough knowledge to set out on my own.
I saved up some money and worked on a business plan, then made the decision to leave my job to get this off the ground. I think what really helps is that, instead of being good at one specific thing, I can see the big picture and put it all together. Now we’re at the stage where we have lots of meetings with potential funders, partners and communities. I really enjoy getting other people excited about GreenTrust Wind and, above all, I relish the challenge of changing people’s opinions of having wind power in their 'back yard'.
Tell us about your job – where do you work and what do you do?I’m a founding director of a new social enterprise company, called GreenTrust Wind, whose vision is to establish the South West as the UK’s first ‘low carbon region’. We believe it can be achieved by using the substantial profits that wind farms make to ‘green’ the communities around each project.
Social enterprise is a different way of doing business; it focuses on creating social, environmental and economic benefit for the local community, rather than just a financial return for shareholders - but we want to show that there’s no reason why social enterprises can’t still be big, professionally run, highly profitable businesses.
As we’re at the start-up stage, my time is spent talking to potential investors, partners and community representatives. It’s a case of getting all the bits of this big, ambitious - and sometimes complicated - jigsaw in place. It'll take time to get going, but we’ll gain momentum and eventually it will take off. We need to raise several million pounds, and the fact that we’re a new business makes that challenging. We’ve created a lot of interest though, and I’m quietly confident that we will get there.
What inspired you to do what you do? How did you get into it, did you have a plan?After my time at university, I‘d come to the view that the world has a lot of problems and that renewable energy is a good start for fixing some of them. I signed up to do a Masters degree in Environmental Technology, because I knew it would lead to something (I just didn't know what). I also knew that I wanted to be involved in making money work for environmental purposes. I didn’t know much about how money worked so, when I finished, I sought out a job with the Ernst & Young Renewable Energy Group. From there, I gradually narrowed my ambitions, sought out opportunities, and made use of the good ones.
After 6 years' in the industry, I realised that the process for onshore wind power in the UK isn't working. We’re not building wind farms at a fast enough rate; too often planning applications end in a battle between developers and local communities - and something has to change. I started thinking ‘how can we make wind farms work for local people?’, so that communities actually seek to have them in their neighbourhood. I also wondered how we could use the substantial profits from a wind farm to support the establishment of a sustainable low carbon economy in those communities. The idea for GreenTrust Wind was born!
I worked on a business plan in my spare time for a year or so, then realised I'd have to give up my job to get this project off the ground. It was a difficult decision, but I'd saved some money so I went for it.
Why is your job meaningful? Both to you personally, and in how it benefits the wider world in terms of climate change and other environmental challenges.I’ve always had a lot of respect for entrepreneurs – people who can both see an opportunity and make it happen - so, from a personal perspective, it’s both satisfying and challenging to be doing this myself; the stakes are high!
I’m totally passionate about GreenTrust Wind. It’s an ambitious but achievable business idea that could create substantial benefits from the wind farms themselves. It could also demonstrate a way of doing business that might be replicated for other environmental and social causes - money can do interesting things when put to work in the right way.
Many jobs in this sector are very new, how long has your job existed?I've created my own job – but for it to properly ‘exist’ we need to secure the funding to get GreenTrust Wind off the ground! The UK wind power development industry is dominated by big players, but there have been some very successful entrepreneurs who started from scratch.
What personal qualities do you think have got you where you are today?I am focused, very hard working, and have a broad outlook and skills base. The wind industry needs people who are very good at doing a particular thing; for example, engineers working on a specific engineering challenge or financiers working on a specific financial challenge. However, it also needs people who can see the big picture and put it all together - and that’s more what I am. Much of it comes down to being a clear thinker, a good communicator, and good with people.
What are the essential skills for your job?A whole host of things - some I’ve had to proactively learn and some come from experience:
• Good all round industry knowledge
• A thorough understanding of wind projects and all that they involve
• Hands-on experience of the challenges that wind development throws up - and how to overcome them
• Being a good project and people manager
• Good technical knowledge in key areas
• Being decisive
• Management accounting, finance and financial modelling
• Good communication - in all its forms
What qualifications do you have? Are these typical for people in your role?I did social sciences at university (Social Anthropology and Geography) followed by a Masters degree in Environmental Technology, specialising in renewable energy.
My degree is unusual for this industry - most people do engineering or science. However, my Masters is very relevant; it gave me a good foundation in environmental law, economics, policy and science, as well as a basic understanding of the industry.
You do need academic qualifications as a foundation and to get your foot in the door, but there’s nothing better than on-the-job experience. It took me 6 years of working in the wind power industry, building up my knowledge, to get to a stage where I felt confident about setting out alone.
Also, in my first job I gained a CIMA qualification in management accounting (foundation level). Although it was a painful process and I didn't take it any further, the knowledge that I gained has been invaluable
to me ever since.
What do you think most helped you get where you are now?• I threw myself into both my degrees and worked very hard (though I played hard too!). I’m glad that
I did; I gained a lot more than if I’d just done the bare minimum required to pass the exams.
• I got my first two jobs by seeking out opportunities and going for them - neither were through a
formal recruitment process.
• The tipping point for me in going full-time on GreenTrust Wind was finding people who shared my
vision, had skills to complement my own, and were willing to commit time and energy to get it going.
Please describe a typical working dayIf it’s an office day, I normally do about an hour at home over breakfast before heading in - my brain seems to work well then! Most office days are currently spent setting up and preparing for meetings; following an intense few months getting the business plan together, we’re now working on pitches to potential funders and lining up the partners we need to deliver wind projects. I do a fair bit of travelling, both around the South West to meet partners and communities, and up to London to meet funders.
When something needs doing we get it done, which sometimes means late nights and early mornings.
I rarely switch off completely - often an answer to a problem comes from just having it ticking over in the back of my mind.
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?I enjoy meeting people, exciting them about the GreenTrust Wind idea, and getting them on board.
I don't particularly enjoy being stuck behind a desk, but it has to be done. I recently bought an exercise ball to sit on at work. You can’t take yourself too seriously when you’re sat on a big blue ball!
What kind of people do you meet through your work or do you work alone?We meet people from funders, consultants and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) through to council officers, councillors, statutory consultees, community representatives and landowners - it takes all sorts of people to make a wind farm happen.
Actually, I do work alone much of the time, but I speak to both business partners several times a day.
Do you feel well paid for what you do, or is it not about the money?We’re not yet paying ourselves a wage, and are funding the business start-up costs (office and travel) from our savings.
I’m not driven by money, but when GreenTrust Wind gets going we will pay ourselves a good wage – it’s important to value yourself financially and not let yourself be exploited. That’s a relative thing, but it basically means securing a fair share of the value that you bring to a business.
Finally, what do you know now about jobs, careers and the future that you wish you’d known when you were at school?No careers advisor could have mapped out my career path for me; with the exception of a few of my mates who were set on being doctors, I don’t think any of us had a clue what we wanted to do when we left school! The majority of us who went on to do a degree have not gone into a job directly related to it either. That said, at school these things might have helped:
• Recognising the importance of qualities that are vital in any job - like being a good communicator.
• Meeting inspiring people from a range of careers, and learning how those careers panned out - that
might have reassured me that it's ok not to have everything planned, as long as you’re heading
in the right direction.
• Recognising that how you go about learning is just as important as what you learn; people who are
good at soaking up information can pass exams, but to come up with a new idea and make it happen
requires creative thinking, drive and focus.
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