Tessa Haagenson; Principal Planning Analyst; Great River Energy
The National Wildlife Federation EcoLeaders Career Center is celebrating the motivating stories and career accomplishments of young professionals making their names (and a difference) in the sustainability movement. NWF EcoLeaders staff has interviewed this group of change-makers and rising stars that we call “The EcoLeaders Top 50 Inspirations.”
Principal Planning Analyst
Great River Energy
David Corsar: Looking back at your experience with NWF, how has participation as an NWF Fellow help shape your career path?
Tessa Haagenson: When I applied for my fellowship with NWF, I had a relatively simplistic understanding of electric power system operation and of energy policy related to renewables. In order to advocate for support of wind power at the university, I wanted to understand the impacts/benefits of the transition away from status quo energy production. As part of this effort, I researched the energy production chain in the Midwest. If I were to point to a specific moment that started me down the path of an electric power industry career, it would be when I first looked into the fuel mix that was keeping the lights on in my dorm room.
DC: What was the top thing that you learned in your professional development with NWF?
TH: The importance of presenting information in a relevant, succinct and professional manner to decision makers. This is by far not the only thing I learned--but it was essential to getting buy-in at the top level of the (university) administration.
DC: What are you up to these days? What is your role at Great River Energy, and why did you choose to work there?
TH: I am currently a Principal Planning Analyst in the Resource Planning department at GRE. In this role, I run a capacity expansion (resource forecasting) model and perform data analytics to help inform long-term resource decisions. This involves, for example, working with large data sets, interpreting and conveying results of analysis, and figuring out which tools and which data to use to answer long-term planning questions. I also perform tracking and reporting activities for renewable energy standard obligations and I keep tabs on the company's net capacity (MW) position. Finally, I support GRE's Future Grid efforts from an analytics standpoint, helping determine the tool kit that will best allow the company to plan for future energy and capacity needs, as we continue to position ourselves for new technologies, regulatory and market developments, and changing consumer demands.
I have only been with GRE for 5 months; previously, I was working for MISO, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (a regional grid operator, a wholesale energy and ancillary service platform provider and facilitator of long-term regional transmission planning). At MISO, I worked in the Policy and Economic Studies group, most recently as a Sr. Policy Studies Engineer. In that position, I had the opportunity to apply policy, economic and technical knowledge to analyze massive systems (almost the whole of the electric grid in the eastern half of the US) and to package and present data to diverse internal and external stakeholder groups. MISO, because of its large footprint (15 states) and regional functions, afforded me the opportunity to think about the power grid from both a detailed modeling perspective and a 10,000 ft perspective. It also exposed me to a wide range of individuals and organizations--investor owned utilities, environmental groups, consumer advocates, independent power producers, transmission owners and developers, and regulators at the state and federal level. There is a breadth of motivations and opinions and knowledge in this group--often in opposition. While I only worked within the Planning department for the ~5 years I spent at MISO, I also had the opportunity to learn about the Markets and Operations side of the organization.
There were a few particular reasons I decided to make the move to GRE. First, MISO does not own any assets and it is fuel-neutral. GRE does own and manage a portfolio of assets, and I wanted to get a window into the decisions that the company was making when weighing future investments about these assets. Second, MISO sees the electric system largely at the transmission level and much of the development that's currently happening in the industry is at the distribution level. While GRE doesn't own distribution assets or perform distribution planning, it does work closely with its members coops to help ensure that the system overall is ready for industry changes as they occur. Third, a portion of my job at GRE focuses on the Future Grid--what this means for the industry overall and what it means for GRE.
My mid- to longer-term career goals include working towards a job that will focus more on the transition to this Future Grid, including the incorporation of an increasing amount of renewable energy resources and distributed energy resources. On my way there, I'm attempting to gain a well-rounded understanding of how the physical system works and of the various other systems (political, economic) in place that are impacting its developments.
DC: What would you say is your personal mission for sustainability?
TH: To say that I have a personal mission for environmental sustainability is a stretch. I have goals that I will continue to work towards throughout my life, such as drive less/walk or bike more, buy more locally-produced items/fewer items that are produced unsustainably or shipped across the ocean, eat more plants/eat fewer processed things, live with less stuff, use less energy, etc.
DC: What motivated you to begin this path?
TH: Initially, a love of nature instilled by my parents and other close relatives - This developed into a desire to pursue the career path that would allow for the greatest positive environmental impact. At the time I was approaching college/major selection, I thought environmental policy was the vehicle through which I could best achieve my goals. I enrolled in an Environmental Studies degree, with a Policy and Planning emphasis. Having finished my degree, I decided to spend a semester abroad as a guest graduate student in a Sustainable Energy Planning and Management program in Denmark. Over the course of the semester it became clear to me that I needed/wanted a better understanding of the underlying science of the electric power system, so I decided I would pursue an engineering degree when I got back to the US. (which I did - a B.S. in Electrical Engineering).
DC: Who are your primary “influencers” or inspirations in the sustainability movement?
TH: I used to be (~10 years ago) a big Amory Lovins fan and also read Cradle-to-Cradle from cover to cover numerous times when it came out. I still think Cradle-to-Cradle is a great text and I still check on what the Rocky Mountain Institute is doing relatively often or come across RMI staff in my professional life on occasion but I wouldn't call them current influencers or inspirations of mine in the sustainability movement, per se.
I was recently taken with The Minimalists and their presentation of/approach to a minimalist lifestyle. This resonated deeply with me and I've since focused more on buying/owning less stuff--keeping the things that really bring me joy (and keeping them organized so that I can exist in a smaller space), trying to purchase higher quality items that will last longer or that could be repaired to extend their life at some point, and to let go of the things I don't need or that don't serve me (by giving them to someone who would use them, if possible, or by recycling them, if possible).
I spend a lot more time now reading about smart grid/future grid developments, or Google/Apple/Facebook signing renewable PPAs or the Tesla/SolarCity merger or the newest development in energy storage, because I'm fascinated with these developments, which are often ahead of policy. In large part, these are the things that are driving changes in the way we move and the way we power our homes and the way that corporations power their research campuses, etc. These are the types of developments that inspire me and make me think bigger about what the future electric grid could look like. And these are tied to and maybe even essential for a more sustainable electric power system (e.g. energy storage at the right price point can help balance increasing variability from wind/solar build-out, electrification of transportation in concert with an increasingly green fuel mix would be more sustainable than continued reliance upon fossil fuels for transport, etc.)
The influencers/inspirations I'm citing are perhaps not typically counted as part of the "sustainability" movement but they will help enable the things that I imagine a sustainability movement in the electric power sector is working towards.
DC: Did you have any mentors or career coaches assist you in developing your career path?
TH: I certainly had support when I was a Bemidji State, in terms of professors, who helped me learn what I needed to/wanted to at the time given where I thought I may be going (into energy policy). More recently, there were many individuals at MISO who offered valuable career advice and coaching.
DC: What made those mentorship relationships work?
TH: From my side, immense respect for the individual/s offering the advice and guidance. Perhaps from their side, recognition of drive and a clear line of sight in terms of goals.
DC: How important do you feel obtaining project-based leadership experience is when entering the workforce?
TH: Extremely important. Right behind developing communication skills, including public speaking abilities.
DC: What would you recommend to students who want to make a difference for sustainability in your sector?