In 2001, when a major hearing before the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission threatened to drag on into the night, the administrative law judge, who was at the time a new mother, faced a decision working parents still grapple with to this day: what to do when the daycare is closed but the work is not finished. When the hearing participants requested to carry on and not prolong the hearing an additional day, then Administrative Law Judge Ann Rendahl had a choice to make, recess the hearing until the next day to care for her son Nathan, or bring him to the hearing.
With open arms, attorneys and stakeholders all took turns caring for the baby, while Ann, now a commissioner of the Washington Commission, presided over the case. A move that today may have gone ‘viral’ made all the difference then for Commissioner Rendahl.
While pursuing her master’s degree in public policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at University of California Berkeley, Ann took a macroeconomics class that explored rate design and the elasticity of demand with inclining rate blocks, sparking her interest in the economics of energy. During her first year of law school at Hastings College of Law, she pursued an internship in the legal department of the California Public Utilities Commission and that was all it took. She’s worked for regulatory commissions ever since.
Her first job after law school was with the Washington State Attorney General’s office representing the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission. She later joined the UTC as an administrative law judge. After rising to the director of the Administrative Law Division, and then of the Policy and Legislative Division, Ann was appointed as a commissioner in January 2015.
Ann has spent her career balancing her work life with the demands of home and her three children, who are now in college and high school. “My mother held a college degree in math and astronomy, and was required to leave her job at IBM when she was pregnant in the early 1960’s. While she did not work again until my siblings and I were in middle school, she always encouraged us to find our paths, achieve our goals, including having a family.”
“I’ve found the biggest challenge facing women in our field is the need to be recognized as equals, and heard when we have something to say,” says Commissioner Rendahl. “While this dynamic is changing, it is still difficult to feel comfortable speaking up on issues that matter to women, especially in industries where we are underrepresented, like energy.”
As commissioner of a state public utility commission, Ann is charged with balancing the needs of consumers with the requirement of utility and transportation companies to provide safe, reliable, and affordable services.
Dedicating her career to public service, Ann’s balancing act doesn’t stop at work. While she has had the full support of her husband and family, over the last 23 years working with the UTC, she has put in long nights after the kids go to bed and sacrificed countless weekends to get the work done.
“Families are faced with tough choices when it comes to the delicate balance of work and family, and we must continue to advocate for working conditions that recognize the reality of our situations.”
In the workplace, where women are still underrepresented in technical fields, Ann stresses the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education for young girls.
“By participating in science, engineering and math studies, more girls can have the confidence to participate in the technical conversations and initiatives happening in these fields,” says Ann. “But technical knowledge must be paired with the opportunity to participate in the work.”
Ann is currently the chair of the California Independent System Operator’s Energy Imbalance Market Body of State Regulators, which provides a role for state regulators to participate in the governance of the Energy Imbalance Market developing in the Western states. In this role, Ann is contributing her unique perspective. Using skills she has gained in leading hearings and facilitating settlement discussions and workshops, she is fostering a vital conversation between state regulators in order to assist state utility regulators in understanding organized markets, and determining how state regulators will play a key part in the burgeoning energy imbalance market and the development of a western regional transmission operator.
“It’s so important for programs like Women in Energy to give women a chance to collectively navigate a historically male-dominated industry and share experiences,” says Rendahl. “I feel honored to be part of the continued upward movement of women within the energy sector.”
In order to change organizational cultures to keep women in the workforce, Ann believes the intersection of environmental studies with improved STEM education curriculum will be the catalyst to increase interest in the energy industry.
“The younger generation is interested in economic development and more attuned to the needs of the environment. They see how mastering skills in science, math, and engineering can result in new and more efficient ways of producing, transmitting, and distributing energy,” says Rendahl. “If we can continue this momentum and growth, we will attract more women to energy and energy regulatory careers.”
Ann’s advice for young women in the energy sector? “Project confidence in everything you do.”