Notes/Excerpts from Energy Democracy: Advancing Equity in Clean Energy Solutions by Denise Fairchild, Al Weinrub, Diego Angarita Horowitz, Isaac Baker, Lynn Benander, Strela Cervas, Ben Delman, Anthony Giancatarino, Vivian Yi Huang, Derrick Johnson, Cecilia Martinez, Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan, Anya Scholman, Sean Sweeney, Maggie Tishman, Miya Yoshitani, and Ashura Lewis. Last accessed on Wednesday July 18, 2018
The first is the central role of racism in engineering the right-wing takeover of the federal government, all in the interest of the most extreme “rogue” fossil fuel sector, whose agenda is to lay waste to the ecosystem at all costs. The 1% used race-baiting tactics—both subtle and blatant, anti-Muslim, anti-black, anti-Latino, and anti-immigrant fear mongering—throughout the presidential campaign to achieve unprecedented control and dominance over the environmental and economic survival needs of the 99%. Racism in the service of human extinction.
…the historic struggle at Standing Rock to assert the rights of indigenous communities to clean water, taking on an oil industry hell-bent on intensifying the climate crisis. The struggle against the Dakota Pipeline was supported by Black Lives Matter, environmental justice organizations, and many others who understand how the fossil fuel economy targets people of color. More significantly, the struggle also drew the support of other organizations and individuals—from environmentalists, to unionists, to antiwar veterans—who see how their fate is tied to the fate of people of color. There is a growing and heartening recognition,
Not one of us is free—or safe—unless all of us are. Accordingly, the subtitle of this book—Advancing Equity in Clean Energy Solutions—emphasizes the centrality of racial and economic justice to an energy democracy movement. Now, more than ever.
If there is a reason for social movements to exist, it is not to accept dominant values as fixed and unchangeable but to offer other ways to live—to wage and win, a battle of cultural worldviews … laying out a vision that competes directly with the one on harrowing display, … one that resonates with the majority of people on the planet, that … we are not apart from nature but of it. Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate What does it mean to get real about climate change and take back control over our energy resources? What energy alternatives represent real solutions to the economic and environmental crisis confronting our civilization?
Energy democracy is rooted in the long-standing social and environmental justice movements and is a key component of the evolving economic democracy movement. It goes beyond the simplistic “transition to 100% renewables” framework to offer a deeper understanding of the cultural, political, economic, and social dimensions of the climate change problem.
on numerous fronts, with distinct battle lines. It’s man versus nature; global North versus global South; fossil fuel versus clean energy; globalization versus local sovereignty; the powerful moneyed class versus low-income and indigenous communities and communities of color (the haves versus the have-nots); and, fundamentally, an extractive economy versus a regenerative economy. The stakes are high for everyone. The health of the planet and whether humans will survive as a species will be determined by who emerges as the victors of the warring factions.
The Dakota Access and Keystone North American transcontinental pipelines are but two examples of the continued corporate drive to wreak havoc on our fragile ecosystem, ruining delicate aquifers, sovereign First Nation lands, farm communities, the oceans, and, of course, Earth’s atmosphere. These climate and environmental impacts are particularly magnified and debilitating for low-income communities and communities of color that live closest to toxic sites; are disproportionately impacted by high incidences of asthmas, cancer, and rates of morbidity and mortality; and lack the financial resources to adapt to climate impacts.
areas of struggle that unite diverse forces in opposition to the “rogue” fossil fuel capitalists. In essence, this opposition is attempting to wrest control of energy resources from the powerful institutions that are driving humanity to the brink of extinction. The struggle reflects an effort by citizens to exercise more control over energy decisions and to self-determine a sustainable, life-supporting energy future. While this opposition needs to be deepened and strengthened, there remains an important strategic question: what is the alternative to the fossil fuel energy-based global economic system?
Many, for example, call simply for a technological fix: for a transition to 100% renewable energy, citing how it is technologically possible to develop sufficient renewable resources. But these calls do not specify who will develop and control that energy, to what end, or to whose benefit. The impetus is to decarbonize the economy, but otherwise leave the basic economic and social system—the institutional framework—intact. This approach fails to confront the capitalist growth imperative that jeopardizes the world’s ecosystem, or to address the globalized exploitation of human and natural resources that leaves billions of people struggling to survive, or to fully appreciate how climate disruption, gross economic disparities, oppression, and institutionalized racism are inextricably linked.
the climate crisis draws into question the institutions and logic that have created our existential predicament. She points out both the necessity and the opportunity of our thinking outside the box, creating truly transformational solutions, if we are to survive.
see resistance to the corporate energy agenda as a struggle for social, racial, environmental, and economic justice. These “climate justice” forces see the opposition to fossil fuel capitalism as a key front in a crucial battle to transform our economic system more deeply—an economic system that has used fossil fuel energy as the driver of capital accumulation, ecosystem destruction, and social exploitation. For these activists, the struggle against the extreme fossil fuel agenda is a struggle for system change, for an alternative system. It is a struggle for community health, community resilience, and community empowerment. It… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
the alternative to the fossil fuel energy-based global economic system, is a justice-based (“just”) transition to a new, renewable energy-based, ecologically sound, equitable, life-sustaining economic system that can serve the needs of the world’s peoples.3 And in case it is not obvious, let’s be explicit. The… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
“An energy transition can only occur if there is a decisive shift in power toward workers, communities and the public—energy democracy. A transfer of resources, capital and infrastructure from private hands to a democratically controlled public sector will need to occur in order to ensure that a truly sustainable energy system is developed in the decades ahead….”5 In short, energy democracy is a way to frame the international struggle of working people, low-income communities, and communities of color to take control of energy resources from… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
bringing energy resources under public or community ownership and/or control, a key aspect of the struggle for climate justice, as described earlier, and an essential step toward building a more just, equitable, sustainable, and resilient economy. Thus, the energy democracy movement—represented by a growing number of organizations and organizing campaigns worldwide—seeks to replace our current corporate fossil fuel economy with one that… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
The energy democracy movement implies a profound shift in how we think about and relate to energy. Energy is an essential enabler of all human activity—from producing the essentials of life, to transportation, to communication, to the creative arts. We can’t survive without it. In that light, given the existential threat we now face as human beings from the burning of fossil fuels, our relationship to energy must be reevaluated; this involves a paradigm shift of major proportions. The new energy paradigm must address three major aspects of our energy system: its relationship to the environment, to social justice, and to a new economy.
Energy democracy emphasizes the core values and related strategies needed to protect Earth’s species. It seeks to find the historical and cultural precedents for making our energy systems life-sustaining, relying on ecological principles from preindustrial, traditional, and land-based societies. Much is now understood by scientists about the impact of fossil fuel use on the environment. The extraction of these fuels is laying waste to huge tracts of land and ocean
This ecosystem destruction is a product of the industrial, fossil fuel economy, which has accelerated mass production and consumption and the accumulation of wealth. But its origins lie in a Western civilization worldview of human beings as masters and exploiters of the natural world for the betterment and progress of human civilization—without regard to the fragile ecosystem… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Energy democracy seeks to reframe energy from being a commodity that is commercially exploited to being a part of the commons, a natural resource to serve human needs, but in a way that respects the Earth and the ecosystem services provided by the biosphere. The new paradigm calls for reducing the human footprint,… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
energy—both fossil fuel and renewable—is a communal resource requiring democratic ownership structures and sustainable, ecological management. This view runs counter to the commodification of energy that underlies many clean energy strategies today. The ideas of the “commons” and “just transition” are discussed in this volume to present a different way to think about and value our… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Energy democracy recognizes the racialized impacts of the fossil fuel economy and of climate change and sees them as threat multipliers: they deepen the daily economic, health, and social justice challenges of vulnerable communities. The new energy democracy paradigm harnesses the lived experiences of low-income communities and… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
fossil fuel economy has had a disproportionate impact on people of color in the United States. The rise of fossil fuel power in the last two hundred years was a key factor in replacing the slave system of production with free labor and in industrializing and commercializing the U.S. economy. The result was the westward expansion, growth of urban centers, rise of monopoly capitalism, concentration of wealth, migration and… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
many black and Latino communities were left to live in industrial zones, near toxic release sites and coal-burning power plants, as a result experiencing severe health impacts. For example, the burning of fossil fuels is accompanied by mold spores, dust, and particulate matter, decreased ozone protection, and toxic chemical pollutants that lead to respiratory ailments, cancers, heat-related morbidity and mortality,… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
federal and local land-use, housing, and transportation policies, along with bank redlining, trapped low-income… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Beyond the more direct racialized impacts of the fossil fuel economy are the racial impacts of climate change itself. Those hit hardest by the extreme weather conditions induced by climate change—the floods, the droughts, the hurricanes—are communities of color.7 Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy stand out as examples of how the poorest populations and neighborhoods were least prepared to withstand and recover from the impact of these storms,… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
the impacts of longer-term climate change, such as hotter weather, drought conditions, and extreme weather. These are damaging our agriculture sector and impacting food supply. Agricultural workers, largely part of low-income immigrant communities, will lose work and the ability to support their families. Shifts in the availability and price of agricultural… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
the most vulnerable populations are least able to afford escalating prices of food and other necessities, lack access to health services, are last to receive emergency services, live in housing and communities most vulnerable to floods and heat waves, and lack financial resources to deal with the impacts of climate change or to bounce back from extreme weather events. Energy democracy addresses these challenges by emphasizing the importance of building community resilience among the most vulnerable, with an emphasis on community-based… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Energy democracy sees renewable energy resources as enabling a new, alternative economy—a regenerative rather than an extractive economy, one that builds the economic strength and resilience of our nation’s communities. This new economy model is characterized by community-based development, nonexploitive forms of production, socialized capital, ecological use of natural resources, and sustainable economic relationships. It emphasizes the need for meaningful work and for family-sustaining jobs for all workers.
our current economy, built on the back of fossil fuel energy, has achieved for vast increases in labor productivity by exploiting natural resources and human labor to accumulate capital and create huge corporate empires. The most affluent Americans (the 1%) are wealthier than ever, yet most of us continue to experience serious economic distress, and many communities, particularly communities of color, are, literally, in a state of economic crisis. Acute inequality and exclusion are becoming the new normal.
