Throughout Women’s History Month, EPSA is featuring women in the competitive power industry. Our series continues with Carolyne Murff, who is leading the charge for a more diverse and inclusive workforce while also overseeing asset management at LS Power.
As the senior vice president of asset management at LS Power, a leading competitive power supplier, Carolyne Murff plays a major role in bringing reliable, affordable and cleaner electricity to market. But as the company positions its generation fleet for the future, she’s also helping drive its efforts to build a 21st century workforce – bringing in more women and diversity to inspire new and better ideas.
As part of our Women in Competitive Power series, Carolyne shares how she advanced to her leadership position and is now shaping change to empower others throughout the energy industry. She also unpacks how LS is investing in technology and resources to support a greener grid while carefully planning for reliability – and how competition ensures the best solutions break through.
Q: What does a head of asset management at a competitive power company do?
A: Well, there isn’t much in the way of typical around our days! My primary day job is managing the LS Power generation portfolio. We have over 15,000 megawatts of generation, including operating wind, hydropower, and gas-fired generation in a number of different markets. So there’s always something going on at the plants or in the markets. Beyond regular operations we also manage for expansions, both planned and unplanned outages, etc. It keeps us extremely busy, for which I’m proud of my team’s efforts – particularly through extreme weather challenges, over and beyond keeping the lights on in a pandemic!
My team also leads the technical diligence on acquisitions and plays an important role as we work with counterparties for the divestiture of assets. So basically soup to nuts!
Q: How does asset management impact the power grid, businesses and homes?
A: Our industry is at a real inflection point in terms of shifting from a fossil fuel, carbon intensive generation model to a much greener, decarbonized model, and we’re actively working to make that happen. And it’s complicated. We have been thinking about this for a really long time at LS Power, and we have built our portfolio to support that transition.
While that happens, we take our duty seriously to provide reliable generation to the grid. In the past I would always say, “People don’t really want to know, or most people don’t really want to know where their power comes from, because they just want to know that when they plug their phone in it charges, and their Wi-Fi works, and their lights work.” And that takes a lot of work behind the scenes, it doesn’t just happen.
However nowadays a lot of people do think about where their power comes from and think that it’s an easy change to go to 100% green power. But the reality is that it’s not that simple. We need to have a very thoughtful, methodical approach to how we transition our markets into a decarbonized market. And we can do it. In my 30 years in this field, I have never felt the sort of momentum that I feel now.
But I think it’s important that we maintain a reliable mix of generation as we move forward, which requires careful decision making.
Q: Can you tell me a bit about your career path and what led you to the role you’re in today?
A: I graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in mechanical engineering, and really didn’t have a clue what I was going to do. There was a power plant opening available in Bryan, Texas, and that’s where I started my career. They didn’t have a lot of women working there. So they didn’t even have a women’s bathroom! Still, the guys that were there taught me a tremendous amount about how power plants operate and that experience has served me very well throughout my career.
I took that experience, and I went and worked for a couple of other companies managing plant operations. And then I worked in project development overseas in Pakistan and India building plants, which was very interesting. Ultimately, I ended up back in the U.S. doing asset management. And close to 16 years ago, I came to work for LS Power, where I’ve been since the creation of its first private equity fund. For the acquisition of every single plant that we have acquired and operated, representing more than 33,000 MW, I have been with LS.
I’m happy to say that it’s been really fun and the industry has transformed a lot! Though one of the things that hasn’t changed is that there’s still no line for the ladies’ room. I can walk right in. We need to change that; our industry has not been great at encouraging gender diversity, or diversity in general. Changing that has become one of my personal causes in my leadership position.
Q: What do you find most rewarding about your work?
A: I find that my days are very interesting – there’s always something new. One of the things that really motivates me now is that I have the ability to make changes and influence what we do as a company. Particularly coming into this industry as a woman at the time that I did, you learned to keep your head down to some extent. And I now have the authority to say, “Look, everyone is going to feel comfortable working in our workplace, everyone.” And if they don’t, we will take care of it by dealing with the people who exist there today.
