Microgrid Talk: Energy politics and not poking the big bear

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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.

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About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of MicrogridKnowledge.com. She has been writing about energy for more than three decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.


  1. Rex D Stock says:

    Poke the Bear? Pretty sure Ameresco and Veolia are bear cubs. With their 20-year Agreements, ESCO’s take a great idea and mechanism to bring new equipment and technologies aboard and make it all about them… For municipalities that’s a great thing (usually); however these financing tools don’t migrate well to private industry. Let’s deregulate the bear (learning from all the past mistakes that the Utilities use as a fear factor to resist change), and resist all the ‘stranded asset’ nonsense. Comparing a Utility to a bear fails as an analogy on multiple levels. Boo Boo!

  2. Energy Descent Incoming says:

    We don’t have time to be concerned about “poking the bear”. The more time we waste, the more we assure energy descent and collapse.

  3. Trying to keep in mind the EU, Canadian, Australian and U.S. electricity markets are all handled just enough ‘differently’ that the common thread needs to be found. Distributed energy generation (microgrids), aggregate VPPs and a bidirectional grid business model can accommodate utilities and ratepayers in a EaaS market. Interconnection seems to be the “other” most needed infrastructure. For instance, in the U.S., there is FERC that oversees the wholesale energy and transmission market. Within the wholesale electricity market FERC has ruling 841 and 2222 to allow distributed energy storage along the wholesale grid. Being able to “shuttle” electricity from north to south and coast to coast while storing energy regionally and locally for a “next day grid services” market can take care of some of the (need) for ‘seasonal’ energy storage like pumped hydro and capacity like Peaker plants that have run times of around 5% a year.