New York City Works With Grassroots for Low-Income Access – Community Broadband Bits Podcast 254

by Christopher | May 20, 2017 10:06 am

This is episode 254 of our Community Broadband Bits podcast! Community Broadband Bits[1] is a short weekly audio show featuring interviews with people building community networks or otherwise involved with Internet policy.

Some time ago, when speaking with Joshua Breitbart, the Senior Advisor for Broadband to the New York City CTO Miguel Gamiño, he mentioned to me that any subset of the issues they face with regard to improving Internet access in New York City is itself a massive issue. Joshua joins us to elaborate on that challenge and an exciting project that points to the way to solving some of their problems on episode 254 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

We talk about Queensbridge Connected[2], a partnership to ensure people living in low-income housing have access to broadband Internet connections. We also discuss how their responsibility does not end merely with making Wi-Fi available, but actually helping people be prepared to use the connection safely[3].

Joshua offers an important perspective on the challenges in large urban areas to make sure policy is fully responsive to local needs by ensuring residents are a part of the process and solution.

Read the transcript of the show here[5].

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us[6] or leave a comment below.

This show is 21 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes[7] or the tool of your choice using this feed[8].

You can download this mp3 file directly from here[9]. Listen to other episodes here[10] or view all episodes in our index[11].

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle[12] and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[13]. Read the original here[14].

  1. Community Broadband Bits:
  2. Queensbridge Connected:
  3. helping people be prepared to use the connection safely:
  5. Read the transcript of the show here:
  6. e-mail us:
  7. via iTunes:
  8. using this feed:
  9. download this mp3 file directly from here:
  10. other episodes here:
  11. view all episodes in our index:
  12. Warm Duck Shuffle:
  14. here:

Source URL:

Tech Startup Allows Communities to Support Local Businesses – Episode 20 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | May 18, 2017 11:00 am

This week in Building Local Power[1], we’re discussing independent businesses and the communities that support them. Host Christopher Mitchell[2] and ILSR co-director and Community-Scaled Economies initiative director Stacy Mitchell[3] interview Katrina Scotto di Carlo from Portland, Oregon. di Carlo is the co-founder of Supportland[4] (now called Placemaker[5]), which work to bolster independent businesses by offering new marketing and technological solutions.

Katrina Scotto di Carlo started Supportland and Placemaker as tech companies aimed at bolstering the power of independent businesses not only in Portland but now in British Columbia (Canada), Florida, and Massachusetts. Placemaker knits the independent businesses of these communities together, in order for them to better retain and gain customers in the face of big-box retail and online platforms such as Amazon.

Full transcript is available here[6].

“[Independent businesses] keep more money local. There’s more local character because we have all these funky businesses [that] also increase the amount of choice that you have when you go to purchase something,” says di Carlo of the power of independent businesses. “[These] ancillary studies are interesting, like the overall health of everyone in the community is better.”



  1. Building Local Power:
  2. Christopher Mitchell:
  3. Stacy Mitchell:
  4. Supportland:
  5. Placemaker:
  6. here: #transcript
  7. [Image]:
  8. Play in new window:
  9. Download:
  10. iTunes:
  11. Android:
  12. RSS:
  13. (more…):

Source URL:

Webinar: Successful Rat Prevention for Community-Scaled Composting – Register Now

by Nick Stumo-Langer | May 16, 2017 4:05 pm

On Monday, June 5th from 3PM-4PM EST, ILSR’s Composting for Community project and the Cultivating Community Composting Coalition are hosting a webinar on “Successful Rat Prevention for Community-Scaled Composting[1].” Photo at left features a rat resistant 5-bin Compost Knox composting system, picture courtesy of Urban Farm Plans[2].

Composting is not rocket science — and yet, it is a science and an art. To succeed, community-based composting programs need to be well operated. This requires trained operators who know how to produce high-quality compost and avoid odors, pathogens, and unwanted critters. These operators also need to have clear best management practices (BMPs) to follow. In this webinar, we will cover rat biology and behavior, and explore compost management practices that help projects avoid attracting rats. BMPs covered will include: rat-resistant composting systems, proper data record-keeping, temperature monitoring, and considerations for feedstock storage & compost screening and curing.

With a clear set of widely-accepted best management practices for small-scale sites to follow, community-based programs could be at the leading edge for expanding composting. This webinar is a step in that direction. Join the conversation on best management practices for community-scaled composting!

Register here[3] to attend the webinar and/or receive a link to the video recording if you can’t attend.



Caroline Bragdon, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

Caroline is the Director of Neighborhood Interventions for the Pest Control Services program at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. She works to develop and improve neighborhood level responses to rat infestation and is developing case studies for pest management planning at the neighborhood and building level. Caroline develops curricula and teaches urban Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for diverse audiences in New York City including building managers, custodians, gardeners, businesses and city employees. In 2012, she published an article titled “Evaluation of a Neighborhood Rat-Management Program – New York City, 2007-2009” in the Centers for Disease Control Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. In June of 2016 “Characteristics of the Built Environment and the Norway Rat” was published in the Journal of Environmental Health. Caroline received a Bachelor’s degree in Community Health and Social Psychology from Tufts University and a Master’s degree in Public Health from Johns Hopkins University.


David Buckel, Red Hook Community Farm, Brooklyn, NY

David Buckel is compost site coordinator for the NYC Compost Project hosted by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Located at the Red Hook Community Farm in Brooklyn, the compost site is the largest in the United States that processes entirely with renewable resources (solar, wind, human power) – up to 2000 volunteers a year help process over 150 tons by hand. A retired civil rights attorney, David helped develop various community compost sites in New York, with an expertise in regulatory compliance, urban farms, and configuration of operations to optimize community support/participation and environmental sustainability. With a focus on low-income communities, the Red Hook site develops new and efficient techniques for successful urban composting without expensive fossil fuel machines, creating a model for under-resourced neighborhoods to keep their organics for their own benefit, greening where they live with more healthy food, beauty, and environmental stewardship.

Using the Red Hook compost site as a platform, David developed skills training programming for teens and young adults from public housing. He has presented on the topic of community composting at local and national conferences as well as published in the compost industry’s national monthly journal.


Linda Bilsens, Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), Washington, DC

Linda is the Project Manager for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Composting for Community Project and the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders (NSR) Composter Training Program. The NSR program is a replicable train-the-trainer program, designed by ILSR and ECO City Farms, to bolster community-scale composting. Her work with ILSR began in December 2013 with an initial focus on state food waste recovery policies. She then led a nationwide survey of Master Composter training programs, and has managed the NSR since it launched in 2014. Linda is currently developing a national NSR program replication toolkit and best management practices. She is a certified Compost Facility Operator for the state of Maryland, and has trained with the internationally renowned Lubkes in Austria, who specialize in a unique technique that enhances the humus content and quality of compost. Linda has a B.S. degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and is an avid gardener with an interest in permaculture, environmental justice and sustainable food systems. Her backyard gardening and composting efforts were rewarded by a surprise visit from former First Lady, Michelle Obama in early 2016.



Renee Crowley, NYC Compost Project Hosted by the Lower East Side Ecology Center

Renee is Project Manager for the NYC Compost Project hosted by the Lower East Side Ecology Center. In her work she is committed to reducing waste and building strong communities through composting by giving New Yorkers the knowledge, skills, and opportunities they need to produce and use compost. She holds an MS in City & Regional Planning from the Pratt Institute and a BA in Environmental & Urban Studies from Hamline University.



Register here[4] to attend the webinar and/or receive a link to the video recording if you can’t attend.


  1. Successful Rat Prevention for Community-Scaled Composting:
  2. Urban Farm Plans:
  3. here:
  4. Register here:

Source URL:

Infographic: The Threat of Super-Preemption to US Cities

by Lisa Gonzalez | May 11, 2017 8:07 am

Preemption at the state and federal level threatens local telecommunications authority[1], as we’ve seen in about 20 states[2]. When state laws usurp local governments’ ability to decide how they improve poor connectivity, they disregard an understanding of local affairs that is unique to each community. Some states are threatening to take preemption another damaging step farther with super-preemption.

Super-Preemption: “Super” In A Bad Way

The Campaign to Defend Local Solutions describes the problem like this:

State legislatures across the country have gone beyond preventing local governments from passing common-sense local solutions. They’ve begun silencing local voices using draconian super-preemption laws.  These laws allow special interest groups to sue local governments and in some cases personally sue local officials for doing their job. These laws are designed to intimidate, bully, and chill government at the local level. This infographic highlights where these laws exist, where they have been recently proposed, and what their impacts could be to cities, counties, local officials, and taxpayers alike.

Mayor Andrew Gillum from Tallahassee, Florida, recently spoke with Community Broadband Networks initiative director Christopher Mitchell and our Communications Manager Nick Stumo-Langer about super-preemption for episode 17 of the Building Local Power podcast[3]. He noted that local governments need flexibility to meet the demands of local constituents:

“There’s a nimbleness to local governments that I think people have an appreciation for. The legislature [is trying to] exclude us from being able to make any investments in that space for the greater good.”

In order to spread the word about super-preemption, the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions[4] created an infographic to help educate lawmakers, constituents, and communities about the issue. The resource describes how super-preemption influences policy makers, giving lobbyists and their corporate or special interest clients’ power. The infographic also shows where super-preemption laws are in place or are proposed. Lastly, the infographic suggests how citizens can get involved and express their concern for preserving local authority.


Check out a larger version of the infographic here[5].

There are more resources at the Defend Local Solutions website[6], including a list of partners, how to get involved, and more resources on local matters.

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[7]. Read the original here[8].

  1. threatens local telecommunications authority:
  2. about 20 states:
  3. episode 17 of the Building Local Power podcast:
  4. Campaign to Defend Local Solutions:
  5. larger version of the infographic here:
  6. Defend Local Solutions website:
  8. here:

Source URL:

Watch: How Cities Can Create a Built Environment Where Local Businesses Thrive

by Olivia LaVecchia | May 9, 2017 12:21 pm

Cities are changing to become increasingly inhospitable to locally owned businesses. As older buildings get replaced by new development, commercial real estate prices soar, and national chains seek new markets, independent businesses are struggling to find space that’s appropriate and affordable for their needs. The result is that longtime businesses are getting priced out of the neighborhoods they’ve been serving for years, and entrepreneurs are facing higher barriers to starting new businesses. When this happens, local business owners lose, but so do cities and the people who live in them.

ILSR’s Olivia LaVecchia recently joined with policymakers and advocates at Hopeful Economics[1], a summit co-hosted by the City of Vancouver and Simon Fraser University, to explore this issue. In this 20-minute talk, Olivia discusses what’s causing the problem, why it matters — and six policy strategies that cities are using to address it.


  1. Hopeful Economics:
  2. (more…):

Source URL:

Press Release: Maryland Governor Hogan Signs ILSR-led Bipartisan Bills to Advance Composting

by Nick Stumo-Langer | May 5, 2017 1:19 pm

Maryland to Explore a Decentralized Composting Infrastructure

Governor Hogan Signs Two Bills – HB171/SB99 & HB1349 – to Advance Food Waste Recovery and Ensure Compostable Plastics Meet Standards

Nick Stumo-Langer

ANNAPOLIS, MD – On Thursday, May 4th, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed two bills to advance composting in Maryland. One will bolster recovery of food waste and other organic materials by expanding infrastructure in the state. The other will reduce contamination at compost sites by preventing the false labeling of plastics as compostable or biodegradable. In signing the bills, which were among dozens of environmental bills passed by the Maryland legislature in 2017, Governor Hogan thanked the state’s elected officials for the real bipartisan effort in passing laws to “protect our soil, our air, and our water… and grow the investment in jobs in our state.”

HB171[3]/SB99[4], the “Yard Waste and Food Residuals Diversion and Infrastructure Act,” requires the Maryland Department of the Environment to study and report on existing compost manufacturing infrastructure in Maryland, as well as laws in other states that divert food scraps and organics, and to then recommend how to improve infrastructure and funding opportunities to expand composting in the Maryland. The bill requires the Department to consult with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, along with a number of ILSR’s allies including the MD-DC Compost Council, the American Biogas Council, the Maryland Horse Council, the Chesapeake Foodshed Network, the Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, and the Chesapeake Sustainable Business Council.

HB1349[5], “Compostable, Degradable, and Biodegradable Plastic Products – Labeling,” requires products being sold in the state labelled as compostable to meet well-established standards. HB1349 was signaled out as one of 12 key environmental bills signed by the Governor at the Annapolis City Dock.

The passage of the bills were thanks in large part to the efforts of Delegate Shane Robinson[6], who sponsored both bills on the House side; Senator Thomas Middleton[7], sponsor of Senate Bill 99; and Brenda Platt, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, who led the coalition in crafting the bills.

“With the passage of these bills, Maryland can begin exploring different ways to encourage composting in our state,” says bill sponsor Del. Shane Robinson. “The study group created by this legislation, comprised of state agencies, non-profit organizations, and private entities, will make Maryland more competitive in the field of renewable resources, while decreasing the waste we put into our landfills, and the labelling bill will ensure that composting facilities have clean materials to create their compost with.”

“Composting sustains 4 times more jobs on a per-ton basis than landfilling or burning trash,” says Brenda Platt, the chief architect of both bills. “These bills will help Maryland grow composting and food waste recovery in a way that supports farmers and new businesses and creates jobs.” Thanks to her advocacy, HB171/SB99 specifically calls for the Department to investigate ways to encourage a decentralized and diverse infrastructure, and to prevent generation of organic waste.

“We congratulate Maryland on leading the way towards a more sustainable future. Kudos to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance for helping push the state towards greater organics recycling and healthier soils,” said Frank Franciosi, executive director of the US Composting Council.

The President of the Maryland Horse Council, Jane Seigler, said, “We believe that organic waste generated by farming in general and by horse farming in particular can and should be an important component of composting programs that divert this resource to beneficial reuse.”

According to Justen Garrity, owner of Veteran Compost, “HB1349 would reduce the burden on our company to deal with non-compostable wastes and allow us to use that money to grow our business in Maryland.”

Referring to HB1349, Rhodes Yepsen, the Executive Director of the Biodegradable Products Institute, stated, “This new labeling requirement will significantly reduce ‘greenwashing,’ where false and unsubstantiated claims negatively impact both consumers and the environment, and thereby build trust in truly compostable products and packaging for diverting food scraps from households and businesses in Maryland.”

HB171/SB99 passed by votes of 46-0 in the MD Senate and 134-2 in the MD House, and HB1349 passed by 120-8 in the MD House and 33-14 in the MD Senate.


Brenda Platt, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s expert in composting-based economic development and a key architect of the laws from their origins, can explain this issue to your audience and give vital context for the growth of composting, waste issues, and economic development. Contact Nick Stumo-Langer to set up an interview at 612-844-1330[1] or at[2].

About ILSR: The Institute for Local Self-Reliance[8] (ILSR) is a public interest organization, focused on helping communities see the economic benefits of community composting and rethinking the waste system; Brenda Platt is a national expert on the policies and economics surrounding community composting and the technical implementation of such programs.


Other Resources:

  1. 612-844-1330: tel:(612)%20844-1330
  3. HB171:
  4. SB99:
  5. HB1349:
  6. Delegate Shane Robinson:
  7. Senator Thomas Middleton:
  8. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  9. Waste Dive’s analysis:
  11. Infographic: Compost Impacts More Than You Think:
  12. here:
  13. Hierarchy to Reduce Food Waste and Grow Community:
  14. Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Training Program:
  15. Pay Dirt: Composting in Maryland to Reduce Waste, Create Jobs, & Protect the Bay:

Source URL:

Would You Pay 5% More for Local Energy?

by John Farrell | May 4, 2017 1:56 pm

In recent months, a raft of cities and states pushed up their renewable energy targets to 50%, 80%, or even 100%. But how will that energy be delivered? Will it be from the top down, by merchant wind and solar power plants? Or from the bottom up, by customers producing their own power?

The answer likely lies somewhere in between, but some studies of a low-carbon future rely too heavily on incumbent powers and utility-scale development for the energy of the future. A January 2016 study[1] commissioned by the central U.S. grid operator — the Midwest Independent System Operator (MISO) — does yeoman’s work examining how to  achieve a low-carbon energy mix across the region, but leaves many questions unanswered.

First, the Unfiltered Results

The MISO study suggests that achieving an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 (from a 2005 baseline) is possible without increasing the cost of wholesale energy on the system. The 2050 Midwest grid would have zero coal plants, around 50 gigawatts of new gas power plants, and nearly 200 gigawatts of new wind and solar power. The following chart shows the projected installed capacity of each resource at a few benchmark years between now and 2050.


The low-carbon future examined in this study would require a massive transmission line expansion, with over 45 gigawatts of transmission capacity in MISO’s northernmost resource zone alone (primarily Montana, the Dakotas, and Minnesota). The chart below, from the study, illustrates.


Although it doesn’t dive into details, the study suggests this scenario carries the lowest cost region-wide, and that achieving similar carbon reductions in a constrained transmission scenario (presumably without the substantial expansion pictured above) would cost about 5% more per year.

Only 5%?

Ignoring for the moment the many factors aside from the transmission system that could alter this analysis in a way that reduces transmission needs — from distributed solar to storage to electric vehicles — let’s ask this question: would a state legislator or governor be willing to pay 5% more to increase in-state renewable energy generation rather than importing the electricity? Would a ratepayer?

Typical economic impact estimates suggest wind projects create $1 million in economic activity per megawatt, while solar projects spur $2.5 million per megawatt. Both create numerous construction jobs.

Most studies of our grid system focus on the grid costs and benefits alone, leaving out economic benefits that tend to matter more to the affected communities.

The Many Things Ignored

Though the MISO study may offer an opening for more local renewable energy generation at a premium to transmission, it likely overstates the cost of achieving 80% carbon reduction by focusing too narrowly on the transmission system. It also includes other questionable assumptions. A few examples follow.

Stagnant Electricity Demand

The study assumes electricity consumption will rise by a constant 0.8% over the study period, despite stagnant electricity sales[5] nationally over the past decade. If the trend of zero growth continues, this study overestimates total electricity sales (and therefore power generation needs) by 42%.


Electric Vehicle Adoption

A countervailing issue is electric vehicle adoption, which by increasing electricity demand and sales may help correct for this odd projection of growth. On the other hand, electric vehicles offer a source of managed demand that can absorb excess electricity supply, in turn reducing the need for long-distance transmission. Bloomberg forecasts[7] ongoing cost reductions that will translate to a substantial portion of the U.S. vehicle fleet going electric by 2050. Grid models run without acknowledging this assumption are dangerously suspect.


No Local Solar?

