Energy Democracy, 2016 in Review

Date: 28 Dec 2016 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

While 2016 was a turbulent year in our government, the goals and values we hold at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and in the Energy Democracy initiative remain steadfast.

Top Energy Posts of 2016 | Top Media Hits of 2016 | Top Twitter Posts of 2016

My colleagues and I have been promoting effective, bottom-up strategies to build up local economies. You can see that detailed in our annual report here: 2016 Annual Report: Decentralizing Economic Power, Reinvigorating Democracy. Here are some of the highlights of our work in 2016:

  • Working alongside grassroots groups, we’re changing the rules so that decentralized solar energy, once viewed as a bit player, is beginning to displace centralized, utility monopolies as economically feasible for added energy capacity.
  • This year, we launched a Community Power Map to illustrate the growth of community groups, renewable energy projects, and state policies designed to increase local power over energy decisions.
  • We released a number of reports this year, detailing the growth of microgrids, investigating the benefits of electric cooperatives, and challenging the conventional wisdom of bigger being better in renewable energy.

Looking forward into 2017, we’ll add a power-packed toolkit to help communities across the country take charge of their energy future. Our resolve to decentralize power and reinvigorate democracy is stronger than ever. Please join us in replicating these inspiring successes as a powerful counterpoint in uncertain times by making a tax-deductible gift today.

Top 5 Energy Democracy Posts of 2016:

5. Report: Re-Member-ing the Electric Cooperative by John Farrell, Matt Grimley, & Nick Stumo-Langer, March 29th

Electric cooperatives have been the backbone of the nation’s rural electrical system for more than 80 years. Their mission and business model now face more challenges than ever, from financial to contractual to basic member control. But the opportunity is equally great, with a chance for member-driven investment to power hundreds of local economies across the rural United States. Read more…

4. Just How Democratic are Rural Electric Cooperatives? by Matt Grimley, January 13th

Randy Wilson knew you had to start somewhere.

Knocking on doors and hanging around retail store parking lots, he and volunteers from the citizen group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth collected signatures. After weeks of holding out clipboards, they collected the more than 500 signatures needed to run for the board of the Jackson Energy Cooperative in Appalachian Kentucky. Read more…

3. Report: Beyond Sharing – How Communities Can Take Ownership of Renewable Power by John Farrell, April 26th

The electric utility monopoly is breaking up, but will renewable energy become another form of wealth extraction or will community renewable energy enable communities to capture their renewable power? Read more…

2. Community Power Map – Interactive Resource

Where are communities taking charge of their energy future? Which states give communities the most power?

ILSR’s Community Power Map provides an interactive illustration of how communities are accelerating the transition toward 100% renewable energy and how policies help or hinder greater local action. Explore the map…

1. Report: Mighty Microgrids by John Farrell & Matt Grimley, March 3rd

Communities all over the country are finding ways to break the macro barriers to microgrids. As we flip from a top-down to bottom-up grid management structure, major policy barriers must be lifted in order to expand energy democracy to customers and producers. Read more…

Top 5 Media Highlights of 2016:

5. Will Trump Quit Mocking Climate Science When He Sees The Viability Of Free Market Solutions? by Ken Silverstein, Forbes – July 27th

The Democrats, meanwhile, are calling for the country to generate half of its electricity from clean energy sources within a decade.

“The difference between the parties has a great deal more to do with the potential winners and losers during this transition than it does with the science itself,” says John Farrell, the director of the Energy Democracy initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, in an interview. “Follow the money. That’s a good way to understand the party platforms.”

4. New mapping tool showcases clean energy policies and projects by Frank Jossi, Midwest Energy News – September 16th

A new state “community power” mapping tool released this month gives policymakers and activists a national scorecard on state and local clean energy initiatives.

John Farrell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance developed the map to showcase the link between what his group regards as good state energy policy and the number of community energy projects and renewable policies now underway.

No organization had mapped the relationship before, at least in the way ILSR did, he said.

“I was surprised how well the mapping shows what we intended it to show, which is that states which have a better policy regime…tend to have more of the things we were tracking,” Farrell said.

Those include dots on the map for renewable projects and energy efficiency efforts, many for wind and solar, in every state. Viewers can add projects which Farrell may have missed.

3. Five Policies Blocking Microgrids (From a Veteran of Local Energy Wars) by Elisa Wood, Microgrid Knowledge – April 1st

“People’s expectations have risen about what level of control they ought to be able to have,” says John Farrell, director of democratic energy for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), a 40-year-old organization that is a veteran of local energy wars.

ILSR wants to see local communities control more of the $360 billion/year spent on electricity in the U.S. But the question is “how do we allow people to participant and have some measure of control in a way that makes the whole system work together?” he says. “I think it is very possible.”

2. Q&A: New report challenges assumption that bigger solar is better by Frank Jossi, Midwest Energy News – October 17th

John Farrell, director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Energy Democracy Initiative, argues in a recent paper that smaller-scale solar — and to a lesser degree wind — can be just as effective as utility-scale projects.

Why? Farrell’s research suggests that with transmission costs from remote wind and solar farms, having the source closer to users begins to make sense.

“Power that’s delivered at the distribution level might have a different value than generic wholesale power generation that comes on to the transmission system,” said Farrell, a nationally known solar expert.

Evidence in the paper — “Is Bigger Best in Renewable Energy?” — reveals that solar in particular is a bit more competitive at a smaller scale than wind. Economies of scale appear more favorable in the wind industry, where better and bigger equipment along with faster wind can offset higher transmission costs, he said. Still, the report doesn’t totally dismiss small wind, especially that which is community owned.

1. Messy Battles Over Energy Are on Ballot Across States by Ari Natter & Mark Chediak, Bloomberg Markets – November 1st

Taken together these items underscore how energy companies are facing a hodgepodge of pressures at the state level, prompting big fights outside the Beltway. The stakes are so high because there hasn’t been major federal energy legislation in nearly a decade.

There’s “the realization that we are not going to make progress at the federal level,” said John Farrell, a director at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a Washington-based non-profit that advises local governments on community development.

Top 5 Twitter Engagements of 2016:

This article originally posted at For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter or get theDemocratic Energy weekly update.

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Nick Stumo-Langer

Nick Stumo-Langer was Communications Manager at ILSR working for all five initiatives. He ran ILSR's Facebook and Twitter profiles and builds relationships with reporters. He is an alumnus of St. Olaf College and animated by the concerns of monopoly power across our economy.