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Powerful connections, energizing change

After several years as a consultant in Washington, D.C. helping companies implement the EPA’s Energy Star incentive program, Amanda Byrne (MES ’13) had experience on the industry side of making sustainability a regular part of doing business. But she was ready to effect change at the policy level. To do so, she chose to pursue a Master of Environmental Studies at Penn.

“I wanted to go back to grad school full time, but I needed flexibility in the program itself, since I already knew I wanted to focus on policy and energy efficiency,”  Byrne says. “Penn MES offered that in both its curriculum and the capstone project structure. My very first class focused on energy systems and policy, and my professor became my mentor and advisor for my capstone project.”

From that first entry point, Byrne says, she found that Penn MES swiftly connected her with the networks she needed to gain real-world experiences in the policy field.

“I attended a conference on Global Environmental Leadership with the Wharton School of Business, where I met Katherine Gajewski, City Sustainability Director for Philadelphia. She was very interested in what I was doing with MES, and mentioned that Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown was looking for an energy efficiency advisor at City Hall. That led to my first full-time internship in spring 2012.”

Thanks to the opportunity offered by MES to take classes in the evenings, Byrne was able to balance a full-time internship with her courseload. After her time at City Hall ended, her advisor set her up with a new challenge. Byrne served for a full year with the Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance (KEEA), a small but influential energy policy group seeking to increase sustainability across industries in Pennsylvania.

In The Halls Of (Sustainable) Power

At the time, KEEA was evaluating Act 129, a state regulation that imposes new requirements on electric distribution companies with the overall goal of reducing energy consumption. The Public Utilities Commission was revising the act and sought comments from environmental stakeholders.

Byrne represented KEEA at meetings of these environmental stakeholders, working with organizations like Penn Future and the Sierra Club. The position had responsibility far beyond that of a usual intern, but the credibility and connections of the MES program enabled her to take on a key role in the process. She drafted all the comments from the group, compiled them and ultimately readied them for delivery to the commission.

“While they didn’t implement all our comments, the experience opened my eyes to policy work,” Byrne says. “I now have much better insight into how to approach policy work: what kind of legislation has better potential to pass, and what factors in the political landscape could help or hurt a cause.”

In addition to her work on Act 129, Byrne helped to organize Energy Action Day in Harrisburg, in which 150 attendees met with congressmen to make the case for sustainability measures. Her MES capstone project was a set of reasonable recommendations for industry energy use, informed by her close work with both industry and environmentalist representatives.

Efficiency-conscious as ever, Byrne graduated in May 2013 and now works with Mondre Energy Inc. as an on-site consultant at the Philadelphia Water Department. She made the connection while at KEEA.

“The MES program was such a great experience,” Byrne says. “I knew what I wanted, but it streamlined the process to help me get there.”

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