Distributed solar adoption is also ignored in the MISO study, presenting a major problem for modeling hourly system load matching. In California, for example, daytime solar production (largely from utility-scale solar, but also including distributed solar) is substantially changing the daily load curve.


No Energy Storage?

Finally, the MISO evaluation ignores the potential for energy storage. At 2016 prices, it’s no surprise that transmission offers a much more cost-effective tool for managing variable power supply and demand. But battery cost and energy density are improving rapidly[10], and to assume they will not have an impact in the 34-year study period makes the transmission-only analysis almost meaningless.


Narrow Studies Provide Poor Context

There’s a reason that in regulated utility markets, Public Utilities Commissions require utilities to conduct an alternatives analysis to determine the “least cost” method of meeting grid needs (unless the utility uses its lobbyists to avoid it[12]). These assessments are intended to reduce the likelihood that electric customers overpay for electricity.

The MISO study provides an interesting slice of data, suggesting that it’s cost-effective to decarbonize the regional power grid. Its most useful lesson may be that managing demand within MISO’s zones is only incrementally more expensive than a massive transmission expansion, offering state policy makers viable options for focusing on local generation rather than long-distance imports.

Due to its omissions, however, the MISO study is totally insufficient for assessing the least cost method of decarbonizing the regional electricity system. Too many changes are bubbling up from the local distribution grid, and substantial technological innovation is likely to fundamentally alter the economics.

Photo Credit: Michael VH via Flickr[13] (CC 2.0[14])

This article originally posted at[15]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell[16] or Karlee Weinmann[17] on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly[18] update.

  1. January 2016 study:
  2. [Image]:
  3. [Image]:
  4. [Image]:
  5. stagnant electricity sales:,1&geo=g&endsec=vg&linechart=ELEC.SALES.US-ALL.A~~~&columnchart=ELEC.SALES.US-ALL.A~ELEC.SALES.US-RES.A~ELEC.SALES.US-COM.A~ELEC.SALES.US-IND.A&map=ELEC.SALES.US-ALL.A&freq=A&start=2001&end=2016&ctype=linechart&ltype=pin&rtype=s&pin=&rse=0&maptype=0
  6. [Image]:
  7. Bloomberg forecasts:
  8. [Image]:
  9. [Image]:
  10. battery cost and energy density are improving rapidly:
  11. [Image]:
  12. uses its lobbyists to avoid it:
  13. Michael VH via Flickr:
  14. CC 2.0:
  16. John Farrell:
  17. Karlee Weinmann:
  18. Energy Democracy weekly:

Source URL:

Creating Community Wealth Through Compost – Episode 19 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | May 4, 2017 12:00 pm

In Building Local Power[1] this week, we’re delving into the potential community-based composting holds to empower historically marginalized communities in cities across the United States. Host Christopher Mitchell[2] and ILSR’s Project Manager for the Composting for Community initiative, Linda Bilsens[3], sit down with composters Sophia Hosain and Guy Schaffer to discuss how their composting projects are both engaging and serving their communities. Also, be sure to check back all next week for our celebration of International Compost Awareness Week[4] from May 7th-13th.

Sophia Hosain works with ILSR partner Civic Works’ Real Food Farm[5] and Guy Schaffer volunteers for the youth‐powered, bike‐based composting service, BK ROT[6].

Linda, Sophia, and Guy are all part of the larger community composting movement that is growing throughout the United States. This movement is made up of composters working in diverse communities—ranging from urban, suburban, and rural—with common goals such as revitalizing degraded soils, diverting organic materials from the waste stream, and building community wealth in underserved, food insecure areas. Read more about this movement and how ILSR and other partners convened the Cultivating Community Composting Forum[7] in Los Angeles earlier this year.

Full transcript is available here[8].

“That wealth that we’re creating from food waste and food scraps needs to be recycled within our communities in order to truly make a wealthy and healthy community. And a sustainable one at that,” says Sophia Hosain of the benefits of community composting in communities across the United States.

Sophia Hosain works with ILSR partner Civic Works’ Real Food Farm[5], which serves communities in and around the Clifton Park neighborhood of northeast Baltimore. Sophia is a graduate of the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Master Composter[9] program that Real Food Farm and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance partnered to bring to Baltimore last fall. She now manages the farm’s composting cooperative, which serves as a critical engagement touchpoint with the farm’s community, and allows the farm to act as a local composting demonstration and education site for Baltimore.

Guy Schaffer volunteers for the youth‐powered, bike‐based composting service, BK ROT[6], in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. BK ROT, started by Sandy Nurse and Renee Pepperone in 2013, brings youth of color into the developing green economy around organics recycling in New York City. Guy recently finished a dissertation on compost in New York City, examining the relationship between municipal organics collection and more informal projects such as BK ROT. In his dissertation, he argues for the value of community‐based projects for pushing alternative possibilities for composting in the NYC.


Get caught up with the latest work from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on composting based economic development by exploring our resources, below:

Hierarchy to Reduce Food Waste & Grow Community[16]

Composting Cultivates Economic Development – Episode 7 of the Building Local Power Podcast[17]

Bike-Powered Food Scrap Collection[18]

Community Composters Gather at Conference in Los Angeles[19]

NSR Master Composter Course in Baltimore[20]

View the full transcript of the podcast, below.If you missed our previous episodes make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power [21]Podcast Homepage[22]. Please give us a review and rating on iTunes or wherever you subscribe to podcasts.

Full Transcript of Podcast:

Christopher Mitchell: Hey Linda, I hear you have stat, it’s not really great news but we have good news that will be attached to it. What is that specific?
Linda Bilsens: More than 40 million people in the US are considered to be food insecure, which is why composting is such a useful tool because it closes the food loop and helps communities grow more healthy food.
Christopher Mitchell: That’s Linda, Linda Bilsens, our project manager of composting for community at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here on the Building Local Power Podcast one more time. I’m Chris Mitchell. I’ve been here for most of the episodes I guess, I work on a lot of our broadband work but I also really enjoy yelling into a microphone. So, I’m back and Linda is going to introduce our guests who both come from very interesting locations, two urban areas that are doing really great work with composting. So Linda, why don’t you take it away.
Linda Bilsens: Thanks Chris. It is my great pleasure to introduce our two speakers for today, Sophia Hosain of Real Food Farm in Baltimore, in the Clifton Park neighborhood, she’ll be talking about the role that her farm plays in addressing food access issues and the role that composting plays in that. Also joining us is Guy Schaffer who works as a volunteer for the youth powered bike faced composting service, BK ROT, in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. BK ROT was started by Sandy Nurse and Renee Peperone in 2013, brings use of color into the green economy that’s developing around organics recycling in New York City. Guy recently finished a dissertation on compost in New York City in which he argues that the value of community based projects for pushing alternative possibilities for the composting in the city.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to the show both Sophia and Guy. As I was just thinking about this I was reminded of stories about ILS Founding, The Institute for Local Self Reliance, in the mid 70s when our founders got together. They had this idea that one could be self reliant inside cities whereas a lot of the thought at the time for people who were thinking about self reliance and how to be less dependent on big companies or federal government programs. A lot of them though you had to live way out in farm countryside and so I think it’s really great to talk about these programs and get a better sense of how we can be more independent and how our communities can solve their own problems locally. So I’m really excited, I’ll probably do more listening than usual, something I should learn in general so Linda if you want to start the conversation I’d really appreciate it.
Linda Bilsens: Sophia and Guy I was hoping that you could start by setting the scene for our listeners about your communities, where do you live, where do each of you live and work and what is some of the challenges that the members of your community might be facing, what forces are at work and what opportunities do you see that exist, or maybe don’t exist in your communities. Sophia, do you want to start?
Sophia Hosain: Surely, yes. Baltimore is a really interesting place in that it has a unique., kind of socio-political unstable environment. The city is home to thousands and thousands of vacant homes which is really interesting and also has a lot of food deserts. So some of the challenges that we face look like, non-inclusive development, obviously I mentioned the food deserts and it’s still very affordable city. We do actually have quite a bit of opportunity to turn a lot of these vacant lots and vacant houses and vacant green spaces into things like community gardens, and I think that that’s a really nice place where we can bring the compost and we can close the food circle and put it to use to rehabilitate these spaces to bring the power back to the community as far as what they’d like to see happen.
Guy Schaffer: Bushwick is a historically black and brown neighborhood that’s been undergoing a lot of really heavy gentrification in the last maybe 10 years or so, and so that kind of the scene in which BK ROT is operating. We’ve been watching as the neighborhood is really slipping out of the hands of the people who have lived there, black and brown people who have lived in the neighborhood for years are losing ownership of these spaces and also just losing opportunities within what Bushwick is turning into.

And so a lot of what we’re interested in doing in BK Rot is trying to create a different kind of development in the area that is focused on creating opportunities, for the people who have historically lived there, or the black and brown youth who have been left out of a lot of the development of the neighborhood.

Linda Bilsens: The next, I was hoping that each of you could talk a little bit more about the work that you’re doing, groups that you work with, in terms of building local power, how you might be empowering you communities by bringing people together, sharing skills, sharing knowledge, growing food, addressing social justice issues. Sophia do you want to go first?
Sophia Hosain: At the Real Food Farm we started processing compost via a compost cooperative, and most of our members come from about a three mile radius around where we’re located, which again is in Clifton Park Baltimore. We’ve created several partnerships with local businesses as well, for example we work with a couple local florists, most often local cauliflower and we take off their green waste from their shop and also we partner with the Institute of Local Self-Reliance and also with [Compost Cabs 00:06:10] who gets to drop off with us as well. We adopted the cooperative model because I feel really passionately about people being able to take initiative and responsibility for their trash. One of the most pressing and upsetting things to me about the way that we live these days is that we buy packaged things, there’s single use items and we put them out in our driveway or on our street to be picked up in our alleys and someone takes them and we have no idea where it goes.

But one of the really pressing issues facing Baltimore is that Curtis Bay, which is in the southern part of Baltimore City, it was the most polluted zip code in the United States in 2013 and 14 I believe, That’s because it’s home to five different incinerators and so part of the reason why I am so set on making people responsible for their own food waste is because it is directly affecting their health because these incinerators are putting toxic chemicals out into the air which people are breathing and there’s high levels of asthma and early rates of death in Curtis bay and I’m trying to have people, especially here in the Clifton Park area, just be responsible and change their habits in ways that is conducive to rehabilitating cites soils.

So, the cooperative model allows for us to do that in that we’re really transparent in what compost is, how it comes about, how you can do it at home, how you can do it with us, how you can use it in your garden. Ways to just reduce your food waste production at home, because we do have the good fortune of being on a farm we’re able to demonstrate the ways that food can go from ground to plate to compost and then right back into the garden and so you really see the whole picture of the life of food.

Guy Schaffer: If I could just ask you a quick question Sophia, you mentioned that you’re on a farm, now that is an urban farm, right? I mean it’s probably one of the few farms that has bus stops nearby, I’m guessing.
Sophia Hosain: Yes, it is an urban farm. We grow on about six acres. We actually farm the athletic fields of the school so we have a little bit more space than most of your urban farms. Yes we’re right off of Hartford Road which has bus stops all up and down it but actually there’s quite a few urban farms and gardens in Baltimore. We’re not the only one doing cool composting.
Linda Bilsens: Guy, what about yourself, what are you and BK ROT doing in the Bushwick community to empower people?
Guy Schaffer: So kind of a central thing in BK ROT is really about jobs creation. We are in a really interesting moment in New York City. The city has [long 00:08:49] and nurtured a strong community composting culture, but that community composting culture is based mostly on volunteer base composting. We’re interested in trying to take this kind of labor, the community should do, in order to keep resources local, and turn it into something that’s a job. There’s not a barrier to entry around who has time to actually do this volunteer work. The way we run our compost system we have youth workers who are picking up food scraps on bike and then doing all the work of processing it, sifting it, bagging it, distributing it. They’re paid 15 bucks an hour, they get the [00:09:30] education around compost, it’s like a good job, these kids are treated as experts because they now how to run a compost system and they understand the science of it and then they also working on getting them public speaking opportunities as they help to represent the org at events and stuff.
Christopher Mitchell: I just wanted to build off of Sophia’s point about the incinerators at Curtis Bay-
Guy Schaffer: Bushwick has likewise long been a huge sacrifice zone in New York’s general pattern of environmental racism. Bushwick has been home to a disproportionate amount of the city’s transfer station for decades and so one of the things BK ROT is interested in doing is trying to design ways in which we can deal with waste in a way that is not onerous. That is, there’s going to be waste everywhere in New York City and if we’re creating waste management infrastructure that’s actually pleasant to be around I think that’s a really important intervention that we can make.
Christopher Mitchell: If I hear a critique often about coming form more conservative circles, is that dealing with food insecurity in major cities would be solved better by just getting more Walmarts in and around them rather than anything else and I’m just curious if you can give us a better sense of how your approach is better than looking to a big corporation coming in and just selling more food.
Guy Schaffer: I guess the important things for me is just about the way the value is moving in that kind of system. With BK ROT system, and we’re not [specifically 00:11:08] dropping food where it’s more central to us, but we do try to create a system in which we’re keeping value close to us. The value that’s inherent in food scraps is being extracted and distributed to workers within Bushwick rather than being extracted to somewhere outside of the city. And so with food systems there, I think it’s just the exact same thing. We need to, if we’re putting Walmarts in our cities that is really just creating a big siphon for value, pull value out of neighborhoods.
Christopher Mitchell: And so Sophia, I’d love to hear your take on it as well.
Sophia Hosain: I’m always thinking about should anything happen, should we face a natural crisis, a political crisis, a warfare crisis, what happens to cities? Cities so often only have a three day food supply at most and so if we’re talking sustainably, if we’re talking about creating a system that’s going to work no matter what happens, really making a community wealthy then your food should come from where you live. All that food that comes to Walmart comes from huge mid-western conglomerate farms that really have no interest in the people even eating it, but if we can have people making their own food and using compost that they make from their food waste to make that happen I think that ultimately the community is richer and the individual is richer, and those things don’t happen mutually exclusively and that’s the cooperative idea, that the wealth of the community is individual wealth that no one person is better off without their community being empowered as well.

And so I think that when you’re talking about interesting food deserts it’s such a huge problem especially in Baltimore, you’re talking about adding more Walmarts, most of Baltimore is a food desert and what we talk about when we talk about food deserts is like having fast produce available within a quarter mile of where you live. I personally wouldn’t consider the food that you get at Walmart to be representative of what would be a healthy diet. First of all it’s not even an entity that’s dedicated to specifically to providing food. [inaudible 00:13:17] reiterating what Guy said, that wealth that we’re creating from food waste and food scraps needs to be recycled within our communities in order to truly make a wealthy community and a sustainable one at that.

Christopher Mitchell:  Right, I think those are really good points that both of you raised-
Linda Bilsens:  I think you guys do such a great job of exemplifying how something like composting fits into this idea of empowering local communities and addressing issues like social and environmental injustices and food deserts in particular, I think it’s a connection that it’s not always a natural connection for people to make so I think that hearing your stories just really helps put that into context. I would also add to the question that Chris just posed, that I think that community gardens, urban farms, community composting, anything like that that you can do in our communities that brings people together and gets people to collaborate on these positive projects, for positive end goal, is just building those connections that I think can’t be overstated how important that is. Especially in a time when there is gentrification and other forces like that that makes it harder for people to connect with each other, just creating positive and safe spaces for neighbors to meet each other and collaborate, I think is a really beautiful and powerful thing, and that’s something that you don’t necessarily get with the big buck store like a Walmart.
Christopher Mitchell: I’d love to get a reaction from Sophia and Guy on that point because I think it’s a really interesting point in terms of any examples of communities pulling together and maybe then doing things that are even unrelated to the work that initially started perhaps.
Sophia Hosain: One of the awesome things that comes out, like when they were talking about this point of personal connection is, we didn’t move beyond talking about food waste. That is one part of the dire situation we’re facing as earth warriors in the current environmental crisis, it’s not the only one, by being in this cooperative environment and meeting monthly, meeting weekly and turning piles with people from the community and talking about how much food they’re directly responsible for removing from the incinerator waste stream, we get to open the dialog to all sorts of other things, like talking about fossil fuel usage and how most of the people who drop off to our cooperative live within a couple mile radius, we’re talking about alternative modes of transportation, we’re talking about alternative models of economy.

Talking about compost as that being a resource that is even greater than money because you can pay infinite amounts of money and never be able to rebuild severely degraded city soils but compost can do that and so we make these personal points of connection and it opens our worlds to talking about all sorts of other stuff, like the – like making vegetable soup out of your food scraps that you don’t necessarily want to throw away, like cabbage ends, or carrot ends, or broccoli stems, just like that point where you can have conversation, where you can meet people face to face where they’re at, where you can have that personal connection and set dialog back and forth it opens the door to infinite collaboration as a community.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, I’m glad to hear that. Guy, I’m just curious have you seen anything like that as well?
Guy Schaffer: Yes absolutely. I think the connections you can create with people while doing this labor together. Our current space, Know Waste Lands, is a garden that was designed to be beautiful and open and inviting and people walk in off the street to join us in this space just to look at flowers, we’ve started getting some kids, there’s like a trio of I think maybe 10 year old girls, who just come in and play with worms and they’re great and they’re just like kids who I know now. The creation of open space, the availability of work that is seen as valuable and interesting and educational and uplifting I think it all just goes to, it does pull people together, I mean it builds community, it makes people talk to their neighbors, which has been a really exciting thing, I feel so lucky to be a part of it, and to still be a part of it.
Christopher Mitchell: Excellent, so I think Linda has a closing question for you.
Linda Bilsens: Thank you both for taking the time to share your stories today, just help put compost into context in terms of building local power. Sophia has introduced us to the Curtis Bay neighborhood which she mentioned about it earlier, being the most polluted zip codes in the Maryland State and so on, but Guy I was hoping you might be able to share a little bit about what benefits you think a project which BK ROT has up in Brooklyn, what can transfer to a community like Curtis Bay in Baltimore and maybe even beyond.
Guy Schaffer: I for one want models like BK ROT to be replicated far and wide. I think it is making this really important intervention in the way that waste systems work by taking waste and waste labor and making both of them more visible. Now what that does is I think that it makes people more aware of what they’re throwing away, but also makes people more aware of the fact that work needs to be done in order to bring what they do throw away back into the economy, back into their world, back into the value of their life, and so I think that this model has a lot of potential impact for a place like Curtis Bay.

I think it has a lot of potential impact for places that can make use of compost through reclamation of that material through urban farming, I think it has a lot of use for places that have been overly burdened by waste infrastructure and that can benefit from having an actually nice waste infrastructure in the area, I think it could be useful in places that have a crisis of opportunity, like Curtis Bay, like Baltimore, where we need more jobs for people, that are good jobs that pay decently, are rewarding and make you feel like you are contributing to the world.