With the growth of a deregulated low-wage economy, maximizing profits and growth are the only operative standards. Big-business and large financial institutions have assumed state-like powers in ruling over workers, communities, and democracy itself. Under this economic regime, we have witnessed a chronic failure to create jobs; an increasingly regressive tax system (lower taxes for the wealthiest, higher taxes for… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
growing housing costs and increased homelessness; increasingly costly health care, defunding and privatization of the educational system, an eroding retirement system, growing corporate control over government and politics, and increasing surveillance of U.S. citizens and restrictions on our rights and civil liberties.8 We have also witnessed exponentially expanded material consumption over the last century and a half to where that… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
fossil fuel economy is at the root of many of these global economic, social, and environmental dislocations. The industry receives massive public subsidies to fuel the overproduction and consumption of our natural resources, investing in extreme extraction and processing that produce mounting negative externalities. Researchers at the International Monetary Fund determined that the world’s governments are providing subsidies to the highly profitable oil industry to the tune of an astonishing $5.3 trillion in benefits… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
This represents $10 million every minute, every day.10 Simply decarbonizing the current economic system—hard as this might be—by transitioning to a nonfossil, renewable energy base does not challenge the fundamental logic or economic power relationships of this extractive global economy. It does not impact the growth imperative of the capitalist system nor stop Wall Street and the largest U.S.… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
A regenerative, life-sustaining economic alternative, like any economic model, needs an energy model attuned to its values and needs. We cannot build a new economy on an old energy model. Energy democracy—bringing energy resources under public or community ownership and control or other forms of cooperative… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
municipalizing energy utilities, reclaiming ownership and control of rural electric co-ops, and creating various implementations… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
The dominant renewable energy model today—the centralized renewable energy model—is an extension of the legacy model of fossil fuel electrical energy production to renewable energy. This model represents corporate control of the energy system. However, an alternative model—the decentralized renewable energy model—allows for control and ownership of renewable energy resources to reside in the community, rather than in… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
in most cases, centralized energy development represents the interests of powerful economic forces aided by a corporate state apparatus unfettered by democratic restraints.11 Centralized renewable energy is the model of choice for a corporate decarbonized economic growth strategy and its drive for continued capital accumulation. That strategy emphasizes a transition to industrial-scale, carbon-free energy resources without challenging the growth of energy consumption, material consumption, rates of capital accumulation, and concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few.
the decentralized renewable energy model involves not only the shift from fossil fuel power to renewable power but also the shift from corporate control of energy systems to more democratically controlled energy systems. Democratic control of renewable energy resources, in particular, is facilitated by the fact that renewable resources are distributed: solar energy, wind, geothermal energy, energy conservation, energy efficiency, energy storage, and demand response systems are resources that can be found and developed in all communities. These distributed energy resources provide a basis for community-based decentralized development of energy resources at the local level through popular initiatives.
Initiatives to transform the large-scale, corporate-controlled dirty energy economy into a community-owned and controlled clean energy economy are emerging throughout the United States. These energy democracy initiatives include communities that are participating in planning, building, and benefiting from an alternative, decentralized renewable energy model. These initiatives focus on community control of, access to, and ownership of energy assets. They intentionally address the health and economic conditions of communities most impacted by fossil fuel energy and include strategies for workers and communities impacted by the downsizing of the fossil fuel industry.
The racial, cultural, and generational perspectives represented in this volume are as pronounced as the geographic ones. This diversity is bound together, however, by a common operating frame: that the global fight to save the planet—to conserve and restore our natural resources to be all-life sustaining—requires an intersectional approach. It must fully engage the community and must change the larger economy to be sustainable, democratic, and just. In essence, there is a growing kinship and unity between climate justice and the other movements for human, civil, worker, immigrant, and democratic rights.
while they vary in nuance, all share a set of fundamental values: respect for the Earth, ecosystem diversity, sustainable stewardship, racial justice, reversing and repairing historical harm, economic justice, community ownership and control of energy assets, self-determination, and community governance. These are the values and principles that constitute the paradigm shift of energy democracy.
Cecilia Martinez from the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED) suggests that energy democracy is a human rights issue and examines the indigenous notion of the “commons” as a cultural frame for rebuilding our economy into one in which natural and human resources are respected, protected, and equitably shared. Cecilia offers the relevant overarching principles and contrasts them with the dominant paradigm of the extractive economy.
Vivian and Miya show how energy democracy is not a top-down enterprise, but one that is rooted in the experience, capacity, voice, and power of local resident immigrant communities. They demonstrate how APEN is building knowledge, leadership and power among their constituents to be key stakeholders in energy policy and planning. Derrick Johnson and Ashura Lewis of One Voice, in Mississippi, focus on the organizing work taking place in rural southern communities to reclaim community ownership of existing energy cooperatives—the rural electric co-ops—and to transform them into authentic community-owned and controlled energy service providers.
Sean Sweeney of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) points out that the interests of organized labor are in conflict with the economic underpinnings of the extractive economy—including its emphasis on the private accumulation of wealth, exploitation of labor, and income and power disparities—and how that conflict has created an energy democracy current within the international labor movement. Sean explores what this means in the U.S. context,
Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative, highlights the strategy and practice of using anchor institutions to finance decentralized energy projects to improve the health, local economy, and resilience of low-income communities and communities of color in the Bronx. Maggie describes how the procurement and investment capital of anchor institutions is mobilized for community-based energy projects that improve a community’s physical, economic, employment, and environmental health by supporting development of local start-ups, social enterprises, and cooperatives.
Denise Fairchild, of the Emerald Cities Collaborative, posits that the vision and movement for a fundamentally different energy system and society rocks the status quo—upsetting a legacy of entrenched power, privilege, property, and profits. Denise suggests that the seemingly unfathomable task of dismantling the fossil fuel economy is comparable to what it took to dismantle the slave economy: it was a long struggle, brought the United States into civil war, involved a global struggle, and required amending the U.S. Constitution. Denise concludes that just as the abolitionist movement ended the formal institution of slavery, the energy democracy movement can end the fossil fuel economy, advancing a more humane and just economic system—one that protects both our natural and human resources and ensures our long-term survival.
Al Weinrub, Labor’s Stake in Decentralized Energy, p. 4, http://energydemocracyinitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Labors-Stake_10-22-121.pdf. 4. See http://energydemocracyinitiative.org. 5. Sean Sweeney, Resist, Reclaim, Restructure: Unions and the Struggle for Energy Democracy, October 2012, Executive Summary, http://energydemocracyinitiative.org/required-reading-roundtable-discussion-document
National Institute of Environmental Health Services, www.niehs.nih.gov/research/programs/geh/climatechange/health_impacts/weather_related_morbidity/index.cfm. 7. Rachel Morello-Frosch, Manuel Pastor, James Sadd, and Seth B. Shonkoff, The Climate Gap: Executive Summary—Inequalities in How Climate Change Hurts Americans and How to Close the Gap (2010). 8. Jack Rasmus, “America’s Ten Crises,” June 30, 2012, http://www.kyklosproductions.com/posts/index.php?p=160. 9. Rmuse, “Report Shows the Oil Industry Benefits from $5.3 Trillion in Subsidies Annually,” Politics USA, June 9, 2015, http://www.politicususa.com/tag/annual-oil-subsidies
A ten-minute video in which Al Weinrub describes decentralized energy systems and their community benefits can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HvuXxyKSh3A.
The United States relies on fossil fuels for four-fifths of its energy needs,2 and internationally fossil fuels make up 81% of the world’s energy consumption.3 The electricity sector
is the most capital intensive sector of economic activity for the country and represents about 10% of sunk investment.”4 Beyond the electricity system, the entire energy sector includes an extractive economy that operates hundreds of thousands of mines, wells, drilling platforms, and pipelines to supply energy for our current daily needs. The national demand for crude oil alone averaged 19.4 million barrels per day in 2015,5 while the world demand of 96 million barrels of oil and liquid fuels each day is expected to reach the 100 million barrels-per-day milestone by 2021.
development model was supported by a worldview that has come to value the environment as just another commodity. Unfortunately, the problem of social inequality that resulted from this development path remains relatively unexplored in domestic energy policy. Sovacool and Dworkin, authors of the 2014 book Global Energy Justice, note that it “is becoming increasingly clear that routine energy analyses do not offer suitable answers to these sorts of issues. The enduring questions they provoke involve aspects of equity and morality that are seldom explicit in contemporary energy planning and analysis.”
Shifting the paradigm from “energy as commodity” to “energy as commons” will be fundamental to achieving a sustainable, just, and democratic future.
Between 1920 and 1950, energy consumption doubled from 19.8 to 39.7 quadrillion BTUs (British thermal units), doubled again between 1950 and 1975, and reached a peak of 101 quadrillion BTUs in 2007.9 By 2015, total U.S. energy consumption decreased to 97 quadrillion BTUs,10 in part due to greater efficiencies. Electricity consumption also grew phenomenally, doubling each decade during the postwar period.
The political and economic agenda throughout the twentieth century required decisions not only to legitimize but also to intentionally promote corporate energy organizations as the vehicle for securing this abundance. This meant that the millennia of natural processes embodied in coal, natural gas, and petroleum were now treated as resources that not only could be, but should be, extracted for inputs into the industrial economy. Criticisms or objections to this energy development path over the years was, and continues to be, greeted with the retort that to incorporate these environmental costs will undermine economic growth.
The clean energy industry, therefore, remains one firmly ensconced in the current energy regime.16 Four major questions guide public and private decisions about energy choices: (1) Can the energy technology become market viable, which essentially means profitable? (2) Can the technology “fit” or potentially “fit” the existing energy infrastructure? (3) Can the technology achieve a scale that matches or mimics a highly centralized corporate form of operations and management (the latest preoccupation often discussed as taking a strategy to scale)? (4) Due to the urgency of climate change, can the technology reduce carbon emissions?
the development of industrial economies over the last two centuries has been the main contributor to climate change. According to the United Nations 2007 Human Development Report, wealthy industrialized nations are responsible for “about 7 out of every 10 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) that have been emitted since the start of the industrial era.”17 As Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain, two leading researchers and activists from India, state, global warming occurs in an unequal world.18 The United States generates a gross domestic product of approximately $17 trillion annually and emits on average per capita CO2 emissions of between 17 and 18 metric tonnes per year. In contrast, those countries on the bottom of the UN Human Development Index emit an annual average of less than 0.1 metric tonnes of CO2 per capita.
The human and environmental costs of this resource-intensive development are borne disproportionately across communities. In nearly every sector, from housing and transportation to forestry and mining, the expansive growth of the fossil fuel-powered economy exploits people as well as the environment. Commodification of human beings enabled acceptance of slave and low-wage labor; commodification of land led to appropriation, clearing, and mining of native homelands; and the use of nature as a depository for waste and pollution were all consequences of commodification.
it is important not to mask the historical realities of unequal development that have led us to the present day. The question is, How can we move forward on an energy transition that addresses inequality and environmental degradation? The answer lies in recognizing that these two phenomena are linked—and achieving one without the other is neither… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
by developing a democratic ethic. Energy democracy is not merely a matter of instituting more meaningful processes of community engagement in an inherently undemocratic system, or of providing affordable and accessible energy regardless of the social and environmental costs associated with the life cycle of its source. Bullkeley, Edwards, and Fuller, three geography professors from the United Kingdom and Australia, noted in a 2014 paper on climate justice that it is “important to establish whether interventions in the name of climate change serve to maintain the interests of an elite at the expense of a minority, and as such perpetuate… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Pursuing a sustainable energy future requires moving from the energy-as-commodity regime to “energy as commons.” In the international arena, the concept of the global commons refers to areas of resources that exist outside the political reach of any one nation. Thus, international law identifies four global commons: the high seas, the atmosphere, Antarctica, and outer space. However, human history shows that there is a diversity… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
A fundamental principle of the energy-as-commons approach is that these natural endowments should not be owned by, or belong to, any set of peoples, countries, or corporations exclusively. Nor should any one generation assume the right to overexploit or exhaust these resources. Further, the organizations that extract, refine, transform, and transmit energy should operate as a democratic system.
rules and institutions that govern energy-related organizations and activities need to be created to support the commons. Beyond the contemporary versions of the high seas and outer space, there are numerous examples of communities developing commons governance systems that align with principles of democracy and justice.
