Stephanie Clarkson is president and chief executive officer of Vitis Energy, a St. Augustine-based independent power producer and clean energy solutions developer. As a woman owner/operator of a utility-scale IPP, she oversees all operations for the company, including project development, finance, engineering and operations. With a long family history as a Floridian, she currently lives in St. Augustine with her husband and four children.
How did you get involved with Vitis Energy?
I joined during the early startup days in 2014 as chief financial officer after many years of leading financing activities for large-scale municipal infrastructure projects. In 2019, I became the CEO, overseeing all aspects of the company’s operations.
I have spent my career working in some form of a public-private partnership, so it was a natural fit to become an independent power producer.
Currently Vitis Energy develops, constructs and operates electric generation facilities across the country – everything from large power plants that serve dozens of towns to smaller solar and battery storage projects. We are currently developing a 3-gigawatt portfolio of renewable energy projects, with more expected to enter development in the coming year.
Where did the name “Vitis Energy” come from?
After I became CEO, we began looking to rebrand the company to reflect our growing focus on clean energy projects. As a small IPP, we regularly compete for contracts, successfully I might add, against giant public utilities. The name “Vitis” was actually inspired by comments made by a well-known competitor that said they would be happy to see us “die on the vine.”
We took that as a challenge: “Vitis” is Latin for a vine that bears fruit, and I’m happy to say that we continue to flourish. Ultimately, our mission is to develop energy solutions that bear fruit not only for our customers, but also our community and the environment.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Without a doubt, it is the people. When you spend at least a third of your life working, you have to love what you do and the people you chose to do that with. I am proud to say we have such a talented group of hard-working people who all want to find a unique solution for our customers.
It takes a lot of patience, perseverance and thinking outside the box in order to come up with the right solution to fit a specific customer’s energy needs. Our team has witnessed firsthand the positive economic impact our customers have been able to achieve because of lower electric costs and more efficient energy solutions.
In an industry where you traditionally only see cost increases, our customers have experienced the opposite, and we want to share those savings with as many people as possible.
We have also fostered a really unique corporate culture at Vitis Energy. We enjoy participating in team-building activities, which has enabled our staff to develop a strong bond. From ziplining over alligators and bicycling through the Florida Keys, to harbor cruises to celebrate “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” we have remained an active and engaged team even through the long days of the pandemic.
What are some of the aspects that are more challenging?
The electricity market has traditionally suffered from a “one stop shop” mentality, where large, incumbent utilities have essentially enjoyed a monopoly over rate payers. Currently, Vitis is limited to selling wholesale electricity to communities that own their own wires.
Unfortunately, not every community can afford to establish its own microgrid in order to lower its electric costs. In addition, state regulations often prevent large industrial users from contracting directly with an alternative, more affordable electric provider. It can be frustrating; we see the tremendous savings we could offer to customers, but many times we are handcuffed by regulations.
In what ways do you try to stay involved in the community?
Community involvement has always been very important to us and I firmly believe that people are designed not to be served but to serve others. We believe in being active business partners in the communities we serve, and to that end we have sponsored numerous local charity events – everything from golf tournaments and educational outreach programs to music festivals and community theater.
We have also provided college scholarships to graduating seniors and our engineering staff have participated in school STEM programs.
Most recently, Vitis Energy signed on as a founding partner of the PXG Women’s Match Play Championship that’s being held in St. Augustine Nov. 1-6. The first professional women’s golf tournament to be held in this area since the 1970s, the PXG WMPC is dedicated to creating opportunities for emerging women golfers – and thanks to Vitis’s sponsorship, they were able to increase the overall purse by 10 percent.
I know what it’s like to compete in a male-dominated industry. Throughout my career, there were people who helped me break through longstanding industry barriers, and by sponsoring this tournament, I can hopefully pay that forward and help these young women athletes pursue their dream of a professional sports career.
What do you enjoy most about living in the North Florida area?
Quality of life. Vitis is headquartered in historic St Augustine, with access to beautiful beaches, world class golf and award-winning restaurants. Why not work in the same place people vacation?
I travel frequently on business, and the minute the landing gear touches the JAX runway, the pressure and strain of “the big city” disappears. There has always been something about Florida that humbles me. There is just nothing else like it.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Outside of work, I spend a lot of time with my family (likely on a ball field with my children) or volunteering. I find a lot of joy in my volunteer work and learned many years ago that I have a heart to serve. I am very passionate about investing my time and resources into the next generation. I currently serve in various capacities on industry-related boards as well as serving and supporting several non-profit organizations.
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