Let's talk energy strategy

March 24, 2015

This is a picture of a chess board to represent strategy.

As energy planning and decision making becomes more local, municipal governments and their electricity distribution companies have more need to engage each other than ever before.

Much of our national energy conversation has been focussed on supply. This has been true in communities too. As a community grows, the role of local electricity distribution companies has been to supply new homes and businesses with electricity.

Understanding where and how we use energy is becoming as important today – not unlike the shift municipal governments made many years ago in managing local water systems.

Only recently have electricity distribution companies had to meet conservation and demand management targets – so this is new territory. As well, the changes to the energy system go far beyond the challenges that conservation and efficiency pose to the current business model. Self-generation, district energy systems, combined heat and power and micro-grid facilities are creating a new, and increasingly competitive, energy system. How these systems will be governed is poorly understood.

With a shift to localization, comes the need to develop new approaches to engaging communities in energy planning and decision making. Ontario’s local electrical distribution companies could learn from their municipal shareholders who have well-developed community engagement frameworks and tools that have long moved past simple consultation to more effective engagement approaches.

Local electricity distribution companies are just one part of a complex and fragmented energy system. As energy services become more localized and integrated, municipalities – as shareholders and stewards of a significant public asset – should be engaging their electricity distribution companies in a conversation to understand the implications of the transformation underway and the future role of local utilities.

Community energy planning can serve as a platform to better understand the transformation underway in Canada’s energy system and the consequences for electricity distribution companies – done well it can serve as the integrated strategic foundation for planning and decision-making for the community (municipal government) and business decision making (electricity distribution company).

New technologies are providing customers with more control over how much energy they use and more options over what energy service they choose. As with so many new technologies, they present a risk to the status quo but also a great business opportunity for those with the right strategy.