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ASES Conference: A Convening on the ‘Smaller Size’ With Big Implications

By Kamil Cook

My colleague in the Public Citizen Texas office, climate policy and outreach specialist Kaiba White, and I recently participated in the annual American Solar Energy Society national solar conference.  

Solar 2024: Connecting Technology and Policy brought together experts from many sectors working on solar. While a small conference, its intimate size allowed for many opportunities for relationship-building and collaboration. 

While there, we presented our recent research on rooftop solar compensation rates in Texas alongside dozens of other presenters whose work focuses on a wide range of solar-related fields. There were panels—panels about panels if you will—on everything from home energy efficiency to grid-enhancing technologies to the life cycles of solar panels and how to recycle them.  

We also presented our research in a poster session alongside graduate students, entrepreneurs, young career analysts, government workers, and industry experts with decades of experience.  

The convening of people from all over the country and all in different stages of their careers is what I appreciated most. I found it professionally and personally enriching to hear the different kinds of advice that came from different people—advice that was colored by where someone was in their career. I could talk to people in my generation about things like work-life balance and people much deeper in their careers about the lessons they learned from the grid crisis in California in the early 2000s. Even though it can often feel like we’re fighting an uphill battle in Texas (and from what it sounded like from people in other states—we do have it hard), it’s revitalizing to see so many people dedicated to the same work and willing to share tips on how they do it.  

While this convening was on the smaller side, it allowed for more intimate dialogue and relationship-building. Speakers, volunteers, and visitors could intermingle and talk easily after panels. Experts from Maryland could compare their state’s regulatory structures with organizers in Virginia. Even though our work in the Texas office of Public Citizen is almost entirely focused on Texas, hearing what programs and ideas work for people in other states and power grids was good for inspiring new ideas we could incorporate here.  

One concept that stuck with me came from Paul Fenn, president of Local Power LLC. In his presentation, he spoke of lessons over the past 30 years trying to increase green energy on our grid. He’s most well-known for authoring California’s Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program, which allows governmental entities, like cities or counties, to purchase and/or generate electricity within the service area of investor-owned utilities. This allows cities or counties to choose their own electricity.  

After his talk, I asked Paul how a program like that could be implemented in California in the early 2000s, given the power of monopoly utilities at the time. He said it could be implemented after the California electricity crisis of 2000-2001. That crisis gave California regulators so few options that their only choice was implementing CCAs, especially because it had grown a following through his organizing efforts across the state.  

The lesson from this is about organizing: building power and using it strategically. If change seems impossible, keep building power and wait for the opportunity. And when it comes, be ready.  

I’m thankful I was able to attend and present at this conference. Not only did I learn from many of the attendees and presenters, but I also gave my first presentation at a professional conference. I am excited to apply the lessons and ideas I’ve learned here on the ERCOT grid. 

Kamil Cook is a climate and clean energy associate in the Texas office of Public Citizen