Energy democracy and equity
Our energy system is made up of colossal, vertically integrated, investor-owned utilities. These monopolies have an outsized voice in how the rules are made. They invest millions of dollars to lobby elected officials. They control big, expensive power plants and extract wealth from communities.
The utility compact is broken, and reform is not taking place in a fair and democratic way.
To make things worse, our current energy system reinforces centuries of structural racism. Low-income and communities of color have the highest energy burdens. They bear the greatest health, property, and environmental impacts of traditional energy extraction and production.
On average, low-income households spend 7.2% of their income on utilities. Higher-income households spend only 2.3%. Saving money on electricity means a family can cover other basic needs. That includes food, housing, education, and medical expenses.
As we transition to a new energy system, we have to do better.
We need a democratic energy system
We need to make our energy system accountable to us – the American people. We must ensure a just transition.
In a democratic energy system, regular people are an important part of the system. We’re making our own electricity from a variety of sources. And the benefits stay in our communities.
Image courtesy of Institute for Local Self Reliance
Additionally, a democratic energy system addresses race, class, and gender inequalities, and it benefits everyone.
We need to solve climate change and environmental pollution. But we must also address inequality and social injustice in the process. Recreating a centralized, undemocratic energy system with renewable energy isn’t good enough.
Rooftop and Distributed Solar is key
Solar is a powerful tool to create a fair energy system. We don’t have to wait for the government to solve our problems – we can start putting up solar now.
- Solar saves money on electricity costs!
- Solar reduces pollution in the communities that bear the brunt of dirty energy pollution.
- Solar creates local jobs and wealth.
- Solar challenges the dominant monopoly utility business model.
- Solar is modular and scalable.
- Solar can be deployed today!
People who own solar become energy producers and consumers. Distributed, rooftop solar lets local communities shape their energy system.
Making solar accessible and affordable for everyone
While the cost of solar has dropped, not everyone can go solar. People who rent, have limited credit, or don’t have financing lack equal access to solar.
Solar United Neighbors has been leading the charge on how solar can transform energy democracy and equity. We’re working to make solar accessible and affordable for everyone.
Our approach is to support local advocates. We help communities figure out the local barriers to solar. Then we support them to put plans into action and fix those barriers.
Our approach is simple and pragmatic:
- Help a local partner develop a solar pilot project.
- Together, learn from the pilot project to identify the specific local barriers to scaling.
- Work with local partners to address the local barriers.
- Expand the number of projects and beneficiaries with another project cycle.
- Refine and expand solutions, such as financing, policy framework, education.
This is our theory of change in action! We help people go solar, join together, fight for our energy rights. And then we repeat the process again and again until we’ve transformed our energy system.
By coming together, we can fix barriers to solar. Together we put solar on roofs, hold our utilities accountable, and fight for better policies. And in the process, we build a better energy system.
Resources from Solar United Neighbors
- Pathway to Prosperity – SUN’s 32-page report of lessons learned from developing and implementing a low-income solar program in Washington, DC.
- Community Solar Basics: Programs and Policy – Solar United Neighbors webinar
- Community Solar in Maryland – Year 2 – We’ve updated our report with examples of community solar projects that are active in the state.
- Community Solar in Maryland – Year 1 – Download this first-of-its-kind report about the first year of the Maryland community solar program from Solar United Neighbors.
Energy democracy and equity resources
- Energy democracy: taking back power – A research paper from Johanna Bozuwa of Next Systems Project that analyzes investor-owned and public-owned utilities and their ability to achieve energy democracy.
- NAACP’s Just Energy Policies & Practices Action Toolkit – This resource provides an accessible guide for people who want to make the energy system in their communities more democratic.
- Democratizing the Electricity System – An article 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.
- 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 in our work.
- 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.
- Comprehensive Building Blocks for a Regenerative and Just 100% Policy – This report from the 100% Network organized by experts from impacted communities details the components of a 100% transition that is equitable and just.
- Energy democracy: Goals and policy instruments for social technical transitions – Research article from Matthew Burke and Jenny Stephens that compares policy instruments to intended outcomes for energy democracy.
Solar for All resources
These resources lay out why solar for low-income families is so important and describe some of the effective policy measures needed to make solar accessible for everyone.
- Wherever The Sun Shines: Bringing Solar Power To All Households – report from a Yale-led research team that looks at the challenges and opportunities to bring solar to all communities.
- Low-income Solar Policy Guide – This excellent website provides tools and resources including cases studies and policy evaluations for policymakers, community leaders, and others working to increase solar access.
- Solar with Justice – This report from Clean Energy States Alliance identifies barriers to deployment of lmi solar and strategies to address those barriers.
- Making solar energy more accessible to lower income Americans – This series of reports and recommendations comes from the George Washington Solar Institute.
- Expanding access to solar energy for all American households – This video covers an event put on by the Center for American Progress and the NAACP discussing solar’s impacts on low-income populations and how to ensure equitable access to renewable energy.
- Shared Renewable Energy for Low to Moderate-income consumers: Policy guidelines and model provisions. Reports generated by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council that provides information and tools to policymakers, regulators, developers and others interested to support the adoption and implementation of shared renewable programs.