Community Energy Inspiration

We have compiled a list of organizations that have created innovative solutions to fortify their local economies through building energy communities. 

Community energy “is a broad term that describes citizen and local ownership and participation in renewable energy generation, distribution and energy efficiency. It is about embracing the advantages that our natural resources provide for generating energy, and allowing the economic, social and environmental benefits to flow to all of our people and our communities.”1

Although these organizations are not using new energy technologies, we highlight them to show that we can be the change we wish to see it by thinking outside of the standard economic and social standards. We look to these initiatives as inspiration to invent our own solutions and to affirm what is possible when we prioritize community health, wealth and democracy.

As new energy technologies are developed and gain more awareness we believe operating within these types of organizational models are foundational in changing the energy industry.

 

 


Cooperatives (Co-ops)

"Cooperatives are people-centered enterprises owned, controlled and run by and for their members to realize their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations"2

Electric cooperatives are alternatives to utility companies. They exist for the benefit the community, not to maximize profits. Together they pool ideas, resources and capital towards fulfilling a social and economic need.3 The most common type of electric cooperatives are member-owned, meaning that community members co-own the business and are the primary recipients of the electricity generated; other types include worker co-ops, in which employees co-own and manage the company and producer-owned.

The 7 principles of cooperatives outlined by the International Cooperative Alliance:

  • Voluntary and Open Membership

  • Democratic Member Control

  • Economic Participation through Direct Ownership

  • Autonomy and Independence

  • Education, Training and Information

  • Cooperation among Cooperatives

  • Concern for Community

 

Benefits of a co-op system

  • Wealth that would traditionally leave the community to profit big energy companies instead are recycled back into the community

  • The traditional power structure of corporations is fundamentally changed and there is a more equitable distribution of profit

  • Energy generation is decentralized, therefore more resilient against external influences such as cyberattacks

  • Builds community trust and cohesion, increasing social power

  • Greater bargaining power as a collective

  • Provides meaningful local jobs and increases self-determination

  • Director boards are democratically elected by members thus encouraging community participation

  • It is a resilient economic model4

 

Challenges of a co-op system

  • Most of the energy sources from cooperatives come from coal and fossil fuels10

  • Difficulties ensuring voter turnout for board elections10

  • Once a co-op has adopted a solution it is challenging for them to adopt new technologies

 

 


Online resources on co-ops

Videos

Interested in starting your own?

Specific to Australia but helpful regardless of location: https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/communities/cpa-community-energy-how-to.pdf

Specific to Canada but helpful regardless of location: https://canada.coop/sites/canada.coop/files/files/documents/en/2016_coop-arecc_report_final_screen.pdf

 

 


 

United States

Currently there are “more than 900 cooperatives in 47 states that provide electric services” to the U.S.5 Rural electric cooperatives are the most prominent and widely supported, as they are part of the Rural Utilities Service under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They are non-profit, consumer-owned and the reason why 99% percent of U.S. farms have electricity today.6

 

 

People Power Solar Cooperative, Inc  (https://www.peoplepowersolar.org/)

  • Location: Oakland, California

  • Founded in 2018, People Power is an investor-owned solar cooperative whose mission is to equitably transition to renewable energy while creating jobs and wealth right in their communities. Residents are able to initiate their own projects, invest in residential solar installations and receive paybacks based on the electricity generated from the project. Their focus is building community power among low-income communities. This year, they completed the first residential energy project in California that is owned by members of the community.7

 

Repower REC (https://repowerrec.com/)

  • Location: Virginia

  • Grassroots coalition formed by a faction of members of the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC), one of the largest cooperatives in the country, with the purpose to reclaim their democratically-given rights to participate and have a voice in the direction of the co-op.8 According to the group, REC has “implemented formal and informal policies that discourage or even block informed member involvement in the co-op” such as denying access to information and lack of transparency.9 It is important to recognize that as cooperatives scale up, the principles and the community’s voice must remain at the center.

 

San Diego Energy District (http://www.sandiegoenergydistrict.org/)

  • Location: San Diego, California

  • Mission: To accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy through 100% renewable, locally-generated electricity, in San Diego County, southern California and all local communities.

  • Founded in 2011 as a non-profit, they are advocates and educators of Community Choice which allows communities to create their own local energy program, deciding where their energy comes from.

 

 


United Kingdom

 

Community Energy England (CEE) (https://www.communityenergyengland.org)

  • Location: England

  • Non-profit organization supporting and connecting energy communities in England. Through coalition-building CEE is able to help interested communities find funding and connections to help them start their own community-owned projects.

 

Bristol Energy Cooperative (https://www.bristolenergy.coop/)

  • Bristol, UK

  • Develops and implements renewable energy and energy efficiency projects through the cooperative economic model. Community investors become members and receive paybacks through the renewable energy produced; the remaining profit is recycled back to support projects that increase energy sustainability and community awareness. Notably, Bristol Energy has installed solar PV on 11 community buildings and enabled 2 community solar farms.

