By Carly Eckstrom
B.A.H. Political Science, 2019
Intern at the Western Interstate Energy Board
It’s the penultimate week of my time at the Western Interstate Energy Board (WIEB), and my project partner, Xuesi Shen (Ph.D. candidate in MS&E), and I have finally finished drafting our policy documents. We’re working on some snappier titles before we publish, but right now we affectionately call our two reports “the long” and “the short.” Next Friday, we will present our findings in the form of a Webinar directed at the Energy Commissioners who represent all of the Western states and provinces on the WIEB Board. The webinar will likely be the most glamourous hour of our two months of research into a niche, but important, corner of the energy policy world.
During our experience at WIEB, we faced a situation common among policy types: how do you iron out a problem many people already “know” how to solve but that remains unsettled? I’ve seen this issue rear its stubborn head in politics and government of all levels: city, state, and federal. The legacies of well-intentioned policies are often more complicated than their authors intended them. As problems arise over time, so do complicated patches to fix them. These patches stack up, until the original vision for the policy is buried.
I’ve enjoyed working on resource adequacy because many of the practices around it match that description. Until recently, few people were actively working on resource adequacy. Upcoming coal and nuclear retirements, which will dramatically reduce the overall megawatt capacity of electricity generation in the West, have brought the issue to the forefront of policymakers’ minds. Because of the way the Western Interconnection operates, states make their own guidelines for resource planning, meaning that utilities that function across states have to manipulate their documentation to meet all the criteria for multiple jurisdictions.
A substantial part of our project this summer was simply tracking all of the different requirements across the West. To add to these difficulties, the best regional resource adequacy report (the WECC Power Supply Assessment) was discontinued in 2016 for unknown reasons. As of today, there is no report that represents regional resource adequacy in an independently verifiable manner.
This experience helped me to understand how much I enjoy wading through complicated policy build-ups like I mentioned above. I relish picking apart an issue, figuring out the context of past decisions, and making a plan going forward to try to fix the situation. I could see myself working somewhere like the Western Interstate Energy Board, where the staff are given responsibility for understanding a subject, the resources to pick apart the issue’s context, and the political position to try to effect change on the issue.
While I enjoyed my work at WIEB, the thing I will miss most after leaving Colorado is spending time in the Rocky Mountains. Although I love my home state, there are not mountains like the Rockies in Minnesota (or really any mountains at all). There is absolutely nothing like starting a Saturday morning hike early, finishing a two thousand foot climb facing an alpine lake capped by a glacier, and turning around to look down into the most beautiful canyon.
Read more at the Out West Student Blog »