Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Sunday, April 19, 2015

Lick links economic growth, sustainable energy policy

Andy Lick Andy Lick

Andy Lick likes a challenge, and he has spent the last seven years showing that sustainable environmental policy and economic growth are not mutually exclusive.

"My whole life I'd been told that the economy and the environment were opposing forces," the second-year La Follette School student says, "and my interest in energy policy grew out of challenging that assumption."

After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 2005, Lick traveled worked in regional and transportation planning in California. Then he became a construction foreman for Sun Light and Power in the San Francisco Bay area, installing solar photovoltaic systems. "During those five-plus years working in solar, the price of a solar photovoltaic systems we installed decreased to the point where it was cheaper without incentives than it had been with incentives included when I started," says Lick, who is working on a Master of Public Affairs and certificate in energy analysis and policy. "However, the business climate was uncertain because of volatility in silicon price and rapid expansion."

He started thinking about the challenge of graduate school. "Professionally, I spent a lot of time impressed by colleagues who were knowledgeable of energy markets, and the policy context in which clean technology and renewable energy thrive," Lick says. "They combined that technical understanding of the underlying systems with the environmental effects they generated. I was lucky to know and work with these people, and I wanted the foundations to share that work at the intersections of energy, climate, business and policy."

His travels also influenced his decision to return to school. "I saw how people live where fewer safeguards protect people from direct streams of pollution," he says. "The energy analysis and policy certificate offers the tools to begin to understand the depth of the impact decisions about energy supply. Carrying bundles of wood for cooking imparts a great respect for cheap, clean and reliable energy. I want to understand how to inform intelligent choices for something so fundamental to prosperity and health."

He chose the La Follette School for the program's breadth and the flexibility it allows him to gather depth in certain topics, including econometrics and geographic information systems. "I'm able to take multiple courses in departments including Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Biological Systems Engineering, Agricultural and Applied Economics, and the School of Business," Lick says. "Combining this flexibility with a master's thesis in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies has given me a range of experiences to hone certain skills and gather some I was unaware of before graduate school."

The faculty expertise at the university is also an excellent resource, Lick says. "After years of physically building energy systems, I sat in on Greg Nemet's Introduction to Energy Analysis and Policy course and was convinced that the coursework would advance my understanding of energy systems in their interaction with prosperity and environment."

Lick spent the summer of 2014 at Stanford University's Hoover Institution's Summer Teaching Institute on the Economics and Politics of Regulation, which focused on intellectual property, the patent system, energy and the environment. "The experience highlighted the role of regulating innovation, energy, and the environment to maintain prosperity," Lick says. "The majority of our time was spent in coursework with a final project proposal for future research. My group researched and presented a set of policy innovations to alleviate the tension between utilities and solar photovoltaics."

His La Follette School training prepared him well for the experience. "La Follette coursework was central to understanding and capitalizing on the individual time we had with the experts at Hoover," Lick says.

This year, Lick holds a project assistantship with Professor David Weimer. He is assembling a multiple-decade dataset, and conducting research on behavioral economics and consumer finance, the roots of mandatory environmental impact statements, the relative risks of addiction to different sectors of society, and the allocation of goods based on their quality as well as their quantity.

After graduation, Lick hopes to use his experiences and skills to find balance of working in the field testing and understanding energy systems, their wider impacts on the environment and society, and using that knowledge to design and analyze energy policies.

"The quantitative skills I developed at La Follette are critical in both the consumption and production of quality research," he says. "La Follette encourages, facilitates and structures its courses for repeated application of analyst-level skill development. The quantitative skills I gained will allow me to make critical appraisals of research methods and intelligent policy decisions."