Linda Bilsens: Great answer and I think that is something maybe that wasn’t touched on, is that Curtis Bay not only does it have so many incinerators, it’s also seen a loss of industry over the last decade in terms of manufacturing and ship building so the opportunity to employ local youth is really a powerful, powerful thing. I think in that context especially.
Sophia Hosain: Just another dynamic to add to the Curtis Bay situation is that it’s also home to the largest public housing unit. It’s population is by and far very economically depressed.
Linda Bilsens: Yes that must be powerful, and Sophia you’re from Baltimore, right?
Sophia Hosain: Yes.
Linda Bilsens: Guy, where are you from again?
Guy Schaffer: Silver Spring, Maryland.
Linda Bilsens: I don’t know if there’s anything else that you want to make sure we touched on.
Christopher Mitchell: Yes, go for it.
Guy Schaffer: One of the things that I have been really excited about is being an opportunity present in compost, just inherent in the method is that it’s very low tech and very DIY and doesn’t actually require a ton of investment and so it really, unlike a metals or glass recycling, compost really offers people a way to design, resource recovery systems that work for them and there’s just a lot of flexibility in the design of compost systems. It creates a lot of opportunity for creating more sustainable and more valuable things.
Christopher Mitchell: Yes I’m glad you made that point, that’s really, it’s worth remembering these things you can do just about anywhere with a small loan or maybe not even needing that, that’s a kind of opportunity that we need to be promoting. Any closing comment from Sophia?
Sophia Hosain: One of the most valuable lessons that I got from doing this often, weekly, every day in terms of making compost is that [inaudible 00:21:20] involving the community in our endeavor were making all of those people co-conspirators in our effort to rehabilitate our immediate environment. Not allies, which sometimes can become a passive thing, but co-conspirators, an active role that your taking in creating a better world that you want to see and it is always amazing and powerful to me.
Guy Schaffer: I love that compost conspiracy idea.
Christopher Mitchell: Yes and I think on that we’ll probably will close it out. It’s been a very interesting conversation and I’m really glad to know not only that you guys are out there doing this work but that you’re able to share it and I hope that will inspire other people to do these sorts of things in their communities. Linda was there a good place so we can direct people to learn more about the sort of things we’ve been talking about?
Linda Bilsens: I think that our website at
Christopher Mitchell: Dig into composting at that should be our new jingle. All right well thank you everyone for listening and we’ll catch you in another two weeks with another Building Local Power podcast.
Lisa Gonzalez: That was Sophia Hosain and Guy Schaffer joining Linda Bilsens and Christopher Mitchell for episode number 19 of the Building Local Power podcast. Take a look at more of our composting resources at You can learn more about her guest’s projects at and Subscribe to this podcast and all of our podcasts on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever else you get your podcasts. You can also sign up for our monthly newsletter at Thanks to Dysfunction_AL for the music, license through creative commons, the song is Funk Interlude. I’m Lisa Gonzalez from the Institute for Self-Reliance, thanks again for listening to episode 19 of the Building Local Power podcast.

Subscribe: iTunes | Android[23] | RSS

Audio Credit: Funk Interlude[24] by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0)[25] license.

  1. Building Local Power:
  2. Christopher Mitchell:
  3. Linda Bilsens:
  4. celebration of International Compost Awareness Week:
  5. Civic Works’ Real Food Farm:
  6. BK ROT:
  7.  Cultivating Community Composting Forum:
  8. here: #transcript
  9. Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Master Composter:
  10. [Image]:
  11. Play in new window:
  12. Download:
  13. iTunes:
  14. Android:
  15. RSS:
  16. Hierarchy to Reduce Food Waste & Grow Community:
  17. Composting Cultivates Economic Development – Episode 7 of the Building Local Power Podcast:
  18. Bike-Powered Food Scrap Collection:
  19. Community Composters Gather at Conference in Los Angeles:
  20. NSR Master Composter Course in Baltimore:
  21. Building Local Power :
  22. Podcast Homepage:
  23. Android:
  24. Funk Interlude:
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Policies That Make Markets Work, Hello Antitrust! – Episode 18 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | April 27, 2017 12:00 pm

This week in Building Local Power[1], we are focusing on what makes and breaks markets – market power, monopoly, and antitrust. As we discuss with noted antitrust Silicon Valley lawyer Gary Reback, markets require intelligent intervention to prevent power from becoming too consolidated.

Let’s be blunt – if you are happy with the Internet access choices or airline experience you have, this isn’t for you. But if you want an economy that works for you, this is a good place to start.

Reback’s book, Free the Market: Why Only Government Can Keep the Marketplace Competitive[2], comes highly praised by our own Christopher Mitchell, who conducts the interview. Reback had a front-row seat to the failings of government policy that has allowed a few technology firms to garner so much market power today – but it is not too late to re-introduce competition to the market via smart policies.

For full transcript of the podcast, click here[3].

“But what we’ve seen over the last several years is people on both the left and the right [are] beginning to ask hard questions [about] whether US industries have become too concentrated,” says Gary Reback of the power of antitrust policy. “Is there too much market power in just a few companies? Certainly a lot of that is focused on the high tech industries. It’s not just Elizabeth Warren…but it’s also some of the conservatives from places like Utah are also focused on these kinds of questions.”



Get caught up with the latest work from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on antitrust policy and economic concentration by exploring our resources, below:

Monopoly Power and the Decline of Small Business: The Case for Restoring America’s Once Robust Antitrust Policies[10]

America’s Major Market Power Problem – Episode 13 of the Building Local Power Podcast[11]

With New Wave of Mega-Mergers, the Big Aim to Get Bigger[12]

Amazon’s Growing Stranglehold – Episode 6 of the Building Local Power Podcast[13]

Resources available from

Here’s the book that Gary Reback wrote:


Free the Market! Why Only Government Can Keep the Marketplace Competitive[19] Available from an independent retailer here:[20].

View the full transcript of the podcast, below.If you missed our previous episodes make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power [21]Podcast Homepage[22]. Please give us a review and rating on iTunes or wherever you subscribe to podcasts.

Full Transcript of Podcast:

Christopher Mitchell: Hey folks, welcome to a speciall edition of the Building Local Power podcast. I’m Chris Mitchell, I usually host the show and I’ve been involved in a lot of the interviews, and I run our broadband policy for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. This is a special episode, it’s an interview that we did with Gary Reback, a noted antitrust attorney who’s pretty well known for trying to make sure marketplaces are working and that we have real competition.

This is an interview that I actually did for our Broadband Bits podcast, but we didn’t really get into the community broadband aspect, we really talked more generally about antitrust. We thought this would be a really good episode for people who are concerned about communities and the role that growing consolidation has on all aspects of markets and how it’s impacting our communities. So, I hope you enjoy it, and I definitely recommend you check out Gary’s book Free the Market! It’s a terrific book about antitrust.

As always, please review the show, rate it, wherever you find it, iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever. We really want to make sure that this show grows and that more people hear about it to make sure that we can still keep putting out great episodes and talking to great guests. Enjoy the interview.

Today, I’m speaking with Gary Reback, a well-known Silicon Valley lawyer. Welcome to the show, Gary.

Gary Reback: Thank you.
Christopher Mitchell: I’m excited to have you on the show. You’re well-known for being very involved in getting the government to sue Microsoft and for writing a book that actually came to me at a really good time about seven years ago called Free the Market!: Why Only Government Can Keep the Marketplace Competitive. I really enjoyed that book, highly recommend it. For our audience’s sake, we’re not going to talk much about broadband in this conversation. But I think that many of these principles around competition in markets apply very strongly but it’s something that will be sort of in the sideline. Gary, I’m curious if we can just start with a brief description of what you might describe as a working market before we spend the rest of our time talking about the markets that aren’t working as well.
Gary Reback: So that’s an important question and an important point, Chris. We live in a capitalist system and the whole theory of a capitalist system is that when markets are functioning properly, everybody’s better off, not just a few people but everybody’s better off and resources are allocated correctly and people will get what they want at the best available prices and so forth. So in a well functioning market, you have a bunch of buyers and they’re all competing against each other. You have a bunch of sellers and the sellers are all competing against each other. Then you kind of have an interface between the two groups where transactions occur and the competition among the buyers and the competition among the sellers enables exactly the most efficient transactions to occur across that interface and that what makes a market very, very productive.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, with that in mind, I’m curious if you could just rattle off a couple of instances in which you’ve worked on areas in which those markets had broken down?
Gary Reback: A lot of the work I’ve done is in high technology or information technology and specifically in the software markets. There are some markets that are called network markets like the phone system for example where the normal rules of economics don’t really apply as well. In these markets, whoever gets the lead tends to maintain that lead and dominate the market particularly if they exploit their position using anti-competitive practices. So for example, if you use a certain Word processor or if all your friends do, you really have to be on that same Word processor or something compatible. You might like a different Word processing program but if everybody else is on one you don’t like, you still have to use that.

That creates what called a network effect or a network externality. Those kinds of conditions make the efficient operation of markets more challenging. Markets can still operate efficiently but in those kinds of markets, we have to have good government oversight and appropriate intervention when bad things occur in order to maintain competition and to get the right allocation of resources.

Christopher Mitchell: Now, when you say that, I think what you’re talking is smart policies, one of the things that I’m often criticized for by people who don’t like my work as someone who I think of as arguing for smart government policies is a knee-jerk sense that government involvement will inevitably hurt the market and make the market less competitive. I’m curious how you respond and I’m sure you run across this idea all the time as well.
Gary Reback: Sure. One way to think about this is the difference between antitrust enforcement, enforcement of the antitrust where laws and regulation. Now, we do need regulation in some cases which we can talk about. But generally speaking, antitrust lawyers think that regulation really is not quite a good approach and it tends to have some of these bad effects that you’ve eluded to but antitrust enforcement, we sometimes call it the free market approach to regulation. Let me just explain the difference for a second.
Christopher Mitchell: Please do.
Gary Reback: Yeah, in a regulation situation, a group of people are chosen in fact to micromanage the industry and they’re not industry managers from the industry. They’re chosen not by the shareholders. They’re chosen generally by political figures. They get together and manage the industry, sometimes it’s a single company that dominates an industry and they manage in a rather intrusive way. They tell the industry who it can sell to and at what prices, where it has to invest more resources and so forth. Now, in that kind of situation, the people who criticize regulation sometimes, not always, but sometimes have a good point.

Antitrust works on a different principle. The principle is this, the government sets the basic rules of competition. Then the government steps back and it lets the competitors in the market duke it out under those rules of competition as long as everybody obeys those rules, the government really doesn’t have much of a role to play but if somebody breaks the rules, the government doesn’t try to regulate them, the government sues them and they bring them before a court and they present evidence and the judge makes a decision just as a judge would in any other prosecution of one kind or another.

We find over the years that in most cases, that works the best. Now, there are some cases where the market won’t support more than one company like the municipal water and sewage facility or something like that and there you do need regulation. You want to make sure that pharmaceuticals are safe and so you need regulation there and air traffic controllers for example. But in a lot of other industries, antitrust enforcement and free market competition would work a lot better than regulation would.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, and I think there’s an interesting point in terms to that. In many ways, we’d like to see, many of us would like to see government breaking up big companies. For instance, I might name Comcast or those other companies that people have suggested breaking up. In your book, at one point, you had mentioned that there was if the government’s not able to break them up then almost perpetual lawsuits might be preferable. Is that kind of a middle ground or is that actually just a second option that you described?
Gary Reback: Yeah, I almost described that humorously. I mean, obviously the best thing to happen is to maintain competition in the market. Now, you can generally maintain competition if you block anti-competitive mergers. A lot of big companies have acquired or because the government has let them acquire competitors or in the case of certain broadband companies, to acquire content providers for example and use that as a market advantage that excludes competitors at both levels of competition. I don’t know that I go the perpetual lawsuit route until I’d exhausted other things but you don’t have to start at breaking up the company, where you need to start is not letting the company acquire market power either through anti-competitive things that it does like exclusionary contracts or something like that or through mergers that increases market power in a way that consumers don’t benefit.
Christopher Mitchell: You labeled both horizontal and vertical mergers in that case which you would see as both being potentially damaging and letting a company perhaps gain too much power.
Gary Reback: Well, I certainly would. Now, traditionally, antitrust look at horizontal mergers with greater scrutiny than vertical mergers. As the conservatives began to take power in the antitrust area through what’s called the Chicago school that I think your listeners have heard about before, they de-emphasized antitrust scrutiny of vertical mergers and just focused on horizontal mergers. So the consequence is that I thin most people would agree that too much horizontal power through mergers is a very bad thing. We’ve come to understand through better research though that these vertical acquisitions can also create enormous problems.

It’s a bigger push though to get a conservative administration to take action in the vertical arena because generally speaking they don’t quite understand how the market mechanisms are being affected because if it’s a vertical acquisition, you’re affecting several different markets in the same supply chain and the analysis becomes more complicated. Nevertheless, I think these days, that these people on the cutting edge of antitrust would say we haven’t paid nearly enough attention to vertical mergers.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I think it’s interesting you mentioned sort of the present day where we are seeing a lot more attention. You had mentioned in our previous discussion as you’re preparing for this that Elizabeth Warren and others are getting very involved. You also, I know, have a deep sense of the history behind anti-monopoly movements and my impression is is that this is not something that we would expect to come from one party but rather kind of a piece of each party working together to try and decentralize the power ultimately.
Gary Reback: I think so. Of course our problem, Chris, is that the two parties don’t seem to be able to work on much of anything these days in Washington. They won’t work together on much of anything. But what we’ve seen over the last several years is people on both the left and the right, political figures beginning to ask hard questions whether US industries have become too concentrated and not just the industries that I work in but industries more generally. Is there too much market power in just a few companies? Certainly a lot of that is focused on the high tech industries. It’s not just Elizabeth Warren, senator Elizabeth Warren who would be left off center but it’s also some of the conservatives from places like Utah are also focused on these kinds of questions.

So for the first time in a long time, I think we have some consensus at least among people who are looking at this area that maybe the lack of antitrust enforcement has been going on too long and we’re beginning to have some problems that need to be addressed.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I think that’s where we’d like to push toward the end of the show is most people think of monopoly and they think, “Oh, I’m going to have to pay more when I buy something,” but that’s not even the worst problem, is it?
Gary Reback: Oh, I think it’s not even close to the worst problem. Let me give you several other problems that I think your listeners would consider far more important that too much industry concentration creates. So from an economic perspective, in order to raise prices, when a monopolist or a duopolist, what a concentrated industry does is it restricts output. If you want a present day example of that, think about these big airline mergers that have gone on in the last several years. United Continental and American US Airways, I mean, we’re down to the point that there are only a few major airlines in the United States.

Now, the consequence of that is of course higher prices in terms of all the fees they can impose but a bigger consequence is that you can’t get a seat on a flight when you need it anymore. This has particularly affected small to mid-sized cities across the country and certainly on the West Coast, we have this problem in spades. In order to keep the high prices, the few companies in the market simply restrict the availability of their service. So that to me is a bigger problem than the fact that you may have to pay more. You just can’t get it at all. So that’s one problem. We’ll call that output.

The second problem is that the effect of monopoly on innovation. We all benefit from lower prices but we benefit a lot more when there’s some breakthrough innovation in high tech or in pharmaceuticals or something like that. So our antitrust policy really ought to be directed at protecting innovation. Now, the problem is the monopolists would use some of its market power to maintain its monopoly, to keep itself from being displaced by some new technology. It would do things to try to restrict a challenger’s ability to get to market by engaging in exclusive contracts or by denying access in one way or another. So the net result of all that is that we’re denied the new technology that the challenger would bring to the market.

Let me give you a couple of examples, so back a couple of decades ago, Microsoft used anti-competitive practices against the company called Netscape that had invented the browser and actually ended up putting Netscape out of business. So that’s an example where they tried not just to hurt the competitor but to coop the technology so that they would own the browser market.

Christopher Mitchell: You actually in your book described how Microsoft went to Netscape and basically made them an offer that said basically we won’t kill you if you don’t compete with us, if you only put your browser on other platforms that are non-PCs, we’ll have the PCs you’ll have everything else and everyone will be happy. I mean, so they were very deliberate and open about it.
Gary Reback: Yes and obviously, some of the Microsoft people contest the facts in terms of exactly what they said and so forth but from the perspective of the government’s case, that’s right, the monopolist came in and said, look, you can live on an island and you can have whatever that island brings to you and we’ll just have the rest of the world and won’t that be fine. Of course, that won’t be fine. So if you think back 10 or 15 years ago, Microsoft owned the browser market. The only way you could get to Google for example is by going through Microsoft. 98% of Google’s traffic came from Microsoft. If you type on the browser line, Microsoft didn’t have to send you to Google. It could have put up a big red warning and say, “Hey, this site has been reported as stealing your personal information. Don’t go there.”

Of course, no one would have gone there and they would have killed Google in the cradle. They would have suppressed search technology which all of used everyday, why didn’t they do that? They were already being fined billions of dollars by the European Commission. They ran the risk of reigniting the antitrust scrutiny in the United States so they didn’t do it. As a result, we all benefited by this new technology.

Christopher Mitchell: I just found this really worth noting. The compulsory licensing response, another way in which I think people might not necessarily immediately think of that as a response to these antitrust problems but you talked about the history of compulsory licensing particularly around patents and things like that to basically make markets work to solve this problem, I think.
Gary Reback: We have a long history of compulsory licensing in the United States. They was compulsory licensing of a lot of the patents that the phone monopoly had. We have to be careful obviously because you want people to innovate and patent technology but when big companies use patents as a wall against market entry, that becomes a problem. From time to time, in past history as you mentioned, the government’s come in and ordered compulsory licensing. You don’t see that much anymore because patents have become so much more prominent and the conservatives in particular are reluctant to intervene in the patent market but that would be an effective way to deal with some problems as well. In software, generally speaking, the problem isn’t patents. But in other places, yes, that’s something really people should look at.

Modern monopolies in the high tech area take all your data and prepare dossiers on you which are, I don’t know, from my perspective very troublesome. I mean, I think most people understand that when they buy something online, whoever they’re buying from has a record and will use that record to help them find other things and that’s I think most people would accept that. But when you have a search engine that keeps track of your searches for many, many years and combines that information with what you buy and so forth, they get begin to get at what your political orientation is, where you live on the street, what your religion is, all kinds of things that becomes very, very problematic. We have a problem with privacy in the United States largely because we have several big companies that collect data across the board and that’s a problem that Europe is beginning to address but in the United States, really not so much.

