Today, the billion-dollar utility industry in the United States continues to be predicated on the 1936 Rural Electrification Act, which provided federal loans to cooperative power companies to install electrical distribution systems in rural areas. FESCO Energy founder John Bradley Dukes is motivated every day to change how people get their energy.
“There has really been no new approach using new technologies to allow Americans the ability to self-generate electricity at a rate that is, quite frankly, at or below what they are paying to their regulated utility,” he said. “So, what I mean by that is I want to disrupt the existing electrical infrastructure and the way that people get their power in the U.S. The technology, the controllability, the storage capacities of the technologies that are out there make this an easy financial decision and it reduces the risk of having your power generated at home versus the grid. I am doing it to be highly disruptive to this marketplace using software and technology.”
The Urbana resident founded FESCO earlier this year. FESCO focuses on energy efficiency projects to reduce consumption, distributed energy by generating electricity and storing energy both thermally and electrically and selling electricity and natural gas in all the deregulated markets. “If you live in 17 of the 50 states where you can competitively buy electricity and gas, we can sell competitive electricity and gas,” he said.
Growing up, Dukes’ father formed a company with some partners to become one of the first to make a compact fluorescent lamp that plugged into an Edison-based fixture. At the age of 16, Dukes formed his first company selling retrofit outdoor street lighting while living in Scottsdale, Ariz.
After graduating from college, he spent five years working at NationsBank (now Bank of America) as a manager of vault operations. He then began his professional career in the energy industry in 1995, working as director of national sales for Consolidated Electrical Distributors where he notes his passion for energy was galvanized.
He would go on to serve for a decade as director of federal business development at Pepco Energy Services and later as executive director of sales for the federal and public sector at Constellation. Before opening FESCO, Dukes was general manager of sales for WGL Holdings Inc.
“I’ve spent the last 18 years working for Fortune 100 energy companies and I thought they were doing a really good job, but they weren’t necessarily keeping up with the changing technologies and customer demand so, with that, I decided to start my own company to do what I thought was right,” he said.
Dukes decided to place FESCO in Frederick because he wanted to be close to home, saw decent rates for office space and a plethora of qualified workers. “There are fantastic employees that are available in this specific area,” he said. “Energy, engineering, construction, finance. The people in Urbana and Frederick are all highly capable and skilled at doing the work that FESCO is doing.”
Much of FESCO’s business is federal, but the company also has some higher education facilities and multifamily residences as clients. The company is in the process of starting a residential program, which may be in place by early spring.
While other companies are doing energy efficiency and commodity, Dukes notes his company is different because they are monetizing the ability to own the assets and looking at the customer’s needs to have secure permanent generation that is not susceptible to grid issues.
“I think the view that we have of the marketplace that really differentiates us from the really large companies is we are willing to adopt new technology,” he said. “We are willing to take the risk in owning those assets and I think at the end of the day, when we are looking at an aging demographic in the U.S., you have more and more folks at home that have power needs that are critical. Heating, cooling, food storage, medical equipment and the grid, back-up generation just is not really cost effective when you can have onsite generation that is back-up capable that is paid for at the same price you are paying to the utilities.”
For their efforts, FESCO was named this year’s Innovator of the Year at the Maryland Clean Energy Summit in October. Sabrina L. Bachman, Maryland Clean Energy Center’s communications director, notes the award is given to an individual or start up making a difference in clean energy technology and building a good business case for why it makes sense to have technology products and services that are based locally for clean energy.
“FESCO was recognized for the product that they are providing as far as being unique and locally based, but we were also really impressed with the partnerships they have established in such a short amount of time for them to be operational,” she said. “They have really engaged some large corporations in looking at how they are using energy in ways to upgrade facilities.”
The center received some very high-quality submissions for the award, which has been given out for several years. In the past, the award has gone to a company located in noted tech areas such as Bethesda, College Park and Rockville. “It was really nice for us to see what is happening in Frederick,” Bachman said. “That was one thing that we were also excited about with FESCO winning this award.”