Global Company Ameresco Sees Lewis County as an Emerging Power


Note: This content was produced by the Economic Alliance of Lewis County as part of the monthly Economic Report supplement published in The Chronicle. To learn more about the Alliance, visit

Ameresco, with 60 offices around the world and regional offices in Vancouver, B.C., Seattle and Portland, focuses on clean technology, renewable energy, and rehabilitating old and failing energy infrastructure.

Joel Hansen, senior account executive for Ameresco, said his job is to find “possibilities and strategies” to harness those opportunities, and he thinks he’s found those possibilities in Lewis County.

“We focus on what we can do and how do we get it done,” Hansen said.

Ameresco recently joined the Economic Alliance of Lewis County, stating they did so because the county is poised for growth in the energy sector and they want to be part of it.

He believes the Alliance is central to those opportunities, and sees Alliance Executive Director Richard DeBolt as key to successful efforts not only in Lewis County, but through collaboration with the surrounding counties of Thurston, Grays Harbor, Mason and Pacific.

“These five counties already work together really well from an economic development standpoint,” Hansen said.

He said his company reaches both for “low-hanging fruit” and large energy projects. 

For an example of low-hanging fruit, Hansen mentions the rehabbing of decades-old light fixtures in public buildings such as public schools, which don’t have the funds to fulfill new state requirements to remodel for energy efficiency and have long backlogs of deferred maintenance. 

At work are new state laws — the state Clean Building Act, along with the state’s commitment to climate control initiatives — that requires the upgrades, and not just for public buildings, but also private buildings that are over 50,000 square feet.

“We’re interested in bringing private money in to help meet those requirements,” Hansen said.

His company can come in, replace the aging, energy-wasting fixtures, and pay for the fixes. He said the change can realize a savings of 50% of a school’s monthly energy bill. Ameresco, in turn, gets paid over time in the energy savings. They can also replicate that in HVAC, roofs, windows, doors, siding, insulation water and wastewater upgrades. All without a real cost to the schools.

His company makes the money; the schools get their energy efficiency without paying out any extra dollars.

An example of a bigger project: Ameresco is in a partnership with the weighty Southern California Edison power company. Together they are building one of the country’s largest solar banks in California. The need for more solar power is to help balance the power grid that almost suffered from rolling blackouts last summer, caused by electric power shortages due to extended drought, wildfire and heatwaves. The project, upon completion, will provide the electricity demands in the San Joaquin Valley, Rancho Cucamonga and the Long Beach area.

“The battery storage systems we have contracted for with Ameresco will make the grid more resilient to the effects of extreme weather and will help us continue our progress toward the clean energy future, which is essential to combating climate change,” said Kevin Payne, president and CEO, Southern California Edison, in a news release.

The cost of the Ameresco project: $1 billion. 

“In recent years, California’s extensive wildfires have highlighted the necessity and importance of improved energy infrastructure. It has become clear that the time for action is now,” said Britta MacIntosh, senior vice president, Ameresco Western Region, adding the project is proof that working together via public/private partnerships can solve real problems.

“We develop a lot of energy-generating infrastructure, including solar, wind, biogas and renewable natural gas,” Hansen said.

One emerging need in Washington state is the rise of electric-powered transportation. Hansen said if the state transitions from its current use of gas to electric-powered vehicles, it will create a dire need for more electricity production beyond the hydro power that Washington has depended upon for decades.

An article by KUOW titled, “Electric vehicle sales have surged in Washington state. But gas cars still dominate,” states, “The Washington Legislature has set a target of ending the sale of gasoline-powered cars in Washington by the year 2030. It has also approved spending millions to install more charging stations throughout the state.”

Another article — “Electric Cars Will Challenge State Power Grids,” by The Pew Charitable Trusts, states, “A U.S. Department of Energy study found that increased electrification across all sectors of the economy could boost national consumption by as much as 38% by 2050, in large part because of electric vehicles. The environmental benefit of electric cars depends on the electricity being generated by renewables.”

Hansen said as far as Lewis County, DeBolt was an early attraction. Hansen, working out of Tumwater, attended the Regional Economic Forecast & Innovation EXPO at Great Wolf Lodge this past Dec. 1. DeBolt was one of the speakers. Hansen also listened intently the year before when again, DeBolt took the stage.

The networking EXPO draws over 350 decision makers, community leaders and innovators from all sectors of business and industry from the five-county region of Thurston, Mason, Grays Harbor, Lewis and Pacific counties and beyond.

DeBolt was on the Economic Development Leaders panel, presenting solutions and strategies for businesses to use in planning and operations, and to build a strong, resilient and inclusive community. Hansen was impressed with DeBolt’s vision.

“Lewis County is fertile ground,” Hansen said, adding DeBolt is unique with his background in energy and politics. “We want to be a part of what he’s talking about.”

The county is already an energy producing player, with Tacoma Power, Centralia Power and TransAlta. He said the effort to turn Lewis County into a hydrogen hub has real potential.

Hansen said the possibilities, especially at TransAlta and its coal mine under reclamation, has explosive potential with hydrogen and fusion power, both projects in discussions for Lewis County.

“We are very interested in Richard DeBolt and what he is planning to do with TransAlta,” Hansen said. “Lewis County has a lot going on energy-wise and Lewis County has a business-friendly environment. It comes back to Richard, along with the fact that the cost of doing business in Pierce County or King County, compared to Lewis County. You’ve got a visionary in Richard. If he can pull together these projects at TransAlta, we want to be a part of it.”

DeBolt appreciates the kind words, but deflects on his impact.

“It takes a lot of people, certainly more than one person in this community, to make these projects come to reality,” DeBolt said. “That said, we are extremely pleased that Ameresco has chosen to join with the Alliance. They are the type of industry leaders that can help us in our quest to turn Lewis County into a clean-energy hub.”

Hansen said one example could be building a massive solar-powered system at the former mine at TransAlta.

“The transmission is already there,” Hansen said, adding there are tax credits in place to build projects on reclaimed coal mines. “The numbers work.”

He said with the federal Inflation Reduction Act and the infrastructure bill, “quite a bit of money is flowing.”

Bottom line, Hansen said, is “we’re excited to be a part of the Alliance. This could be a time for a real renaissance for Lewis County.”