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In 2013, Terra Weeks, MS ’17, was working at the San Francisco Department of the Environment developing a city requirement for new residential and commercial construction to include solar power. Less than a year on the job, Weeks’s manager left the department. The agency’s director asked Weeks to take over the project, beginning by drafting a resolution for the city’s Board of Supervisors.
“No problem,” she told her, even though her experience was in marketing and technical analysis, not policy.
“Then I returned to my desk and literally googled ‘how to write a resolution,’” she says now. “It was a steep learning curve.”
The ordinance passed just as Weeks was leaving to begin a master’s program in civil and environmental engineering at Stanford. That spirit and her graduate training led Weeks to her current position as an advisor to Commissioner David Hochschild, who fills the environmental position on the five-member California Energy Commission.
Weeks had gotten to know Hochschild during the summer of 2016 as an intern in the Stanford Energy Internships in California program, which began that year placing students with several state energy agencies. That summer she worked on a model ordinance template that other cities could adopt to establish solar requirements for new construction, similar to what San Francisco had done.
“After San Francisco passed its ordinance, I thought all these other cities would follow suit,” she said in an interview. “A year later, not one had.”
Since that summer internship, seven cities and counties have passed solar power codes akin to San Francisco’s with the help of the model she started, which includes cost-effective analyses specific to climate zones across the state. And this year, the California Energy Commission approved a new standard that will require solar on all new homes across the state beginning in 2020.
Now approaching one year into her permanent position at the commission, Weeks advises Hochschild on a wide variety of energy issues from renewable energy integration, offshore wind development, building and industry electrification, and other efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions and achieve California’s ambitious climate and energy targets.
Weeks also is a mentor and teacher in the Stanford internship program, which has expanded to energy agencies in Colorado and Utah. Interns must take a one-credit class in the spring before heading into their paid positions. From 10 positions in 2016, the program in 2019 will support 14 students interested in public policy work. Student applications and requests from state agencies for interns has grown much more quickly than the program has been able to.
“When I started my master’s degree, I knew I wanted to be at the intersection of technology and policy, and thought I would head to Washington, D.C.,” Weeks said. “But after the internship, I really wanted to get back to Sacramento. There’s a huge opportunity to make an impact at the state level.”
“And it’s a unique opportunity, because there aren’t many connections between Silicon Valley and Sacramento, let alone Denver and Salt Lake City,” said Weeks. “Folks in state agencies are enthusiastic and dedicated, but many are also retiring soon. They really want to attract and train the next generation of policymakers.”
Even for students who don’t wind up pursuing a career in the public sector, the experience can be very valuable.
“Regulation touches everything in energy,” she added. “Learning how to navigate state agencies will be critical to their success in whatever they do.”
Stanford Energy Internships in California and the West is a partnership of the Precourt Institute for Energy, Bill Lane Center for the American West, Haas Center for Public Service, and Stanford in Government.
-By Mark Golden