Finally, Chris, just let me say, one of the other things we have found historically that industry concentration and monopoly does is it puts political power into the hands of monopolists because they can make political contributions and under our law there’s a case citizens united, the supreme court case from seven or eight years ago that gives big corporations the right to make unlimited political contributions. So some of the things that big tech companies want to lobby for are more or less okay by me. But other things they want to lobby for bother me a whole lot like the lack of privacy protection. So using monopoly to further political power is something that’s also very concerning.

Christopher Mitchell: That’s one that I long find very frustrating in part because it’s not just at the federal level. That money allows them to basically own state legislatures. They can be powerful at the local level. It’s corrupting everywhere.
Gary Reback: Yes, in fact, it’s much worst, I think. At least there’s some visibility, a bit of visibility at the federal level. At the state level, their projects which have sprung up in various places trying to get some daylight as to what’s going on but with the demise of local newspapers for example, we just don’t get the kind of coverage we used to. I agree with you, the effect of that kind of conduct at the state and local level is even more disturbing than at the national level.
Christopher Mitchell: So speaking of the state and local level, do you have any recommendations for what could be done at the state and local level to try and strike back at antitrust even though they don’t have the power to break them and things like that?
Gary Reback: Yeah, this is a tough question, Chris, because on one hand, these big tech companies have gotten so big, they’re multinational and so powerful, I’m not even sure a national government has the power to do much about them. I mean, I’ve always favored the United States working with Europe to have enough power to try to restrain these big companies. However, with the new administration, a number of people have now been looking to states to try to exercise some antitrust authority over these companies. Then there are states, many of the bigger states have their own antitrust enforcement mechanisms and they have their own antitrust laws. Now, they got to be careful because they have smaller budgets than the national government does.

But they might well be able to go after specific anti-competitive practices. So they wouldn’t have the wherewithal to do a 10-year case and break up one of these companies but they might be able to go into court and stop one of the big companies from doing something that’s anti-competitive that squelches new technology or that hurts consumers. Certainly, a lot of people are looking at that now because we don’t think we’re going to get much in the way of antitrust enforcement over the next few years.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Well, thank you for taking the time and sharing some of your experiences and thoughts with us on antitrust.
Gary Reback: I appreciate you asking me and I hope your listeners and others continue the new interest in antitrust. It’s time we renewed its effectiveness.
Lisa Gonzalez: That was attorney Gary Reback joining Christopher Mitchell for episode 18 of the Building Local Power podcast. Remember to check out Gary’s book from your local independent bookseller. The title is Free the Market: Why Only Government Can Keep the Marketplace Competitive. We encourage you to subscribe to this podcast and all of our other podcasts on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you find your podcasts. You can also sign up for our monthly newsletter at Thanks to Dysfunction_Al for providing music licensed through creative commons, the song title is Funk Interlude. I’m Lisa Gonzalez of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, thank you for listening to episode 18 of the Building Local Power podcast.

Subscribe: iTunes | Android[23] | RSS

Audio Credit: Funk Interlude[24] by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0)[25] license.

  1. Building Local Power:
  2. Free the Market: Why Only Government Can Keep the Marketplace Competitive:
  3. click here: #transcript
  4. [Image]:
  5. Play in new window:
  6. Download:
  7. iTunes:
  8. Android:
  9. RSS:
  10. Monopoly Power and the Decline of Small Business: The Case for Restoring America’s Once Robust Antitrust Policies:
  11. America’s Major Market Power Problem – Episode 13 of the Building Local Power Podcast:
  12. With New Wave of Mega-Mergers, the Big Aim to Get Bigger:
  13. Amazon’s Growing Stranglehold – Episode 6 of the Building Local Power Podcast:
  14. Comcast Merger Wrap-up and Anti-Monopoly Policy – Community Broadband Bits Episode 148:
  15. Susan Crawford, Captive Audience, and How to Kill the Cable Monopoly:
  16. The Real Threats from Monopoly – Community Broadband Bits Podcast #83:
  17. Local Governments and Internet Access Debate – Community Broadband Bits Episode 185:
  18. [Image]:
  19. Free the Market! Why Only Government Can Keep the Marketplace Competitive:
  21. Building Local Power :
  22. Podcast Homepage:
  23. Android:
  24. Funk Interlude:
  25. Attribution Noncommercial (3.0):

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Bill To Limit Local Broadband Authority Appears In Maine

by Lisa Gonzalez | April 25, 2017 6:00 pm

Maine is the latest battleground for local telecommunications authority. A bill in the state’s House of Representatives threatens to halt investment in “The Pine Tree State” at a time when local communities are taking steps to improve their own connectivity.

“I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means”

Rep. Nathan Wadsworth[1] (R-Hiram) introduced HP 1040; it has yet to be assigned to a committee. Like most other bills we’ve seen that intend to protect the interests of the big national incumbent providers, this one also has a misleading title: “An Act To Encourage Broadband Development through Private Investment.” Realistically, the bill would result in less investment by discouraging a whole sector – local communities – from making Internet infrastructure investment.

Large national companies have thus far chosen not to invest in many Maine communities because, especially in the rural areas, they just aren’t densely populated. In places like Islesboro[2] and Rockport[3], where residents and businesses needed better connectivity to participate in the 21st century economy, locals realized waiting for the big incumbents was too big a gamble. They exercised local authority and invested in the infrastructure to attract other providers for a boost to economic development, education, and quality of life.

Not The Way To Do This

If HP 1040 passes, the community will first have to meet a laundry list of requirements before they can exercise their right to invest in broadband infrastructure.

HP 1040 contains many of the same components we see in similar bills. Municipalities are only given permission to offer telecommunications services if they meet those strict requirements: geographic restrictions on service areas, strict requirements on multiple public hearings including when they will be held and what will be discussed, the content and timelines of feasibility studies, and there must be a referendum.

The bill also dictates financial requirements regarding bonding, pricing, and rate changes. Municipalities cannot receive distributions under Maine’s universal service fund.

As one of the remaining states that don’t have restrictions on local authority and one of the most rural states in the country, Maine’s towns and counties are the best poised to turn around its status as poorly connected. Inflicting rules on local communities to make the process more difficult will end investment, not encourage it.

In 2015, Rep. Norm Higgins sponsored a bill to create better connectivity[4] through open access networks and by removing investment barriers. When we asked him about HP 1040, he said, “Competition should be encouraged and local control should not be infringed.”

State Battles Can Be The Toughest


Interestingly, Wadsworth, is listed as a state chair for the American Legislative Exchange Council[5] (ALEC) and this bill certainly complements their past work in Maine[6]. It’s easy to see that they want to quell the success of publicly owned networks in rural states in order to prevent the solution from taking hold in more densely populated areas.

This year, similar bills were introduced in Virginia and Missouri[7]. Missouri has seen this fight in the past[8] and, while the bill has been quiet lately, their session isn’t over just yet so anything could happen.

Virginia was especially tough, but grassroots organizations managed to fend off restrictions[9] that could have ended plans for several public projects and plans that included public-private partnerships.

Local Ire For HP 1040

Page Clason, Member of the Islesboro Broadband Committee, described HP 1040:

I would say this proposed bill is puzzling because while suggested to promote investment of broadband in Maine it would do the opposite.  Nothing in the bill provides stimulus, most everything in the bill provides increased hurdles and costs for communities needing the broadband investments. The only stimulus I can garner from such an approach would be that the largest providers would be further comforted that no other service providers would show up to do the builds that the dominating providers have not been supplying for the last few decades.

Check out the full text of the bill[10] and follow its progress[11].

Update: Since publishing our story, the bill was referred to the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology[12].

Image of the Maine House Chambers courtesy of Maine an Encyclopedia[13].

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[14]. Read the original here[15].

  1. Rep. Nathan Wadsworth:
  2. Islesboro:
  3. Rockport:
  4. sponsored a bill to create better connectivity:
  5. state chair for the American Legislative Exchange Council:
  6. past work in Maine:
  7. Missouri:
  8. seen this fight in the past:
  9. fend off restrictions:
  10. full text of the bill:
  11. follow its progress:
  12. Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology:
  13. Maine an Encyclopedia:
  15. here:

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Residential Subscribers in Focus as Minnesota Weighs Community Solar Incentives

by Karlee Weinmann | April 22, 2017 6:00 am

In its filing on providing community solar incentives for residential subscribers, the Department outlined a loose framework[1] for the “adder,” designed to encourage community solar developers to pursue projects accessible that target residential subscribers. The agency pitched an incentive worth $0.025 per kilowatt-hour, to be phased out over time.


The residential adder discussion is part of a larger debate over what state regulators can do to ensure community solar is universally accessible. Particularly as these projects catch on with developers[3] in Minnesota and nationwide, sensible policies must ensure equitable distribution of their benefits — from reduced utility bills for subscribers to economic development in the communities they serve.

Earlier this year, ILSR advocated for holistic policies[4] designed specifically to improve access to such projects among low-income people. We also recommended that regulators consider a range of incentives[5] — for projects sited on brownfields, serving low-income communities, and having residential subscribers, among other criteria — to promote equitable development and participation.

This week, after the Minnesota Department of Commerce proposed general guidelines for a residential adder, ILSR submitted feedback[6] to the Commission. These comments are included below, lightly edited for clarity.

ILSR Comments Submitted on Minnesota PUC Docket No. 13-867

A residential adder is appropriate

We support adoption of the Department’s recommendation to include an adder to the VOS bill credit rate for residential subscribers. We appreciate the Department’s analysis that the adder is warranted based on the added cost of administering subscriptions for residential customers (and it supports data we’ve seen — which may have been submitted as trade secret — regarding the marginal cost of serving residential customers).

Existing statute favors a residential adder

As ILSR noted in comments submitted January 13, residential subscriber participation was a pivotal consideration in legislation that shaped community solar programming. It is an essential component of ensuring access to community solar projects across all customer classes.

Researchers in the Minnesota House of Representatives specifically noted in their summary of the statute[7] (216B.1641) that “it allows access to solar energy by renters and property owners lacking sufficient capital to install their own solar systems or whose property may be shaded or otherwise unsuitable for solar installation.”

An adder for residential participants helps cement community solar participation among groups otherwise at risk of being shut out of renewable generation. In our previous comments, ILSR noted roughly 50 percent of households cannot host their own solar, emphasizing the pivotal role community solar projects play in promoting more equitable access to clean energy.

The proposed adder value is reasonable

We support January comments filed by Cooperative Energy Futures[8] which align with the Department recommendation to develop a residential adder worth $0.025/kWh. We further support an adder for low-income participants, noting that there are marginal risks and costs associated with such subscribers.

Further review needed

While we remain open to a gradual step-down for the residential adder (as proposed by the Department), we recommend that any such implementation plan be based on more comprehensive market analysis that examines how community solar develops in Minnesota.

We agree with Cooperative Energy Futures’ earlier comments that any adders adopted by the Commission be applied in a way that does not favor out-of-state developers or introduce uncertainty with regard to financing. We also support Cooperative Energy Futures’ earlier recommendation that the Commission commit to regularly review adders to adjust them as needed over time, based on market dynamics.

Budget, capacity caps unnecessary

We do not believe there is a need for the Commission to impose a cap on capacity or budget for the recommended residential adder. Such a limit would not be in keeping with the intent of the community solar statute, designed to expand access to solar.

Further, the scheduled phase-out of the adder acts as a de facto cap and — like the phase out of federal tax credits for solar — provides predictability and market certainty that an arbitrary cap would not.

Confusion about the adder assignment

The request for comments on the Department’s recommendations asked for input on what point a project application should be assigned the residential adder. It was our understanding that the adder would be applied to the individual subscriber and not the project as a whole, but the questions open for comment seem to imply otherwise. Without knowing more about the methodology of choosing which projects are “residential” if adders are to be applied to whole projects, it’s difficult to say when the appropriate time would be to apply the adder. We believe the adder is best applied to the subscriber, where residential status can be easily verified.

This article originally posted at[9]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell[10] or Karlee Weinmann[11] on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly[12] update.

  1. outlined a loose framework:
  2. [Image]:
  3. catch on with developers:
  4. advocated for holistic policies:
  5. a range of incentives:
  6. submitted feedback:
  7. summary of the statute:
  8. January comments filed by Cooperative Energy Futures:
  10. John Farrell:
  11. Karlee Weinmann:
  12. Energy Democracy weekly:

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Make Every Day Earth Day Through Composting

by Brenda Platt | April 21, 2017 4:30 pm

“The Nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”

                                           – Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1937

With almost 30% of U.S. cropland eroding above soil tolerance levels – meaning the long-term ability of the soil to sustain plant growth is in jeopardy – President Roosevelt’s words ring as true today as in 1937. FDR was responding to the devastation wrought by the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. Today, severe drought conditions are all too common, as are extreme storms.

Fortunately, we have one fairly simple solution: amending soil with compost.

Enhancing the ability of soil to retain water, slow stormwater run-off, and resist erosion is vital to life on this planet as we know it. That’s why we’re celebrating soil health this Earth Day.

Turns out, composting can save us in other ways too. Food scraps, leaves and other organic material can be transformed into compost. When buried or burned, these materials produce potent greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Some estimates indicate global food loss and waste contribute to 8% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions. When converted into compost and added to the soil, food waste sequesters carbon. A lot of it. At the same time, on a per-ton basis, composting sustains many more jobs than landfills or incinerators.

In honor of Earth Day 2017, we are releasing a series of posters[1] to highlight composting’s myriad benefits. Share, download and use! (We are releasing with Creative Commons attribution.)

We are also sharing resources that can help educate your neighborhood on how compost builds community wealth:

Posters: Compost Impacts More Than You Think[2]

Hierarchy to Reduce Food Waste & Grow Community[3]


  1. series of posters:
  2. Posters: Compost Impacts More Than You Think:
  3. Hierarchy to Reduce Food Waste & Grow Community:
  4. (more…):

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Mayors Take on Preemption to Defend Local Solutions – Episode 17 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | April 20, 2017 12:00 pm

Welcome to episode seventeen of the Building Local Power podcast[1]. For full transcript of the podcast, click here[2].

In this episode, Andrew Gillum[3], Mayor of Tallahassee, Florida and founder of the advocacy group, Campaign to Defend Local Solutions[4] joins Christopher Mitchell[5], the director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Network’s initiative and Nick Stumo-Langer[6], ILSR’s Communications Manager for the latest episode of the Building Local Power podcast. The trio go into detail on the issue of preemption and what the state-level attacks on local sovereignty mean for communities across the country.

Check out the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions at their website[7], on Facebook[8], and on Twitter[9]. They have a great set of resources[10] and a number of different partners[11] in a number of communities.

“There’s a nimbleness to local governments that I think people have an appreciation for,” says Mayor Andrew Gillum[12] of the harms of state-level preemption in America’s communities. “…The legislature [is trying to] exclude us from being able to make any investments in that space for the greater good.”


Get caught up with the latest work from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on the issue of preemption by exploring our resources, below:

Preemption, Local Authority, & Municipal Broadband – Episode 10 of the Building Local Power Podcast[19]

Who Decides?[20]

The Public Good Newsfeed – September 9, 2016: Trophy Hunting, Racist School Closings, and more…[21]

Here’s the reading/watching recommendation from Mayor Andrew Gillum:

From our guest, Mayor Andrew Gillum[12]:


We Are All Newtown Video Series –

View the full transcript of the podcast, below.If you missed our previous episodes make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power [23]Podcast Homepage[24]. Please give us a review and rating on iTunes or wherever you subscribe to podcasts.

Full Transcript of Podcast:

Chris Mitchell: Hey Nick, I’ve run across this new term ‘prumption?’ How do you say it?
Nick Stumo-Langer: Preemption.
Chris Mitchell: Preemption. You think I would have come across that before.
Nick Stumo-Langer: Yeah, well I can give you the dictionary definition.
Chris Mitchell: Yeah, please.
Nick Stumo-Langer: “A prior seizure or appropriation” but what that actually means in context, is a bunch of states repealing soda tax bans, plastic bag bans, and municipal broad band.
Chris Mitchell: Wow. this doesn’t seem like such a good idea and it seems like something we should talk about on Building Local Power, right now.
Nick Stumo-Langer: Yeah.
Chris Mitchell: In just about 15 seconds, you’re gonna hear us talking to Mayor Andrew Gillum but before that, I want to tell you who us is. I’m Chris Mitchell. I do a lot of the broadband work for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and to help me talk with the mayor, we have …
Nick Stumo-Langer: Nick Stumo-Langer, the Communications Manager for ILSR.
Chris Mitchell: Let’s get to the mayor. Welcome to Building Local Power Mayor Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee. Thank you for coming on our show today.
Andrew Gillum: Yeah, no it’s my honor. I’m so pleased to see you all covering this topic.
Chris Mitchell: So today we’re gonna be talking about preemption and we wanted to start by asking you, mayor, how you really got drawn into this problem of states trying to take away your local rights. What happened in Tallahassee?
Andrew Gillum: We were really recruited into this by the state, by the second amendment foundation and their allies at the NRA. Circa 2011 the Florida Legislature passed a law basically prohibiting local governments from regulating guns in any way, shape, or form. We had prior to states preemption, a law in the book that basically said you couldn’t fire a gun in the city park. Because we refused to remove that from our local ordinances, we were then sued by these groups under Florida statute, which allows them to sue us in our personal capacities, including for decisions we make in our roles as elected officials. Which previously we had immunity from so that’s personal lawsuit. We could be fined up to $5,000. We could be responsible for paying up to $100,000 in attorney’s fees for the opposing parties, should they prevail. That we cannot use public funds to defend ourselves, which means we must find our own legal counsel and that we could face removal from office at the discretion of the governor.

And so we pushed back on that lawsuit, sort of dug us deeper into this fight. So for two years we’ve been in the courts, beat these interest groups now twice, but still seeking some constitutional judgment here on whether or not Florida law is in fact constitutional, which we maintain it is not. But I will say at least in the courts, we’ve been able to push back on these groups from being able to push local governments around and bully us into doing their bidding. My hope is that through our fight we maybe stiffen the spines of some other local governments that they don’t have to roll over to these guys. They have a lot of money and they may have a lot of political will and power, but we have people on our side. That’s why they elect us at the local level to represent their interest and it’s my hope that we’ll see more of this kind of action by way of defending local governments take place in other cities around the state of Florida but also around the country.

