In 2013 I was appointed to fill an unexpired term on the Maryland Public Service Commission. As that term ended in mid-2016, I wrote an article for ICER, as I looked forward to exploring my next challenge. Now two years later, ICER has asked me for an updated version.
2016 was a time to reflect on the varied positions I had held over my career: energy regulator, energy utility executive, telecommunications lawyer, and governor’s policy advisor. I was facing my sixth career transition since I graduated from Harvard Law School, consistent with the experience of an increasing number of professionals in today’s economy. In the world of state regulators, the average term for a Commissioner is 3 years — so while regulators often strive to provide consistency and rationality in utility regulation, they must be comfortable with change and uncertainty in their personal lives.
I find career changes both exciting and daunting, but always fulfilling. With each move, I have made new relationships, grown an ever-expanding network of diverse friends and colleagues, and had the opportunity to live in new places. As a mother and wife, I have also always considered the impact of my new opportunities (and related moves) on my husband and our four kids. But in 2016, my move was even more monumental because it coincided with my youngest child’s graduation from high school. For the first time, I did not need to worry about finding a good school or about how my children would manage in a new environment. It was strangely liberating. I have gained so much from parenting and would not trade it for anything, but there is no denying that balancing work and family requires tremendous energy. I saw the beginning of a new chapter, one in which I could concentrate even more energy and attention on my professional career.
It’s an exciting time to work in the energy field. Perhaps presciently I attended a “women in solar energy” workshop in the spring of 2016 and was amazed to find a room filled predominantly with women younger than 35. They spoke about the tremendous growth underway in their companies, but also about the “ceilings” some of them were seeing. I thought about the importance of ensuring that the new energy economy, spurred by technology and creativity, would embrace the value of diversity and fully engage the large pool of talented young women graduating from business, law, and engineering schools. One of the challenges mentioned by some of the young women was a lack of mentorship and sponsorship. This is where I believe women of my generation need to step up and provide support to younger women who are striving to build careers in the energy industry. Young women need to be encouraged to take chances and to make time to network and build relationships, both within their organizations and beyond. Most of the opportunities I have had in my career came to fruition not just because I was qualified and worked hard, but because I used my networks from previous jobs, college, graduate school, law school, and politics. In fact, women of all ages need to embrace networking as an essential element of career development and not view it as something unseemly or extraneous.
The ICER Women in Energy network provides a valuable mechanism for mentorship for women regulators. During my first year as a commissioner, I signed up for the WIE mentorship program. To my great benefit, I was assigned to work with another new commissioner and we decided to mentor each other. She become a trusted adviser and friend, and someone I could call at any time to work through a challenge.
It was due to networking with another long-time woman colleague that I learned of the opportunity to serve as Chief Policy Officer at Sunrun after my term expired. Sunrun is the leading residential solar and storage provider in the U.S., and is led by a dynamic woman CEO, Lynn Jurich. The timing and opportunity was perfect for me: I negotiated my new position as I dropped my son off at Syracuse University and headed to the West Coast the following month to join Sunrun. I am now leading a dynamic, committed policy team—that includes many young women who remind me of the young women I met in 2016—and helping to pave the way for a cleaner, more diversified energy sector across the country.
As I look back now at my time as a commissioner and NARUC member, one of my most meaningful initiatives involved my role as Chair of NARUC’s International Relations Committee. I focused on supporting the work of NARUC’s excellent professional international relations staff and sought ways to engage a broader range of commissioners in NARUC’s international activities. I encouraged fellow commissioners to pursue exciting opportunities to make contributions beyond their own states by participating in NARUC’s international activities. I also shared my experiences of providing regulatory training in Tanzania and Macedonia, and in cooperating with international regulators at the World Forum on Energy Regulation and the ERRA Energy Investment and Regulation conference. In just one year as a NARUC committee chair, I grew into a much more informed international citizen and, in the process, became a stronger leader.
I was thrilled last month to join the NARUC International Relations Committee again, this time as a guest presenter. I spoke about the lessons the U.S. can learn from Australia and Germany in making rooftop solar less costly and more accessible: reducing permitting and interconnection barriers, and ensuring fair compensation for the electricity provided by solar customers to their neighbors. True to my experience as a Commissioner, I value in my current role understanding energy policy and regulation from around the world, particularly as we work to overcome global challenges, such as climate change and energy security.
At Sunrun, one of our values is to “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Back in March 2016, I had no idea what would come next in my career – or that I would be living and working in California today. But change was inevitable, as my term of service came to a close. I’m happy to report that I have embraced another transition and am working every day to change our world for the better, too.
Initially written 3/2016 and updated in 2/2018