Power generation is being distributed and decentralized, and along with it, power over the grid itself. After a century of utility energy monopolies in electricity generation, cost-effective solar and energy storage in the 21st century is bringing a transition to energy democracy.
ILSR explores the energy democracy opportunity particularly through community renewable energy. We analyze economies of community-scale renewable energy, identify ways to break the policy barriers, and tell stories of successful community energy projects. Check out our landmark reports, timely articles, in-depth podcasts, and more!
Community Renewable Energy Research Reports
April 26th, 2016
This report explores the opportunity of community renewable energy to enable energy democracy, examining the benefits and barriers, barrier-busting policies, powerful examples, and how cities and cooperatives can lead the way.READ THE REPORT
September 24th, 2014
Solar and wind projects can mean big bucks for communities – but only if they keep them local! Why does ownership of renewable energy matter? Because the number of jobs and economic returns for communities are substantially higher when electricity generation from wind and sun can be captured by local hands.READ THE REPORT
October 20th, 2010
Community solar power can offer unique benefits in the expansion of solar power, from greater participation and ownership of solar to a greater dispersion of the economic benefits of harnessing the sun’s energy. But community solar faces significant barriers in a market where the “old rules” favor corporate, large-scale development. New rules – better community solar policy and regulations – are needed to remove these barriers.Update: Our location grades sparked a good conversation about building-mounted v. ground-mounted PV systems. Read more here.Download: Community Solar Power: Obstacles and Opportunities [pdf] Executive SummaryIn this report, we explore whether community solar can: Overcome financial and instiREAD THE REPORT
Community Solar With an Equity Lens: Generating Electricity and Jobs in North Minneapolis — Episode 57 of Local Energy Rules Podcast
July 24th, 2018
Shiloh Temple, a church two miles from downtown Minneapolis, serves more than just the spiritual needs of the community. After a recent update to its roof, this church in North Minneapolis now serves some of the community’s energy needs, as well. In May, John Farrell visited the rooftop solar garden and interviewed Timothy DenHerder-Thomas, general manager of Cooperative Energy Futures, the cooperatively-owned company that installed the panels. The two discussed final stages of the project, the justice perspective that makes it unique, and other projects Cooperative Energy Futures has in the queue.EXPLORE...
Northeast Iowa’s Winneshiek Energy District Shows How Communities Can Capture Local Energy Dollars - Episode 35 of Local Energy Rules Podcast
April 28th, 2016
Andy Johnson works with the soil. When younger, he served in Peace Corps in Central America for three years, working on conservation practices. Then he worked in the Natural Resource Conservation Service for years, the same agency that his father Paul Johnson headed by appointment from Bill Clinton in 1993. After moving back to northeast Iowa in 2007, he started farming christmas trees and grass-fed beef cows, but thinking about how the concept of conservation applied to his community’s energy use and economy.EXPLORE...
Sunshine and Ownership: A Cooperative Solar Garden Blooms in North Minneapolis - Episode 34 of Local Energy Rules Podcast
April 20th, 2016
One such model is offered by Cooperative Energy Futures. It launched in Minneapolis in 2009 under the leadership of Timothy DenHerder-Thomas (pictured, left), offering members energy efficiency upgrades and renewable energy installations on their own property. Now, thanks in part to a 2013 state law, they’re offering members an opportunity to “own” a share of a community solar garden atop a North Minneapolis church. In September 2015, DenHerder-Thomas stopped by ILSR’s studio to talk with John Farrell about the Shiloh Temple Community Solar Garden, and what community-owned power means for the energy industry and everyday people.EXPLORE...
February 20th, 2014
For years, the only effective way to go solar was to have tens of thousands of dollars and a sunny roof. Investing in solar was nearly impossible. But a couple years ago, a new notion called crowdfunding got its start, and California-Based Mosaic was on the forefront. Its crowdfunding program allows people to pool their resources, large or small, to build community-based solar installations. It’s not about charity, either. Mosaic’s pioneering crowdfunding effort is letting people across the country earn a modest return on their solar investment and putting clean local power on rooftops everywhere. We spoke with Mosaic president Billy Parish vEXPLORE...
May 17th, 2013
Joy Hughes was living in the San Luis Valley of Colorado, a place with a “tremendous amount of solar potential,” so good that the valley’s residents were being overwhelmed by proposals for large scale solar power plants. One had a “field of things like radar dishes” and another included a “600 foot tower.” The influx of outside companies seeking solar profit led Joy to ask, “Why not just set up solar arrays that can provide power for people in the local community and offset their electric bills?”EXPLORE...
600 Investors in South Dakota's Premier Community Wind Project - Episode 7 of Local Energy Rules Podcast
April 18th, 2013
In April 2013, John Farrell spoke to Brian Minish, CEO of South Dakota Wind Partners about a community wind project that attracted over 600 local investors. The project was the brainchild of four state organizations rooted in rural South Dakota--the East River Electric Cooperative, South Dakota Farm Bureau, South Dakota Farmers Union and South Dakota Corn Growers. Hoping to broaden ownership in a wind farm project proposed by Basin Electric in Crow Lake, these groups worked with Brian to figure out how to add local investors to the mix.EXPLORE...
April 5th, 2013
This week John Farrell and Wade Underwood talk with Paul Spencer, President and founder of the Clean Energy Collective (CEC) in Carbondale, CO. The CEC is pioneering the process of delivering clean power-generation through medium-scale (mostly solar) facilities that are collectively owned by participating utility customers. In many ways, their community energy model is the “holy grail” because it has proven replicable in several places around the United States.EXPLORE...
Watch: Beyond Sharing Webinar Recording - May 27, 2016
November 26th, 2018
Minnesota's community solar program hit a record 460 megawatts of operational capacity in November 2018, and the pipeline of projects is growing again!READ MORE
March 23rd, 2017
As more community solar is brought to market, however, important questions loom about access and the distribution of benefits. Finding answers requires an intentional approach from regulators, developers, and utilities alike to ensure that low-income households, and others traditionally shut out of owning renewable generation, have a chance to opt in. This month, ILSR submitted the following comments to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to inform its discussion of universal access to community solar. They are included below, lightly edited for clarity.READ MORE
May 4th, 2016
In conjunction with our recently released report: Beyond Sharing - How Communities Can Take Ownership of Renewable Power, we are re-releasing a number of podcasts which feature renewable energy projects with innovative community-owned energy structures. These pertinent podcasts prove that community-owned renewable energy projects are the way to move towards Energy Democracy.READ MORE
October 26th, 2015
Building local equity is the key to campaigns for 100% renewable energy, giving everyone a chance to own a piece of their energy future. What does control of our electric grid look like? Check out these images to help illustrate the importance of clean, local energy.READ MORE