The acequia system of water allocation depends on common maintenance of a network of earthen ditches and on a collective commitment to the principle of sharing water in times of plenty and scarcity. It includes networks for the exchange of labor and resources in order to provide an intricate ecosystem of mutual support for small-scale farms and the community. The acequias are designed so that both individual and community can flourish.22 This form of water governance is the legacy of hundreds of years of customary practices among… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Indigenous concepts often excluded from sustainability models include reciprocity (mutual responsibilities guiding human and non-human interactions), interrelationships among humans and non-humans (all things are related), cooperation, and respect.”23 In juxtaposition to the norms of commodification, markets, and material abundance associated with the present energy system, indigenous worldviews tend to share a common value of reciprocity. Reciprocity… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Human communities are important, but their importance is “tempered by the thought that they are dependent on everything in creation for their existence.”25 Indigenous values and practices offer examples of commons governance. In addition to Native tribes and community initiatives, numerous… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
transition from the corporate, centralized fossil fuel economy to one that is democratically governed, designed on the principle of no harm to the environment, and is supportive of diverse local economies that provide sustainable livelihoods for all community members. This energy transition is a long-term endeavor, which includes redeveloping planning and policy mechanisms that explicitly… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
useful guidelines for assessing whether the proposed policies move us toward an energy commons or, alternatively, whether they reinforce the present energy system. Align with the human rights framework: Energy is a vital and basic need and is essential for the quality of life. It is internationally recognized that a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is an essential precondition to the… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
To be in alignment with a human rights framework, acknowledging the interrelationship between human rights and the environment is insufficient. Energy governance institutions must establish mechanisms for effective, full, and equal environmental protection and energy planning. Such institutions include federal and state agencies responsible for pollution regulation; public utilities and service… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
(RTOs) and independent system operators (ISOs); and federal and state legislative bodies. There must be a right to information, spaces for effective and meaningful participation in decision making, and mechanisms for redress. As former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has suggested, “We can’t on the one hand say that a… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
a human rights framework, there is an obligation and responsibility to ensure that community members are participants in designing the architecture of the energy system. Because the energy system consists of national and international supply chains, the character of energy production and consumption in one community has direct and indirect impacts on other communities. Thus a principle of the commons is that all peoples should have the right and ability to… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Meaningful participation by community members requires that public institutions provide them with the information and tools to do so. Yves Lador, the permanent representative of EarthJustice to the United Nations in Geneva, states: Individuals cannot rely just on their own direct access to the environment to foresee these threats. They need institutions to tell them what air they are breathing, or what water they can drink. The… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
the importance of the right to know and of an understanding of how decisions are made…. The relation between States and their citizens must also progress towards more trust, more transparency and more participation.”28 View energy as service. In the same way that the food democracy movement emphasizes a renewed understanding and relationship to food, energy democracy… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
The way food is produced and consumed reflects our values and relationship to the plants and animals that provide for our sustenance and to the communities and peoples that grow, harvest, transport, and produce the food. Similarly, in our relationship to energy we must include knowledge and recognition of how these… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
To what degree are such efforts designed to keep the current corporate structure in place, albeit more accountable, and are there other mechanisms for energy efficiency that are more effective and democratic that may stand in conflict with utility-based efficiency delivery? The energy transition requires an understanding that producing energy for consumption and profitability is not the end, but the means to providing services essential for quality of life for all community members.
Energy alternatives such as distributed energy (e.g., rooftop solar or community solar) and other on-site renewables and energy efficiency options can be effectively developed and implemented at community scales. Moreover, the responsibility for decisions regarding acceptable environmental risks and protections becomes a functional part of the energy commons through democratic local governance structures.
Our ultimate goal should be to create energy options that embody commons principles, reduce inequalities, and support human rights for communities across the life cycle of energy production and consumption that is best achieved through community control of decisions. Acknowledge the rights of nature. Nature is a dynamic living system comprised of unknown numbers of living systems and organisms—each interrelated and interdependent. This principle refers to the responsibility of human society to acknowledge and respect the integrity of living systems, including the conditions for regeneration and protections against destruction and degradation.
Whether human beings demonstrate wisdom and reverence for the natural world is a matter of choice, but ultimately all life, even human life, cannot escape accountability for our choices and actions. As a tribal member stated: “Did you know that trees talk? Well they do. They talk to each other, and they’ll talk to you if you listen. Trouble is, white people don’t listen…. But I have learned a lot from trees;
Modern culture has detached itself from nature to such an extent that environmental degradation has become a normalized part of individual and collective life. The dominant view is that plants, animals, and the biological and physical processes of the Earth are objects for human exploitation. However, there is another way to understand our role within the planetary ecosystem.
In 2012, the Climate Justice Alliance officially launched the Our Power Campaign to unite communities on the front lines of the struggle around cultivating such a “just transition.” Just transition is a framework for a fair shift to an economy that is ecologically sustainable and is equitable and just for all its members. After centuries of global plunder, the profit-driven, growth-dependent industrial economy is severely undermining the life support systems of the planet.
economy based on extracting resources from a finite ecosystem faster than the capacity of the system to regenerate will eventually come to an end—either through collapse or intentional reorganization. Transition is inevitable. Justice is not. Just transition strategies were first forged by labor unions and environmental justice groups who saw the need to phase out the industries that were harming workers, community health, and the planet while also providing just pathways for workers to transition to other jobs.
1990s, an organization called the Just Transition Alliance, a coalition of environmental justice and labor organizations, began bringing workers in polluting industries together with “fenceline communities” in groundbreaking conversations that forged a new understanding of economy and home. Building on that history, just transition has come to mean forging coordinated strategies to transition whole communities toward thriving economies within their control and that provide dignified, productive and sustainable livelihoods, democratic governance, and ecological resilience.
a just transition requires shifting from dirty energy to clean community power, from building highways to expanding public transit, from incinerators and landfills to zero waste, from industrial food systems to food sovereignty, from gentrification to community land rights, and from rampant destructive development to ecosystem restoration. Core to a just transition is deep democracy in which workers and communities have control over the decisions that affect their daily lives. Constructing a visionary economy for life calls for strategies that democratize, decentralize and diversify economies (and energy) while damping down consumption, and, through reparations, redistributing resources and power.
an integral relationship between economy, energy, and equity.
As indigenous peoples across the globe have long understood, we can only manage home well if we understand the impacts we have on the place where we are rooted. That requires ecology, or knowledge of home.
The purpose of an economy can be the accumulation of wealth and power, or the purpose can be meeting needs toward the sustainability of future generations in a place. Every economy is rooted in a culture or worldview that makes the particular form of economy make sense to the people who participate in it. The culture or worldview—the songs, stories, languages, practices, rituals—interacts with the other threads of economy, influencing and being influenced by them. Finally, there is governance, which literally means “to steer.” Through governance, groups create the rules, norms, activities, and accountability mechanisms needed to make the economy function as smoothly as possible toward its purpose.
Human labor can save seeds or build soil. Or, as in the case of the United States, which was powered by the labor of enslaved African people during the first 250 years of its burgeoning economy, human labor can be applied violently to extract more from an ecosystem than it returns.
This capital was the product of an extractive economy that consistently took more resources from the ecosystem than it returned. As an example, the globalized food system is a highly extractive economic sector. This sector relies heavily on fossil fuels for fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, tractors, and transport, as well as on landless workers and precarious populations who need jobs to put food on the table. While the industrial food system has not solved the problem of hunger in the world,
The global food system uses about ten times more energy than it produces; contributes nearly one-third of greenhouse gas emissions; creates costly public health problems, including diabetes and heart disease; and is responsible for topsoil loss, water pollution, and a waste stream that is often burned or land-filled, further exacerbating climate change and public health problems. This problematic food system is the result of peoples stolen from or pushed off their lands, stripping them of the resources required to produce food in ways that align with short- and long-term ecological and social well-being.
Working to shift the management of water (and related energy use) to communities stewarding their watersheds requires neighborhood and community-level design and installation workshops to create rainwater catchment and greywater systems that “slow it, spread it, and sink it” rather than “pave it, pipe it, and pump it.”7 Working with plumbers and pipefitters unions, labor can be applied at the community level to create pathways for new water technicians adapting age-old technology to retrofit water systems that meet community needs while restoring watersheds, in the process cutting the use of fossil fuels and related greenhouse gas emissions (figure 3–
increasing concentration and control of resources—land, water, energy (including human labor), and more—has eroded the capacity of human communities to manage home well. In the extractive economy, we are almost completely unable to apply our labor to the living world around us, note the impact, and make decisions about how to further apply our labor. This means that we are almost completely unable to govern our own labor in ways that build resilience.8 It is this most precious energy resource—human labor—that must be restored to democratic control in order to address the climate crisis and the array of related crises of the extractive economy.
Nineteen percent of California electricity is used to pump water. Participants in Movement Generation and Occidental Arts and Ecology’s Per-maculture for the People training program design and install a rainwater catchment system to utilize gravity-fed flow.
Social Equity: Why Frontline Communities Must Lead the Transition To manage home well requires us to apply ecology—the knowledge of home. This means observing and understanding how our actions impact the living world we depend on. Managing home well requires that communities have control over the decisions about how energy—in all its forms—is harnessed and applied. In fact, social inequity is a form of ecosystem imbalance.… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Since the purpose of corporations is to maximize profit and most corporate decision makers do not live in the places they are impacting, corporate decisions rarely take into account the consequences of their actions on ecosystems, including human communities. The result is a litany of fenceline communities harmed by corporate activities that pollute the air or groundwater, generate toxic waste, or are unsafe for workers or community members. For the past several decades, communities on the front… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
the backbone of the Environmental Justice movement that has asserted the adage, “no decisions about us without us.” Many of these place-based community groups have successfully stopped or reduced fossil fuel and other industrial harms through organizing community members to expose the damage and make business as usual untenable. These campaigns have cut the pollution impacts in… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
From those impacted by gentrification and speculative land ownership to fossil fuel infrastructure projects to false promises of green energy solutions, rural and urban communities are increasingly on the front lines of taking on the extractive economy that is undermining home. In order to foster a just transition, these organized frontline groups increasingly understand that their communities must lead… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
environmental justice groups understand that such “solutions” are false promises if they either exacerbate or cause new social inequity or ecosystem disruption.11 Frontline communities have a crucial leadership role to play in ensuring that the inevitable economic transition is just—they have a firsthand understanding that justice requires that no community be a sacrifice zone. This lesson can be seen in the history of Native peoples offering refuge to black people who had escaped from slavery to form maroon societies. It can be seen in the role of women to end gender oppression. It… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
THE SPECIAL ROLE OF LABOR It is the exploitation of workers that enables the extraction of natural resources from the ecosystem in a way that degrades rather than supports regeneration. Whether it is blowing up mountains for coal or slashing down forests for timber, the labor of working people is… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
When they have the resources to make their own labor productive, communities across the globe resist blowing up mountains or building open-pit mines. Self-determined, embodied human labor—complete with awareness, feelings, instincts, thoughtful engagement, and the ability to act on those—is a key energy resource in regenerative economies. Along with other… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
workers themselves who are best positioned to organize around this understanding. Every day, we see more and more organized labor groups finding their front lines—from teachers and cafeteria workers to nurses and an array of service workers. This is… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Shifting to managing home in concert with the principles of living systems requires aligning three core strategies: building the new, changing the rules, and moving the resources from an extractive to a regenerative economy. All of this… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
The just transition strategy framework gives a way to understand the underlying threads of the current extractive economy and the envisioned threads weaving regenerative economies together as referenced in figure 3–2. Fostering just transition requires building a movement of movements by aligning workers, environmental justice communities, tenant rights groups, environmentalists, faith groups,… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
As these groups place their struggles into a framework of transition, the harms they have suffered under an extractive economy can be transformed into their leadership and vision for a new path that puts people and the places we depend on at the center. This creates a force of people, organized through social movements, who are actively putting their hearts, labor, and creativity toward building economic infrastructure… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
builds economic power that can be translated and applied as political power to further push rule changes and resource shifts toward local… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Dr. Vandana Shiva and others, a just transition calls for reorganizing economic activity using five key principles. Solutions that move us away from extraction and domination and toward cooperation and caring must diversify, democratize, decentralize, reduce consumption, and provide reparations. An energy democracy movement must hold these principles as our North Star if it is to foster energy systems… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
The Our Power campaign holds that climate disruption will not be addressed simply by reducing carbon in the atmosphere but by addressing the root causes: the imbalance in resource distribution and power that leads to the erosion of ecosystems and people’s ability to read and respond to their impacts. Our Power seeks to shift out of centralized and undemocratic energy systems that rely on… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
shift decision making from its current concentration far from its impacts to deep democracy—in which place-based peoples manage home toward a… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
scale transition not by creating larger and larger organizations with greater concentrated power, but by uniting across issues and communities on a larger shared project of linking regenerative economies. Like a bag of marbles adding up to the weight of a bowling ball, this aggregation creates scale. While solutions will be applied locally, communities’ ability to wrest control of economy from the current… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
autonomous place-based organizing that is connected across communities through a unifying vision, shared strategies, and common frames. Our Power has been steadily uniting a growing set of communities to leverage their collective power toward transition. In the first three years of the campaign, seven communities served as pilot sites for fostering a just transition. Anchored by grassroots organizations that had been resisting the impacts of the extractive… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
built coalitions with an array of other partners to align their work around a vision, strategy, and narrative framework that can engage everyday people in building new economic infrastructure, changing the… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
A decade ago, community members began to organize through the Richmond Progressive Alliance to run candidates for local office who would prioritize values of community health and well-being. They succeeded in electing progressive candidates to local office who were not beholden to the oil company. Groups like Urban Tilth began to acquire public land to grow food for the community, training, employing, and developing the leadership of local residents on those lands. Local residents founded Rich City Rides, the city’s only bike shop, and began organizing community bike rides and bike repair activities to shift from car culture to bike culture.
groups have come together to lead Our Power Richmond. The goal is to work toward shifting transit, food, and energy systems toward renewables and people power rather than fossil fuels and corporate control. Together with other partners, Our Power Richmond organizes community members around a vision of a just transition. In 2016, several of these organizations launched Cooperation Richmond, a revolving loan fund and cooperative incubator.
organizes community members to put capital to productive use by applying their labor to build cooperative businesses that help foster a regenerative economy. This provides critical infrastructure to “build the new.”
Reinvest in Our Power. This initiative has two primary arenas. The first is to form a “financial cooperative,” or network of local loan funds that support communities that have been excluded from access to capital to build and run cooperative businesses. The second arena is to connect divestment campaigns to reinvestment pathways. In this way, communities can shift capital away from fossil fuels, prisons, and war industries and invest it in community-run vehicles for economic transition.13
that favor the extractive economy. Without a new set of rules based on values of a regenerative economy, cities like Richmond are beholden to industry, big-box retailers, or market-rate housing developers to grow their tax base. With out-of-the-box thinking and progressive organizing, over the last decade, Richmond groups have asserted new rules that put local residents and community health first, going up against the goliath corporations that try to stop them at every turn.
Ballot Measure T taxing the value of raw materials used in the manufacturing process of Richmond industries.14 Though it was struck down by the courts, the process of garnering community support for such a radical shift in policy led the Chevron refinery to strike a deal with the city council to pay the equivalent of a standard utility user tax. This has brought an additional $15 million annually to the city.
the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment worked with the City of Richmond to create Richmond CARES in 2012. This program was meant to advance the power of local residents over mortgage bankers. The program allowed the city to declare eminent domain of underwater mortgages in order to restore equity and prevent blight from foreclosures.
heavily capitalized industries continue to seek to extract wealth from the city.
Our Power Communities include San Antonio, Texas; Jackson, Mississippi; San Francisco, California; Eastern Kentucky; Detroit, Michigan; and Black Mesa, Navajo Nation. While each community holds a set of shared values and principles of a just transition, each is applying a diverse set of just transition strategies based on the unique needs and conditions of home.
from an economy dependent on the extraction of coal and water to an economy powered by solar energy and, ultimately, to a restorative economy rooted in traditional land-based life ways.
Coalition (BMWC) was instrumental in ending the use of ancient aquifer water for coal transportation by Peabody Western Coal in 2005. BMWC is currently working to utilize solar power owned by the Navajo tribe and communities to fund a long-term plan for transition to traditional land-based livelihoods. Says BMWC cofounder and board member, Enei Begaye-Peter, “A green economy is nothing new to indigenous peoples. We have been practicing this way of life in harmony with Mother Earth before there was a Wall Street.
just transition to “a fair economy, a healthy environment, new safe energy, and an honest democracy.”18 KFTC has been working with electric cooperatives to innovate on-bill financing of clean energy and energy efficiency projects such as How$martKY. And as part of their work to expand democratic engagement so that community members are making the decisions that affect them, KFTC members are working to make electric cooperatives more open, fair, and transparent.
KFTC organizes statewide to change rules and draw down resources toward people-powered initiatives such as these. In Detroit, an array of organizers, cultural workers, and other leaders are advancing a shift from dependence on the Big Three automobile manufacturers and the industrial energy system they required to a thriving local economy rooted in commons around water and food systems; health and healing; media and culture; zero waste; whole-child education; and other systems of meeting community needs.
East Michigan Environmental Action Council anchors Our Power in Detroit, and its building, the Cass Corridor Commons, serves as a nexus of community-led and just transition activity, from youth media production to clothing swaps to political education. Just Transition Means Remaking Economy What you do to the… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
concentration and control of land and resources in the hands of a few, including the energy needed to grow food, harvest water, generate heat, build shelter, and more has resulted in ecological destruction: undermining human communities’ ability to… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
transition through which we realign the purpose of the economy with the healing powers of Mother Earth. A just transition calls for fundamentally remaking economy in ways that advance ecological restoration, community resilience, and social equity. Through ecological restoration, place-based communities engage the full dimensions of their own human labor to protect and advance biocultural diversity—taking action in… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
and love of people and place. By creating the conditions to maintain that biocultural diversity in the face of ecosystem disruption, we foster community resilience.20 Finally, through redistributing resources and power, we advance social equity and, consequently, restore the reflective, responsive relationship to place required for ecological restoration. 1. Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project is a movement support organization that provides training and strategy facilitation and tools to advance a just transition. The line of inquiry and language of this chapter were developed by the… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Movement Generation, From Banks and Tanks to Caring and Cooperation (Oakland, CA: Movement Generation, 2017), accessed January 28, 2017, http://… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Howard Dodson, “How Slavery Helped Build a World Economy” (February 3, 2003), accessed January 19, 2017, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
For a more complete description of what we mean by resilience, see Movement Generation, Redefining Resilience: Principles, Practices and Pathways, accessed January 28, 2017, http://pathways-2-… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
For references related to environmental justice, see the Energy Justice Network website at http://www.ejnet.org/ej/, accessed January 1, 2017. 10. “Letter from the Grassroots to One Sky,” accessed January 4, 2017, http://grist.org/article/2010-10-23-open-letter-to-1-sky-from-the-grassroots/. 11. For a discussion of false solutions, see Rising Tide North America and Carbon Trade Watch, “Hoodwinked in the Hothouse: False… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
See http://www.ourpowercampaign.org/reinvest and http://… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Working as members of the California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA), they sponsored legislation called Solar for All. Solar for All called for a massive transformation of our energy system: away from natural gas power plants and oil extraction and into an energy economy rooted in local, decentralized renewable generation, equity, and community leadership. As the first-ever CEJA-sponsored bill, it put impacted communities at the center of the solution and advocacy efforts. For the first time, women of color walked the halls of the California State Capitol, going toe-to-toe with fossil fuel industry lobbyists and led on the ground, organizing hundreds of community members to advocate for the bill.
California Solar Energy Industries Association, and Everyday Energy on a similar bill, titled the Multifamily Affordable Housing Solar Roofs Program (AB 693). The bill, signed into law later that year, built upon the previous goals of Solar for All. It prioritized environmental justice communities to be first in line to get the benefits of solar. The program called for an unprecedented $1 billion investment in solar on affordable housing in low-income neighborhoods, the largest investment in solar energy for disadvantaged communities of color in the country. This victory shows that a movement, when organized, can take on the biggest lobbyists, can envision equitable energy policies, and can lead the way to create clean renewable energy neighborhoods for all.
“green zones” policy framework for local energy equity that prioritizes environmental justice and community-of-color leadership and governance. We will identify the barriers that stand in the way of making energy equity possible. And we will share insights from two models of this policy framework for local energy equity taking shape in two vastly different states.
Local policy organizing has the flexibility to experiment with different solutions; allows for community participation and control in the decision-making process; can identify contextual challenges that need to be addressed; and ultimately leads to lessons that can create potential frameworks and guides that can inspire others to adopt change. Building change at the local and state levels can be a catalyst for change nationally, as communities share practices, lessons, and strategies that can generate momentum to transform public policy and investment.
By identifying green zones—communities that need to transition from industrial pollution into healthy neighborhoods—we can advocate for policies that direct a whole range of resources into programs in those communities. There are five aspects to the green zones/EID equity model:1 Identifying overburdened and impacted communities.
the Communities Environmental Health Screening Tool version 2.0 (“CalEnviroScreen 2.0”) combines nineteen different indicators of pollution, toxics, and sociovulnerability factors to identify communities that are the most polluted and impacted. In Philadelphia, a standard or robust metric has not yet been established; however, the city’s Rebuild initiative offers a cumulative impact assessment (that measures socioeconomic data points and health points) to identify communities of impact. Prioritizing identified communities for public investment.
overburdened communities are identified through a governmental metric, the state or city should then develop a comprehensive policy to direct regulatory attention, job creation programs, and economic development initiatives to these communities that puts them first in line for resources to transform their communities into healthy thriving green zones. Advancing on-the-ground models: When applying the green zones model, we should prioritize local projects that install local renewable energy directly in overburdened census tracts.
giving good local jobs with sustainable wages to the locally impacted communities. Local models should transform neighborhoods and ensure sustainable development that does not result in the displacement of longtime residents or businesses. Providing resources and assistance to impacted communities. Identify significant pots of resources and technical assistance that will be directed to fund robust community projects
comprehensively transform toxic hotspots into green zones. Establishing community governance and democratic decision-making processes. Build and cultivate community governance and decision-making processes to ensure that resources going into a community and revenue generated by projects are determined by community input, leadership, and plans.
Although large-scale solar farms generally meet our overall renewable energy goals, these farms do not address the lack of renewable investment and benefits in local communities that need it the most. Environmental justice communities experience a “green divide,” in which renewable energy is being developed, but the green energy is being built far away from communities that need it the most, leaving these communities again neglected and without the benefits of renewable energy, including local jobs.
Residents need outreach to be conducted by people they trust—primarily from established community-based organizations that have a history with organizing in the local community. Outreach, education, and marketing must be conducted in the language of the community and must be culturally appropriate. Additionally, organizations must translate materials so that they can truly reach communities in need of the renewable energy. Many community members also do not have internet access. Face-to-face outreach and culturally appropriate and multilingual marketing are best for environmental justice communities.
A major challenge to the success of energy equity initiatives in our current economic and energy system is the resource gap that does not allow communities to participate fully without draining capacity away from other work. The resource gap in communities makes it difficult to take on energy democracy efforts alone as an individual, such as prioritizing leaky roofs, or organizationally, such as resourcing organizers and implementers. Thus the most successful efforts addressing energy equity tend to cross sectors and issues that both build on existing work and challenges and also leverage resources most effectively and sustainably.
In California, the takeover of land and community is witnessed all across the state as utility companies become megacorporations operating for huge profits at the expense of community health and well-being. Environmental justice communities have led heroic fights to shut down the fossil fuel industry and demand clean, local, renewable energy.
Energy companies such as NRG and Southern California Edison (SCE) have pursued a massive build-out of unnecessary gas power plants in an already overburdened community.7 Oxnard is home to three power plants, three landfills, and a Superfund site where a metal recycling plant left a wake of toxic chemicals.
The historical practice of energy companies siting power plants in low-income communities of color is the ultimate form of environmental racism, and CAUSE has mobilized hundreds of community members to topple this system, demanding to replace these power plants with renewable energy. These power plants are known to release dangerous amounts of methane and co-pollutants into the local community, endangering public health, causing climate chaos, and perpetuating the legacy of neglect for the community while benefiting the utility corporations.
create local energy solutions that can benefit the community and prevent the destruction of the air and land, challenging refineries that enjoy windfall profits at the expense of community health. In the city of Shafter in California’s San Joaquin Valley, again a heavily Latinx community that ranks in the top 20% most polluted zip codes,10 big oil is taking over the area with the quick build-out of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations. These fracking wells surround schools, churches, farms, and homes. The dangerous chemicals used in fracking contaminate the soil, water, and air, resulting in headaches, rare cancers, and respiratory diseases and rendering the water undrinkable.
Utilizing a scientific methodology to identify the most “disadvantaged” communities. The Multifamily Solar Roofs Program includes the CalEnviroScreen definition of a “disadvantaged community,” in which projects will be targeted in the top 25% of the most impacted census tracts. Getting the definition of a “disadvantaged community” is critically important to move the needle of renewable energy programs past the current 6% penetration in disadvantaged communities.
the program includes a local-hire mandate to provide economic development benefits to communities that are suffering the highest rates of unemployment. Building local, decentralized generation. To address “green divide” barriers, in which large-scale renewable energy facilities are often built outside of impacted communities, this program is designed to localize renewable energy projects by installing small-scale local projects in the most highly impacted census tracts.
Transitioning away from fossil fuels. The Multifamily Solar Roofs Program will help California transition away from fossil fuels and help meet the state’s new goal of achieving 50% renewable energy by 2030. The program will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the need for dirty natural gas power plants.14
Virtual net metering and community solar projects are not allowed for multiple owners of meters. Lastly, there are no real financial incentives to capitalize a project or technical assistance support for project development, leaving people to rely solely on the federal tax credit program.
In the Old City neighborhood, where the population’s median income is the highest in the city at over $100,000 and is 90% white,19 life expectancy is eighty-eight years of age.20 Just west of Old City, in Parkside, a neighborhood that is 90% black and has an average median income of $15,000,21 life expectancy is thirteen years less. One in two people faces energy and food insecurity.22
an energy investment district as a way to build wealth and create opportunity that takes on the economic reality and can help shift policy for other impacted communities to lead in the energy transition.
To the Parkside community, leaders see renewables as a strategy to facilitate true “equity” ownership (monetary, psychological, emotional, cultural, and social). The energy investment district (EID) is about restructuring the energy economy by prioritizing and valuing how projects are developed, who develops them, and how they are financed. The Parkside EID follows the green zones framework, particularly by identifying an impacted community that can advance on the ground models through resourcing community leadership and establishing community governance.
Like communities in California’s green zones, residents in the neighborhood want to see an increase of resources in order to tackle energy efficiency and home repairs; address energy and food insecurity; invest in place-based improvements; and, most important, generate wealth and economic development so the neighborhood does not get displaced by the creeping gentrification that is occurring around its boundaries.
City of Philadelphia spends about $60 million annually to procure electricity that leaves the city to outside power providers and companies.26 Most procurement policies must act within fiduciary responsibility and often lead to spending the least amount of money for the most product in terms of electricity. The Parkside EID model makes the case that renewable energy production should not just be measured in cost per kilowatt-hour
take into account the greater impact on the city as part of the value and cost of procurement. This could include community wealth building; local job creation; health and well-being of the city’s most vulnerable populations; environmental protection; efficiency; racially and economically just and equitable labor practices and economic development.
procurement standard (RPS) that not only prioritizes renewable energy development but calls out specific standards around prioritizing low-income communities, environmental justice impacts, and local ownership of solar. Such models can be found in Washington, DC’s most recent RPS, which requires that the district be powered by 50% renewables by 2032, with a specific focus on prioritizing and investing in the 100,000 low-income households.
We have an opportunity to shift away from the archaic profit-driven fossil fuel economy model to one that is envisioned by the community and owned and operated by the people. Our energy system has the potential to benefit the overall public health and local economy and can create long-term sustainable jobs.
equity score to identify priority areas for investment. For more information, see http://rebuild.phila.gov/about/learn-about-the-data#EquityFactors. 26. City of Philadelphia, Office of Sustainability, “Energy Benchmarking Reports” (2016), accessed January 12, 2017, https://beta.phila.gov/documents/energy-benchmarking-reports/. 27. DC City Council member Cheh, “Renewable Portfolio Standard Expansion Amendment Act of 2016” (2016), accessed January 12, 2017, http://lims.dccouncil.us/Legislation/B21-0650. 28. “The California Energy Commission released a Barriers Report that comprehensively outlines the barriers and opportunities to accessing renewable energy and energy efficiency for disadvantaged communities” available at http://www.energy.ca.gov/sb350/barriers_report/
Throughout history, the use of this energy has been most decidedly undemocratic, exploitative, and extractive. As one example, Chevron holds an annual shareholder meeting, a meeting comprised primarily of investment fund managers and corporate executives—people who are not living on the front lines of the corporation’s pollution impact. The shareholders get an update on the company’s profit margins, hear about the company’s future direction, and vote on resolutions. The focus of their decisions is not on the health of the planet, the land, or the surrounding communities,
rather on investment returns, the profits to be gained, and the company’s projected quarterly earnings. This corporate process is what our economy currently has in place for “the energy economy.” The current energy economy does not work for people or the planet, given the social, health, and environmental costs of the fossil fuel industry. What we actually need is a radically different political, economic, and environmental platform that is fundamentally grounded in true democracy.
Shao Yang Zhang, a member of APEN, sees it: “I believe public safety and job and housing issues are related to each other. In order to solve the problem on public safety, we must solve the job and housing issues as well, because they are the root causes of the problem. The more housing complexes, the more supporting facilities you will have to provide more employment opportunities to the local community and help enhance the people’s standard of living.”
For Vivian, it was becoming conscious of the issues after the passage of Proposition 187, a racist and devastating California ballot measure that would have banned social services, health care, and education for undocumented immigrants. For Miya, it was being inspired to become an organizer after witnessing the power of Chicago public housing residents battling industrial polluters surrounding their community and winning.
What’s important about each story is that it highlights the moment that people recognized their power in being part of making change. Organizing aims to foster that recognition of power among many individuals, building collective power for justice.
too often the discussion about the energy transformation needed to solve the climate crisis focuses on technical solutions and doesn’t include an analysis of power. We will not have the political power needed to implement true solutions to climate change, at the breadth and scale they are needed, without engaging millions of people in that fight.
organizing, block by block, around equitable solutions that reflect the actual needs and aspirations of people at the core. Needs and aspirations include clean air, jobs, generating wealth for local communities, and democratic control over local resources. Transforming our energy infrastructure is as much a project to shift hearts and minds as it is to get solar panels on buildings.
Because cooperatives are an effective way communities can democratically own and control resources, new energy cooperatives are emerging across the United States in response to the need for energy alternatives.
“Energy cooperatives put ownership of energy infrastructure in the hands of the people actually using the energy produced. Unlike publicly traded corporations, cooperatives don’t have to pursue increased shareholder value above all; they can strive for other goals, like sustainability and equity. Energy cooperatives are vital for the transition to renewable energy—which, to be successful, will have to move faster than the market alone can push.”1
Traditional cooperatives exist to serve their members’ direct needs. The new energy cooperatives exist to create a just and sustainable future for all: to reduce our energy use and to generate clean power and profits that get recycled back into our communities. New energy cooperatives are providing energy efficiency, rooftop solar,… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
also providing access to electricity services for limited-resource communities and communities of color: creating green jobs, developing innovative community education programs, advocating for community-based energy policies, and promoting innovative state incentive… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
They are finding new ways for people to live in harmony with other people and the living Earth. They are overcoming barriers to the new economy—creating new legal/governance structures, raising capital from the people they serve, addressing regulatory challenges, designing new organizing principles, scaling community-benefits access to traditional sources of capital, and more. This chapter discusses the… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
The laws that govern cooperatives ensure they are democratic (one member, one vote) and that the benefits and profits of a cooperative go to the members, based on… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
People can join together to form a co-op to meet their common needs. Because the law honors cooperatives as a way for people to work together, co-ops are not taxed at both the corporate level… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
United in a consumer-owned cooperative, consumers can form a buying group to access goods and services on a not-for-profit basis and to provide good jobs for people in their community. They are enfranchised to make key decisions about how their cooperative operates. Primary examples in the United States include food co-ops, housing co-ops, credit unions, and rural electric co-ops, which have provided… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
When consumers own a cooperative, it exists to serve their needs. It operates on a not-for-profit basis because its revenues come from its members and any profits return to its members. The legal structure requires… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
in a worker-owned cooperative, workers can create and oversee their own jobs, and they are enfranchised to make key decisions about how their cooperative operates. Worker co-ops are present in every sector of the U.S. economy and are a key business structure for giving a voice back to workers and providing a structure for workers to address their own needs. Cooperatives can also be owned by farmers and others who produce goods and… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Co-ops can be owned by government entities, other cooperatives, small businesses, and large businesses. And some cooperatives are hybrids, with both worker and consumer ownership, for example. Like any other business structure, the cooperative model is a tool. The results… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
they buy and sell and participate in a marketplace for their services. Yet, unlike many corporations today, cooperatives are better designed to reflect a community’s vision and values—and to maintain those values over time (figure 10–1). They are a tool member-owners can use to expand access to products and resources in their community while building shared wealth.… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Concern for Community—While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies accepted by their members. COOPERATION WORKS Cooperative enterprises have almost 1 billion members worldwide, employ 250 million people, and generate $2.2 trillion providing the services and infrastructure society needs to thrive. Nearly 30,000 cooperatives in the United States
In 1844, working-class people in England established a consumer-owned food cooperative, called the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, when they were no longer able to buy basic staples like butter, flour, sugar, oatmeal, and candles. These cooperatives grew out of collective-benefit economies that had existed for centuries. When surrounded by a food desert, they joined together to purchase the food they needed. Within ten years, there were 1,000
The Catholic Church has supported the development of cooperatives around the world as part of its commitment to human dignity. For example, in the 1920s in Atlantic Canada, Father Moses Coady, a Roman Catholic priest, organized consumer-owned cooperatives that sold food, clothing, and other consumer goods when corporations moved away and left a severely depressed economy.
