One message was clear at the recent New England Canada Business Council’s U.S.-Canada Executive Energy Conference: there is no simple solution. There is a trilemma that governments, regulators, as well as energy producers, distributors and consumers must face. How can the transition to net-zero emissions be a responsible one that considers cost, clean solutions and ensures energy security?

The 30th annual conference hosted more than 200 delegates and presenters representing New England and Canada’s energy sector held in Boston in early November 2022. Atlantic Canada and the New England states share a strong relationship of energy trade and transmission. And, both regions are at the “end of the line” when it comes to natural gas pipeline infrastructure, leading to common challenges of the energy trilemma, especially as winter approaches.

Panels on topics such as renewable resources, the future of fossil fuels, grid innovation and independent system operators shared many common themes. One particularly prevalent message was politicians increasingly getting involved with policy development, and perhaps not for the right reasons. The regions have experienced several instances where public outcry resulted in political interference in important energy infrastructure projects, that now, is recognized as a serious hinderance to making progress on climate change.

“Pitchforks and torches give politicians a reason to do crazy things.”

This statement came during a dynamic panel on getting renewable resources to market. The discussion brought forward ways to avoid the public outcry and NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard). It was suggested governments, companies and policy makers must build credibility and trust through honest discussion about what the future transition might look like.

Stakeholders must be reminded that there will be some short-term uncomfortable situations that will lead to a long-term gain for them, the communities they live in and ultimately positively address climate change.

Many of the panels referred to challenges associated with renewable generation, such as solar and wind. This type of energy generation requires a stable dispatchable source to backstop (hydro, fossil fuels or nuclear), additional transmission infrastructure (overhead or underground lines), and visible construction, all of which consistently see NIMBY protests.

One unforeseen topic brought up on various panels was nuclear. It was acknowledged that new generations of nuclear technology should be considered because of its non-emitting dispatchable power characteristics. However, it was recognized that public acceptance and federal funding to distribute costs won’t be easy to overcome.

One final thought, which was introduced during the opening fireside chat with HydroQuebec’s CEO, Sophie Brochu, was about the responsibility of the energy sector to consider households dealing with an overwhelming burden while opening larger bills at the kitchen table. The full range of energy players all empathized with this struggle. Reference to the kitchen table prevailed throughout the conference address the cost aspect of the trilemma. However, it was also emphasized that governments and regulators must recognize a transition to net zero needs to be managed responsibly with a feasible timeline and realistic expectations to ensure economic stability powered by a clean and resilient grid.