Chris Mitchell: Well and that’s what I think brings us to the larger story that we wanted to talk about, which is something called defend local solutions. I just wanted to note that this is an organization that is about preemption broadly. One of the things that we try to do and one of the things that I have no doubt that you do as a mayor, is try to make sure we’re not being unnecessarily divisive. And one of the things I like about this story is there’s a lot of conflict about the proper role of guns and policy but this is actually a fight not over whether or not one can have firearms, but about where you can discharge one. So I just wanted to highlight that for anyone who’s supporting local decisions but is kind of more of a fan of the NRA that might be listening.
Andrew Gillum: We’ve got people who support our fight here who are NRA card carrying members who are concealed carriers themselves but they get the common sense piece of this, which is it doesn’t make sense to fire and shoot a gun off in a city park where our families picnic and our kids play. They understand and they understand what that means to have common sense laws and any laws that impact guns to them is not an affront to the Second Amendment. I maintain that that’s the right conclusion that there are some things that can still be common and can still be logical and can still make sense to the average person without us having to go down this unnecessarily divisive rabbit hole or to have guns or not to have guns. That isn’t the fight and that’s not what this fight about.
Chris Mitchell: I’m just wondering if you could maybe follow-up a little bit on the campaign to defend local solutions and kind of talk a little about the breath and the depth of the organization and maybe even point to some of the great names that you have signed onto the campaign.
Andrew Gillum: One of the things that I think is important about this campaign is that we’re trying to pull together local government from over the United States because we’re noticing increasingly that this is a battle that’s being waged in cities and in states all across the country. And so whether you are concerned about where you can discharge a weapon or if you’re concerned about your own local regulations around the environment and around minimum wage or local hiring practice, affordable housing, human rights, you know, you name it. Broadband issues. You know, we’re here to defend the rights of local governments to make decisions that are in the best interests of the communities that they serve. That’s why people elect their superintendents and their local mayors and city council members so that those voices will undoubtedly be their representative voice in the corridors of power.

And so we’ve been really fortunate to hear from elected officials really all across the country, from California to Arkansas to Arizona to cities all over the state of Florida, Charlotte, North Carolina, Ohio. We’ve also been fortunate to get groups across the range of issue interest to join this campaign to defend local solutions because like us, they believe that local government has a role and in fact, Tip O’Neil was the one who said all government is local. In fact, you can probably find more Republicans quoted on the issue of local being the best and most representative form of government and now all of a sudden, in state legislatures, they’ve abandoned that thought and are now doing their earnest best to take away local decision making.

That’s why we created the campaign to defend local solutions so that local citizens and local elected officials can have a stronger collective voice to say we have a role in this Democratic process as well.

Chris Mitchell: It does seem like many people tend to believe the level of government that should be exercising power is whichever level of government they currently exercise the majority in. I’m curious in your work with defending local solutions that you came to this with a specific issue, were you surprised or were there any preemption issues where you were thinking really? They’re preempting on that? Take us along as you sort of went along this journey from where you started to where you are now.
Andrew Gillum: Well, as I heard stories from folks all around the country, North Carolina was very pronounced, right? Because it dealt with the transgender issue and transgender bathrooms.
Chris Mitchell: Right, the HB2 Bathroom Bill.
Andrew Gillum: Yeah, but that was only one element of it. I mean the other thing that the legislature in North Carolina did was remove the local government of Charlotte’s ability to set their own minimum wage and their own non-discrimination ordinances in their own city. And so we’ve seen that number played in a number of places around the country where non-discrimination practices have been challenged. Local communities ability to ban fracking. Their abilities to set their own minimum wage and bar middle regulations. In Florida, this legislative session there’s even a bill that is the most sweeping that I’ve ever seen, which basically says that local governments can’t create any regulations that impact businesses.

I can’t imagine the decision that I make as a mayor and previously as a city councilman that couldn’t be argued that it impacts business. And so the vagueness of that and the wide and sweeping nature of that is a huge threat to local governments. We fear that it may impact our ability to protect our water quality to our air quality to our signage, to our non-discrimination and wage laws. I mean, you name it. Legislation like that it’s overwhelmingly broad and in fact I don’t think it would stand a legal test but it does exactly what these legislatures are intending for it to do, which is to chill activities and to chill the rule making at the local level of these locally elected officials.

I think people will be surprised if they learn the kinds of things that were being discussed as part of this debate and I get it. I mean I understand it. If you are special interest and you pay tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands a year for lobbyists to represent your agenda, I would also want to concentrate the number of people that I have to talk to about my interests by limiting it instead of talking to over 400 cities across the state of Florida, to talking only to 120 members of the Florida House and 40 members of the Florida Senate. Their interest is very clear and their motives for doing that are very clear but who loses in that setup are the voters. The everyday people who are impacted by these kinds of decisions and that’s why we believe it’s important to defend local rule making and local involvement and how our communities are governed.

Nick Stumo-Langer: That’s great. So here at ILSR, one of our guiding principles is that we believe the best decisions for the community is made at the community level, at the local level. We’re kind of wondering, what’s the economic impact of preemption? What kind of things, outside of your own personal being able to be sued by whomever if they don’t like what you’ve come up with, what’s the local economic impact?
Andrew Gillum: I mean, for instance, if you’re preempting local communities with regard to how it is they set local wages, those are very real life and present impacts on the people who live in your community. If you’re in the state of North Carolina, your state has impacted to the billions because of … The negative impact of their own preemption laws, you had sporting tournaments canceling annual conferences, annual sporting events. You had slues of private sector businesses say that’s not a place in which I want to do business. Increasingly, young people and increasingly retirees are looking for and seeking out a certain quality of life, a certain level of inclusivity.

Welcoming communities when if you are retiring, you choose what is it you want to retire. Or if you’re a young person coming off of one of our college campuses or looking for where it is you may want to start a family or even a business, you’re looking at what kind of progressive policies might exist in the communities that you might be seeking to relocate. And so the impact is probably off the charts. There’s some real quantifiable ways we can see this. I think North Carolina gives us a really good glimpse of when you have regressive policies how it is can impact a community but you also see at a very localized level how it is that when you don’t create a good and strong quality of life for people to choose to live, they can choose other places to go.

I don’t think the story is yet told completely on the financial impacts and the negative regressive financial impacts that these kind of super preemptive policies have on local communities.

Nick Stumo-Langer: Definitely. And I think something I hear you saying and you might be a little bit too modest to say it, is that a place like Tallahassee or a place like Boulder or a place like wherever, the local leaders live in that community and they know what’s best for their community and they’re making these policies for a reason. So I think that’s a very powerful point.
Chris Mitchell: The opposite of that of course is the idea that everyone should have to live by the same exact rules and fundamentally, you deal with different problems in Tallahassee than people deal with in other parts of Florida where it’s not as dense where they have fewer people. I’m just wondering if you can-
Andrew Gillum: No, you’re right.
Chris Mitchell: Talk a little bit about that as a local leader.
Andrew Gillum: Anyone who has served at the local level knows that our communities are unique and they’re interesting and they are specific, right, to where we live. My city I’m the only city in the state of Florida that has two state universities located in them. One in HBCU and one a majority serving institution. We are in the northern panhandle where Tallahassee is a little bit of an arbitration compared to what exists around us, which around us is largely more rural. It is on the coast a little bit more tourism center and where we are we’re an everyday working community. We’re the seed of state government with universities and challenges that present themselves because of those unique differences. We’re not Miami, Florida. We’re not Miami Beach, Florida. And Miami Beach isn’t homestead Florida and so all of these places are different and are requiring their own local look at some of these problems.

I gotta be honest, I mean someone asked me what if the legislature were of your political persuasion and wanted to create laws that you felt were beneficial to your own ideology? And what I would say is preemption has a role largely to set the floor. A place by which regulations and standards should not go beneath. But in this case, the Florida legislature is conducting itself as a way to create a ceiling to regulation, create a ceiling to what could be done in that local communities are not allowed to do anything different or beyond what the state says because they carved out the territory again largely to feed a particular interest that doesn’t necessarily benefit the interest of the local government and the citizens who make up our cities and our counties. It’s really important that folks recognize, even if you’re not in the granular details of lawmaking and policy making, that all of us could I think reasonably agree, that we elect our local officials to represent the values and the interests of that local community.

There’s real value to that because I’ll tell ya, as a local elected, I don’t get to escape my decision making. I’m reminded when I’m on date night. I’m reminded when I’m standing in grocery store lines, when I’m at church, or taking my kids to the park. People are unrelenting about telling me what it is that they think based off what they read about an action that the local government took last week or yesterday or even a month ago. They don’t forget and they like having access to folks like me so that if they need to help change my mind or change my perspective about something, they can do that and I can’t underscore how critical it is for local government to be able to act rapidly to make certain changes in their community, which is very different than a legislature that meets three months out of a year. In some cases and in some states, take Texas for instance, where they don’t meet until every other year.

There’s a nimbleness to local governments that I think people have an appreciation for. I can literally take a vote on a Wednesday night and it have Thursday morning impact and I think that’s a little value for folks at the local level and people at the local level understand that and they appreciate it.

Chris Mitchell: Well, I have to say to some extent I feel like you’re reading out of our playbook. I mean all of the points that you make … When I first learned about the idea of ceilings rather supporting floors than ceiling and policy from co-founder of our organization. I think it’s just worth noting for people that before the great economic meltdown of ten years ago, a number of states in that case were actually trying to do some commonsense regulation to stop the rip-offs of people that wanted to buy homes. The state regulators said they couldn’t do it and we had a bigger problem because they wouldn’t let those sorts of things through so floors not ceilings. Absolutely. I’m totally with you on that.

Picking up on where you were leaving off though, a little bit about that local regulation you feel from the fact that you live in the community and your decisions have real, immediate impact, one of the things that Florida does it’s one of about 19 or 20 states that limit the ability of local governments to build broadband networks. Which is something that I focus on for ILSR and I’m just curious. The reason that state legislators often give for this is because you could just go ahead and squander millions upon millions of dollars that’s unnecessary and you wouldn’t face a consequence for it. That local taxpayers need to be protected so I’m always curious when I ask a mayor, do you have a sense that if you just squandered millions of dollars in unnecessary investments that there would be no repercussions?

Andrew Gillum: Well, I tell you I wish. Listen, we can’t squander a penny without reading about it or hearing about it and therefore creating a whole backlash from folks around what it is we’re doing with their money. It’s a little bit of jiu jitsu on behalf of state legislators to make that claim because you know they squander money everyday of the week and nobody knows about it because of the volumes of dollars that they’re talking about.

In our case, and we are looking at every dime, every nickel, everything that we spend as a government. In fact, if you go to our website, you’ll see there’s a checkbook on there and as you go through that checkbook you can see down to the cent what we spent on a vendor, on procuring a certain service, on buying a certain item, an investment that we made. That is available visa vi our public checkbook because our public demands that level of transparency and accountability on our behalf. That argument with regard to broadband is a false argument. It’s a straw man. It’s a nice sound byte but it doesn’t actually show up in any everyday life in our communities.

Take Chattanooga, for instance. Not only have they found a really powerful public use for the expansion of broadband and now they’re the one gig city, but they’ve also found an economic sort of edge that puts them and sets them apart from other communities because of the kind of rapidness of internet speeds that you can get as a business or a consumer or an everyday citizen. Like Chattanooga, we own and operate our own electric utility system. There are tons of efficiencies that we could gain through a smart grid system that gives our customers real time data, real information, assuming we were able to have a ubiquitous presence with regards to internet and high speed internet access.

But Florida law precludes us from doing that. Now to whose interest is that? I mean who does it benefit to keep local governments from being able to respond to the needs of their citizens as expressed through the will of their democratic vote but also through what we get to hear from them on a pretty everyday, robust feedback system at our city halls and in our email inboxes and on the telephone. Folks are on a best about telling us how they feel and I’ll tell ya, I consistently get comments from businesses and from individuals and from college students predominantly, saying man why don’t we have this? Why can’t we get that? Can you get Google fiber here? Can you do this? Can you expand this?

And at one point, we were able to be responsive to that and now that legislature has done a carve out excluding us from being able to make any investments in that space to the greater good. And so I think it’s very harmful and I think it also impedes the competitive advantages of local government that are increasingly trying to find ways to distinguish themselves, not only from the competitiveness of growing new business and industry, but also for our ability to attract and retain the kind of talent that we need to fill the pipe line for jobs that we want to create. The impacts are pretty significant for us and the legislature was clear about what it wanted to accomplish and I would maintain that what they were accomplishing was not in the interest of the everyday citizen but in the special interest of folks who pay lots of money to have sway over the process.

Nick Stumo-Langer: I think that’s a great point. So I know that we kind of touched on this a little bit earlier, but this is a useful buzzword I think for our listeners to hear. Can you just define ‘super preemption’ and what this means. Maybe kind of what the state legislature … Why this is a new problem.
Andrew Gillum: The courts have maintained that states do have the ability to carve out territory for themselves, also known as preemption. But what we have seen now and what we have referred to as this sort of preemption 2.0 the draconian version, is now that they have taken aim at individual elected officials. Removing from elected officials and indemnification or immunity for decisions that they make in their capacities as elected officials.

Take for instance if we were voting on a seatbelt law, and I had decided that I was going to vote against mandating seat belts and someone got in an accident and were hurt because they didn’t wear a seatbelt. You couldn’t come back and then sue me for voting against the seatbelt law simply because there was an accident and someone got hurt in. For me making a decision at my capacity as an elected official, I have immunity over that. Could you imagine if the new terrain became based on how you vote on a particular issue and its impact on a community you can be personally sued for those decisions. I mean it would have a complete chilling effect on elected officials and frankly our democracy as we know it.

So this is an important line that’s been moved by these lawmakers. Frankly we have not seen yet a strong enough constitutional challenge to force judges to answer this question as to whether or not that is legally acceptable. So the super form takes aim directly at electives but I would include in that another very punitive aspect is where you hear the president and others talking about penalizing cities that have declared themselves sanctuaries of taking federal money and withholding federal money for housing programs and homelessness programs and food safety and security programs because of a political difference. That’s unreasonable and it is extremely punitive to citizens.

Chris Mitchell: I would say it’s not actually only unreasonable, it’s particularly unwise because you look at Los Angeles where there’s this discussion about if they were to lose funding are we gonna not have security at the docks where we’re importing goods? I mean … It’s just a threat that has been made before. Anyone that’s actually contemplated the consequences of it. But I want to with our five minutes left, I want to make sure we just touch on what people can actually do. So you can certainly follow defend local solutions on social media. You know, I see you guys are active on Twitter but what really can be done to make sure that we’re correcting this problem?
Andrew Gillum: Well one, I do want to emphasize folks is following us and joining us at where you can find a great collection of resources. Stay up on the latest news on some of these fights that are happening all across the country. Sharing those stories out because I really do believe that the most powerful instrument here is changing public will. If the public knew exactly what was at stake in some of these preemption fights, it would make their heads spin. I think legislators largely get away with it because it feels like inside a baseball but the impacts of these decisions are real and they’re felt everyday in communities.

But what we’re trying to do is we’re not just trying to be an aggregator of information, but we’re trying to help local elected officials find their voice so that they can be stronger advocates for what local governments and local communities need to build a strong enough and robust enough fight back mechanism so that our folks know that they’re not dealing with this thing in isolation. But that this seems to be a real plan coming together in cities and states all across the country that are stripping power from local governments.

We’re also hoping that through our work we’ll be able to find stronger legal ground to fight this fight. In Ohio, we found that off of the merit of the local charter that was grounds enough to push back on the state legislator’s overreach into decision making that belonged squarely with the local government and not in the hands of the state. That’s an important legal argument that maybe it can be asserted in other counties and cities that also have strong charters that carve out space for local governments to have a real ground to fight on.

I would say we’re trying to increase the level of communications and discussion and conversation about this really important public topic. That this is not just about local governments and state governments fighting for more control. That to the extent that we’re fighting at the local level is to increase the ability and maintain the ability for local governments to choose and decide for themselves what’s in the best interest of their own communities. That’s not part of an issue, I think it’s simply a question of division of power and our ability to make sure that our communities can be treated when distinct and unique that we’re able to have laws and rules and governments that reflect the uniqueness of our communities. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be floors, there absolutely should be floors.

But preventing us from looking our for the best interests of citizens to do the bidding of powerful money well healed and local interest, is not going to serve the public well and that’s why we need the voices of local governments, local officials, local citizens, speaking up and speaking out.

Chris Mitchell: Mayor Gillum, can I ask you one last question. It’s our easiest question and that’s, if you can recommend a recent article that you’ve read that you think is interesting, whether it’s on this topic or another, or a favorite book. We always just like to recommend something for folks to check out.
Andrew Gillum: One piece that I found was particularly striking to my constancy, was the “We Are All Newtown” web series that was done. I believe we may have access to the resource for that on our campaign to defend local. I’ve gotten really close to a number of the folks who shot and supported the Newtown documentary that was done but there’s a good reading about that and also access to the documentary that was done on PBS that folks can get access to. I highly recommend it.
Chris Mitchell: All right. Well thank you so much for your time Mayor Andrew Gillum and for spearheading this campaign to make sure that we can restore local authority.
Andrew Gillum: Absolutely. And thank you all for your interest in the subject.
Lisa Gonzalez: That was Mayor Andrew Gillum from Tallahassee, Florida joining Christopher Mitchell and Nick Stumo-Langer for Episode 17 of the Building Local Power podcast. Nick is our Communications Manager and Christopher heads up the Community of Broadband Networks Initiative. Remember to check out to learn more about the campaign to defend local solutions.

We also encourage you to subscribe to this podcast and all of our other podcasts on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else gets your podcasts. You can also sign up for our monthly newsletter at Thanks to dysfunction Al for the music license to creative comments. The song is “Funk Interlude.”

I’m Lisa Gonzalez from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Thanks again for listening to Episode 17 of the Building Local Power podcast.

Subscribe: iTunes | Android[25] | RSS

Audio Credit: Funk Interlude[26] by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0)[27] license.

  1. Building Local Power podcast:
  2. click here: #transcript
  3. Andrew Gillum:
  4. Campaign to Defend Local Solutions:
  5. Christopher Mitchell:
  6. Nick Stumo-Langer:
  7. website:
  8. Facebook:
  9. Twitter:
  10. set of resources:
  11. different partners:
  12. Mayor Andrew Gillum:
  13. [Image]:
  14. Play in new window:
  15. Download:
  16. iTunes:
  17. Android:
  18. RSS:
  19. Preemption, Local Authority, & Municipal Broadband – Episode 10 of the Building Local Power Podcast:
  20. Who Decides?:
  21. The Public Good Newsfeed – September 9, 2016: Trophy Hunting, Racist School Closings, and more…:
  22. [Image]:
  23. Building Local Power :
  24. Podcast Homepage:
  25. Android:
  26. Funk Interlude:
  27. Attribution Noncommercial (3.0):

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Press Release: Walmart’s Climate Pollution Grows as It Scales Back Renewable Power

by Nick Stumo-Langer | April 19, 2017 5:06 pm

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday April 19th, 2017

CONTACT: Nick Stumo-Langer,[1], 612-844-1330

Walmart’s Climate Pollution Grows as It Scales Back Renewable Power

More than a decade after Walmart pledged to become an environmental leader, the company’s climate emissions continue to rise, according to data released today by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR).

ILSR found that Walmart has scaled back its renewable power projects in the U.S. The amount of renewable energy the company derives from its clean energy projects and special purchases fell by 16% since 2013.

Walmart derives only 2.4% of the electricity it uses in the U.S. from its own renewable energy projects, down from nearly 3.2% in 2013. Meanwhile, Walmart’s greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. have risen 2% since 2013.

For its analysis, ILSR relied on data submitted by Walmart to CDP (formerly the Climate Disclosure Project).

“While other national retailers and many small businesses are generating a sizable share of their power from clean sources, Walmart has made very little progress, especially in the last few years,” said Stacy Mitchell, ILSR’s co-director.

The figures released today update data that ILSR published in two in-depth reports on Walmart’s environmental impact: Walmart’s Dirty Energy Secret[2] (2014) and Walmart’s Assault on the Climate[3] (2013).



[4]Cover Image: Walmart Climate Report[5]





The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is a 42-year-old national nonprofit research and educational organization. ILSR’s mission is to provide innovative strategies, working models and timely information to support strong, community rooted, environmentally sound and equitable local economies.[6] – Email[7] for press inquiries.

  2. Walmart’s Dirty Energy Secret:
  3. Walmart’s Assault on the Climate:
  4. [Image]:
  5. [Image]:

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NSR Master Composter Course in Baltimore

by Linda Bilsens | April 19, 2017 3:45 pm

In October and November of 2016, ILSR’s Composting for Community Initiative[1] replicated our Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders[2] (NSR) Master Composter course in Baltimore at Civic Works’ Real Food Farm[3]. Real Food Farm grows fresh produce on 8 acres in and around the Clifton Park neighborhood in northeast Baltimore, serving 2 nearby food deserts. Before the course, ILSR built Real Food Farm a 5-bin rat-resistant composting system, which was central to the hands-on instruction during the six-week NSR course. We have since helped the farm’s compost project managers design a new food scrap drop-off program, which was adapted from the DC DPR Compost Cooperative model[4]. As a result, Real Food Farm is poised to serve as a model for other urban farms in Baltimore and beyond, as well as a training site to spawn additional local community composting projects. As a train-the-trainer course, the NSR builds leadership capacity and increases the pool of local compost advocates and experts — In Baltimore, that is already leading to more community-based composting sites being planned and implemented.

Photo courtesy of Urban Farm Plans

Partners for the course included Civic Works’ Real Food Farm (where we conducted the training and have established a composting system), ECO City Farms[5] (a training partner), and Urban Farm Plans[6] (the builder of the new composting system at Real Food Farm). There were 14 participants in the course that represented a diverse segment of the urban farming movement of Baltimore: 1 zero waste consultant; 1 university professor; the Baltimore City Farms Program[7] coordinator for the City’s Department of Recreation & Parks; 3 AmeriCorps volunteers; 3 international fellows; and 6 other individuals that either directly work at area urban farms (Real Food Farm, Strength to Love II, ECO City Farms) or work with organizations that support this work (Civic Works[8] and the Farm Alliance of Baltimore[9]). The course itself provided a critical opportunity for leaders in the urban farming movement to come together and collaborate, particularly to complete the “capstone” project requirement.

Inspired by our NSR program replication in Atlanta, we developed a replicable Social Justice module for the Baltimore NSR. The module was co-led by Nadine Bloch (Beautiful Trouble[10]), Linda Bilsens (ILSR), Myeasha Taylor (Civic Works), Sophia Hosain (Real Food Farm Americorp service member), and Sache Jones (Farm Alliance of Baltimore). We also invited a graduate of our NSR course, Xavier Brown of Soilful City[11], to share how composting is helping him empower his Southeast DC community through establishing gardens and skill-sharing. 

NSR course participants practice building compost piles in RFF’s new system

Well-run demonstration sites are to people’s understanding of what good compost is and how it is made. For a demonstration site, ILSR advocates, for instance, for rat-resistant systems, planning the full system (i.e., carbon storage, feedstock handling, signage, record-keeping, curing area, screener, etc.), and evaluating grade for where to place system (drain away from edible plants). Real Food Farm is on its way to being just such a site. On December 18th, 2016 Real Food Farm held its first Compost Co-op training where members of the community came to learn about the new food scrap drop-off system. The Co-op is now up to 50 members and is also composting food scraps collected by Compost Cab[12]. Find out more about their Compost Co-op here[13].


Urban Farming in Baltimore: The City of Baltimore is dedicated to establishing itself as a leader in sustainable local food systems[14] by encouraging urban farming. The City already boasts a number of farms, both for- and non-profit, and has various programs[15] in place to support local farmers. But, as is true in most old industrial cities, soil contamination is a reality[16] that must be managed to mitigate impacts on human health. The good news is that the City is also promoting simple soil best management practices[17], including amending soils with compost, that can be followed to help minimize risk factors associated with lead and other common pollutants.

Among the many benefits of composting and compost use[18] are those involving the soil[19]. Compost has the ability to filter out 60-95% of pollutants from stormwater and can immobilize and degrade contaminants already in the soil. ILSR is proud to help support the City’s healthy food growing goals by bring our NSR Master Composter training course to the Baltimore community. ILSR recently completed a report on recycling in Baltimore[20] to inform city agencies, City Council and Mayor’s Office about the immediate opportunities for increased recycling and its potential economic impact on the city. We are also working with the Baltimore Office of Sustainability to draft an Organics Recycling Strategy, which should be released in the coming weeks.

NSR participants pose after a successful bin building workshop


NSR Course Requirements: The Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders’ Master Composter course has four main requirements: attendance of all classes; implementation of a capstone project; completion of 30 hours of supported community composting service; and tracking and sharing community service hours and work completed. Participants will have six months from the last class (ending May 18th, 2017) to complete the capstone project and community service components.

For the capstone project component, participants will support or initiate a community composting project based on their interests and the needs of the community they are serving. Participants are encouraged to collaborate on supporting an existing community composting project (such as Real Food Farms[21], Filbert Street Garden[22], and other Baltimore Farm Alliance[23] member farms). Other potential projects might include building and managing compost bins at community gardens, schools, churches, or compost demonstration sites. In addition, participants will provide NSR staff with brief monthly progress updates throughout the six-month, post-class period.

For the community service component, participants will be expected to log 30 hours of community composting service. Half of these hours will be spent providing hands-on composting support to a community in need. Upon successful completion of the course requirements, participants will be eligible for receipt of a Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders’ Master Composter certificate and will be qualified to apply to future Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Advanced Master Composter train-the-trainer apprenticeships.



  1. Composting for Community Initiative:
  2. Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders:
  3. Real Food Farm:
  4. DC DPR Compost Cooperative model:
  5. ECO City Farms:
  6. Urban Farm Plans:
  7. Baltimore City Farms Program:
  8. Civic Works:
  9. Farm Alliance of Baltimore:
  10. Beautiful Trouble:
  11. Soilful City:
  12. Compost Cab:
  13. here:
  14. a leader in sustainable local food systems:
  15. various programs:
  16. soil contamination is a reality:
  17. simple soil best management practices:
  18. benefits of composting and compost use:
  19. the soil:
  20. report on recycling in Baltimore:
  21. Real Food Farms:
  22. Filbert Street Garden:
  23. Baltimore Farm Alliance:

Source URL:

Infographic: Compost Impacts More Than You Think

by Brenda Platt | April 19, 2017 12:00 pm

placeholderFrom healthy soils, to good local jobs, we bet you didn’t know that compost can have such an impact! So think twice before you throw away your compostable food scraps… because one person’s trash is another’s black gold. Please help us spread the word!

You can view the individual infographic sections here[1], but below is the full infographic and a variety of formats are available for download below.

All pages of the infographic are available for download individually or together:

Compost Infographic_FULL




We have also, per partnership with local allies, translated the overall infographic into both Arabic[4] and Polish[5]. If you’re interested in having it translated into your language, please email[6]

We want you to be able to share these infographics under creative commons license, free of cost.

If you’re publishing on your website, or in one of your publications, please include this sentence:
“The following comes from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance[7] ([8]), a national nonprofit organization working to strengthen local economies, and redirect waste into local recycling, composting, and reuse industries. It is reprinted here with permission.” 

Please, make sure to let people know they should link to:[9] to download the original content for their own publications. They also should include the above attribution language.

Help us continue to produce content like this. Please consider making a donation today:

Image: Donate Button[10]

Want more resources? See below for a full list of reports the help you dig even deeper.

Resources/More Information:

Compost: Impacts More Than You Think

Brenda Platt, Nora Goldstein, Craig Coker, and Sally Brown, The State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where, & How[11], Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), June 2015.

US EPA, Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures 2013[12], June 2015, pp. 12, 46.

Brenda Platt, Eric Lombardi, and David Ciplet, Stop Trashing the Climate[13], Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), 2008.

Brenda Platt, Bobby Bell, and Cameron Harsh, Pay Dirt: Composting in Maryland to Reduce Waste, Create Jobs & Protect the Bay[14], Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), May 2013.

Mike Ewall, Trash Incineration Factsheet[15], Energy Justice Network web page,[16], accessed April 2016.

Composting Enhances Soil and Protects Watersheds

Bobby Bell and Brenda Platt, Building Healthy Soils with Compost to Protect Watersheds[17], Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), June 2014.

Brenda Platt, Nora Goldstein, Craig Coker, and Sally Brown, The State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where, & How[18], Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), June 2015.

“Why Build Healthy Soil?”[19] Washington Organic Recycling Council (WORC) Soils for Salmon Project[20], accessed April 2016.

United States Composting Council (USCC), “Specify and Use COMPOST for LEED & Sustainable Sites Projects: A Natural Connection”[21]

“Soil Health Key Points,”[22] Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA, February 2013.

“Increasing Soil Organic Matter with Compost,”[23] Compost: The Sustainable Solution, US Composting Council, July 2014.

“Strive for 5%,”[24] US Composting Council’s campaign to promote 5% organic matter in soils, US Composting Council.

Composting Protects the Climate

Gunnar Myhre, Drew Shindell, et. al, Anthropogenic & Natural Radiative Forcing, Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to Fifth Assessment Report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change[25], Cambridge University Press, 2013, p. 714.

“Can Land Management Enhance Soil Carbon Sequestration?[26]” Marin Carbon Project web site, accessed April 2016.

Rebecca Ryals and Whendee L. Silver, “Effects of organic matter amendments on net primary productivity and greenhouse gas emissions in annual grasslands,” [27]Ecological Applications (Ecological Society of America), 1 January 2013, 23:46-59. doi:10.1890/12-0620.1

Brenda Platt, Nora Goldstein, Craig Coker, and Sally Brown, The State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where, & How[28], Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), June 2015.

Brenda Platt, Eric Lombardi, and David Ciplet, Stop Trashing the Climate[13], Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), 2008.

Composting Creates Jobs

Brenda Platt, Bobby Bell, and Cameron Harsh, Pay Dirt: Composting in Maryland to Reduce Waste, Create Jobs & Protect the Bay[29], Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), May 2013.

Brenda Platt, Nora Goldstein, Craig Coker, and Sally Brown, The State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where, & How[28], Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), June 2015.

Brenda Platt and Neil Seldman, Wasting and Recycling in the United States 2000[30], Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), 2000.

  1. view the individual infographic sections here:
  2. HERE:
  3. HERE:
  4. Arabic:
  5. Polish:
  7. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  10. [Image]:
  11. The State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where, & How:
  12. Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures 2013:
  13. Stop Trashing the Climate:
  14. Pay Dirt: Composting in Maryland to Reduce Waste, Create Jobs & Protect the Bay:
  15. Trash Incineration Factsheet:
  17. Building Healthy Soils with Compost to Protect Watersheds:
  18. The State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where, & How:
  19. “Why Build Healthy Soil?”:
  20. Soils for Salmon Project:
  21. “Specify and Use COMPOST for LEED & Sustainable Sites Projects: A Natural Connection”:
  22. “Soil Health Key Points,”:
  23. “Increasing Soil Organic Matter with Compost,”:
  24. “Strive for 5%,”:
  25. Anthropogenic & Natural Radiative Forcing, Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to Fifth Assessment Report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:
  26. Can Land Management Enhance Soil Carbon Sequestration?:
  27. “Effects of organic matter amendments on net primary productivity and greenhouse gas emissions in annual grasslands,” :
  28. The State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where, & How:
  29. Pay Dirt: Composting in Maryland to Reduce Waste, Create Jobs & Protect the Bay:
  30. Wasting and Recycling in the United States 2000:

Source URL:

Small Banks, Big Benefits – Episode 16 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | April 13, 2017 12:00 pm

Welcome to episode sixteen of the Building Local Power podcast[1]. For full transcript of the podcast, click here[2].

In this episode, Christopher Mitchell, the director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks initiative and Stacy Mitchell, the co-director of ILSR and director of ILSR’s Community-Scaled Economies initiative interview Building Local Power’s first guest outside of ILSR. Our guest this week is Justin Dahlheimer[3], the President of the First National Bank of Osakis[4] in west-central Minnesota. The trio discuss the benefits of community banking and how banks that have a vested stake in their community lend in ways that increase the vitality of communities like Osakis.

“We’ve got a stake in every customer’s personal financial livelihood. It should be that way. It’s embedded transparency. It’s accountability,” says Justin Dahlheimer[3] of the relationship community banks have with the people that they serve. “We want to weather the community risk and be able to charge off loans, not come back after customers and ruin financial lives and move on to the next thing… [We want to] work together and leverage dollars to bring more wealth into the community versus just recirculating or poaching wealth from other banks. We want to create that wealth.”


Get caught up with the latest in our community banking work by exploring the resources below:  (more…)[11]

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Alabama Committee Kills Bill For Better Connectivity

by Lisa Gonzalez | April 10, 2017 8:00 am

When Alabama State Sen. Tom Whatley from Auburn spoke with OANow in late March[1], he described his bill, SB 228[2], as a “go-to-war bill.” The bill would have allowed Opelika Power Services (OPS) to expand its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) services to his community. On Wednesday, April 5th, his colleagues in the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee[3] decided to end the conflict in favor of AT&T and its army of lobbyists.

The final vote, according to the committee legislative assistant, was 7 – 6 against the bill. She described the vote as bipartisan, although the roll call isn’t posted yet, so we have not been able to confirm.

According to Whatley:

“AT&T has hired 26 lobbyists to work against me on that bill. It really aggravates me because I have boiled one bill down to where it only allows Opelika to go into Lee County. It cuts out the other counties.”

Whatley has introduced several bills this session and in previous legislative sessions[4] to allow OPS to expand beyond the state imposed barriers to offer services in Lee County. Alabama law doesn’t allow OPS, or any other municipal provider, to offer advanced telecommunications services outside city limits. SB 228 would allow Opelika and others (described as a “Class 6 municipalities”) to offer services throughout the counties in which they reside. A companion bill in the House, HB 375[5], is sitting in the House Commerce and Small Business Committee.

Rep. Joe Lovvorn, who introduced HB 375 agrees with Whatley:

“If it doesn’t make sense for a large corporation to go there, that’s OK that’s their choice,” he said. “But they don’t have the right to tell, in my opinion with my bill, the city of Opelika they can’t serve them either.”

AT&T’s lobbyists aren’t the only big money opponents facing off with Whatley. The Taxpayer’s Protection Alliance (TPA), one of the many organizations backed by billionaire Koch brothers[6], has popped up in Alabama to help the national telecom. Per its usual modus operandi, TPA has published several opinion pieces in the local news to spread misinformation.

A Mayor’s Work Is Never Done

opelika-seal.pngMayor Gary Fuller of Opelika has stayed on task. We profiled one of his op-eds[7] in early March, in which he corrected the many errors and lies spread by an article about another sloppy TPA report.

In a more recent piece in OANow[8], Mayor Fuller tells the story of how Opelika came to own and operate[9] the public’s gigabit FTTH network. In a thoughtful and logical article, he explains how the community became a reluctant provider due to lack of investment and poor service from the monopoly cable provider. He describes a community that took control of their own destiny rather than taking it on the chin from one of the companies that write checks for the TPA.

And, once again, Mayor Fuller addresses the misinformation spread by the TPA about how the network was funded, how much it cost, and how it has impacted the community. He counters unproven statements with facts and supplies the numbers to back them up.

Mayor Fuller describes how Opelika’s investment has injected the community with job growth, better response from area private providers, and the kind of connectivity the town needs to stay competitive. The city’s bond rating has risen. the economy is expanding, and finances are looking good. Clearly, the investment in fiber infrastructure investment was a good decision.

When it comes to recognizing what Sen. Whatley, Rep. Levvorn, and their constituents are up against at the State Capitol, says Mayor Fuller:

For nearly two decades, AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications have spent millions of dollars to lobby state legislatures, influence elections and buy research to stop the spread of public Internet services that often offer faster speeds and cheaper rates. These companies have succeeded in getting laws passed in 20 states that ban or restrict municipalities from offering Internet to residents.

Now that such laws are in place, elected officials need to step up and fix a system that prevents municipal networks from expanding to neighbors who want and need service from communities willing to help them, like Opelika. Destroying bills in committee to protect incumbents is not a good way to start.

The Committee Process And Lack Of Access To Democracy

In Alabama, as in most states, the state legislature reviews proposals via the committee process. Bills like SB 228 can be killed in committee or pass through to be taken up by the full body, then the House, and eventually the Governor. Committee hearings are a key component to the democratic process.

gavel.pngIn the Alabama State Senate, there are two rooms where committee meetings occur that enable audio live streaming. If a committee chair feels the bills they will discuss should be livestreamed, the committee will meet in either room 727 or 807. If Alabamans want to witness their Senators engage in the process of democracy at the committee level and are not able to watch the livestream or are interested in viewing some other bill discussion, they need to make the journey to Montgomery and attend a committee hearing in person.

We contacted the folks at Legislative Audio and Video Service who told us that there is “no technology in the legislature to archive any audio or video files. Nor is there any transcription service.” Consequently, we were not able to review the hearing to determine what was said or by whom at the time we published this story.