So at LS Power we’ve made a commitment to diversify our workforce. I believe that we need more diverse thought processes within our plants. And we’re working very hard to facilitate that. We’re finding nontraditional ways to recruit candidates, including candidates who had no idea that they could have a career in this industry.
I love that LS Power has given me free rein to do this. To implement this vision, LS has allowed me to allocate additional resources for hiring and mentoring. We have an internship program and a trainee program, where we can bring people in and show them the ropes. We bring in nontraditional candidates and train them to have a long-term career in the industry. I get very excited about that.
Q: What do you wish everyone knew about how competitive power benefits the country?
A: It’s hard for most people to understand the structure of markets. There are a lot of rules, a lot of subtleties around how power markets operate, which vary by region and state. What’s important for people to understand is that competitive markets work, and they are the best long-term solution for ratepayers and customers. When you get states that are choosing winners and losers through subsidies or reliability-must-run contracts or things like that, it distorts the market. And it doesn’t allow the best technologies and the best performers and the most innovative companies to excel, because they’re sort of artificially picking a technology or a specific plant. What they should do pick the goal. And then we and other competitive forces will come up with the solutions, which have been shown throughout multiple decades to save money for consumers and provide for grid reliability.
Since PURPA and the Energy Policy Act opened up the markets to competition, we’ve seen a huge amount of innovation, as evidenced by more efficient technologies and solutions that have significantly reduced carbon emissions. Competition and private investment shift the risk from ratepayers and consumers to investors. It lets capitalism work. We can come up with the best solutions, and we’ll take the risk. You don’t have to put it on ratepayers and consumers.
Q: What’s one piece of advice you would give to young women entering the industry, or workforce generally?
A: You have got to have perseverance. Getting ahead is not easy. It’s never been easy. I think that in some ways now it’s easier, and in some ways, it’s harder… I believe now that you can speak up… and make sure that people are getting a fair shake in the workplace. There are a tremendous number of opportunities. I really hope that our industry evolves and I hope that we can make our plants better reflect our communities. I really need young women to come into this industry to help us to do that… Frankly, we need people to come in and join a workforce that doesn’t look like them right now… We need people who think differently about problems and come up with new solutions. As we work to decarbonize our industry, there are going to be challenges and questions and things we haven’t even thought of yet. And the more different ideas we can employ to address these types of issues, the better the outcomes are going to be for everyone. So please join us and persevere!
Meet more women in competitive power:
Shell Energy’s senior vice president of trading Jill Davies shares years of knowledge and a unique perspective of the power industry in Women in Competitive Power: Part Two.
“I love being part of a team that is bringing more and cleaner energy and solutions to the marketplace.”Jill Davies, Shell
Competitive Power Ventures’ chief compliance officer Virginia Fuller and Energy Capital Partners’ investment analyst Alexandra Witteveen share how their roles contribute to affordable, reliable and cleaner power grid. Read more in Women in Competitive Power: Part One.
“The energy sector is an exciting and dynamic industry with significant opportunities for women at all stages of their careers.”Virginia Fuller, Competitive Power Ventures
“I strongly believe, and history has shown, that competition is the most effective way to respond to these trends in a way that saves customers money, maintains reliability, spurs innovation, and accelerates environmental progress.”Alexandra Witteveen, Energy Capital Partners
bp’s Tina Chui and Eastern Generation’s Natalia Hernandez are managing major environmental projects and executing power transactions that benefit America’s grid. Learn more in Women in Competitive Power Part Three.
The people I work with, the unique challenges we face, the vital service we provide are all part of the reasons I do what I do. There is also something sort of magical about the work we do, as people don’t realize what happens in the shadows when they turn on the switch that lights up the room!Natalia Hernandez, Eastern Generation
The most rewarding thing about my work at bp is building relationships and learning from a wide range of individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences. A big part of what also makes careers rewarding is working with others who motivate and challenge you, and bp constantly challenges me to re-imagine and re-invent.Tina Chui, bp