What Utilities Can Learn from the Republican Primaries

What Utilities Can Learn from the Republican Primaries

I was on a plane last week when Mitt Romney delivered his speech deriding Donald Trump as a fraud, a bully and generally unfit for office. As soon as I landed and saw what he had said, my gut instinct was that Romney had made a “yuuuuge” strategic error. He had literally embodied the very reasons that the people who support Trump have for supporting him. He had come off like the typical elitist, insider politician Trump supporters are tired of, essentially saying, “Look, you’re not getting it. Listen to me, I’m clearly smarter than you, so let me tell you how it is.” By calling Trump unfit, he called his supporters unfit. And, predictably, those people said F-you and dug their heels in harder, supporting Trump to three more victories this week. (And a new poll actually shows Romney’s speech pushed one-third of GOP voters to be more supportive of Trump.)

It reminded me very much of how utilities typically handle rate cases, especially the ones around net metering.

Though my friends in the solar industry likely won’t like this characterization, the parallel here is that solar supporters are like Trump supporters. They’re tired of the establishment (utilities), they think important change isn’t happening quickly enough, and they’re over being told, “It’s not your turn yet” or “You can’t just change the system overnight.” So they’ve mobilized and created a populist form of energy that’s now widely accessible and affordable. When utilities try to change what they pay for energy generated by rooftop solar, utilities come off just like Mitt Romney.

“No, no, no … let me tell you how it is. Solar is unfit for wide consumption … we should take a measured approach. And, besides, you should feel bad for us – it’s unfair that we have to pay a homeowner a much higher rate for their solar power than we would pay to get the same amount of kilowatts from another source,” they essentially say. And though that may be an accurate statement, you simply can’t fight an emotional argument with a rational one. Every time utilities take this approach, they come off like bullies on the playground and give solar supporters new motivation to do everything in their power to defeat the establishment (the utility industry).

Much has been written and many strategists have been quoted about the notion that if Trump is the Republican nominee, the GOP as we know it will implode. I could say the same about the utility industry. If utilities continue to demand that they earn a profit according to their current business model instead of figuring out how to earn a profit while helping their customers achieve their clean energy goals, the utility industry could implode.

Every time one of these very public fights erupts between the utility industry and the solar industry, it sends a direct message to our nation’s largest companies that if they’re going to add renewables into their mix, they’d better call a solar or wind developer to help them out since, clearly, the utility industry doesn’t want to be involved. And our nation’s largest energy consumers are turning to renewables in droves. Energy efficiency and renewables top the list of sustainability priorities for our country’s largest companies, and efforts like RE100 (which asks companies to commit to being 100% renewable) are gaining traction.

So, to the utility industry, I say this: don’t be Mitt Romney. Don’t be Donald Trump, either. Get it that the way forward is in finding common ground, re-imagining business models and communicating about all of that in a compassionate, authentic way. That’s the best way forward for the industry, and our country.


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Posted on

March 9, 2016

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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Suzanne Shelton

President and CEO

Suzanne is the voice and the vision of Shelton Group. Drawing on her extensive experience in energy and the environment – and 25+ years in the marketing and advertising industry – Suzanne provides high-level strategic insights for our clients and guidance for our research and creative departments. She regularly speaks at conferences around the country, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and the International Builders’ Show, and serves as a guest columnist for publications like Fast Company, Green Builder and GreenBiz.com.

Susannah Enkema

VP Research & Insights

Susannah directs our research team and plays a key role in extracting the nuggets of information that pave the way for recommended marketing strategies and creative approaches. Susannah has nearly two decades of market research and strategy experience, including her role as president of SE Consulting, where she led the services for the likes of DIY Network and the makers of GORE-TEX®.

Matt Brass

VP Creative

Matt steers the creative department in concepting, designing and producing campaigns. He ensures sound strategy and deep insights inform everything his team develops, and works closely with the accounts department to ensure copy and designs will meet our clients’ goals. As a designer and filmmaker himself, he’s also a principal contributor to all of Shelton’s in-house photography and videography work.

Courtnay Hamachek

VP Operations

Courtnay oversees our day-to-day operations to keep us running smoothly and support our growth. She establishes project management systems and processes to help our teams anticipate bottlenecks, prevent process issues, and keep projects on time and on target. Courtnay has built extensive experience over 25 years in all aspects of marketing, from account services and project management to design and production.

Aaron Crecy

Digital Marketing Director

Aaron is responsible for planning, executing and measuring digital marketing strategies for Shelton Group and our clients, with an emphasis on inbound, content, SEO, social media, email and paid initiatives. He constantly researches and explores new tactics and strategies to improve digital campaign performance and results.

Aaron brings to the table more than 20 years of marketing leadership experience with premium consumer-facing brands. He came to Shelton Group by way of Malibu Boats, where, as Director of Global Marketing, he oversaw strategic marketing planning and execution for multiple product lines, with specific emphasis on social media and digital. Prior to that, he served as CMO for a leading daily fantasy sports operator, guiding it from startup to the industry’s third-ranked site.

Scot Case

Senior Consultant

A sustainability strategy consultant since 1993, Scot has served as non-profit leader, as a partner in an environmental marketing firm that he grew and sold, and as an executive in a multi-billion-dollar, international company. He has published dozens of articles and case studies, was co-author of the original “Sins of Greenwashing” study, testified before Congress, and been quoted on NPR, Good Morning America, CNN, The New York Times, Business Week, and the Wall Street Journal. Scot was also highlighted in an Emmy award-winning documentary on sustainable purchasing.

Casey Ward

VP Account Services

Casey manages our relationships, growth and development with a specific group of clients that includes Environmental Defense Fund, Cotton LEADS and CertainTeed Insulation. She provides leadership and support for the account team members who manage the day-to-day processes for these clients. She contributes to strategic direction for each client and guides our creative efforts to ensure everything we do builds toward meeting – or exceeding – the client’s goals. Her ability to simultaneously see the big picture and pay close attention to the details helps her champion her clients’ needs and identify new growth opportunities for them.