[10]As we attempt to follow the development of bills in different states, we see the wide spectrum of access to democracy at the state level. In some places hearings are routinely livestreamed and archived, either video or audio, which should be the normal practice in every state. Constituents should be able to know what their elected officials say at committee meetings and how they vote on specific measures. Not all Representatives or Senators make speeches during chamber debate and if a decision is made on a voice vote, a citizen may never know if their elected official is representing their interests or the interests of lobbyists like AT&T, Comcast, or the billionaire Koch Brothers.

There are decisions made in Montgomery that affect people across the state and many don’t have the opportunity to go to the Capitol to be physically present for committee meetings. People in Alabama have responsibilities and committee schedules are unpredictable. Even if they make the long trek to the Capitol, they may find that a bill they want to see discussed in a hearing has been rescheduled to another day – a wasted trip.

Alabamans should, at the very least, have the opportunity to read a transcript after the fact to know what went on in committee about issues they care about. In 2017, however, recording and archiving committee meetings so voters know what they’re getting from elected officials is a small ask in a democratic society.

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[11]. Read the original here[12].

  1. spoke with OANow in late March:
  2. SB 228:
  3. Senate Transportation and Energy Committee:
  4. and in previous legislative sessions:
  5. HB 375:
  6. many organizations backed by billionaire Koch brothers:
  7. We profiled one of his op-eds:
  8. more recent piece in OANow:
  9. came to own and operate:
  10. [Image]:
  12. here:

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Thanks To Your Local Economy, Renewables Aren’t Going Anywhere – Episode 15 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | April 6, 2017 12:00 pm

Welcome to episode fifteen of the Building Local Power podcast[1]. For full transcript of the podcast, click here[2].

In this episode, Christopher Mitchell, the director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews John Farrell[3] and Karlee Weinmann[4], researchers for ILSR’s Energy Democracy initiative on the prospects of renewable energy given President Trump’s executive orders undermining the Clean Power Plan. The group discusses how the strong market for renewable energy will endure any federal level interferences,

This discussion also features the (virtual) ghost of Ken Bone to shift the discussion how the accelerating push to renewables will work on a local level where individual fossil fuel power plants are dominant.

“A lot of that growth [around renewables] is rooted in state policies that support it and encourage it and not necessarily in any action that happens or doesn’t happen at the federal level,” says Karlee Weinmann of the shift in federal energy policy away from renewables and towards fossil fuels.


Here is the piece on the red sweater-clad Ken Bone and his energy question at the second presidential debate during the 2016 election:

A Deep Dive to Answer Ken Bone’s Energy Question[11]

Here are the reading/watching recommendations from the group this week.

From John:


From Chris & Karlee:

View the full transcript of the podcast, below.If you missed our previous episodes make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power [13]Podcast Homepage[14]. Please give us a review and rating on iTunes or wherever you subscribe to podcasts.

Full Transcript of Podcast:

Chris Mitchell: John, I hear that you’ve been thinking about where our energy has come from recently.
John Farrell: I haven’t just been thinking about it recently, Chris. In the last decade it is remarkable to note that over 40% of our new power plant capacity and increasingly more of that is coming from renewable energy sources alone and the remainder of that is pretty much coming from natural gas. In other words, there’s almost no new coal power plants being built in this country, in the last decade.
Chris Mitchell: Also no nuclear power plants or other facilities.
John Farrell: There hasn’t been a new nuclear plant built in a long time and the only one that’s under construction in Georgia, continues to experience construction delays, increasing its cost.
Chris Mitchell: The other thing that came to mind when you said that, was that in the last decade was entirely after the year 2000, which still I find amazing.
John Farrell: Yes, in fact it’s not even that close to the year 2000 anymore.
Chris Mitchell: It really isn’t. Welcome to another Building Local Power podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. We’re going to talk about clean power today and the Clean Power Plan from the Obama administration that the Trump administration has just wiped out and whether we should freak out or celebrate or how we should react in general to this monumental, monumental change in policy. Is that right John?
John Farrell: It is a big change in policy but I think that it would be important to note that we should all take a deep breath before we consider the implications of this.
Chris Mitchell: There’s nothing better than a podcast that talks about taking a deep breath. That was John Farrell, who runs our energy work. I’m Chris Mitchell and also Karlee Weinmann, who is here with a bemused look on her face and does all the work that John takes credit for. Welcome back Karlee.
Karlee Weinmann: Hi, Chris.
Chris Mitchell: It’s great to have old podcast veterans back on Building Local Power. Let’s just take a quick step back and talk about what was the Clean Power Plan from the Obama administration, in brief?
John Farrell: It was really just a set of rules that would guide states on the course to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. It was going to particularly affect states that had a lot of coal power plants that were disproportionately putting a lot of greenhouse gas emissions into the air and was going to require them to come up with a plan and the next thing was that the state was able to choose what that plan was but they would have to hit a certain target for emissions reductions.

When I said at the beginning, “We need to take a deep breath about what’s happening here.” That’s for two reasons. One is that because it was a fairly complex rule there’s a process for walking it back. I heard one commentator on the radio say, “Creating the rules was like walking up a set of stairs and undoing them means you have to walk down the same set of stairs.” Changes in the rules will take some time.

The second thing is that for states that were agreeable to the Clean Power Plan, which is to say they wanted to do something anyway, they’re going to go ahead and find ways to implement those rules or find other ways of meeting those greenhouse gas emissions regardless.

I think we have two hopeful elements here. One is that it will take a while to undo this and the other is that many states will move ahead, whether or not the federal government is continuing to compel them to do so.

Chris Mitchell: Karlee, I just want to ask you a question, as someone who came to us as a reporter covering a lot of business. I think of you as somebody who knows a lot about markets. It strikes me that all of this change in policy, the market isn’t sort of thinking, “Oh, carbon is free in the future.” It seems like in many ways, not much has changed.
Karlee Weinmann: Utilities are increasingly moving toward clean energy and they have been for a long time, based on the economics. It’s not like the Clean Power Plan upended the marketplace and as John said, it’s not like this decision by President Trump will upend the marketplace.

Fracking is, I think, a great and instructive example of this. Certainly that compounded the shift away from coal and that had nothing to do with the policy that we’re talking about here today. The bottom line is that nothing is going to save coal from these economics. Even if natural gas gets more expensive, renewables remain on a trajectory that makes them increasingly accessible and attractive.

Chris Mitchell: Well that’s, I think, a good sign. It’s also a sign, I just sort of wonder a little bit about the hype on both sides. To be glib, investors are smarter than voters and I don’t think investors have a sense like, “Hey, let’s go build three coal power plants now.”
John Farrell: You know it’s funny you should say that Chris, because one of the tools that Karlee and I use, and many others in our field, is analysis done by the investment bank, Lazard, at least I think that’s the name. They do this every year and it compares the cost of energy from different power plants. What you can see in their most recent one, which is like version 10 of their analysis, is essentially that renewable energy is the cheapest form of electricity across the board. That solar and wind and of course, things like energy efficiency, are cheaper than any other kind of power plant you can build. Whether it’s a nuclear one, a coal one or a natural gas one.

When Karlee’s talking about the economics being in the driver’s seat here, in the wake of the Clean Power Plan or it’s reversal, like you said, the folks informing the investors, the investment banks, are essentially saying put your money in renewables. That’s the cheap stuff.

Chris Mitchell: It strikes me, from the stat you brought from the beginning, 40% of energy gains over the last 10 years, coming from these renewable energies, this clean energy. Maybe I’m stuck in thinking about this from a 20 year ago perspective, which was like people were saying, “Oh, sure solar’s doubling but it’s a fraction of a fraction. It doesn’t matter, it’s not adding up.” It seems like it’s adding up now.
John Farrell: Yeah, it is. In fact, if you look on our website and Karlee’s updating every quarter our analysis of new power plant capacity, you can see that this chart went from being almost all purple and black, which was representing fossil fuels, to this big, bright, band of blue, which represents wind power, which has been most of that new capacity.

In the past couple, three, four years, all of a sudden there are these big bars of orange and red, which represent large-scale and small-scale solar. It is really adding up. Although, on an annual basis, the amount of total energy, electricity that we get from that is still relatively small, it’s growing very quickly. It shows up first in these charts around capacity, in the next couple of years we’ll start to see that in terms of how much energy we get on an annual basis.

Karlee Weinmann: A lot of that growth is rooted in state policies that support it and encourage it and not necessarily in any action that happens or doesn’t happen at the federal level. I think that just goes to show that where we’re really seeing movement, in terms of policy, that advances or inhibits growth in renewables and clean energy, that’s not happening at the federal level per se.
Chris Mitchell: When you say it’s at the state level, I’m curious, I immediately start thinking, “Oh, well probably like California and blue states.” But then I remember Texas and even Iowa, I’m not really sure what color Iowa is anymore, yellow for corn maybe. I’m curious what states in particular have really been driving this. I’m guessing it’s not all states.
John Farrell: No, it’s not all states but there’s no question there is some partisan lean to the states that are driving a lot of this. California, for example, happens to be a very deep blue state but it also happens to be a state that has a really good renewable energy resource. In fact, I would say that in some ways it’s even more powerful of a driver.

You take Iowa, for example, regardless of its politics, it has an incredible wind resource and in fact, the policy that got its wind industry started expired 10 or 20 years ago. All of the development in wind power in Iowa, which is one of the nation’s leaders on a per capita basis, is because wind simply is a really cheap resource for supplying electricity needs because wind blows a lot in Iowa.

On the other hand, you have states like Minnesota or Colorado or California or New York, where we’ve enacted policies that are pushing utilities toward renewables. Of course the analysis shows, in retrospect, that that was a very cost-effective choice. You’re also seeing advances in places like Arizona or Nevada or Texas, where it’s not really policy driven, it’s just economics.

In West Texas you have tens of thousands of megawatts of wind power, because it’s a very good wind resource but increasingly solar. Excellent solar resource in Arizona and Nevada and New Mexico, driving a lot of solar adoption there.

Chris Mitchell: One last thing on this area and the economics, is you mention that it’s a good bet to force utilities to go with the renewables. Now in the past you and I have talked a lot about what was the best way of subsidizing these forms of power, feed-in tariff, production tax credit, the problems associated with some of these. Are these things unnecessary now?
John Farrell: I don’t think it’s unnecessary to still have policy that is helping toward the transition toward renewable energy. What I would say, is that that kinds of policy we need are different. Whereas a decade ago it was really important to sort of throw money at it, to get the industry built up, to build the manufacturing experience, to get the supply chains developed, to get people trained in and employed and build all of that part of the installation and manufacturing process.

What I think has happened now is that we need to figure out ways to maintain competitive markets. For example, a 1978 federal law called PURPA, has required utilities to buy electricity from competitive sources ever since the late 1970’s. It came out of the oil crisis and the desire to find more economical power sources. Well that law is still enforced in all 50 states, requiring us to look at economical sources and utilities, now that they are facing competition from renewable energy resources produced by non-utility participants, are saying, “Hey, we want to get rid of that law.”

There are still ways in which the entrenched interests, whether it’s monopoly utility companies, or the fossil fuel industry, are trying to push back against renewables and we need to hold firm on market access on the basis of cost competitiveness.

Chris Mitchell: One last thing before we get to our surprise call in guest, which is a quote from the past. I wanted to note that I was listening to Charlie Sykes’ last week. He has a show on Indivisible, which is a joint production of, I think, Minnesota Public Radio, WNYC and others. It’s the first 100 days of the Trump presidency, talk radio. Charlie Sykes is a conservative talk show host who is from Wisconsin.

He’s a very interesting guy. He was making the case that he felt like the Clean Power Plan would have been really bad for Wisconsin. It would have cost, in his words I think, billions of dollars in extra costs to rate payers and would have been therefore bad to business. I’m just curious how you would respond to that. I think it looks like Karlee is all ready to offer some context.

Karlee Weinmann: I think it’s fair to say that in some states like Wisconsin utilities might have made poor bets on infrastructure like coal plants in the past but now it’s up to regulators to hold them accountable and part of that is the Clean Power Standards, that may or may not be imposed by the federal government, but part of that is holding utilities to sensible, responsible economics like the kind John has been talking about. It can cause rate payers a lot of money, as well, to stay the course that we’ve seen from these, maybe more short-sighted utilities, in the past.
John Farrell: I would just like to add to that. There’s a couple more factors here. One in terms of cost is that the health and environmental costs of our power system has always been socialized. You have private profits for utilities building these power plants and then socializing the costs, the health and environmental costs.
Chris Mitchell: Could you just explain a couple of those?
John Farrell: Yeah, for example, mercury pollution from coal power plants in particular, gets into lakes and streams and waters, gets consumed by fish or absorbed by fish and then raises the toxicity to the level that we can’t eat fish anymore, particularly vulnerable populations like children and pregnant women.
Chris Mitchell: Right, they only get it like once a week or something like that.
John Farrell: Exactly. That’s been one of the costs that we’ve had and certainly not one that we pay for on our utility bills. The second thing I would say though too, and this is a bit of a criticism of the Clean Power Plan is that as an administrative rule, and it really is the only way that Obama had to implement it because he didn’t have a Congress willing to work with him, and coming from the top down at the federal level, it really just applies sort of brute force to utilities to make them change the way that they’re doing business.

A lot of the economical opportunities that we have for renewables, though, aren’t from the utilities. They’re from the bottom up. They’re from consumers putting solar on their own households. They’re from community solar, like we have in Minnesota or New York or Maryland. They’re from distributed energy production that could use that 1978 PURPA law to sell power competitively to the utility company.

I think one of the potential costs that, I don’t know if this is what Charlie Sykes was getting to or not, but I think one of the potential problems with the Clean Power Plan was the fact that this top down kind of bureaucratic solution would have made it difficult for some of those things to come to market that might be much more cost-effective than asking utilities to turn the ship.

Chris Mitchell: With that, we want to take a call that comes direct to us from the Town Hall debate between presidential candidate Clinton and presidential candidate Trump. Ken Bone, I think you’re on the line. What did you want to ask?
Ken Bone: What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?
Chris Mitchell: Candidate John, tell us what your plan would include.
John Farrell: First of all, I just want to point out that Ken Bone got picked on a lot in the media or highlighted in the media for the fact that he had a bright red sweater and then a whole bunch of other stuff went on. It was really one of the most intelligent questions that we’ve had about energy policy in a long time.
Chris Mitchell: I think that’s probably why he got picked on. I mean, honestly, I just don’t see our media being able to really deal with those sorts of intelligent, layered questions, which aren’t sort of red meat for one side or the other.
John Farrell: Right and that’s true. There wasn’t a lot of red meat for either side in this particular question. It was a very well-nuanced one. I think the most important part of his questions really was around this notion of both environmentally friendly energy and then what happens with fossil fuel power plant workers.

There is a recognition in that question that we are moving away from fossil fuels. Despite that, you see in the recent news here about the Clean Power Plan, this assumption that we’re going to somehow roll back these regulations and it’s going to allow these, in particularly, coal mining and coal jobs to come back.

The truth is, in the last 50 years, employment in the coal mining sector has dropped by about two-thirds even as production has more than doubled. That has nothing to do with renewable energy because there weren’t renewables on the system in the sixties and seventies and eighties and even the early nineties.

Chris Mitchell: It’s Wyoming’s fault actually, with the Powder River Basin coal and the coal from out west and the mountaintop removal coal. It’s all highly capital now.
John Farrell: Right. Unfortunately that’s something that candidate and then President Trump has not been really interested in getting into the nuance of. He’s really exploiting the job losses from automation in the coal mining sector in order to unpack and destroy these environmental regulations.

I think the crux of this then, is that in the same way that some people say well the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones, that the Coal Age is going to end, not because we run out of coal but because we have cheaper ways to produce our energy than we did before.

Ultimately, the issue here is, what is that we can do? What is a reasonable approach to our energy system that accomplishes these goals of environmental sensitivity, meeting our energy needs and respecting fossil fuel power plant workers and fossil fuel workers? The Clean Power Plan reversal does none of these things. It doesn’t mean that we will get environmentally friendly energy, in fact it undermines a regulation in favor of it. It doesn’t really help us, in terms of cost-effective energy either.

In fact, the biggest winners being talked about in the news here are coal mining companies, which will be able to sell more coal to existing power plants perhaps, at the expense of the workers for whom often end up being on the losing end of bankruptcy filings, for example, where they lose their pensions and their healthcare and everything else.

What can we do? There were a number of things that we actually outlined, that we wrote about on our website, in light of Ken Bone’s question at the debate and there were a couple of things. One is, as I have said earlier, reinforcing the access for renewable energy to the market.

Number two is figuring out how we can retrain people from the fossil fuel sector to work in those jobs and to make sure those are good jobs. Whether that’s helping unions organize in that area, like they have the fossil fuel industry, whether that’s coal mining jobs or power plant jobs or just making sure that we have a way to transition folks into those jobs that are generally good paying.

The third thing is we just have to admit that the fossil fuel jobs are going away. There’s nothing that we can do, from a federal regulation perspective, other than maybe something like Wyoming tried to do recently, which was to pass a law prohibiting utilities from building renewable energy power plants. It would be incredibly expensive and have all these adverse, societal effects from pollution and on down. It might keep them working for at least a little bit longer. Maybe, except that as the cost of energy went up from the utility company, people are going to put solar on their rooftop and stop buying it from the utilities.

There’s really no saving those jobs. How do we have a just transition? How do we help those folks?

Chris Mitchell: I feel like I often hear people talking about job retraining. We’ve heard about this from NAFTA. We’ve heard about this from TPP and trade agreements. People always talk about how the people who end up losing their jobs can just get new jobs. It seems like when you actually look at those programs, they’re hard to pull off. What do we have to do to actually make sure they’re going to work in this instance?
John Farrell: Well, we give a little bit more detail in the posts that we produced in response to Ken’s question.
Chris Mitchell: Which I believe was a deep-dive to answer Ken Bone’s energy question at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s webpage on
John Farrell: Yes, thank you Chris. I think that what’s a key here to understand is that retraining is just one piece of this. We need wage insurance, which means insuring the folks that are in these jobs can maintain their current wages for a set period of time. Maybe at least five years so there is a reasonable period of transition.

The second one is that we have that retraining assistance but it might also include relocation assistance because it may be that the jobs for renewable energy are not in Appalachia like the jobs were for coal mining or for working in a power plant.

A similar issue actually came up recently in Minnesota about the potential closure of a coal power plant in Becker, a small rural community. Another thing that we have to consider too is not just the outcome for these workers but the outcome for the communities. These big power plants are a sizeable portion of a community’s property tax revenue and a sizeable presence in the community. What can we do for those communities?

