fivehundred magazine > Energy Yearbook 2024 > Perspectives: Maria Connolly

Perspectives: Maria Connolly

TLT partner and head of future energy and real estate Maria Connolly on a 25-year career in renewable energy, the challenges facing the industry and why it’s important to love what you do

What made you decide to become a lawyer and, once you’d made that decision, why energy?

I chose to do law at university as I felt it would be a good base for a future career choice, whether that was law or otherwise. Even the prospect of doing a degree was pretty daunting at first, as the first in a generation to do so. However, I genuinely loved it, particularly all things land law, and it was therefore a natural career choice for me to secure a training contract – which was with TLT!

25 years ago, TLT was involved in financing some of the UK’s first wind projects. It was very early in my career, just after I had finished my training, and I was invited to be involved in those projects. At the time, the sector was very new. Wind was only just starting to be recognised in the UK and I could see its potential. I was excited to be given the opportunity to get involved in the future energy sector from the outset.

What have been your top career highlights?

I’ve been involved in the future energy sector since joining TLT as a trainee so having the opportunity to deliver on my personal and professional passion for sustainability and future energy has been a highlight in itself!

I was also appointed to TLT’s targets taskforce, which is responsible for monitoring progress in diversity. We went on to achieve our firm-wide target of 33% female partners two years early – a fantastic achievement and something I am very proud of.

What has been your proudest professional moment?

Having been part of TLT’s future energy practice since its inception and played a central part in positioning the firm as a leader in the sector; 2023 was a year of accolades. I was delighted to be recognised in The Lawyer Hot 100 list for my outstanding contributions to the industry. I’m incredibly proud to have built this practice in the last 25 years to being one of the most prominent firms in the field.

What has been your biggest professional challenge and what did you learn from it?

In 2017, there was a period when subsidies were being phased out for renewable energy projects which was a particularly challenging time. Ultimately, this resulted in the kick-starting of the battery storage sector, and we found ourselves at the forefront of this emerging industry, working alongside clients in some of the very first battery storage projects and helping to put the legal documentation in place. Although this was a difficult process, we were able to help shape a positive outcome and ensure that solar and wind projects can now be built and operated without subsidies.

What is the best bit about being an energy partner?

As a firm, we pride ourselves in putting our people first. For me the best thing about being an energy partner and sector head for TLT’s future energy practice, is having the opportunity to educate and nurture the next generation of lawyers so that they can support clients bringing innovative and pathfinder projects to market that make a positive contribution to the UK’s sustainability and net zero targets.

Would you recommend a life in energy law to your younger self, and why?

Absolutely, yes. One of the things I enjoy the most about the sector is that, because everything is so new, you’re often involved in first-of-their-kind projects. In addition, there’s never been a more important time to focus on renewable energy generation, green infrastructure and decarbonisation projects. The socio-political climate has highlighted the real need for the UK to step up its game by supporting investment into and the development of these projects. It’s hugely rewarding to be involved in a sector that has the potential to really affect the health and wellbeing of our people and communities.

What advice would you give to those who want to get to where you have?

Be passionate about what you do! If you have a passion in life and have the opportunity to turn it into a career, then look into it. We spend so much time at work, building our careers, it’s important to enjoy it. If you love what you do
then success will follow quickly.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing your clients right now?

Unless you have both the ability to develop a future energy project and the interest from funders or investors, it will be extremely difficult to get a project off the ground. For the sector to grow and thrive, the sector needs to overcome a number of challenges such as:

  • Grid infrastructure and capacity – the grid is overloaded and significant investment in grid infrastructure and technology to balance energy supply is required.
  • Planning and regulation – there is positive political support and appetite for renewable energy generation. However, the current planning system and regulatory framework can be complex and time consuming. Better clarity and consistency in planning and regulation is required if we’re to continue seeing widespread development and deployment of renewable generation projects.
  • Financing – upfront investment required to develop large-scale projects can be difficult to secure. More financing options are required to support the development of renewable generation, green infrastructure and decarbonisation projects particularly in emerging areas such as green hydrogen.

And finally – what was your favourite childhood book and why?

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl. I read all of Roald Dahl’s books several times over when I was a child, but this one has always stuck with me, mainly due to the positivity and strength of values that it offers.

Maria Connolly is a partner at TLT.