Just a few minutes into a conversation with Scott Leonard, you trust him. The associate director of real estate at Recurrent Energy is just one of those people that instantly conveys honesty and transparency.
He speaks confidently but kindly. He ruminates on a question before responding. Above all things, it’s easy to understand why Leonard has been able to negotiate and develop deal after deal for the future of renewable energy with landowners—land that may have been in their families for generations.
“In many ways, I think the real estate manager is uniquely equipped to speak with a landowner about their land because they’re going to understand issues and challenges that the landowner may not even know,” Leonard explains. “It’s a great way to bridge gaps of understanding and to get support from these folks who otherwise may not have been interested in putting a large-scale solar project on their ancestors’ lands.”
His intentional focus on building relationships directly with landowners is a unique approach, but it’s one that has paid off. While working to further a potential project in Mississippi with landowners who had no background in any kind of development other than their own crops, Leonard wasn’t just welcomed to the negotiating table—he wound up staying with one of the project’s landowners in their home.
After a delicious meal and a property tour, the landowners welcomed Recurrent’s project with open arms. It wasn’t just a closed deal for Leonard; it was a privilege and an honor to help owners who, by no fault of their own, had come to find that their longtime fields might be more prosperous producing renewable energy than continuing to battle the effects of overfarming, global warming, diminished prices, and a challenging economic climate.
“I think establishing a strong personal point of contact with landowners is critical,” Leonard explains. “I’m not sure how common that is in our industry. I feel like there are often so many people speaking with a landowner when they would actually prefer talking to someone who already understands their land. That’s how you build traction and trust. We have a great team here at Recurrent, and we all try to foster great relationships with all external stakeholders.”
Furthermore, it’s how a company can cultivate buy-in from the broader community. When communicating one to one, Leonard finds it drastically easier to get suggestions from landowner relationships for people and companies who can be hired on as subcontractors for the project. He notes that local workers usually understand the land, the region, and the stakeholders better than any national team who moves in to do the work. It’s a win-win, and it makes relationship-building critical.
The projects continue to be incredible in their scope. On Leonard’s first day at Recurrent nearly eight years ago, he became part of a team that would ultimately create the world’s largest single-phase battery in existence. Crimson Storage, located in the California desert on property owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), was the first standalone energy storage project to be approved on BLM lands by the Biden-Harris administration. The project went online in October 2022.
Recurrent Energy has many other solar and storage projects in the pipeline, all in different stages of three-to-seven-year development and construction. While renewable energy and battery storage projects are the hot topic of the decade, Leonard says it’s essential to realize that energy companies of all stripes have a part to play.
“There is room for everybody here. We all deserve a seat at the table,” Leonard says. “I think a lot of what many companies might see as competitors are actually collaborators. We understand that we’re all working toward the same goal. There’s an unwritten rule in the energy space that you need to work together and, most of the time, I think we’re all on the same page.”
At first mention, it might seem strange that Leonard’s success in real estate and energy can, in part, be traced back to an NYU degree in experimental theater. He spent years as an actor in New York City, paying the bills with word processing gigs at law firms. The responsibilities kept expanding, and before he knew it, Leonard had spent 23 years in real estate law.
The degree makes sense after the fact. Leonard’s poise, his eloquence, and his demeanor aren’t a put-on. They’re the byproduct of a professional who continues to hone his craft. His passion and involvement in the theater continue to this day, as does his uncanny ability to connect with people of all stripes, helping create a more sustainable future for their families and the world.
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