W. E. B. Du Bois encouraged African Americans to “form a group economy based on a sense of solidarity and use producer and consumer cooperatives to position ourselves to serve our economic needs separately from the white economy. This way we could control our own goods and services and gain income and wealth—stabilize ourselves and our communities. Then if we wanted to join the mainstream economy, we could join from a position of strength.”
“In addition to the thousands of mutual aid societies, he noted 154 co-ops.” “Given that anyone organizing any form of economic cooperation in the black community was targeted for intimidation and physical harm, these efforts were acts of courage. As soon as co-ops were officially recognized in Europe, after 1844, the U.S. started to embrace co-ops, and African Americans did, too. We started using formal co-ops with some of the early integrated labor unions in the 1880s, and we created our own
during difficult times. This success has helped prevent many families and communities from sliding into poverty.”8 Moreover, Pope Francis preaches that cooperatives create a “new type of economy” that allows “people to grow in all their potential,” socially and professionally, as well as in responsibility, hope, and cooperation. He exhorts the cooperative movement to join the global economy to promote both “an economy of honesty” and “a healing economy.”
to exercise “the courage and the imagination to build a just path, so as to integrate development, justice, and peace in the world.”9 Further, Pope Francis urges that cooperatives “continue to be the motor for lifting up and developing the weakest part of our local communities and of civil society.”10 In summary, cooperatives are recognized as an essential part of our local economies around the world. They hold great promise for the movement for economic democracy.
three years later, 90% of U.S. farms had electricity. By lowering the cost of capital and providing cooperative development technical assistance, the federal government was able to successfully address a market failure and bring electricity to millions of Americans. Imagine if this support for cooperative development could be available today. According to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, there are 840 distribution and 65 generation and transmission cooperatives in the United States,
Cooperatives provide a structure for just governance and principled management that allows them to reflect their members’ values. When the members are focused on restoring justice, treating the Earth and all living beings with reverence, learning to live in harmony with others and with the Earth, then the cooperative is an instrument of those values. The cooperative can function as part of a commons,13 a resource that is fairly shared and stewarded by a community.
Traditional cooperatives are often used to enclose a commons, to keep resources for the benefit of a small group, instead of looking for ways to share those resources fairly for the benefit of the community. For example, housing cooperatives can be used to provide affordable housing for all, or they can be used to legally discriminate against families with children or against people of color. Electric cooperatives can provide clean energy for all, or they can lobby against clean energy legislation and expand into urban areas without allowing those new customers access to membership and democratic participation.
Community-based cooperatives are locally owned and controlled. And, as great as local ownership is, we need to move beyond talking about “ownership” to looking at our “relationships” with one another and the natural world. When we talk about ownership, customers, clients, labor, and resources, we separate ourselves from one another and… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
looking at a more indigenous understanding of our relationship to other people and the Earth, moving away from “ownership and control” toward relationship, listening, and connection. The new energy cooperatives described in this chapter are facing these challenges head-on—to bring people together and make… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
What experience do we have in building a deep spiritual connection with one another and nature? Where can we meet … as the descendants of settlers and slave owners and as the descendants of indigenous people and slaves? Can we look unflinchingly at the violence that created the class structures of privilege and disenfranchisement we’re living with today? Can we find… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
do we relate authentically with people we’ve stolen from? Or who have stolen from us? How do we foster reconciliation and reparations? How do energy cooperatives, as part of an economic democracy movement, ensure a commitment to restorative justice is built into our DNA? These cooperatives have learned that building projects together works—working shoulder to shoulder, side by side, to bring… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
As cooperatives generate revenue, they return that cash to local vendors and employees and pass back the profits to their consumers. This nonextractive finance model helps community-based organizations remain resilient to market shifts and… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
At the core, the new energy cooperatives: Have a commitment to sustainability and reversing climate change. Are organized as a multiclass, multirace movement to address social, economic as well as environmental justice. Have members whose primary need is to have a just and sustainable… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
seek to serve the energy needs of their region (their future members), especially the energy needs of communities of color and communities with limited resources. Are committed to local ownership, democracy and self-determination. Are Earth reverent. There are many examples of how… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
working to build an energy system that: Reduces energy waste and energy use; Provides affordable, sustainable heating, cooling, light, and power for all; Provides good jobs, especially for people in limited-resource communities and communities of color, with costs and profits shared… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Co-op Power, launched in 2004, is a multiracial, multiclass cooperative movement.14 It’s a consumer-owned energy cooperative working for a just and sustainable energy future. It is also a decentralized network of community energy cooperatives in New England and New York dedicated to working together as agents of social, economic, and environmental change in their region: Boston Metro East CEC (serving the Greater Boston area inside Route 128) Worcester Community Energy Action CEC (serving Worcester County, Massachusetts) Hampden County CEC
New York City CEC (serving Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs) Co-op Power is owned by 550 families and a handful of schools, universities, cooperatives, and small businesses (figure 10–2). The community energy cooperatives in the Co-op Power network all share one cooperative structure to make collaboration easy and reduce administrative costs. When members join their community energy cooperative, they join both their community energy cooperative and Co-op Power.
Co-op Power’s recipe for democratizing energy: First, people come together across class and race to make change in their community by using their power as investors, workers, consumers, and citizens ready to take action together. Then, they work together to build community owned enterprises with local capital and local jobs to serve local energy needs. It’s a proven strategy for making a real difference.
Energía, LLC Hampden Community Energy Co-op members wanted to create good green jobs for people in their limited-resource communities and communities of color. Energía was born in 2009, following a successful U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) grant application.16 Co-op Power partnered with community organizations to run a training program using HHS WorkForce Development funds so that young people from the local communities (figure 10–3) would be able to be successful in jobs in this new business.
Eight years later, Energía has $2.5 million a year in revenues providing residential and commercial air sealing and insulation services. The 24 to 28 workers—75% of whom are Latino and 75% of whom are under the age of 25—have formed a worker cooperative that now owns 30% of the business. Pioneer Valley Photovoltaics (PV Squared) PV Squared is a worker-owned solar installation cooperative located in Greenfield, Massachusetts.17 It’s been in business since 2002,
Solar Access Program—a new rooftop solar hosting model designed for the 50% of households, nonprofits, and other institutions that lack the capital or creditworthiness to qualify for a loan or a traditional power purchase agreement.18 As a community-based solar development company, Resonant Energy employs innovative financing strategies to leverage the buying power of local anchor institutions—including businesses, nonprofits and municipalities—to reduce the credit risk of putting solar on low-income households and to dramatically expand urban solar access, jobs, and education.
COOPERATIVE ENERGY FUTURES In a city that gets an average annual snowfall of 32 inches and temperatures below 50°F for six months of the year, energy costs are a big deal. Cooperative Energy Futures (CEF) is a for-profit, community-owned clean energy cooperative based in South Minneapolis, serving members across Minnesota with their solar projects and energy efficiency services.19 General Manager Timothy DenHerder-Thomas has been a part of CEF since the beginning and is leading the co-op
Cooperative Energy Futures, incorporated in early 2009 as a 308B cooperative, started off lean, focusing its energies on providing members with energy efficiency workshops, and bought supplies with funds from a small grant. Another low-capital initiative they undertook was doing member recruitment through solar site assessments and managing the solar sales process for members. Timothy credits these kinds of projects for building long-term grassroots relationships with local leaders and residents in South Minneapolis. Many residents in these communities were also struggling with high energy bills and economic instability.
Cooperative Energy Futures does group contracting for deep insulation retrofits to improve existing building stock. Education is also an opportunity they have tapped into through do-it-yourself trainings for weather stripping, caulking, and home energy systems. More recently, after Minnesota adopted a community solar law, CEF has shifted to developing community shared solar projects; bulk buying insulation and residential solar were reaching only a small portion of their membership.
insulation bulk buying for twenty-five insulation installs in the city. They brought quality control and expertise for members as project consultants. Between 2014 and 2015, CEF installed 7.5% of all residential solar that received Made in Minnesota (MiM) state incentives.… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
One of their solar garden projects is with a black church in a Minneapolis low-income community of color where project subscribers live in the community. The second solar garden is in the city of Edina, Minnesota, a largely white, middle- and upper-middle-class community. The… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Cooperative Energy Futures operates with universal principles. For example; it does not discriminate by credit score. The CEF solar gardens are accessible in a way that private corporate projects are not. CEF has also partnered with Renewable Energy Partners to do direct job training for residents of northern Minneapolis and require installers to employ… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
CEF works with investors to create a new norm of investment and is trying to get all people to rethink how to create value without extracting wealth from communities. CEF has sought to create opportunities through clean energy to empower people and make the economy work for everyone. It has had a strong focus on economic access and is interested in job training and economic development in communities of color. CEF empowers… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Energy Solidarity Cooperative (ESC) is recent start-up in Oakland, California, that designs and builds community-driven, cooperatively owned solar energy projects and political educational programs.21 They focus on building relationships with such groups as community-based organizations, schools,… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
It saw demographic changes between 2006 and 2016 but is still very diverse, with 65.5% of residents being nonwhite. There are long-standing African American, Hispanic American, Asian American, and… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
The cooperative sees renewable energy as the opportunity to build community power—social, political, infrastructure, economic, and generative. They see this as being part of the just transition toward solidarity economies. The cooperative is comprised of worker-owners, consumer-owners, and community-driven funders—an innovative… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
work to build out more community-owned clean energy systems and energy efficiency measures in underserved communities. They finance energy systems and efficiency measures in a way that keeps money in their community and creates a more secure path to refinancing once they are creditworthy. They work to save revenue for organizations operating at underserved sites while also generating revenue for worker services. Also essential is their focus on… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
In 2011, REScoop (Renewable Energy Source Cooperative) was founded to help co-ops across the continent share resources and best practices and manage policy. As of April 2016, it included twenty member organizations in eleven European Union states. Citizens can join and form their own REScoops as a way to develop citizen-owned renewable energy projects and are provided with resources to get set up.
holds that energy democracy has a value and views the energy transition as an opportunity to move from fossil fuels and nuclear to renewable energy, from monopoly to citizen ownership, and from people being consumers to being “prosumers” by using the energy that they themselves produce.24
Like the U.S. cooperatives discussed earlier, the Ecopower cooperative demonstrates the power of creating relationships with local municipalities, collaborating with other cooperatives, and building membership as powerful stepping stones. These basic practices have helped Ecopower remain competitive with private corporations,
Dirk Vansintjan, one of Ecopower’s founding board members, sees collaboration between energy cooperatives becoming more important. He is working across Europe to build a revolving fund that can help cooperatives across the continent overcome their financing hurdles.
