Eunice Kwon: Three years ago we set out to make it possible for communities to own their energy. And boy did we run into some strange things along the way!

Before introducing those peculiarities, first some background: If people could own their energy, they’d be more secure – both financially and infrastructurally. We could save money and increase our ability to bounce back after natural disasters by producing clean, decentralized energy in our own communities. If ordinary people could put their money toward renewables, instead of investing in fossil fuels on Wall Street, we’d also speed up our response to climate change.

Wall St to Cooperative St

But as we began working toward this vision for community-owned renewable energy, strange things started turning up. We found that you can’t share power with your neighbors even if your roof could produce enough solar power for the both of you. And it’s legally very difficult to pool resources to build and access energy from a neighborhood solar project. Ultimately, most people aren’t able to access local solar energy because they are renters, have poor credit scores, or don’t have enough sun exposure on their roof for solar panels.

The law prohibits sharing!

Stranger yet, there is a lot of money incentivizing solar for some people, but not as much for low to moderate-income households. Solar tax credits are available for homeowners and wealthy investors, but what about everyone else?

We’ve been working to address those strange things. For example, thanks in part to our advocacy, it’s now at least possible to develop shared solar energy projects with your neighbors. Unfortunately, because of opposition from entrenched interests, it’ll cost a premium for most people to take advantage of that policy. But while there are barriers to sharing energy, we believe we have found a path forward with a new legal model: the Permanent Community Energy Cooperative.

This model allows everyone to join a cooperative that strives for permanent access to and control of renewable energy for all of its members. We recently were awarded a grant from the California Energy Commission through the CalSEED program to further develop this model. Exciting! It may be just strange enough to work! If you’d like to learn about some our stranger thoughts behind it, check out this cartoon.

Our Power!

Let us know if you want to learn more and stay informed on community energy updates — such as jobs or volunteer opportunities, social events, and hopefully one day, memberships in an energy cooperative.

We haven’t been spooked by the strange things we’ve run into — we’re energized by the emerging opportunities and hope you are too!

Photo by National Renewable Energy Lab

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