There are multiple approaches that communities have taken to innovate in the new energy economy. Based on our research, we identified the various strategies to the best of our knowledge. It is important to note that some projects may have overlapping and intersectional approaches. We have placed each project according to its predominant approach. Project descriptions detail more specifics.
Bulk Purchasing: This approach aggregates the buying power of multiple participants to negotiate the price of energy efficiency upgrades or renewable energy. By demonstrating consumer demand, these projects can help persuade electricity suppliers to invest in solar and other renewable generating capacity and efficiency contractors to meet high road standards for wages and hiring.
Community Choice: This approach provides an opportunity for cities or counties to have local control over where their energy comes from and what it costs. Often known as Community Choice Energy (CCE) or Aggregation (CCA), these entities can purchase electricity from suppliers of renewable energy or produce their own. The utility company in the area continues to handle transmission, distribution and billing.
Community Organizing: This approach in energy democracy focuses on grassroots engagement, leadership development and building organizational power to play an effective role in energy planning, decision-making and the creation of quality jobs in energy efficiency and renewable production. In this scan, community organizing projects are generally rooted in communities that have borne the burden of pollution, climate change and public disinvestment.
Cooperatives: This approach is a business model in which members are participant-owners of the business. Each member has an opportunity to benefit from the product of the business and to participate in decision-making. In this scan, there are employee-owned cooperatives providing energy services for the community and jobs for their members as well as consumer-owned cooperatives that help make energy services affordable and drive the market to develop more renewable energy.
Crowdfunding: Similar to a kickstarter or indiegogo campaign, this approach uses an online platform to collect funds from multiple people to help finance a project. Some projects enlist donors and others seek investors.
Feed-in-Tariffs: These are contracts between a producer of renewable energy and the utility that buys the excess set a specific price over a specific period of time for a certain amount of locally generated energy produced. This provides a guaranteed revenue stream that allows solar projects to secure financing.
Limited Liability Corporations (LLC): Incorporating as an LLC is an approach commonly used by individuals who want to support a community renewable energy project. This allows them to take advantage of federal and state tax credits, which makes the projects more affordable.
Local Government and Nonprofit Partnerships: Examples of these partnerships include cities funding home energy efficiency campaigns with non-profits leading implementation and outreach, and nonprofits providing funds and technical expertise to install solar on public buildings.
Local Government and Private Sector Partnerships: In this approach, local governments work with private companies, often in a targeted geographic area, to finance, plan and implement projects. While they benefit communities, these partnerships do not necessarily engage community residents in meaningful ways
Municipalization: Fourteen percent of US households are served by municipal electric utilities. The scan includes one example of a recent city attempt to take over energy production and services from a private utility. Other cities are considering doing the same to provide cleaner energy at lower cost to their residents.
On-Bill Financing: This approach removes upfront payment as an obstacle to home energy efficiency upgrades. Customers pay the costs of improvements incrementally on their electric bills, and the savings from using less energy offset the cost.
Off-Grid Solar Projects: This approach works on remote solar projects that are not directly tied to the grid. This scan includes projects that bring solar power to residents in tribal communities. Some provide electricity for the first time because the communities are not connected to the grid.
Private Investment for Community Benefit: Investors seeking to take advantage of tax benefits for renewable energy production structure a project to provide low-cost energy to a community non-profit.
Revolving Loan Fund: A revolving loan fund allows individuals who do not have sufficient funds or who don’t quality for traditional lending to participate in a specific project. Recipients repay the loan over a specified period of time through their savings on energy costs.
Rural Electric Coop Reform: In theory, coops are democratic and accountable to their members, but it practice they often are not. One project in the scan is organizing to make rural coops more responsive and transparent.
Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU): These nonprofit entities provide financing, technical assistance and business development for conservation, efficiency and renewable energy projects. SEU’s leverage public dollars, such as bonds, to help residents, community institutions and government agencies “go green”.
Technical Assistance to Farmers: These projects help small farmers retain their land and earn income by growing biomass crops for renewable energy production.
Tribal-Federal Partnerships: In these partnerships, tribal communities work with federal agencies, such as the EPA or Department of Energy, to develop renewable energy production on tribal land.
Virtual Ownership: This approach opens ownership of renewable energy to a broad range of people, including renters and those who can’t afford to install it on their homes. Participants pay for a share of a project, which helps finance it, and then receive a monthly or annual payment through energy credits on their electric bills. Most participants recoup their upfront payments within 10–12 years and receive full benefits afterwards.