Degree: MA, 1998
Location: Logan, UT / Washington D.C.
When Mike Taylor interviewed with the Solar Electric Power Association, he only had to hand them his master’s thesis from the Humphrey School to prove he was familiar with their work: the paper used data that came directly from the organization. In his role now, Mike is responsible for disseminating the same kind information to electric utilities in a rapidly growing solar market.
What do you do in your job?
SEPA is a membership organization that works with electric companies across the country to help them learn about solar projects, technology, and business models. Utilities traditionally haven’t utilized solar at meaningful scales, but in the last 18 months we have seen an explosion of growth that is putting solar energy on their agendas. It used to be homes and large businesses, but now electric utilities really have stepped up and added a new niche to the market. It makes our organization and our efforts extremely relevant to the growth of the solar market.
How your Humphrey education got you to where you are today?
In 1999, I went to a Minnesota Public Utility Commission meeting on wind energy. I took notes on the speakers and cross referenced it against a career services energy-focused alumni list. Chris Davis (MA, ’88) at the Minnesota Department of Commerce was a “match,” so I set-up an informational interview with him. I would e-mail him every month or two to check in, and eventually it turned into a summer internship. As it turned out, I worked there for seven years and, among other things, started to specialize in solar energy. My work included starting the Minnesota Solar Electric Rebate Program using $1.2 million in funding secured from Xcel Energy’s Renewable Development Fund.
When my wife took a post-doc in D.C., the solar work I had done in Minnesota set me up very nicely for a job opening at SEPA. My wife then got a tenure track position at Utah State University. One of the benefits of a small organization is flexibility, so I now telecommute from an office at Utah State University to the SEPA office in Washington, D.C.
What skills did you learn at the Humphrey that you sill utilize today?
I'm not sure a day goes by when I don't use the word "stakeholder," which came out of one of my classes. SEPA sits squarely at the nexus of understanding the sometimes divergent views of utilities, the solar industry, environmental organizations, other non-profits, and government agencies in assessing solar markets. As much as numbers drive business decisions, political and strategic directions are driven at least in part by emotional positioning, which isn't quantitative.
What is one of your most memorable Humphrey moments?
When I was at Humphrey, there was a tiny dorm-style refrigerator under the sink in the student lounge. It always was packed full and it didn’t work that well. John Brandl, who was dean at the time, gave the student association $100. We went to a used appliance warehouse on Lake Street, got a refrigerator, and brought it down to the lounge. Last time I checked, it was still there. If I have a Humphrey legacy, it’s that refrigerator.