An interview with Cecelia ‘CeCe’ Coffey ‘15, an energy industry analyst for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Check out her LinkedIn profile here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ceceliacoffey/
JPM: What did you study at Princeton? What did you do outside of class? What was your senior thesis about?
CC: I majored in the Woodrow Wilson School, and my Princeton experience reflected my transition from studying environmental policy to focusing more specifically on energy infrastructure development. During the summer of 2014, an internship with the White House Council on Environmental Quality led me to dive into infrastructure permitting broadly. When I returned to Princeton for my senior year, I decided to focus specifically on offshore wind, since I saw a growing opportunity for wind project development in federal waters.
My thesis evaluated the efficacy of the Smart From the Start program, which was designed to pre-site, permit, and conduct programmatic environmental reviews in pre-designated offshore wind energy areas. I also began attending PUEA events during my senior year, its inaugural year. It was through a friend from PUEA, Dan Jang, that I heard about ICF, where I would work immediately following graduation.
JPM: What is your current job title?
CC: Beginning November 2017, I started as an energy industry analyst at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington D.C. As a member of the Office of Energy Market Regulation, I work in the East division, which is tasked with advising the Commission on caseload related to the regulation of electric utilities operating in the ISO-NE, NYISO and PJM operator territories. Prior to joining FERC, I worked at ICF for 2+ years on a variety of projects for public and private clients related not only to electricity, but also to fuel markets in the U.S. and abroad.
JPM: Tell us about the day-to-day for your job?
CC: While the general jurisdictional authority of FERC is to maintain the appropriate balance between competition and regulation in the regulated wholesale electricity markets, my role specifically focuses on rate and tariff filings, as well as other policy issues related to electricity rate-setting. My day-to-day work includes reviewing filings and researching the relevant market issues, discussing alternate approaches with a team, and drafting orders that align with the determination of senior staff.
JPM: What has your overall career path been like? Why did you make specific pivots/switches along the way?
CC: Spending the summer of 2014 at CEQ inspired my pursuit of a career in energy. I joined ICF right out of school with the intent to focus on energy infrastructure broadly. However, as I learned more about the challenges facing the evolving electric grid space, I knew that I wanted to learn more about how electricity market structure and regulation can incentivize the efficient and cost-effective delivery of electricity to consumers.
My work at FERC is uniquely attractive in several ways. First, I have the ability to develop expertise in three electricity markets, which impact a third of the states in the country. In addition, the wholesale electricity markets are at the center of critical national debates over compensation for energy and capacity resources, which makes me excited to come to work each day. Finally, joining FERC meant I could stay in D.C., which I love.
JPM: In what ways did Princeton prepare you for what you are doing after graduation?
CC: Princeton prepared me well to be successful in my research assistant and analyst positions at ICF. Without an engineering background, I initially worried about being able to keep up while working with colleagues on projects related to refinery production, fuel specification changes, and other more technical aspects of fuel market operations, but I found myself quickly picking up everything that I needed to know.
Most importantly, perhaps, was that Princeton gave me the confidence both to seek out mentorship and to actively pursue projects that would help me develop specific areas of expertise within the electricity sector. Outside of work, my continued involvement with the Clean Energy Leadership Institute (CELI) connects me to a community of young people who support each other in these same goals.
JPM: Is there anything in energy that currently excites you?
CC: Much more than fits in a short interview, thankfully. One topic that I have taken a specific interest in is the development of high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines. I was first exposed to transmission development at CEQ, where I learned about the permitting and environmental reviews that can challenge project developers. While at ICF, I supported the U.S. Department of Energy’s office of Transmission Permitting and Technical Assistance, which gave me the opportunity to learn more about what it takes to plan and execute major projects to connect the locations where electricity can be generated cheaply to those areas where consumers face supply shortages. At this point, HVDC technology has advanced sufficiently to support long-distance projects, but successful project execution still relies on effective public engagement and extensive planning, which can be exciting to follow.
JPM: Do you have a recommendation/tidbit of advice for current students?
CC: Figure out what excites you about building a career in energy, then seek out experiences to build a skill set. Cleantekker, for example, is a website to help internship- and job- seekers connect with a career in clean energy. Above all, take what you can from wherever you land first, but know that you’re not stuck if you find your interests changing. Connecting both with coworkers and with friends at other organizations will allow you to explore a broad range of opportunities in energy, if and when you decide to switch jobs.