 

Plymouth Energy Community (https://www.plymouthenergycommunity.com/)

  • Location: Plymouth, UK

  • In 2013 this co-op was founded through the support of the Plymouth City Council with the mission to change the city’s energy future and support their community in doing so. Their services include expertise in energy efficiency, finance and renewable energy installations. Through community investments they have been able to provide solar panel installations to over 21 schools and community buildings, while the community benefits is many ways through clean energy, local jobs and returns on their investments.

 

 


India

 

Dhundi Solar Pump Irrigators’ Cooperative Enterprise (http://www.ica-ap.coop/icanews/dhundi-solar-pump-irrigators-cooperative)

  • Location: Dhundi Village, Gujarat

  • In 2016, farmers gathered together to generate solar power for their irrigation pumps, selling the extra energy back to the grid as additional income. This is a major shift from the typical situation farmers in India face, restricted to using diesel pumps. It has also given them energy sovereignty, stability and freedom to diversify their crops.

 

 


Netherlands

 

Thermo Bello (http://www.thermobello.nl/)

  • Location: Culemborg, Gelderland

  • Formed in 2009 by the residents of the small but cohesive district of EVA Lanxmeer, they came together to purchase a heating system from the local public water company.12 Today they provide heating services and energy saving knowledge to their neighbors.

 

CALorie Energie Voor Castricum (https://www.calorieenergie.nl/)

  • Location: Castricum, North Holland

  • A investor-owned cooperative started in 2010 with the aim to get their town running on 100% clean energy in a democratic and affordable way. Their projects include residential solar and wind energy.

 


Canada

 

W Dusk Energy Group Inc. (https://www.wduskgroup.com/home.html)

  • Location: West Vancouver, British Columbia

  • Indigenous-owned company dedicated to community development of renewable energy throughout Canada and especially Indigenous communities. They are also involved with youth education about environmental technology.11

 

Louis Bull Renewable Schools Project (https://energyfutureslab.com/initiatives/louis-bull-renewable-schools-pilot/)

  • Location: Edmonton, Alberta

  • An initiative to train oil and gas workers and Indigenous community members in developing and implementing renewable energy projects through hands-on learning. In 2017, 15 fossil fuel and Indigenous workers completed a training and a solar power system was installed in a community daycare center.

  • Learn more about Louis Bull Tribe’s transition to renewable energy here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6aKuMDtLUU8

 

Peace Energy Cooperative (https://www.peaceenergy.ca/)

  • Location: Dawson Creek, British Colombia

  • A technologically diverse member-owned renewable energy cooperative created in 2003. With projects varying from wind, to residential solar and geothermal heating, the community benefits through dividends from profits and clean energy.

 

 


Australia

 

Earthworker Energy Manufacturing Cooperative (https://earthworkerenergy.coop/)

  • Location: Morwell, Victoria

  • This worker-owned manufacturing cooperative are putting power back into their own hands by manufacturing and selling solar hot water systems. Every worker has an equal share and power, with no external shareholders. They are a part of a larger Earthworker Cooperative network who helped to pool resources for the securement of the plant and equipment needed for production, and are an example of what is possible when a vision for a democratic and ethical business is realized.

 

Cooperative Power (https://www.cooperativepower.org.au/)

  • Location: Victoria, South-East Queensland, NSW, ACT and South Australia

  • A worker and community-owned cooperative that acts as an renewable energy retailer. Members pay a weekly fee and receive usage rates at bargained prices and the profits are recycled back into the community to develop and invest in local renewable energy generation.

 

 


Disclaimer: This is an extensive but not exhaustive list and does not fully represent the plethora of energy cooperatives in the few-named countries or in the various other countries omitted. This is merely a taste of diverse efforts around the world which are succeeding in bringing their communities together to realize a better future. We hope that you search more deeply for cooperatives in your area, or even organize your own.

 

 

Sources

  1. https://www.foe.ie/energy/communityenergy.html
  2. https://www.ica.coop/en/cooperatives/what-is-a-cooperative
  3. http://www.copac.coop/publications/geneva2000.pdf
  4. https://www.uk.coop/economy/2019
  5. https://www.electric.coop/electric-cooperative-fact-sheet/
  6. https://www.electric.coop/our-organization/history/
  7. https://www.theselc.org/people_power_solar_cooperative_first_project_installed
  8. https://repowerrec.com/
  9. https://repowerrec.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Repower-REC-One-Pager-FINAL.pdf
  10. https://ilsr.org/report-remembering-the-electric-cooperative/
  11. https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/indigenous-owned-company-renewable-energy-first-nations-1.4066524
  12. https://research.vu.nl/ws/portalfiles/portal/42785660