Kathy Julik-Heine ’20
Internship: EDP Renewables, Portland, Oregon
Hometown: Taylors Falls, Minnesota
Favorite professor: Dan Gross
Clubs and affiliations: MIINT, Women in Management, Title IX Working Group, Student Government, Student Senate, Energy Club
Bonus fact: My love of travel and long-distance running collided a few years back when I ran a half marathon on the Great Wall in China. I’m running my fourth marathon in Quebec City this fall with fellow SOM-er Carolyn Shaw.
A colleague advised me upon starting graduate school that I should take a “hypothesis-based approach” to the following two years, as they offered a highly unique laboratory for evaluating potential career opportunities. She said to me, “Make a few hypotheses about what you want to do with your life, at SOM and beyond, and then test them. Take classes, get involved in clubs, go to information sessions, go to conferences. Allow your reaction to each of these to confirm or reject your hypotheses. From there you can refine, extend, and build upon your hypothesis and the process will guide you closer and closer to what you want to do.”
I had no idea how much this advice would pervade my first year at SOM. I started with two hypotheses—one renewables oriented, and one finance oriented. As I talked to professionals in each space, took classes, and conversed with classmates, the pieces slowly came together. I abandoned paths that didn’t excite me and chased further those that did. Through this process I was able to hone my professional aspirations and my internship search. I knew my internship was going to be a big test. This is the opportunity to roll up my sleeves and actually try out a potential future career.
By early spring semester my hypothesis looked something like: I want to accelerate the deployment of utility-scale renewable energy and other solutions that decarbonize the global economy in an effort to combat climate change and its catastrophic social, economic, and environmental impacts. I had a few other high-level principles guiding my search.
Prior to SOM I had spent six years in management consulting. While I had the opportunity to focus on areas of particular interest to me—international development, energy sector resilience, women’s empowerment—I always felt one step removed from the work as a consultant. I knew I wanted to spend my summer as close to the actual work as possible. I had hypothesized prior to SOM and spent some time validating a pivot from international work to domestic work, so I knew I wanted to be based in the U.S.
Perhaps my greatest validation during year one at SOM was Dan Gross’s Renewable Energy Project Finance course. The course has a reputation for having a beastly workload, but I dove in and loved every minute of it. I spent each week of the semester looking forward to the three hours the class met in Kroon Hall to talk about everything from project company structures, debt financing, power purchase agreements, and tax incentives to wind generation revenues, construction, risk, and mechanics. An SOM alum who now serves as director of development for an East Coast renewable energy developer came in as a guest lecturer half way through the semester. He talked about the work of developers as being both analytical and policy and people focused. He described land acquisition, working with landowners in areas of the U.S. close to my heart (Minnesota and the Midwest) to introduce a new kind of value to rural lands. He talked about working with local government officials, the tax revenue generated by these large infrastructure projects, and the impact that has on small, close-knit communities like the one I call home. Needless to say, I was hooked.
I had the incredible fortune of receiving an offer to spend the summer with EDP Renewables’ western region office in Portland, Oregon. The only thing I knew about Portland was what I’d learned from Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein on the show Portlandia, and I knew even less about the market for renewables in the west. EDP Renewables North America (EDPR NA) is a renewable energy subsidiary of Energias de Portugal (EDP), a global energy company headquartered in Lisbon, Portugal. EDPR develops, constructs, owns, and operates wind farms and solar parks throughout the United States, Mexico, and Canada. The company ranks fourth in the United States in terms of net installed capacity with more than 50 renewable energy facilities in North America, more than 2,300 turbines in operation, and more than 40 million hours of wind turbine operational history.
Under the tutelage of a truly incredible manager and massively collaborative team in Portland and Houston, where EDPR has its North American headquarters, I spent the summer supporting the development of new renewable energy projects in EDPR’s western region portfolio. I worked on several projects in active development—negotiating land leases, meeting with landowners, securing permitting, understanding and applying federal, state, and local regulations, reviewing financing, and analyzing wind and solar resources, as well as turbine and solar panel layouts and design. In addition, I conducted an independent prospecting effort and pitched three new solar/storage projects to the company at the summer’s end.
The experience checked every box for me. I learned an extraordinary amount in my 10 weeks on the job, which included an extensive deep dive into the federal regulation of transmission and interconnection, as well as manipulating and analyzing data in various mapping software such as ArcGIS and Google Earth. I was afforded extensive opportunities to own work, including leading the negotiations of a new land lease with a state government agency. I got to think intricately about the market for renewables in the U.S. and see up close the creativity of competition that has emerged as costs have continued to decline in the U.S. This intersection of economics and the environment, free market mechanisms and social impact, business and society is exactly where I’ve always wanted to be. Getting to spend the summer at such an epicenter was incredibly affirming.
On the last day of my internship I got to do something coveted by professionals across the renewable energy industry: I got to climb a 270-foot ladder and stand on top of a wind turbine. The climb is structured by the segments of the tower—three sections of 60 feet, and then a final section of 90 feet. As a long-distance runner I consider myself relatively athletic and of course thought the climb would be a breeze. I was wrong. About halfway through each section my arms started to burn and sweat streamed down the sides of my helmet. But after each section I got to stand with confidence and accomplishment on the platform and rest, knowing I was that much closer to my goal. Pulling my body out to stand on top of the nacelle (a compartment at the top of the tower from which the blades extend and inside of which up to roughly 2 MW of electricity can be generated) and looking out at the dozens of other turbines on the horizon generating emissionless power for thousands of homes and business across the region was one of the more exhilarating and surreal experiences of my life. It’s one thing to break a goal into its component parts, validating a path piece by piece; it’s quite another to look back on the path and see how far it’s taken you.
I am thrilled to be heading back to 165 Whitney this fall to continue the journey. My experience in renewables development has set me up with a new suite of even more specialized hypotheses to test in the coming year at SOM and the years following my MBA.