The Minnesota Women in Energy series highlights influential women who are part of our state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy industries. CERTs is highlighting these leaders during the month of March in 2016, which is Women’s History Month.
As part of the series we interviewed Annie Levenson-Falk, Executive Director at the Legislative Energy Commission, to learn more about her work, what inspires her, and how other women can get involved in the industry. Read on to learn more!
Can you tell use a little bit about what you do in the energy world in Minnesota?
I’m the executive director of the Minnesota Legislative Energy Commission (LEC). The LEC is a body of 10 state senators and 10 members of the House of Representatives. My job is to be a nonpartisan resource for LEC members and all legislators on energy. I do research, organize LEC hearings, and help legislators keep up to date on energy developments in Minnesota and around the world.
How did you get into this work?
Before coming to the LEC in 2013, I worked at the Citizens League, a nonprofit that works on all kinds of Minnesota policy issues. I was the lead policy staff, so I worked on everything from transportation to aging to education, but the project I spent the most time on was one on electrical energy. We brought regular people together with industry stakeholders to develop a long-term vision for the state’s electric system and the utility model that we need to get there. I had never studied or worked on energy before, but I learned a lot over the course of four years working on that project.
What is a typical day like for you?
My typical day starts out by catching up on the news. I read a lot of articles and reports and give legislators a short summary every week. I may research a particular policy question and meet with legislators, staff, or people who work in energy companies or organizations. If the legislature is not in session, I’ll probably be arranging speakers for the next LEC meeting. If it’s during the session, I’m more likely to be tracking bills or working on a presentation to the House or Senate energy committees. I also get out of the Capitol a lot to better understand what people are doing in communities, utilities, and organizations in Minnesota, and to understand how to help support the good work they’re doing.
What are the best and worst parts of your job?
I’m always learning. The topic of energy is enormous, and there’s always more I need to know. And energy is changing quickly. In some policy areas, it feels like we’ve been having similar debates for decades. That’s not the case with energy. Technology is changing so quickly; energy is modernizing and getting cleaner, and that’s pushing policy to change too. We may not know exactly what the future will look like, but we know it will be really different from today. That’s exciting to me. Being at the legislature means being amid a lot of politics; for better or worse, it’s just how things get done here. As a nonpartisan staff, I’m not involved in the political debates. That means I get to work with people from both parties, which I really enjoy. But in this position, I do sometimes miss taking more direct action.
What about your job inspires you?
Getting to know a lot of interesting people from all different perspectives. There’s always someone who knows more than me about any topic I might be working on. In my position, I get to call on all these people. I work with people in utilities, energy businesses, nonprofits, and local governments, engineers, researchers, organizers, policy makers—the list goes on. I love being exposed to so many different ways of thinking, and it’s awesome to see how many people are working in different ways to make things better.
You mentioned that you help to run an internship program, too. Can you tell me more about that?
Yes, outside of my job at the LEC, I’m one of the co-founders of the Capitol Pathways Internship Program at the Citizens League. Being at the legislature every day, it’s really obvious that the people who are involved in Minnesota government aren’t representative of the diversity of the state. This is pretty well known; it’s been covered in the news, and I pretty frequently hear people expressing concern about it—but the disparity is persistent. It’s a problem for all of Minnesota, but I think many people are at a loss about what to do to make change.
One evening last year, over a burger and beer, my friend Juve Meza and I started talking about what we could do with our own networks and resources to make a small change. In about a month, we put together a one-day job shadow program for students of color with legislators, staff, and lobbyists. This year, with our teammates Claire Wilson and Pahoua Yang Hoffman and help from many other people, it has become a semester-long internship program, placing more than two dozen students in paid legislative internships.
I wanted to share this story for two reasons: (1) Support the program please! But more importantly, (2) there are things we can all do in our own spheres to address important issues like disparities in Minnesota. I’m very privileged to be in the position I am, and I want to share that privilege and help open access for other people.
What advice do you have for women who are thinking about working in energy?
Meet people. Go to interesting events and energy happy hours, volunteer, reach out and ask interesting people to coffee, and build your network. The people I know in the field are by far the most valuable resource for me.
Annie Levenson-Falk is the Executive Director of the Legislative Energy Commission (LEC), a bipartisan body of 10 Senators and 10 members of the House of Representatives. The LEC brings together legislators with specialties in electricity and gas, transportation, agriculture, and natural resources to consider short- and long-term questions for Minnesota’s energy policy. Before joining the LEC in 2013, Annie was the senior policy manager at the Citizens League, a nonpartisan civic policy nonprofit based in Saint Paul. Annie is a co-founder of the Capitol Pathways internship program and former board chair of NAVIGATE. She was a Policy Fellow at the Humphrey School, University of Minnesota and has a Bachelor’s in Political Science from Haverford College in Pennsylvania. Annie lives in Minneapolis, and she is originally from Maine.
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mncerts</a> is highlighting 18 women leading MN's <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CleanEnergy?src=hash">#CleanEnergy</a> industry! <a href="https://t.co/N6dQ6gXx6U">https://t.co/N6dQ6gXx6U</a> <a href="https://t.co/q0ZWy51Iym">pic.twitter.com/q0ZWy51Iym</a></p>— CERTs (MNCERTs) March 1, 2016
|About the Author: Kathleen McGee is a freelance writer and content strategist for environmental organizations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.|
The Minnesota Women in Energy series highlights influential women who are part of our state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy industries during Women’s History Month.