American Wind Energy Association, Washington, DC

ben1Formed in 1974, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) is a Washington, DC, based national trade association representing over 1,000 member organizations in the United States wind industry.

This summer, I spent six weeks with AWEA’s Public Policy team working on Federal Legislative Affairs and Grassroots Outreach. I worked under an assortment of different bosses, and assisted on a variety of projects. I found the job through my friend Bob Cleaves, who works for a Biomass trade association out of Portland, Maine. Even though biomass is comparatively a small industry, AWEA works hard to know the players in all of the renewable fields. Bob introduced me to Rob Gramlich (Colby Class of ’91), Senior Vice President of Public Policy at AWEA, via email last spring, and upon hearing I was a Colby student, he asked for my resume, and offered me a position interning for his team. I didn’t always work with Rob directly, but I certainly felt that he had taken me under his wing, and always introduced me as a student of his alma mater.

In the office, I spent time gathering information on legislator’s current and former positions on wind energy, along with the presence of the industry in their home states and districts. I also had the responsibility of composing a weekly newsletter of positive wind related stories for Hill staff, gaining a broad understanding of winds benefits and criticisms across the country. To do this, every morning I scanned an AWEA daily newsletter called windclips. The windclips email consisted of many links from the daily news headlines. There were both negative and positive stories. My job was to pull out the strongest positive stories, and every Thursday write summaries of them using the most local source I could find. I would then find the stories’ congressional districts, and enter them side-by-side into an online template, connected to a lobbying database called Knowlegis. Every Friday morning, at 8 am, hill staffers would receive the newsletter titled Wind Across America. Sometimes I was asked to find positive news from districts whose representatives were ignoring the industry, or helping it.

By far the biggest task on the wind energy agenda this summer was to get an extension to wind’s Production Tax Credit, and Investment Tax Credit, both of which were left to expire last October. The negative effects this has had on the industry have been quite visible throughout the last year, with installation of new projects in the US decreasing by 92% during 2013, many manufacturing plants being forced to close, and projects put on hold.

When I first arrived at AWEA, I was given a to do list, and the task with the highest priority on it was to help the team gather signatures in support of extending the PTC/ITC, as well as other clean energy incentives that had also been allowed to expire. For much of my first three weeks at AWEA, I spent much of my days on outreach. Most of the other members of the eight-person team lacked the bandwidth to spend time to gather signatures. My second day in the office, the Koch Brothers’ group Americans for Prosperity had taken out a full page ad in Politico, calling for an end to “Wind Welfare”, with an attached letter to leaders in congress, signed by reputable organizations and businesses (almost 80% of which receive funding from AFP). Our extenders letter rallied with a over 300 signatures, from utilities, corporate purchasers, environmental non-profits, manufacturers and more, all in favor of extending federal incentives for clean energy. It was rewarding to feel that my being there had made a difference, and I was able to see my work pay off. I was even given an award at the monthly full-office meeting. The appreciation was mutual, and that was a great feeling.

When our schedules lined up, Rob Gramlich would let me sit in on long-term policy meetings. They centered on the future of wind, but also explored the challenges facing domestic and international environmental policy. I was able to hear Rob express the policy interests of the industry, even discussing the phase-out of incentives (an opinion which industry leaders keep close to home, in a time where they need a couple more years to pull the industry out of the hole its currently sinking). I heard people debate how wind could benefit from section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, and I heard some members yearning for a bit of Tom Steyer’s SuperPAC. On one of these calls, Rob and the CEO of a Fortune 100 company, with a large renewables portfolio, bounced questions off of Columbia Professor, who assists the Secretary of Energy on Policy and International Affairs. He shared his expectations of the international climate talks set for Paris 2015, as well as what he expected from the Chinese Government in the next decade. When the CEO asked if there was anything the world could do to stay with in the IPCC targets the expert paused and then answered, “no, probably not.” It was an unbelievably informative, yet chilling phone call that covered a broad range of environmental topics, ranging far beyond wind energy. This was one of the many moments during my time at AWEA that I knew I was extremely fortunate.

Furthermore, I sat in on offshore wind coalition calls, and met many of the players invested in making offshore wind a part of America’s energy future. Out of the office I attended a number of congressional hearings and briefings related to offshore wind power, clean energy, and the wildlife impacts of wind turbines. In addition to my time on the Hill, I was fortunate enough to attend a number of small fundraisers hosted by some of the world’s largest wind manufacturers and project developers, attended by their CEOs and lobbyists. These often ten person or fewer meals, held in private rooms of Capital Hill restaurants, were a tremendous insight into the world of DC politics, giving me a chance to hear “off the record” opinions of Republican and Democrat Senators, Congressmen, and Congresswomen.

ben3The most challenging part of my time at AWEA was that the people I was working with had all been at AWEA for at least four years, and in DC even longer. They were all extremely knowledgeable, and seemed to move at an extremely fast pace, even as the rest of their industry was at a stand still. I later learned that most things in DC move at a fast pace, even when little is accomplished. Further, there was a sort of political language that they were all fluent in. I lacked the lexicon. I picked up many of the terms eventually, but having never taken a government, or policy class, I was a little in the dark. At first, I was so focused trying to keep up with team, that I could’ve done a better job soaking in all of what they were saying, instead of moving with them as if I knew it already. This was my biggest challenge, but I feel I handled it well. Starting back in April, I had been reading whatever big news I could find on wind energy, the PTC/ITC, US energy policy, and the environmental movements in DC. With that, and some advice from Bob Cleaves, I arrived in DC with a pretty good understanding of where AWEA, and the wind industry currently stood. Once in DC, I found that reading the newspaper everyday helped me stay in the loop, and with the amount of time I had to read, I sometimes was more ahead of the news than my bosses, who were often busy catching up on their own work.

My experience at AWEA was an extremely positive one, and I am so grateful to have had the chance to work with such knowledgeable and accomplished professionals. My advice to future interns is to quickly finish tasks, as soon as they are given to you, do a thorough job, and then ask for more work. I feel so fortunate to have been in such a unique position during a truly historic summer for the wind industry, as well as United States climate policy (I was able to attend the first hearings on the EPA’s new Carbon Pollution Standards under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act). I can’t imagine a better way to have spent my first summer as Environmental Policy student, and I couldn’t have done it with out Colby.