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Holly Ernst Groschner

A photo of Holly Ernst Groschner
When you know something’s wrong, you find something you can do to help to change it.”

JD 1988
Founder, New Mountain Wind

Holly Ernst Groschner knows about climate change, but her activism has grown slowly. At home outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, her family had adopted new efficiencies and cut their energy use by a third. However, when her teenaged daughter, Kate, voiced her fears about the impact of climate change on her own life, the stakes rose. "As a parent I couldn't give her answers or hope unless I understood what I could do," she says.

Groschner began applying her legal skills to renewable energy projects for Appalachia by establishing Mountain Community Energy LLC, a subsidiary of The Mountain Institute, an international nonprofit. But there was a lot about the interface between climate change and energy to understand. So last summer she returned to VLS.

"I'd read about Michael Dworkin and the Institute for Energy and the Environment," she recalls. "I decided to telecommute from VLS and spend the summer getting answers on climate change from nationally known experts." Returning to the classroom was invigorating. "Students were bright, engaged, and unflinching before the magnitude of their challenging subject. I fell in love with VLS again-you really appreciate returning to campus once you've been practicing," she observed.

Groschner comes from an area whose economy runs on fossil fuels. She reports that, until recently, many people unfamiliar with environmental issues were still questioning if climate change is real. She finds their skepticism somewhat amazing: "While Western Pennsylvania's universities, such as Carnegie Mellon and University of Pittsburgh, are studying renewables and efficiency, a large sector of the economy is rooted in the production of coal and the consumption of fossil fuels. When discussion turns to renewable energy, my neighbors in mining, steel and energy businesses are grasping for any solution featuring coal."

At VLS, Groschner got to know Chinese classmates similarly concerned about coal and others tackling energy and climate from all angles. "I was talking with a professor who works at the World Bank, casting about for ideas where I could make an impact," she recalls. "He said, ‘our response is still in the formative stages. Do whatever you can.'"

Groschner decided to apply her career experience in wireless telecommunications to fostering development of wind-based renewables. She sees links between the economics and regulation of cellular towers and wind turbines. "There are many parallels in deployment of wireless telecom and distributed wind generation," she explains.

Groschner is starting a consulting firm, New Mountain Wind, to facilitate "wind for schools" projects with the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Lab and Mountain Community Energy LLC. She is also working with rural land owners and small communities to assess wind-turbine sites for development. While concerned about potential harm to wildlife, she says, "Wind is a readily available resource in a rural market." And scenery? "I'll take turbines over coal mines," she says, "and they're removable if something better emerges."

Groschner has shared her VLS summer experience with daughter Kate. "You need to seek answers to big questions from the very best source you can find," said Holly, "Kate and I agree that when you know something's wrong, you find something you can do to help to change it."