of Solar Energy
As the earth calls us to transition to renewable energy, we need new ownership models to equitably share and localize the enormous wealth of the green energy economy. Community trusts and commons are ancient and contemporary ways to make sure that, as the sun shines for everyone, all earth citizens have access to its benefits. Designed after the medieval English peat and forest energy commons, Solar Commons* are a new ownership model making low-income communities owners of the benefits of a solar energy asset located in their community. Solar Commons Trusts are designed with communities to fund programs serving those most in need: homeless shelters, community gardens, job training.
We are a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization facilitating the growth, protection and institutionalization of Solar Commons (TM) in the U.S.. As a twenty-first century legal innovation, Solar Commons are evolving as living laboratories for communities, researchers, entrepreneurs and others to design, prototype, deed, celebrate and protect their use of the earth’s most sustainable resource, the sun. We envision a robust Solar Commons ownership model that can be released as a set of open source legal templates with do-it-yourself community instructions and digital app tools that enable Solar Commons Trusts to grow in a well-protected moral economy where solar technology and its community-trust ownership enable local earth stewardship and social equity to flourish. Solar Commons include public art to make visible the common good and equitable title held by local communities who benefit from Solar Commons Trusts.
We started the Solar Commons nonprofit in 2017 and became a 501(c)3 nonprofit in 2019. We treasure our close collaboration with the Vermont Law School Energy Clinic and the Solar Commons Project Research Team. Years ago, the first proposed Solar Commons project won a USGBC Legacy Project Award. That project was connected to the grid in 2018, becoming the first US Solar Commons Project and a finalist in the US Department of Energy Solar In Your Community Challenge. Slowly but surely we will prove that community trust ownership of solar energy is a green economy tool of community empowerment.
*The Solar Commons name and concept/model are trade marked and protected by a Creative Commons license (CC By-NC-ND 3.0)
We collaborate on Solar Commons projects with community partners and Solar Commons Researchers interested in supporting clean energy and social equity for low-income communities. Solar Commons work in diverse electricity jurisdictions and for varied community benefits. As our nonprofit develops the role of Solar Commons Trust Protector, we can lead the way for local communities, nonprofits, donors and solar installers to build secure Solar Commons trusts that are flexible to fit the needs of their specific communities and can maximize the economic benefits of the Solar Commons trusts. We believe that, with creative legal and technological thinking, we can move to a renewable energy economy that serves everyone. Solar technology offers new ways to generate and distribute electricity and new ways to capture and distribute the common wealth benefits of the sun's energy.
In 2018, the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) completed independent analyses of the Solar Commons financial model and scalability. Their findings: positive net present value for investment in all scenarios studied; potential for rapid US scalability to 10 gigawatts. RMI has also built a tool to calculate financial outcomes for a Solar Commons project in any utility jurisdiction and at various sizes. Look for that soon on this website.
The first low-income community trust solar we know about was created a few years ago for an indigenous village without electricity in a remote area of India. Solar panels were donated to the village trust on the condition that fifty percent of the trustees be women. We were inspired by the way community trust solar was used for social change and women's empowerment. The first two Solar Commons projects in the US are linked to the well-being and empowerment of African American urban communities.
Energy is a fundamental part of our everyday lives. When our ancestors relied on a wood-based energy economy for heat, food, and shelter, they created traditions, rituals, and festivals to pass on knowledge and recognize shared values and obligations to care for their local forests. Today our energy infrastructure is highly technical. Its value is recognized in the price of electricity. The wires and pipelines that connect our high-energy lifestyles to the earth’s resources is kept out of sight. In the 21st century, the earth will send us reminders—drought, intense weather events, insect infestations, sea-level rise—telling us that our energy systems have never stopped being connected to the gifts of our planet. We listen to the earth's messages. That is why all Solar Commons engage public art to tell a story connecting solar energy technology to community trust ownership and to the health of Mother Earth. We believe that the emotional power of art can speak to us from the public places where Solar Commons stand, moving us to see anew the value of our energy systems connected through the web of life to earth systems and social justice.
Our website will showcase work done by the Solar Commons Project Research Team. This includes public art, academic publications, white papers, films, news releases, blogs and other materials of interests to the goals of the Solar Commons Project.