Exploring clean energy advocacy: My experiences as a policy intern at CEEM

May 17, 2024
Interning at Clean Energy Economy Minnesota (CEEM) has been a defining chapter in my journey toward sustainability advocacy. As someone who is deeply passionate about fostering a greener future, this opportunity has not only allowed me to immerse myself in the world of renewable energy but has also equipped me with the tools and experiences to actively contribute to the ongoing dialogue in sustainability.

Introduction

Stepping into the dynamic world of policy as an intern at CEEM has provided me with invaluable insights, resources, connections and experiences. I have been able to build skills that will communicate to all areas of my career interests. Being someone who is interested in clean energy and renewable energy technologies, my position as a policy intern honed a deeper understanding of how the field constantly evolves and grows.

 

District Energy

In my first week of the internship, I was invited to attend a legislative tour of District Energy St. Paul, hosted by CEEM and Ever-Green Energy. On the tour, I got to learn about how the plant uses wood waste biomass in its district heating system to produce energy for downtown St. Paul. This experience, at such an early stage of my program, induced a strong sense of motivation and excitement about what was to come. Getting to see the actual machinery beyond a drawing or chart extended my understanding of how powerful renewable energy actually is. It was exciting being part of a tour where legislators were also learning and asking questions about how the heating system operated. They showed a strong interest in building a better understanding of the infrastructure and topics that were new to them. This was my very first time engaging with legislators and I truly appreciated their initiative and curiosity in learning.

Tracking bills and understanding committee hearings

One of my primary responsibilities at CEEM was maintaining and updating the bill-tracking system. This involved daily visits to the Minnesota Legislature website to monitor bills introduced at the Revisor’s Office and input clean energy bills into the bill tracker.

I also watched committee hearings both in person and virtually and wrote a brief report on some of the key points that were discussed during the hearing for the CEEM Policy Team. These included the House Climate and Energy Finance and Policy Committee and the Senate Energy Utilities, Environment, and Climate Committee. The biggest challenge I faced during these hearings was keeping up with the jargon and language used. Watching several hearings allowed me to build a better understanding of the language that was used and how they were conducted. A key takeaway from this experience was observing how legislators engage with each other in the process of developing and discussing a bill. I enjoyed watching heated debates as committee members shared their opinions on a diverse set of ideas and strategies related to clean energy.

I also helped write a few letters of support for CEEM to submit to committees. This was a bit intimidating at first, but the amount of support I received from my supervisor and the team allowed me to build a level of confidence in my writing. Feedback on my writing was constructive and supportive, each step of the way.

 

Writing for CEEM

The level of writing experience I was able to build from this experience has truly made me proud to be part of the CEEM team. Writing a blog allowed me to develop the skill of writing to a public audience as opposed to the academic style of writing I am used to. This is a crucial distinction that I was able to build through constant revisions and insight from my supervisor.

The first ever blog I wrote was on the C-PACE program, which is a financing mechanism offering commercial real estate owners affordable, extended-term funding options for a wide spectrum of sustainability projects. In the C-PACE 101 blog, I got to dive deep into the history of the C-PACE program and where it stands today. Shortly after writing the blog, I also got to attend a committee hearing on the C-PACE bill CEEM supported and met Bali Kumar, Chief Operating Officer of CEEM-member PACE Loan Group. This was exciting because it allowed me to engage with people who were actively involved with C-PACE and pushing for updates on the program in the C-PACE bill.

The second blog focused on medium- to heavy-duty electric vehicles and explored the gap between light-duty vehicle policies, incentives and technologies relative to those of medium- to heavy-duty vehicles. This process allowed me to conduct deep research into EV technology, allowing me to learn a lot through the process. To build a good background and understanding of the topic, I got the opportunity to meet and interview CEEM-member Ziegler Truck Group, which specializes in medium- to heavy-duty EVs. They provided critical insight into some of the challenges in vehicle adoption and how policy incentives can be tailored to be effective in the implementation and usage of the vehicles. I also learned about how a clean energy transition in transportation could be highly effective if incentives are focused on dealing with the largest carbon emissions contributor on the roads, which are medium- to heavy-duty EVs.

Aside from writing the two blogs, I wrote the Intern Insights panel in the CEEM Legislative Update. This was an opportunity for me to provide a reflection on highlights, challenges, and opportunities I had during my internship. The chance to share my own legislative experience allowed me to feel seen and heard by the CEEM team. It also allowed me to continue building the skill of writing for a public audience and I was excited to share my experiences.

Participating in Clean Energy Business Day

Clean Energy Business Day on April 11 was a big day for CEEM and its business partners, and I was proud to be involved as much as possible in the process. I joined the Rotunda Program, where guest speakers spoke about a variety of clean energy milestones reached in the state. I also had the opportunity to hear from legislators and their views on the clean energy transition during the Post-Rotunda Program. I listened to attendees ask legislators questions related to clean energy. The legislators were quick to respond to the questions the best way they could. It was very interesting and informative to see how legislators are approaching a variety of social and economic challenges that are faced by the clean energy transition. Being able to engage with people and building a social network during the event has expanded my career circle. I am excited to continue making connections with people in clean energy, learning more on how I can shape my interest and career path to the renewable energy sector.

 

Minnesota Energy Factsheet Launch

On April 30, CEEM hosted the Minnesota Energy Factsheet Launch at the Science Museum of Minnesota, marking another pivotal day for our team. Among the event’s highlights were insights into energy production trends, revealing that approximately 33% of energy is now derived from renewables, with 54% of power originating from zero-carbon sources. Personally, this event held special significance as it resonated with my academic pursuits. Having previously researched the impact of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) on electric vehicles (EVs) for one of my academic papers, I found it particularly motivating to learn about the tangible outcomes of the IRA’s enactment in 2022. Learning that there was a 55% increase in EV registrations in 2023, following the IRA’s implementation, left me both highly motivated and optimistic about the future of the clean energy transition in the transportation sector. It was enlightening to realize that my academic research and explorations were aligning with real-world developments and expert analyses in the field.

Moreover, I helped with guest registrations, welcomed them into the event and helped with questions after the panel discussions. Playing an active role in such an important event was exciting and gave me a sense of responsibility as part of the CEEM team. We also had the opportunity to tour the commercial-scale cooling systems of the Science Museum. We got exclusive access to their infrastructure, which takes air from outside, filters it through a wall structure, and distributes it throughout the building. The mechanical engineer who was guiding the tour shared a granular description of how the system operates in different seasons of the year and some of the potential improvements that can be incorporated.

 

Conclusion

As I reflect on my internship journey at CEEM, I am filled with gratitude for the rich learning experiences and opportunities for growth. This internship has not only deepened my understanding of renewable energy and sustainability but has also equipped me with invaluable skills in policy analysis, writing, and advocacy. From engaging in legislative hearings to crafting impactful blog posts and participating in key events, each experience has contributed to my personal and professional development. I leave this internship with a renewed sense of purpose in sustainability and advocacy.

Mayande Headshot

This is a guest blog written by Mayande Mamba, policy intern at CEEM for the 2024 Minnesota Legislative Session. Mayande is responsible for helping track important bills that aid in research and policy analysis. She is a sophomore at Macalester College, majoring in economics and mathematics. Read more about Mayande.

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