Piloting the Permanent Community Energy Cooperative

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The Permanent Community Energy Cooperative is a model for scaling renewable energy development that accelerates an equitable transition to renewables by enabling widespread grassroots crowd-financing and community-led development of new energy projects designed for long-term community ownership and control. It's a model designed to involve EVERYONE, including you, and we also think it will create a lot of good new jobs as it scales! We are working to incubate a pilot PCEC with the long term goal of creating resources for others to replicate the model.

The model enables anyone in the community to buy a share for up to $1,000, so that everyone can drive the switch to renewables. It focuses on building or tapping into social groups to combine the otherwise dry, technical nature of project development with the fun and camaraderie of social events. Ultimately, as it scales, the PCEC will drive the creation of good jobs and build the movement for a rapid and just renewables transition.

In brief, the PCEC model has three awesome qualities:

  1. Our Community: Everyday people can get involved, have fun, and make friends while creating new solar projects! That's because each solar project will be spearheaded by a small group. That group will do the fun stuff: choose a site, get the community excited about it, and help raise money by urging the community to buy shares. The cooperative staff will handle the dry technical stuff and long-term management of the solar.
  2. Our Money: Everyday people can invest! We can each take $1,000 out of Wall Street and big banks, put it in local solar, and get our money back later. Saving our money while saving the planet!
  3. Our Power: The community will own and control the energy in the long term. This is important for reasons of economic justice, community resilience, and disaster preparedness. Our society faces the risk that large corporations and wealthy people will end up owning all the power, so we need to create vehicles for permanent community ownership now. The PCEC will grow to own a lot of solar projects and have a large membership base that will democratically decide how that energy is used. Power to the people!

Read on for answers to frequently asked questions or learn more about our team here!

Why is it needed?

Frontline communities – those most harmed by the pollution and climate catastrophes caused by dirty energy – currently have very few opportunities to apply their time, skills, and resources to drive a transition to renewables. The same is true of most renters and low-income homeowners: there just aren't many ways for most everyday people to spur renewables development. The PCEC model changes that, AND it ensures that our communities will own, control, and benefit from this renewable energy in the long term.

What might it look like?

Imagine meeting up for fun Solar Socials in the evening, and contributing to building solar by learning about the field and working on tasks like finding a suitable site, exploring potential installers, or researching various questions that come up. You would be supported by the staff of the cooperative who would guide the day-to-day nuts and bolts of getting the project constructed.

Our current pilot project will likely be a small solar project, like on a house or community building, using existing utility programs for solar. Then, as the cooperative matures, projects could grow in size, diversity, and complexity -- depending on what its members desire! Each project would be led by a small group, who would reach out to their broader community to join for membership shares of up to $1,000 each. Members may get a small return or just treat their contribution like a Solar Savings Account that they know is divested and out of fossil fuels or Wall Street and instead invested in local community-owned energy! The cooperative would be sustained by the sales of electricity for each project, and the economic benefits will be returned to the community in various forms, such as lower-cost energy or dividends.

How's this similar to or different from other models?

There are various options to get involved in solar, but as far as we know, there really isn't an option for most people to drive and benefit from community-owned energy. There is RE-volv – a nonprofit revolving fund, which we are huge fans of, but its crowdfunding is donation-based, so it's not an option for crowd-investing. There are also a few cooperatives, like Coop Power in the Northeast, Cooperative Energy Futures in Minnesota, and other community energy projects in the US, which are also pretty awesome, but rely on unique regulatory environments that allow "shared solar" via off-site virtual net metering in those states. Subscribing to off-site power through virtual net metering isn't available in the vast majority of states. So we need a model that can work in most states -- for most people.

What's the timeline for the pilot energy coop?

  • Spring 2018 Goal: Pilot the model on a small scale with a group of five community members who comprise the first team spearheading a solar project.
  • Summer 2018 Goal: Develop the business plan and legal structure of a pilot PCEC, conduct community engagement and market research to create communications about the model, and initiate a plan to finance the cooperative.
  • End of 2018 Goal: Support the formation of a separate standalone cooperative entity and the construction of its first renewable energy system.

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If you have questions or would like to be involved in the pilot, email Crystal Huang at crystal@thexpollinators.com or Subin DeVar at subin@theselc.org.

For more information see this blog post or watch this cartoon -- and check back soon for answers to more frequently asked questions!

 

Thanks to our Partners and Collaborators: