Three To-dos Before You Plan a Community Energy Program

A community energy program puts energy democracy into practice because it takes advantage of available sustainable energy sources, like solar and wind power. It also focuses on smaller, more local energy networks, using microgrids to distribute electricity.

Anyone can start a successful community energy program with some time, hard work, and planning. To get you started, we’ve provided three initial steps.

1. Take advantage of available (and free) resources.

Before you do anything, it’s a good idea to spend some time researching community energy. Reading this post is your first step (good job!). What you learn will come in handy further down the road for networking and strategy.

Some local nonprofit organizations will have helpful information and research about sustainable energy initiatives in your region. For example, the Boston Redevelopment Authority in Massachusetts was established to support and foster the growth of community energy programs across Boston. In Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia, the nonprofit Mothers Out Front can also help you get started. If you are on the other coast, check out this community energy planning guide published by the State of Oregon.

To find out if you can access this kind of help locally, simply search your state name and “community energy nonprofit.” You may come up with a good list of organizations that you can contact.

If there isn’t a local organization you can tap, don’t worry. Many online resources can provide information and helpful materials. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, part of the United States Department of Energy, has lots of useful info you can access to plan out your project.

There are many benefits that come with community energy–get to know them so you can present a convincing case to people curious to learn more as you work on the next step.

2. Find community energy friends and advocates.

Are your neighbors talking about community energy? If so, that’s great because it means that you can work together to grow a program.

However, If you’re like most Americans, you live in an area where it may seem like there’s next to no interest in community energy. But don’t despair: sometimes it takes just one person to get the conversation going. Once that happens, you might find that quite a few of your neighbors have been thinking about where and how they get their power, just like you.

You may also find that many people simply don’t know about community energy programs. If that’s the case, you can point them to the great resources and information you’ve found. Maybe they’ll be attracted to reducing their carbon footprint, saving money, or even becoming independent of your local utility company.

3. Connect with community and urban developers in your area.

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Find out what work is being done locally around energy democracy issues and see if you can create a connection.

Local community development agencies manage a variety of programs that are designed to improve the quality of life for residents in an economically challenged neighborhood. Since those communities are often vulnerable to electric grid failures, they may be interested in learning about community energy programs. For example, a local agency may provide energy resilience during severe weather events.   

Schedule a meeting with your local town or city planning office to learn about what initiatives are currently under way, if any. Maybe local schools, hospitals, or other public buildings are searching for models for making their facilities more energy resilient and sustainable.

Once you’ve taken these three basic steps, you’ll be in a good position to see what resources, supporters, and community partners are available as you begin to plan your project.

With so many voices in the conversation on clean energy and climate change, it can be hard to get your head around just what it all means. The EESI blog puts the sometimes complex issues surrounding sustainability and renewable power into simple, plain language. Take part in the discussion–share your opinion in the comments section.