Microgrid Talk: Energy politics and not poking the big bear

March 21, 2022
Energy is highly politicized which gets in the way of innovation. What can be done about this? And why is it important to avoid poking the bear — utilities?
Energy is highly politicized. And as Jim Fonger, Canadian vice president at Ameresco, points out, that’s bad news for innovation. 

Building new energy infrastructure takes a long time, much longer than the duration of political cycles. So energy technology gets caught up in a start/stop cycle as political parties change.

“When a new party gets elected, they get advised that there needs to be some new policy that’s going to change the world,” Fonger says in the latest panel discussion on Microgrid Talk.

Too often, “the information that they get comes from someone who knows very little about the electricity sector.” The result is “a hodgepodge of development that happens over a long period of time that makes it very difficult for new solutions to move forward,” he says.

What do political leaders need to understand about microgrids in particular? 

“I’d just like them to understand that consumers might pursue a microgrid or an on-site power solution for a variety of reasons,” says Tom Poteet, vice president of corporate development for Mesa Solutions. “Sometimes it’s in pursuit of renewable sources. Sometimes it’s for resilience. Sometimes it’s about the cost of electricity. So when you’re trying to craft legislation or regulation, you have to bear in mind that one size doesn’t fit all.”

Mike Byrnes, senior vice president of Veolia North America, offers a word of caution for the microgrid community: Among electricity players, utilities have the most political clout. 

Politicians “remember the guy who was in their office last or the guy they’ve known the longest. And that’s typically the utility,” Byrnes says.

Unfortunately, utilities at times feel threatened that microgrids will usurp their business model — which makes it harder to get microgrid policies and legislation approved.

“We’re trying not to be a threat to them because you know, frankly, their political clout is much more than ours most of the time,” Byrnes says. “You don’t wanna threaten the big bear.”

Watch this Microgrid Talk video, which is part 2 of a 3-part series. Part 1 is available here.

About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded RealEnergyWriters.com, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

Twitter: @ElisaWood

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