Energy democracy and equity
What is energy democracy?
A democratic and equitable energy system offers several benefits that our current energy system does not:
- The sources of energy and the ownership of energy infrastructure are widely distributed.
- The energy system is governed by democratic principles and managed by a transparent, accountable, public authority.
- Access to governance, ownership, energy production, and economic benefits will be distributed equitably by race and socioeconomic status.
Energy democracy is closely tied to solar access and efforts to ensure solar is available to all. Learn more about our work around solar for low-income individuals.
Why we’re fighting for energy democracy
Solar United Neighbors is fighting for a democratic and equitable energy system because we build stronger communities when all people can participate in and benefit from their power system. Energy should be affordable and accessible for everyone, and the energy system should allow everyone to take part.
Rooftop solar is an inherently democratic technology: People who own a solar array become energy producers as well as energy consumers. We are determined to make solar affordable and accessible for everyone so that the economic opportunities of solar will also be democratically and equitably distributed.
The rules of the grid must put equity and access at the center, and energy systems must be designed to serve ratepayers, not monopoly utilities. We are fighting for solar owners and the rights of distributed energy producers across the country. Energy policy decisions and rules can have a big impact on solar owners’ livelihoods. Solar owners deserve a seat at the table.
We’re fighting for energy democracy because we build stronger communities when all people can participate in and benefit from their power system.
Energy democracy and equity resources
- Energy Democracy: Advancing equity in clean energy solutions – This selection of essays includes a chapter in which Solar United Neighbors discusses how we promote energy democracy.
- The Center for Social Inclusion’s Energy Democracy program – This is a good resource on the need for energy democracy and the intersection of energy democracy with social justice.
- Democratizing the Electricity System – This report from Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR) envisions a 21st century grid based on democratically controlled distributed renewable energy.
- Beyond sharing – How communities can take ownership of renewable power – This ILSR report lays out key principles for community renewable energy projects and examines case studies from exceptional projects across the country.
- Is bigger best in renewable energy? – This ILSR report examines the arguments for large and small renewable energy projects and explains why small projects deliver more benefits to consumers.
- Citizen power: Arne Jungjohann talks energy democracy – This article from PV Magazine reviews the critical role of citizen participation in Germany’s renewable energy success.
- Just energy policies – This report from the NAACP discusses the environmental justice and public health implications of energy policies and profiles all 50 states on several major criteria.
- Prioritizing equity in our clean energy future – This New York Energy Democracy Alliance report discusses how marginalized communities can be part of our energy solutions.
Solar United Neighbors has been leading the charge on energy democracy and equity across our state programs. We work on a number of policy issues that relate to energy democracy, including net metering, community solar, low-income solar, and grid reform.
- Net metering – This policy ensures that everyone with rooftop solar gets fair compensation for the solar they produce.
- Community solar – Community solar allows renters, apartment and condo dwellers, and others who cannot install solar on their own roof, to participate in solar via an off-site project. We have been intimately involved in starting community solar programs in D.C. and Maryland, and we are working to establish community solar programs in the other states where we work that do not yet have enabling legislation. Learn more about community solar in D.C., Maryland, and Minnesota.
- Low-income solar – Solar United Neighbors has been a strong advocate for programs to help low-income residents access and benefit from solar. In Washington, D.C. we worked diligently for years to establish a comprehensive low-income solar program, called Solar for All. This took effect in 2017. We are now implementing a solar co-op program that allows low-income D.C. residents to maximize saving and build equity with their solar installations. In Maryland, we piloted an innovative financing model with several low-income families in Baltimore which addressed two key challenges of solar for low- and moderate-income households: tax appetite and credit score. Learn more about low-income solar in D.C. and Maryland.
- Energy affordability – Solar United Neighbors strongly supports energy affordability. We’ve fought against utility rate hikes and unfair monopoly tactics across the board. We led the Power DC coalition opposed to the 2016 Exelon-Pepco merger, which could allow Exelon to use D.C. ratepayers to prop up failing power plants. We also lead West Virginians for Energy Freedom, a campaign to stop FirstEnergy from using West Virginia ratepayers to bail out an aging and failing plant called Pleasants Power Station. We are regularly involved in similar campaigns to protect ratepayers from unfair and unnecessary rate increases that would enrich utility shareholders but harm regular people.
- Grid reform – Solar United Neighbors is working diligently to move the states where we work toward a grid of the future. The Maryland and Washington, D.C. Public Service Commissions have undertaken grid reform proceedings (PC 44 and FC 1130, respectively). Solar United Neighbors is working to ensure that these proceedings allow meaningful public participation, take the needs of the community seriously, and move these states toward a more democratic, transparent, and equitable energy system.