Cooperatives offer a vehicle for changing that dynamic, at least for some—an alternate future in which community leaders democratize business ownership, seed local investment, share resources, maintain fair pricing, and organize consumer power in a way that not only reduces costs, but also takes political power. Cooperatives have a key role in the fight for community resilience.
will the 99% rise up and take control as advances in distributed renewable energy create opportunities for a more community-based energy economy to flourish? Decentralized power makes it possible for people to steward energy resources. Communities can use cooperatives to build power, meet their needs, and share resources. When people come together in a cooperative and commit to educating their communities about our energy future, they wrestle with the consequences of the extraordinary waste in energy production and transmission, industrial agriculture, waste processing itself, transportation systems, and so forth,
the real solution to our energy challenges is to shift away from an extractive economy, away from the materialism that generates so much to throw away, away from using up the Earth and filling it with trash, and instead toward a more loving, equitable, just, ethical, gentle, connected, and Earth-reverent way of living together on the planet.
More than half of our U.S. economy is comprised of small businesses, nonprofits, cooperatives, and government entities, yet most of our economic development resources go to support large corporations.25 Cooperatives can provide jobs and products and services for our communities. Real power and strength come from communities and from cooperation.
The pathway for each cooperative has been very similar. An ambitious and motivated group involves people in the community to envision how they want to own and develop energy resources. Once a vision is laid out, the members pursue a winnable project. An early win helps to build momentum for membership building, after which the next target is a larger project to involve even more people.
organizing is essential with like-minded nonprofits, student groups, churches, and other cooperatives working together to see specific policies changed or implemented to support new economy project development. It is important to have a diverse and committed board of directors who bring various business development, engineering, energy, legal, finance, and community organizing expertise.
Richard Heinberg, author of Our Renewable Future: Laying the Path for One Hundred Percent Clean Energy, coauthored with David Fridley (2016), interview by Lynn Benander, January 19, 2017. 2. International Cooperative Alliance, “Statement of Co-operative Identity, Values and Principles,” http://ica.coop/en/whats-co-op/co-operative-identity-values-principles.
Pope Francis, “Pope Urges Co-ops to Promote Economy of Honesty,” Radio Vatican News, February 2, 2015, http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/02/28/pope_urges_co-ops_to_promote_economy_of_honesty/1126264. 10. Christopher Dodson, editorial, North Dakota Catholic Conference, “The Co-op Pope,” November 2015, http://ndcatholic.org/editorials/column1115/index.html.
16. Energía, htttp://www.energiaus.com. 17. PV Squared, http://pvsquared.coop. 18. Resonant Energy, http://www.resonant.energy. 19. Cooperative Energy Future, https://cooperativeenergyfutures.com. 20. Timothy DenHerder-Thomas, phone interview with Diego Angarita Horowitz on October 31, 2016. 21. Energy Solidarity Co-op, htttp://www.energy-coop.com.
European Federation of Renewable Energy Cooperatives, htttp://REScoop.eu. 25. Michael Shuman, Local Dollars, Local Sense (New York: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012).
Schoolman wondered if some sort of bulk purchase might make solar affordable. Within two weeks, Walter and Diego had engaged fifty other neighbors who wanted solar on their roofs. Many of the homeowners just wanted to gain control of their rising energy bills. Others wanted to take action on climate change. Many were motivated by the idea of freeing themselves from the local monopoly utility. Thus was born the city’s first solar co-op, the Mt. Pleasant Solar Cooperative.
DC Solar United Neighborhoods (DC SUN). In 2011, Anya Schoolman founded a national nonprofit, Community Power Network (CPN) to disseminate and replicate the successful project model DC SUN had developed. Today, in addition to DC SUN, CPN now runs Solar United Neighborhoods programs in the states of Florida (FL SUN); Maryland (MD SUN); Ohio (OH SUN); Virginia (VA SUN); and West Virginia (WV
CPN also works to connect organizations and community groups across the country that are creating and experimenting with other innovative ideas for community-driven renewable energy. CPN helps communities start their own solar co-ops, protect their right to produce solar power, and implement policies and project models that expand solar access to low-income households.
In the beginning, the most important thing was for group members to clearly identify their own goals: Why are we doing this? What is important to us? Do we want to lower our electric bills? Do we want to create local jobs? Do we want to become entrepreneurs in our community? The group decided that its goal was to take as many houses solar as possible at the most economical price. Additional priorities were to reduce electric bills and jump-start local solar businesses,
The rules governing energy markets are, in large part, stacked firmly against democratizing energy. In many states, energy companies, especially large, vertically integrated, investor-owned utilities (IOUs), play a dominant role in developing and writing energy rules. These companies work hard to ensure that regulators support their desired outcomes.
in 2007, the District had an aggressive renewable portfolio standard (RPS) with a “solar carve-out.”1 The RPS and solar carve-out, in theory, required the local utility to obtain a certain percentage of its electricity from solar sources. In reality, this was not happening. The legislation authorizing the RPS set the alternative compliance payment (ACP) for utilities too low. The ACP is the penalty a utility must pay if it does not meet the RPS requirements. Because the ACP was so low, the local utility was paying the ACP rather than procuring more renewable energy.
Raising the penalty for not having enough solar-generated electricity encouraged the utilities to buy solar renewable energy credits (SRECs)2 from solar producers. This demand drove up the value of SRECs, making solar electricity production more financially attractive, which, in turn, spurred a huge boom in DC’s market for decentralized solar.
activists worked on another piece of legislation to double the solar carve-out requirement (increasing demand for SRECs) and close the market to out-of-state projects (decreasing supply of SRECs). They argued that since DC ratepayers were paying for utility procurement of SRECs via their utility bills, all the jobs and economic benefits should stay in the District
Along the way, there were many other fights as well. Solar activists convinced the local utility to improve its interconnection process, which enables a customer’s solar system to connect to the grid. These activists also continue to fight, multiple times per year, to ensure that the grant money appropriated to the District government to develop solar projects for low-income households is spent effectively.
2013 and 2015, the District government installed solar for free on roughly 130 low-income homes per year. In July 2016, activists successfully passed legislation to create a Solar for All program, which increased DC’s investment in low-income solar from $1 million to more than $20 million annually. The goal of Solar for All is to reduce the bills of 100,000 low- and moderate-income households by 50% by 2032 using rooftop solar.
transform the solar market and create thousands of local green jobs over the next fifteen years. Each time local solar advocates have taken on a new fight, it has been in direct response to barriers they identified in attempting to install solar or to implement a project to make solar affordable and accessible to all residents.
activists have successfully repeated this model—linking policy advocacy to on-the-ground projects—numerous times since 2007. With each cycle of projects and advocacy the movement has grown broader, stronger, and more diverse. Through this work, solar advocates have been able to reshape the market as well as the attitudes of activists, politicians, and homeowners.
it can be more effective to start with a small, doable, impactful project and build, expand, diversify, and scale from there. A decade after the Mt. Pleasant Solar Cooperative formed, the District of Columbia is now one of the most solar-friendly cities in America, home to one of the hottest solar markets in the country. Most important, the market is supported by activists from all parts of the city,
What took the Mt. Pleasant Solar Cooperative two years can now be completed in nine months or less. The central idea of a neighborhood solar purchase co-op is to enable a group of neighbors to go solar together and get a bulk discount, thereby making solar more affordable and accessible. By going solar as a group, participants save on the cost of their system and get support
Through engagement in the co-op process, people come to understand how energy policy is made and what kinds of actions are needed to change it. They are motivated to take action because these barriers directly impact their ability to put solar on their own homes.
In the first phase, CPN works with a local community partner to spread the word about the co-op, create excitement about solar, and recruit residents to attend information sessions. This local community partner can be a nonprofit, a church, a local government agency, or simply a group of individuals. At information sessions, CPN explains the co-op process, solar technology and installation, financing, and policy issues, in addition to answering
The second phase begins once a critical mass of homeowners (usually twenty to thirty) have signed up and passed the roof screening. CPN, with input from the co-op members, issues a request for proposals (RFP) seeking bids from area installers. Each community has the opportunity to customize the RFP to reflect local values and preferences.
The installer visits all of the co-op members’ homes and provides each of them with an individualized proposal for a solar array. The price quote reflects the group discount offered in the winning bid. Participants who decide to move forward with the installation then sign a contract directly with the installer to purchase or lease their solar system. The co-op remains open to new members for about a month after the installer is selected. This provides the local community partner an opportunity to continue to grow
Because CPN builds a high level of trust with the community from the beginning of the co-op, CPN’s continued engagement and support help encourage more participants to move forward with their solar projects. In the fourth phase, co-op participants who signed contracts have their solar systems installed, after which the co-op holds a celebration of their new homegrown clean energy. CPN provides ongoing support to ensure homeowners have a positive experience
a listserv for each state. The listserv is an online community that allows geographically dispersed solar producers and advocates to connect with one another, answer one another’s questions, and discuss developments in solar technology or policy. These platforms connect co-op participants to the growing network of solar supporters in their state and enable people to stay engaged
Beginning in 2011, activists in DC initiated a fight to enable “community shared solar” in the District. This program enables ratepayers, including renters and apartment dwellers, to purchase “shares” in a solar installation and receive a credit on their bill for their shares’ electricity production, just as if the solar installation were on their own property. Community shared solar would open solar access to the 60% of DC residents who do not own their home or who live in multifamily buildings.
Community Renewable Energy Act (figure 11–3). This bill enables community shared solar, also known as a virtual net metering program. Implementation of the law has been a challenge. Against the intentions of the unanimous 2013 Council vote, the DC Public Service Commission (PSC) set the rate for crediting community solar shares at half the retail electricity rate
A broad, robust, and tenacious coalition is needed to take on entrenched utility interests. However, a democratic and equitable clean energy transition is possible if we stay focused on the endgame.
Activists helped create a sustainable energy utility (SEU), which provides zero-and low-cost energy efficiency and solar installations to permanently lower the bills of low-income households. DC solar activists also organized a series of stakeholder meetings around low-income solar that for the first time brought together a diverse array of local representatives: federal and local government agencies, affordable-housing providers, economic development organizations, finance and lending institutions, and the solar industry.
the financial benefits of electricity production are also centralized: revenues come from the ratepayers, and profits go exclusively to the utilities. We have recently entered an extraordinary period in which it is possible to fundamentally change this system.
We are on the tipping point of a profound transformation, but it will be an uphill battle. The status quo is heavily invested in preventing change. Decisions being made by regulators today and over the next decade will determine our energy future. Unfortunately, this type of regulatory action is generally quite obtuse. The issues decided upon are usually too complicated
much less engage the public in an active discussion around who benefits from those decisions. The experience of Community Power Network (CPN) is that the best way to transform the system is to start by encouraging more people to become involved in a concrete and tangible way.
advocates are fighting for an electricity system that is clean, local, equitable, affordable, and reliable (CLEAR).
advocates are working to directly involve stakeholders from all walks of life, particularly low-income residents, in this process so they can voice their own priorities, concerns, and aspirations for the District’s future electricity system.
