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Career Story: Consultant Focussed On The Electrical Power Industry

Consultant Focussed On The Electrical Power Industry

Job Title: Senior Associate

Type of Company: My company is a consulting company focussed on electric industry issues, working for consumer advocates and environmental groups as well as state and federal government agencies.

Education: MA in Psychology, Wesleyan University; MS in Civil Engineering, Tufts University; Ph.D. in Atmospheric Chemistry, Harvard University

Previous Experience: I worked as a consultant on applications of climate change science in various industries, then spent several years as a consultant in the electric industry.

Job Tasks: I am involved in a number of issues having to do with the wholesale electricity markets in the United States. I perform research, write reports, and provide expert testimony in regulatory proceedings having to do with electricity resource planning. For example, if a utility is planning to build a coal plant to meet future electricity needs, we will be hired to review their plans, their model assumptions, and to look into other alternatives that might be better for both the environment and for their rate payers.

I recently developed a green energy model for the state of Nevada on behalf of an environmental organization in the west. We reviewed all of the potential sources of renewable energy, including geothermal, wind, and solar, and looked at what would be required to provide transmission infrastructure so that these sources could be used to provide energy to load centers around Las Vegas. We also looked at the opportunities for energy efficiency to reduce energy needs in the future. Thus we were able to compare the costs and benefits of using clean renewable resources as opposed to building more coal plants and exacerbating global warming. As usual, our plan turned out to be cheaper, cleaner, and less risky than the one proposed by the utilities.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part is working with great people and great clients on important projects that I really care about. I also get to work with decision-makers at high levels of government who are very interested in and appreciative of my work.

A hard part is that our clients have MUCH lower budgets than their opposition, while the standard for quality is just as high or higher...for example, when I am a witness the opposition is likely to spend hours and hours poring over everything I have ever written to try to discredit me. This is very stressful. Also, I am often working on several cases at once, which can also be stressful as everyone wants to be treated as my first priority.

Job Tips:
1. I think that both analytical skills and communications skills are crucial to success in this area, and being able to effectively communicate technical information succinctly and clearly, at essentially an 8th grade level, is often required.

2. Another tip is that clients are always happy when you don't just do what they ask, but help them understand what would be most useful and make suggestions for your own tasks. After all, you are the expert.

3. I personally care a great deal about the quality of my presentations - layout, quality of graphics and tables, rhythm, etc.

4. Also, whenever I make a presentation I make sure that it will fit well into the time allowed. Many people prepare way too many slides and end up never getting to the point or running over, which is annoying and unproductive. Do the work to make it the right length and PRACTICE.

Additional Thoughts: It is wonderful to get paid to work on issues that I really care about, and I really have my heart in my work. It took a long time to get here, but at every step along the way I have been able to ask myself what I really wanted to do and then to find a way to do it. This is not to say that I always knew where I was going, but I did feel right about (just about) every step along the way and I always managed to get paid with a little effort. I am now in a job that, frankly, I think I will stay in for the rest of my life.

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