of Solar Energy
As the earth calls us to transition to renewable energy, there is a danger we will lose an opportunity to equitably share and localize the enormous wealth of a green energy economy. Our common law traditions can help us capture some of the sun’s commonwealth benefits and share them locally with those most in need. 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.
Like medieval commons holding fields and pasture in trust for the livelihood of landless peasants in a wood-based energy economy, Solar Commons today can capture value in our emerging renewable energy economy by holding solar technology in community trusts that provide a local income stream for energy assistance, homeless shelters, community gardens and other basic needs. Solar Commons (CC)* are new business models that use community trust ownership to deliver benefits from solar energy into low-income communities.
We believe that solar energy is a key part of the solution for a healthy planet and we are determined to build a world where ALL communities can access commonwealth benefits through solar technology. We do this by facilitating Solar Commons (TM)--community trust-owned solar energy projects that benefit low-income communities. Solar Commons projects also use public art to make visible the web of relationships that link solar technology, earth stewardship, trust ownership and social equity. 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. 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 are protected by a Creative Commons license (CC By-NC-ND 3.0)
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.
We facilitate Solar Commons projects with community partners interested in supporting clean energy and social equity for low-income communities. By demonstrating how Solar Commons work in diverse electricity jurisdictions and for varied community benefits, we can lead the way for local nonprofits and solar installers to use the Solar Commons model in new and creative ways that best fit the needs of their specific communities. We engage public art in a variety of ways in Solar Commons demonstration projects. Our aim is to seize the opportunity to "make public" and "make visible" our energy infrastructure as a common good embedded in social and ecological relationships. We believe that, with creative legal and technological thinking, we can move to a renewable energy economy that serves even the poorest among us. Solar technology offers new ways to generate and distribute electricity and new ways to capture the commonwealth benefits of the sun's energy. The Solar Commons nonprofit supports research & education on community trust ownership models that maximize the economic benefit of solar for low-income communities.
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 we support all Solar Commons engaging 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.
Transitioning to a renewable energy economy offers an enormous opportunity to find solutions for our current economic inequalities. Social forms that allowed human societies to flourish equitably in the past can be rediscovered and reshaped to work for us today. Value systems that help humans live in balance with each other and with Mother Earth can be introduced in new locations to new generations. New clean energy technologies need to find appropriate values and social forms so that their electrons can deliver not only electricity but also greater common good. We support research into community trust ownership of solar energy and the design and implementation of Solar Commons business models. We support education in law, business and financing that furthers the Solar Commons concept of sharing the commonwealth of solar energy.