Bonnie Hiltz is the Government Relations and Regulatory Affairs Advisor for ENGIE Canada (formerly known as GDF Suez). She has a breadth of policy experience across several sectors, both locally and abroad, and was part of the team responsible for Ontario’s renewable energy policy development, ranging from the first Renewable Energy Supply procurements (RES), the Renewable Standard Offer Program (RESOP), the coal phase-out, and the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) program. She then worked with the Ontario Power Authority (now known as the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO)) managing the Feed-in-Tariff contracts. Bonnie serves on the Board of Directors for CanWEA and CanSIA.
WiRE had a chance to sit down with Bonnie and pick her brain about her professional experience, and how her cross-sector experience has informed her perspective within the renewable energy industry. Bonnie discussed ideas ranging from the local to the global, and provides some insight about the challenges to come in the following decades.
There and Back Again: From Global Policy to Ontario Energy
WiRE asked Bonnie about her global experience working in different jurisdictions in different sectors, and how that ties into her current place in the renewable energy field. For Bonnie, renewable energy is one (admittedly complex) piece of a larger global conversation about development and climate change policy. Renewable energy, in particular, ties many industries together: from project financing, to technological challenges and opportunities, to political and even emotional conversations, Bonnie`s unique place at the crossroads of these different sectors has given her the opportunity to learn a great deal about a complex industry; it is a sector that changes and evolves so rapidly, Bonnie finds it's necessary to continually adapt your approach and assumptions.
At the core of renewable energy development is a larger global drive to respond to climate change, but I wanted to asked Bonnie to speak to the unique Ontarian (and to some extent Canadian) experience. As of 2016, the province of Ontario has an approximate installed generation capacity of non-hydro renewables (wind, solar, and biofuel) of 11% (IESO, 2016); paired with Ontario’s long-term climate change plan, the conversation has shifted from “should we pursue renewable energy?” to incredibly complex conversations about how to best increase the piece of that pie in a cost-effective and efficient way. Bonnie identified what she felt were three of the biggest challenges to the smooth integration of renewable energy in Canada:
1) Renewables are perceived as expensive. There is an on-going perception in Ontario that the cost of renewable energy is prohibitive; on the international front, this perception has been proven wrong, with renewable energy increasingly beating out more traditional forms of generation as the cheaper solution. Ontario is still dealing with the social and political effects of the original FIT program; however, Bonnie is hopeful that this perception will not impact other provinces by the same degree.
2) Community acceptance. Perhaps tied closely with the aforementioned impacts of the FIT program, Ontario continues to struggle with community acceptance of renewable energy, especially wind. Ontario can provide valuable insight and experience to provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan who are actively procuring renewable energy: Bonnie, with her specialization in Government and Public relations, emphasized the need to communicate from the very start how these projects can benefit local communities and local farmers, by injecting much needed revenue into the local economies, benefitting local landowners, supporting local municipalities, and other potential community funding partnerships.
3) Long-term integration. In a long-term planning perspective, Ontario and Canada should be looking to other jurisdictions who are now facing the challenges associated with large-scale integration of renewable energy resources into their local electricity systems. This has different implications for different markets; fundamentally, in deregulated markets, these challenges relate to the impact of large amounts of zero marginal cost energy on market rates. There will also be challenges to how system operators forecast and balance the system in the most efficient way; system operators are going to have to adapt to the changing priorities in market design and dispatch. Finally - from the policy perspective, Bonnie noted that Canada could do a better job of valuing the GHG profile of different technologies in their market and procurement designs, instead of strictly narrowing the conversation and policy around cost.
Personal Experience in the Industry
We then talked about Bonnie's personal challenges and opportunities navigating the industry. Bonnie explains that the energy sector can be exceedingly complex, with a vast divergence in perspectives on the future direction of energy policy. Again, her role at the cross sections gives her the unique perspective to see how challenging that can be - in such an environment, it can often be difficult to clearly see and articulate a path forward in a way that best serves consumers, producers, operators, and policy objectives. Striking a balance is one of Bonnie's biggest challenges - in each circumstance, stakeholders have a responsibility to advance the sector in a way that is responsive to occasionally divergent priorities.
As to words of advice for women looking to break into the industry, Bonnie's advice is to jump right in with two feet. There is a great deal to learn, and a wide web of people to connect with; energy can a complicated sector, and those strong connections can be a valuable resource in understanding areas you may not know very much about. It's important to make sure you integrate into the larger energy network, and most importantly, take pride in what you will accomplish!
By Jennifer Ng, WiRE Volunteer