Changing role for electric utilities

April 17, 2015

Picture of melting polar ice from space.

Usually, local governments initiate and lead community energy planning initiatives in their communities.

This was not quite how it happened in Guelph.

In 2003, the Guelph Hydro Board of Directors engaged in a strategic planning exercise with its management team. A fundamental question was posed given all of the changes precipitated by The Electricity Act in 1998.

What business were we in? 

Were we a wires company or an energy services company? Board and management landed on the latter. It was a prescient decision. I have just returned from a national policy symposium where this transformational change in the role of electric utilities was front and centre.

“Across Canada, the role of electric utilities is changing.  It’s no longer enough to simply deliver electricity as a commodity.”  Canadian Electricity Association

In 2003, support for the development of community energy plan was seen as a critical move to inform the development of Guelph Hydro’s business strategy. As a member of the Board at that time, I was sent on a Community Energy Planning Mission to the Netherlands sponsored by Natural Resources Canada and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

It was the initial support of Guelph Hydro and some seed funding from a program of the School of Environmental Sciences (University of Guelph) promoting interdisciplinary collaboration that allowed us to bring together key stakeholders, including the municipality, to form what we called a “Community Consortium” to lead the development of a community energy plan (CEP) for Guelph.

The Guelph CEP anticipated the changes underway today – that is to say today’s single-service energy provider will become multi-service energy providers offering a constantly evolving portfolio of energy services to meet customer needs.

Photo Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen, Creative Commons