They attempted to drive a wedge between low-income advocates and clean energy advocates, and were surprised to learn that both sides were united. Clean energy and equity were inextricably intertwined. PowerDC turned out hundreds of activists to hearings and events and generated thousands of letters to the DC Public Service Commission.
Organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, and the Local Clean Energy Alliance are examples of civil rights organizations, labor groups, and energy advocates, respectively, working to dismantle the fossil fuel economy and put energy assets into the hands of communities and municipal governments.
Co-op Power and the Community Power Network are among a growing number of organizations committed to building alternative, decentralized energy systems: built, owned, and controlled by local communities. These energy democracy experiments are not top-down or government-sponsored efforts. They are rooted in very practical local concerns. Health issues (high rates of cancer, asthma, and other conditions); escalating energy costs; the lack of transparency and accountability
If we are serious about climate change, we need to dismantle the fossil fuel economy and replace it with a moral economy that values ecosystems, sufficiency, justice, and real democracy. And that kind of transformation will not come without struggle. History offers a model for this kind of transformative change: the dismantling of the slave economy in the nineteenth century. Understanding the centuries-long abolitionist movement offers insight
Parallels Between Transforming the Slave and Fossil Fuel Economies The abolitionist movement offers a playbook for advocates working for climate, economic, and social justice. That movement challenged the very foundation of the global slave economy by dismantling the pillars that supported it: property rights, profits, and power and privilege.
The Earth’s natural resources—water, minerals, forests, the atmosphere—are enslaved to the global market economy in a way that is analogous to Africans under the slave economy. Like human slaves, our natural resources are devalued and chained to private interests by legal structures. The right to extract Earth’s natural resources—fossil fuels, water, timber—for private gain is fiercely fought and frequently protected through the courts and public policies and in public opinion.
Dismantling the slave economy required a long, global struggle to outlaw the right to own, control, and exploit African labor for commercial gain. Whether or not the U.S. Constitution directly sanctioned and defined slaves as property is debated. What is clear, however, is that three clauses in the Constitution clearly permitted exploiting African slaves for their commercial value:
Similarly, dismantling the fossil fuel economy requires challenging the right to own, extract, and exploit the environment as personal property. These rights are scattered throughout the Constitution, with private property protections supported by “due process,” the “takings” clause, and “contracts,” found in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments and in Article I of the Constitution’s main text.
A constitutional challenge and an amendment to the U.S. Constitution are essential for protecting our environment. A credible climate change movement must integrate with the efforts of the global south and the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature (GARN), which argues that “there is no justice as long as nature is property in law.”
worldwide effort to challenge constitutional rights to hold nature as property and to acknowledge “that nature and all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles.”6 The alliance’s eco-centered approach balances the needs of humans and other species without exploiting one to the detriment of the other.
PROFIT Private profit is a fundamental, but hidden, driver of climate change. Massive accumulation and maldistribution of wealth in the slave and fossil fuel economies occur from exploiting and controlling the engines (sources of energy) that drive production.
In the antebellum South, slaves—and wealth—were concentrated in the hands of an estimated three thousand large plantation owners, creating considerable political and economic power where “cotton was king.” Many northern industrialists supported the abolition of slavery in order to shift political power and wealth from the South to the emerging class of industrial “robber barons.” For those industrialists, “coal was king” for fueling factories, trains, ships, and more.
we transition our economy once again to a new source/form of energy, we must be mindful of the core economic issues. This is likely to be a long-term struggle. Notwithstanding the moral, environmental, and other costs of fossil fuels, they have made a small group of people very rich and powerful.
Issues of economic justice get lost when climate discourse is limited to incremental advances like living buildings or greening the economy.
A just transition shifts energy monopolies to “energy democracy”: community-owned and controlled renewable energy that is treated as a public “commons.”
the transition to a sustainable future requires grappling with questions of power and privilege—who has it, how it is used, how it is distributed and controlled. Energy democracy entails such social justice concerns. The slave economy created a society of haves and have-nots separated by race, class, gender, and privilege.
Dismantling the slave economy was the earliest effort to eradicate such privilege and inequities. The ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, in 1868, granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.” Unfortunately the vestiges of inequality persisted postslavery and have adapted to support the power and privilege of the fossil fuel economy.
Religious institutions once ordained dominion over slaves as Divine Providence; similar doctrines sanction human dominion over nature. Pseudoscience is used to justify privilege: just as slaves were deemed inhuman and intellectually inferior, “scientific experts” now claim human-induced climate change is a hoax.
Educational institutions institutionalize power and privilege through textbooks that transfer culturally biased “knowledge and values” in favor of privileged classes. Laws and legal institutions are used to protect property rights and discriminatory practices that serve the affluent.
we need a movement for transformative societal change. It won’t be easy. In some ways, we are all slaves to the fossil fuel economy. It is imbedded in all aspects of our economy and lives and entails a deeply entrenched culture and mindset. “Abolition” from that economy requires changing norms, values, and strongly held beliefs about property, profit, power, and privilege.
Energy democracy activists are like the abolitionists: they are building a growing awareness, advocacy, and practice that anchor a new movement with new values about property, profits, power, and privilege. But to scale this work we must identify the other prerequisites that propelled the success of the abolitionist movement. A transformative movement must: Be global.
Be multicultural. It took the joint efforts of blacks and whites to abolish slavery. While low-income communities of color are most vulnerable to climate impacts, the fact that no one is immune to climate change suggests the power and plausibility of a multiracial, multiethnic, multiclass, and intergenerational coalition.
Be multidimensional. No one organization, no one sector of the economy, no one initiative will turn the tide. It took all the muscle—social, political, legal, and financial—of the domestic and international community to abolish slavery, as it will to build a just net-zero energy economy. Be a big tent.
find common ground and build alliances across movements to address the larger changes in the social and economic environment, including engaging with advocates for worker rights; Black Lives Matter; the Dreamers and other immigrant rights groups; the Occupy movement; criminal justice reform; and other proponents of all forms of social, environmental, and economic justice. As long as we stay divided, we will not build the megamovement needed to be truly transformative.
lead with a powerful moral center, offering a narrative that brings together all segments of society. Can we find a moral center that meets people where they are, that makes the case that we will either sink or swim together? The abolitionists talked about freedom and liberty as the undeniable moral authority. And for those not persuaded by altruism,
This must be a narrative that not only changes consciousness but also changes the economic paradigm—where the human economy is sustained by a healthy global ecosystem. Mount legal challenges. The fight for energy democracy will also require challenging (1) aspects of our Constitution that undermine indigenous ideas of “the commons” in favor of private property, and (2) global trade agreements that seek to replace local sovereignty with the sovereignty of multinational corporations.
in addition to framing a holistic vision, we offer models of resource development, organizational structures, and institutions that convey possibilities for zero energy and water, green jobs with labor standards, healthier environments, full inclusion, and democratic practice in decision making for the new sustainable future.
The energy democracy movement is the unfinished business of all prior movements for justice and equality and holds promise for not only stemming climate change but advancing a global society worth living in.
In a June 16, 2015, Washington Post article, Jayni Foley Hein noted that oil companies are drilling on public lands for the price of a cup of coffee—$1.50 an acre/year, https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/06/16/oil-companies-are-driHmg-on-pubHc-land-for-the-price-of-a-cup-of-coffee-heres-why-that-should-change/?utm_term=.373e5bf314c7
Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, http://therightsofnature.org/what-is-rights-of-nature/ 6. Ibid. 7. Sarah Anderson, Sam Pizzigati, and Chuck Collins, Executive Excess, 2015: Money to Burn (Institute for Policy Studies, September 2, 2015), http://www.ips-dc.org/executive-excess-2015
Denise Fairchild, PhD, is the inaugural president and CEO of the Emerald Cities Collaborative, where she advances its “high-road” mission to green cities that build economically just economies and ensure equity in regional economies. Denise has a forty-year track record in sustainable and community economic development, domestically and internationally. Most of her life has focused on building capacity and opportunity for South Los Angeles and other low-income residents in LA.
community development research and technical assistance organization Community Development Technologies (CDTech); her directorship of the Los Angeles office of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC); and her activism in numerous civic organizations. Anthony Giancatarino is a fellow at the Movement Strategy Innovation Center. He
Anthony spent seven years at the Center for Social Inclusion (CSI), working on the Food Equity and Energy Democracy Programs, and published a series of research reports and case studies elevating the work of communities of color to become decision makers in the renewable energy economy. Anthony has a BA degree in theology and political science from the University of Scranton and an MPA degree from New York University.
Diego Angarita Horowitz is a data-driven professional working in innovative markets to counter climate change. He served as Co-op Power’s outreach and membership services manager for two years and has also served in leadership roles on Co-op Power’s board of directors, represented Co-op Power on
Earlier, he worked as the associate executive director for Nuestras Raíces in Holyoke, Massachusetts, where he led food policy organizing efforts. Diego holds an MBA degree from Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and a BA degree from Hampshire College.
Vivian has also been a mentor for the Women’s Policy Institute, a trainer at the School of Unity and Liberation (SOUL), and a lecturer at San Francisco State University’s Department of Health Education.
Derrick Johnson serves as executive director of One Voice and vice chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) national board of directors. Currently he serves on the boards of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, the Center for Social Inclusion (CSI), and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute.
is focused on building and supporting the active participation of disenfranchised communities across the South. In his capacity as executive director of One Voice, Derrick cofounded the Mississippi Black Leadership Institute (MBLI) with Congressman Bennie G. Thompson. MBLI serves as a training program for community leaders and public officials twenty-five to forty-five years old to ensure a continuous pipeline of progressive leadership across the state.
also the founder of the Electric Cooperative Leadership Institute (ECLI), which provides education, support, and training to co-op member-owners, empowering them to exercise their ownership stake and better direct their economic futures.
Cecilia Martinez is director of research programs for the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED), where her research focuses on the development of energy and environmental strategies that promote equitable and sustainable policies. She has previously held positions at Metropolitan State University, Minnesota; the American Indian Policy Center;
Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan is a staff and collective member of Movement Generation’s Justice & Ecology Project, which inspires and engages in transformative action toward the liberation and restoration of land, labor, and culture. Movement Generation is rooted in vibrant social movements led by low-income communities and communities of color committed to a just transition away from profit and pollution and toward healthy, resilient, and life-affirming local economies.
Sean Sweeney is director of the International Program for Labor, Climate and Environment at the Murphy Institute, City University of New York. He coordinates Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, a global network of forty-two unions from sixteen countries. Since
Working with unions, including the Steelworkers, Sean organized the first major conference on unions and climate change in May 2007. He also helped the International Transport Workers’ Federation develop its path-breaking perspective on climate policies for transport workers.
Maggie Tishman, local director of Emerald Cities New York, is committed to creating economic opportunity and wealth in low-income communities while also helping those communities address climate change. Her work with the Emerald Cities Collaborative is part of the Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative, a broader initiative to build wealth and ownership among low-income residents and people of color in the Bronx.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She is currently a postgraduate fellow at the MIT Community Innovators Lab (MIT CoLab), where she is exploring how community energy projects can create economic savings and high-road jobs for local residents, as well as create wealth and enhanced energy security through community ownership.
Miya participated in the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991 and helped draft the Principles of Environmental Justice, a defining document for the environmental justice movement.