Energy democracy and equity

The problem

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.

centralized v decentralized power grid_0
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:

  1. Help a local partner develop a solar pilot project.
  2. Together, learn from the pilot project to identify the specific local barriers to scaling.
  3. Work with local partners to address the local barriers.
  4. Expand the number of projects and beneficiaries with another project cycle.
  5. 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:

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.
Download the report

Energy democracy and equity resources

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.