Friday Social: Meet the Task Force fighting for distributed energy resources

What started as a small network of NYC-based clean energy professionals has morphed into something much bigger.

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Canary Media’s Friday Social column explores the intersection of energy, climate and social media. Canary thanks Silverline Communications for its support of the column.

Let’s set the scene. It’s New York City in 1976

But Mike,” you interject, your column focuses on social media, which clearly did not exist in the 1970s.” 

Hang tight, readers, we’ll get there in a minute. 

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A ragtag group of architecture students and renewable energy activists erected New York City’s first-ever wind turbine atop a building and later prevailed in a legal challenge against Con Edison, which allowed the group to sell excess power back to the grid. (It’s a great story that you can read more about here and here.)

That group was referred to as the Eleventh Street Energy Task Force. 

Forty-five years later, there’s a new task force in town (literally in NYC), and they call themselves DER Task Force, or DERTF for short. 

DER stands for distributed energy resources,” which are typically behind-the-meter sources of generation or controllable load like a home solar installation or, as in the case above, a rooftop wind turbine.

DER Task Force founding members Duncan Campbell, Colleen Metelitsa, James McGinnis and Russell Wilcox

What is DER Task Force?

At its core, it’s a community,” says Colleen Metelitsa, a founding DER Task Force member and electric vehicle program manager at Con Edison (yes, the same Con Ed that fought against the original task force!). 

In a comment to the Public Utility Commission of Texas, the group writes, Unlike most industry groups, DERTF is not sponsored or influenced by companies in this sector — all participation is from individual volunteers who are highly informed and enthusiastic about distributed energy resources.” 

The community got its start on, of all places, Twitter. What began as local meetups of young NYC #energytwitter folks quickly morphed into something bigger and more global when the pandemic hit. 

We started doing our meetups virtually, and we grew really fast,” said Duncan Campbell, another founding DER Task Force member and vice president at Scale Microgrids. Instead of a handful of professionals in New York City, it’s now a global community with more than 1,500 members. 

Metelitsa adds, It’s such a diverse community in terms of people’s professional backgrounds. The utility landscape has changed so much, and DERs can provide so much value to utility grid management today.”

When they are not crowdsourcing comments for state public utility commissions (here’s another instance), you might find the DER Task Force members chatting on a dedicated Slack channel. 

Tools such as Slack and Discord are the linchpin of many online communities today. We’ve seen successful networking, from folks receiving mentoring and even landing new jobs,” said Metelitsa about the Slack discussions. The people that join are in a specific niche of the industry and looking to expand their connections and truly engage with others.” 

Task Force to the rescue

As Hurricane Ida bore down on Louisiana in late August, members of the DER Task Force took to Slack and started brainstorming ways that they could help. Ultimately, they decided to start a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the nonprofit Footprint Project, whose mission is to provide cleaner energy for communities in crisis.” 

What was so cool about Footprint was that they actually do shit,” said Campbell. Footprint shows up with microgrids and gives people power.” One of the main ways the group does this is by mobilizing solar-plus-battery systems to displace conventional generators running on fossil fuels. 

The DER Task Force then took to social media to solicit donations for disaster relief. The message traveled far and wide and was even amplified by a few big names in the climate and environmental space, including Bill McKibben and Gasland director Josh Fox, who was on the ground working with Footprint Project.

To date, the GoFundMe campaign has raised nearly $63,000 of its now $75,000 goal. A look at the top donors reveals that much of the money is coming from companies and individuals in the renewables space. There is still time to donate. 

Want to join the task force? 

I accidentally already joined DERTF, apparently. Its website reads, If you’re on this site, then you’re in the DER Task Force and have a part to play.” Talk about a low barrier to entry! 

From the website, you can access the Slack community, listen to the group’s monthly podcasts, subscribe to its newsletter or make a donation and get some dope” swag in return. The clothing is largely how the task force manages to pay its bills for things like web hosting, says Campbell. 

I asked Metelitsa why Canary’s audience should consider joining. She said:

We are building an engaged community that is for everyone, from those looking to join the space to those spearheading the top [distributed energy resource] companies. There are limitless ways to engage, and if something doesn’t exist yet, you could build it. We are a ground-up organization and always looking for new ways to promote the benefits of DERs. 

The group’s website says, The work of the Task Force dates as far back as the 70s, when the original Energy Task Force installed NYC’s first distributed energy system. We are part of a lineage of builders who aim to make the energy we depend on more sustainable for all.” 

If you’re a builder working on the energy transition, or even if you aspire to be one, consider joining DER Task Force.

Silverline Communications, the supporter of this column, is a climatetech and ESG communications firm with deep experience in all facets of the clean economy. Learn more about how Silverline connects clients with stakeholders on social channels and beyond.

Mike Munsell is director of growth at Canary Media. He previously led marketing for Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables. He landed at WoodMac via its acquisition of GTM, where he led marketing for GTM Research.