In Minnesota, we had a bill passed that said we’ll build a new power plant there to replace that. It’s a billion dollar rate payer subsidy for a town of 2,000 people in order to maintain that town’s character. There are probably less expensive ways we can do that. We outline a couple of them in our research. It comes from some very good, very thorough work done by the American Prospect.

Karlee Weinmann: There are a number of these workers, a fairly large proportion, that are going to be hitting retirement age before we really need to be all in on this transition. It’s not necessarily going to be a one to one, we need to find a new job and a solution for every single worker and while I acknowledge that a just transition is of paramount importance, this is and has been a shrinking industry for a long time. That evolution in the fossil fuel industry is I think important to remember in this context.
Chris Mitchell: Right, actually it just strikes me whenever I hear people talk about how great these jobs are, that one of the things I always remember in growing up in Eastern Pennsylvania, I didn’t know any miners certainly, but there was always this sense that people worked hard, dirty jobs, not because they loved it and it was awesome but because they wanted to make sure their kids had a good education and had all the opportunities that they didn’t have. They could go on and not spend their life working in a job, which was unsafe in many cases. I think it’s an important context to bear in mind.

I wanted to end with a question of hope, which is we talk around the office a lot about whether things are heading in a direction that’s one of despair or not. I’m curious, when you look at this, and we’ve elected someone that I think no one in this office supports as president, who’s doing a lot of damage to the things that we care about and yet it seems to me like it’s actually maybe he can’t do that much damage because we have local leadership and that sort of thing. I’m just curious what you take away from it Karlee?

Karlee Weinmann: I would say that I take a lot of heart in the local leadership that we have and in many communities around the country since November. With regard to these clean energy issues, I think we’ve seen a tremendous willingness on behalf of local leaders to take ownership of this issue and to really make it their own in way that maybe they weren’t as active about before November. But now, especially in light of the recent actions regarding the Clean Power Plan, I think that there is a new kind of emphasis that really opens the door to local action that can really deliver the most meaningful results here.
Chris Mitchell: Do we have any recommendations for people to check out for reading or listening or viewing or anything like that.
John Farrell: There was a really remarkable piece recently published by The New York Times on Uber, looking at its business model and the tension between the company’s interest and the driver’s interest. They had some interactive features that allowed you to kind of play around with what would happen if there were more drivers or less drivers. It’s a really stunning revelation of what the sharing economy is about and whether or not Uber is really good for the people who are working for it, whether or not they’re employees or not. I highly recommend it as a good way to get some insight on that.
Chris Mitchell: I’d like to suggest a recommendation from Karlee and I, which is the video that you recommended we watch. Do you remember the name of it? The one hour presentation about the electric vehicles and driving.
John Farrell: Oh yes. It’s Tony Seba did a presentation. He’s an author of a book called Clean Disruption. I don’t recall the exact title of the Youtube video from 2016 for the presentation he gave but it is a remarkable look at the way that the clean energy economy will be changing thanks to Silicon Valley technology over the next decade.
Chris Mitchell: Great. Thank you both.
John Farrell: Yeah, thanks Chris.
Karlee Weinmann: Thanks Chris.
Lisa Gonzalez: That was John Farrell and Karlee Weinmann joining Christopher Mitchell for episode 15 of the Building Local Power Podcast. John and Karlee work on our Energy Democracy Initiative and Christopher heads up the Community Broadband Networks Initiative. Check out John and Karlee’s work at
Chris Mitchell: Hey everyone. Please tell your friends, tell others who might be interested about this show. If you have a chance to rate us on iTunes please do. Several people already have. We really appreciate all of the comments and we really appreciate you taking the time to listen to us.
Lisa Gonzalez: We also encourage you to subscribe to this podcast and all of our other podcasts on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever else you get your podcasts. You can also sign up for our monthly newsletter at Thanks to Dysfunction Al for the music licensed through Creative Commons, the song is Funk Interlude. This is Lisa Gonzalez from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Thanks again for listening to episode 15 of the Building Local Power podcast.

Subscribe: iTunes | Android[15] | RSS

Audio Credit: Funk Interlude[16] by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0)[17] license.

  1. Building Local Power podcast:
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  11. A Deep Dive to Answer Ken Bone’s Energy Question:
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Infographic: The Market for Internet Access Is Broken

by Lisa Gonzalez | April 5, 2017 6:00 am

“Monopoly” may be a fun family night activity, but if you live in a place where you have little or no choice for Internet access, it’s not fun and it’s not a game.

According to FCC data, most families don’t have a choice in Internet access providers, especially providers they like. Nevertheless, the biggest companies keep reporting increasing revenues every year. People aren’t happy with the service they’re receiving, but companies like AT&T and Comcast continue to thrive. What’s going on?

In a recent State Scoop piece[1], Christopher wrote:

[T]he market is not providing a check to AT&T or Comcast power. They are effectively monopolies — and as we just saw — can translate their market power into political power to wipe out regulations they find annoying.

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, where we work to support local economies, this broken market is a major problem. Cable monopolies are bad for local businesses, which become less competitive from paying too much for unreliable Internet access. Communities cannot thrive without high quality Internet access today.

We created this infographic to present the evidence showing that the market is broken. This resource also discusses why creating more competition in the current market is such a challenge. An effective way to overcome this broken market, however, is to consider what hundreds of local communities are already doing – investing in publicly owned Internet infrastructure. Our infographic offers a few examples of different models, each chosen to suit the communities they serve.

Get a larger version of the infographic here[2].


Get a larger version of the infographic here[2].

Kudos to intern Kate Svitavsky who created the infographic.

Stay up to date on community networks with our newsletter[4].

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[5]. Read the original here[6].

  1. recent State Scoop piece:
  2. Get a larger version of the infographic here:
  3. [Image]:
  4. with our newsletter:
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Local Governments Are Increasingly Buying from Amazon. Here’s Why They Need to Stop.

by Olivia LaVecchia | April 4, 2017 3:02 pm


Download this article as a PDF[2] that you can print and share with your local officials, and head to the end to see 5 things you can do right now.

Photo: Downtown Hamilton, Mont.[3]

Downtown Hamilton, Mont. Jimmy Emerson/Flickr

When Shawn Wathen decided to see how much his county was spending on purchases from Amazon, he wasn’t sure what he would find.

Wathen co-owns an independent bookstore, Chapter One, in Hamilton, Mont., a 4,500-person town nestled in the Bitterroot Mountains an hour south of Missoula. Wathen has seen a lot of stores come and go from downtown Hamilton in recent years, but Chapter One has kept on, along with the local newspaper and the office supply store, the toy store and the drug store, that are the bookstore’s neighbors on the same block of Main Street.

Amazon doesn’t have a physical presence near the town — no warehouse for storing goods and packing boxes, no sortation center or delivery station or one of its new brick-and-mortar bookstores — or, in fact, anywhere in Montana, but Wathen’s been increasingly impacted by its growth in recent years. After reading the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s recent report on the company[4], and talking about it with the Hamilton Downtown Association, Wathen started wondering if his local officials were buying from Amazon for any county purchases. He got in touch with the Ravalli County treasurer to find out.

After some back-and-forth with the county, and teaming up with another business to pay the $120 records fee, Wathen got back a report. Between reams of paper and ink cartridges, a handful of books and miscellaneous items like picture frames, Ravalli County had spent $15,500 purchasing goods from Amazon in 2016. Residents in the county have worked to stop chain retail proliferation for years, including successful campaigns to block two separate Walmart developments, but meanwhile, Amazon had snuck in under their noses.

It felt “a little bit like betrayal,” says Wathen. Wathen’s been at Chapter One for 21 years, starting out as an employee and later buying the business. He and his co-owner work at the store full-time; they pay property taxes, serve on local associations, host author readings, and organize book clubs and literature seminars. Chapter One is a small business, but in 2016, the bookstore gave $8,000 in discounts and direct donations to organizations in the county, including three school districts.

Photo: Shawn Wathen at Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton, Mont.[5]

Shawn Wathen at Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton, Mont. Photo courtesy Shawn Wathen.

Ravalli County’s spending with Amazon isn’t an outlier. In February, U.S. Communities, a purchasing cooperative that negotiates office and school supply contracts for more than 90,000 public agencies across the country, announced[6] that it had awarded Amazon Business a multiyear contract for 10 different product categories, including office supplies, classroom and art supplies, musical instruments, audio visual and electronics, and scientific equipment and lab supplies. In coming months, the public agencies that are members of U.S. Communities will be deciding whether or not to sign onto the contract. These agencies include everyone from major city governments like Boston and Minneapolis, to school districts, townships, libraries, fire departments, and sewer districts. In its Request for Proposals, U.S. Communities estimated the overall value of the contract to be $500 million per year.

While U.S. Communities described the contract as “competitively solicited, evaluated, and awarded,” independent business owners quickly disagreed. “The way the U.S. Communities bid was written proves yet again how the system continues to be rigged against open and fair competition,” the National Office Products Alliance, the trade association for independent office supply dealers, described[7] in a statement. “In order to bid on the U.S. Communities contract, a bidder had to bid on all nine categories,” which included not just office supplies, but also grocery, clothing, animal supplies, and more. “These requirements made it impossible for anyone other than Amazon to bid on this contract.” (more…)[8]

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Anticompetitive Conditions Are Impacting Independent Businesses, Says Letter to Sen. Klobuchar

by Olivia LaVecchia | April 4, 2017 2:31 pm

In today’s highly concentrated markets, the ability of dominant companies to exclude and impede businesses from competing has become one of the most pressing issues facing independent businesses.

On the heels of a recent speech[1] about the need for more vigorous antitrust enforcement by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the ranking member of the U.S. Senate’s Antitrust Subcommittee, Advocates for Independent Business[2] (AIB) has sent Sen. Klobuchar a letter commending her call for action and sharing information about the experiences of AIB’s member businesses. AIB is a coalition of national trade associations representing tens of thousands of independent businesses across a variety of industries, and is coordinated by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

The letter looks at how independent businesses are being negatively impacted by anticompetitive behavior by dominant companies, including by the rise of platform power as a new form of market power that limits businesses’ ability to reach the market; by high levels of vertical integration that allow dominant companies to use their power in one part of the supply chain to impede competition in another; and by concentration in markets for essential services, like credit card processing, which allows dominant suppliers to charge excessive fees.

What’s at stake, the letter notes, is job growth, a healthy middle class, and the entrepreneurial aspirations of Americans: (more…)[3]

  1. recent speech:
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Hierarchy to Reduce Food Waste & Grow Community

by Brenda Platt | April 4, 2017 12:00 pm


Different versions are available for download:

11″x 17″ Poster[2] | 13″x 19″ Portrait[3] | 18″x 24″ Portrait[4] | 19″x 13″ Poster[5] | 24″x 18″ Poster[6] | US Letter Portrait[7] | US Letter Poster[8]

We’ve developed this Hierarchy to Reduce Waste & Grow Community[9] in order to highlight the importance of locally based composting solutions as a first priority over large-scale regional solutions. Composting can be small scale and large scale and everything in between but too often home composting, onsite composting, community scale composting, and on-farm composting are overlooked. Anaerobic digestion systems come in different sizes as well. This new hierarchy addresses issues of scale and community benefits when considering what strategies and infrastructure to pursue for food waste reduction and recovery.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has long been a strong advocate of food waste recovery. Its Food Waste Reduction Hierarchy[10] has been widely disseminated and even written into local law.  Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law[11], for instance, has made it the policy of that state. More recently, in 2015, EPA joined with the US Department of Agriculture, in establishing the first ever domestic goal to reduce food loss and waste by half by the year 2030[12]. The agency’s hierarchy remains an important guideline for how this goal is to be met: prevent food waste, feed hungry people, feed animals, and recover via industrial uses and anaerobic digestion. However, in the EPA’s hierarchy, composting is listed just before disposal via landfilling and incineration. We believe size matters.

ILSR supports the development of a diverse and distributed food waste reduction and recovery infrastructure. We hope local and state governments will consider using our hierarchy as a policy framework. We welcome comments and suggestions.

Hierarchy to Reduce Food Waste and Grow Community from Nick Stumo-Langer[13]
Download the original PowerPoint presentation of the above slides here: ILSR Food Waste Hierarchy PowerPoint[14].

Download a pdf of the Hierarchy to Reduce Waste & Grow Community: ILSR Food Waste Hierarchy v2[15].


Share our gif here:[17].

We want you to be able to share this graphic under creative commons license, free of cost. But please, make sure to let people know they should link to:[18] to see the original content.

If you’re publishing on your website, or in one of your publications, please include this sentence:

“The following comes from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance[19] ([20]), a national nonprofit organization working to strengthen local economies, and redirect waste into local recycling, composting, and reuse industries. It is reprinted here with permission.” 

Follow the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on Twitter[21] and Facebook[22] and, for monthly updates on our work, sign-up[23] for our ILSR general newsletter.

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  14. ILSR Food Waste Hierarchy PowerPoint:
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Report: Why Should Baltimore Recycle More?

by Neil Seldman | April 3, 2017 7:45 am


Download the Full Report[2]

The report was prepared to inform city agencies, City Council and Mayor’s Office about the immediate opportunities for increased recycling and its potential economic impact on the city. The Office of Sustainability, Department of Planning and the Department of Public Works were all generous with their data and insights in helping prepare the report. ILSR also relied on input from environmental organizations and recycling and composting businesses. What follows is the introduction of the report, the full report is available for download here[3].

There are two primary reasons why Baltimore should invest in more recycling. Establishing high recycling levels will position the city’s residents and businesses for the future, when the costs of incineration and landfill will be more expensive. The city could save citizens and businesses hundreds of millions of dollars by shrinking its waste stream for the next generation.

More immediately, increased recycling means more jobs. Within three years, based on the experiences of other cities, Baltimore could have 500 new direct jobs in this sector of the city’s economy. In general, for every 10,000 tons of materials incinerated, one job is created. For every 10,000 tons of materials processed for recycling and composting, five to 10 jobs are created. Hundreds more jobs are created when processed materials are used in industry and agriculture. Oakland, CA created 1,000 jobs in the recycling sector in the last 10 years. Based on the results of a recent business report on recycling and jobs in South Carolina, if just one percent of Baltimore residents recycled eight more newspapers per month, it would add $304,000 to the local economy.

Expanding Recycling in Baltimore

Mayor Pugh’s Transition Report identifies solid waste and recycling management as a top priority, calling for the doubling of the city’s recycling rate within one year as a primary strategy to eliminate the use of the downtown garbage incinerator and landfills.

The net cost to the city for incineration at the Wheelabrator Baltimore incinerator is $50 per ton. The net cost to the city for recycling as of March 2017 was $18 per ton. For every ton the city recycles, it saves $32. At current prices, the 25,000 tons per year that the city recycles saves $800,000. Mayor Pugh’s goal is to double the recycling rate within a few years; if that goal is met, the city will save $1.6 million annually at current prices.

While the markets for recycled materials fluctuate, the costs of upgrading the aging incinerator and expanding the ash landfill can be expected to rise in the next few years. Replacement incineration and landfill capacity will steadily increase over time. For example, the installation of selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology to reduce pollution at Wheelabrator was estimated by air quality officials to cost somewhere around $70 million, with $10 or $11 million in yearly operating costs. The Harford County, MD, garbage incinerator closed after 28 years instead of its projected useful service life of 30 years, because “complete upgrades [would have been] uneconomical and unsuccessful at achieving an increase in operational efficiency.”

Baltimore City’s contract with Wheelabrator Baltimore expires at the end of 2021 with a city option through 2026. If the incinerator continues to operate beyond 2021, the city will have to expand the capacity of Quarantine Road Landfill.

Baltimore’s business institutions and residences generate about 970,000 tons of solid waste a year, including 286,000 tons of construction & demolition debris.



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Rural Solar At Risk As Co-ops Push for Less Oversight

by Karlee Weinmann | March 30, 2017 12:34 pm

Minnesota’s governor recently vetoed[1] anti-renewables legislation that threatens rural solar development, but the bill’s likely resurgence means the state remains among a growing crop of Midwestern states facing the prospect of heavy-handed limitations on solar growth.

The Minnesota legislation would have exempted rural electric cooperatives from all oversight of distributed generation policy by state regulators, putting the utilities alone in charge of resolving customer disputes over rates and fees related to owning distributed renewable energy systems like solar. The legislation would have allowed rural utilities to implement anti-solar policies[2] without scrutiny from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, the regulator charged with safeguarding the public interest.

Coincidentally, the Commission is already probing whether fees imposed by some co-ops on customers with rooftop solar are justified. After a series of complaints, regulators opened a docket focused on determining whether those charges — sometimes masked as other required expenses, like for a new meter — reflect the utility’s actual costs to serve customers with solar panels, or are instead a backhanded attempt to recover lost sales.

Still, even in the face of unresolved questions, the problematic measure drew bipartisan supporters who misleadingly billed it a restoration of “local control.” The bill met with Gov. Mark Dayton’s veto pen soon after it crossed his desk.

“The effect of this proposed legislation would negatively impact Minnesota’s progress toward more renewable and efficient energy,” the governor said in a letter explaining his move[3]. “All Minnesota customers — from family farmers to large businesses — should be able to invest in technology to produce clean and efficient energy with the assurance that the Public Utilities Commission is available to provide consumer protection.”

Dayton’s veto was a distinct win for the co-op member owners, renewable energy advocates, and others who vocally opposed the bill. But the legislation’s proponents remain committed to peeling back regulations that expand clean energy options. State Rep. Pat Garofalo hinted soon after the veto that similar language would surface again[4]. Days later, the zombie provision appeared in omnibus legislation[5] that remains under consideration.

Co-op Solar in Cross Hairs Across Midwest

The Minnesota legislation is among several efforts led by rural cooperatives in statehouses across the Midwest to limit oversight of or directly undercut policies supporting customer-owned distributed generation.


Companion bills in the Iowa House and Senate (HB442[6] and SB331[7]) would slacken reporting requirements energy efficiency programs of non-rate-regulated utilities (including co-ops). The legislation, still working its way through the statehouse, would reduce reporting from every year to every other year.

This relatively narrow proposal is unlikely to upend Iowa’s efficiency efforts. But it could pave the way for more substantial utility deregulation — if lawmakers’ show an appetite for it this time around.


Legislation up for consideration in Missouri (HB340[8]) could prove a  double-whammy for rooftop solar. The provisions proposed this session would upend rooftop solar compensation by exempting from net metering all utilities that serve fewer than 20,000 meters — an obvious nod to co-ops, which typically serve wide geographic areas with low populations. In fact, the state’s co-ops are among the most visible proponents[9] of the changes.

Additionally, the overhaul would allow co-ops (and municipal utilities) to create individual rate structures for members who generate their own power, potentially opening the door to added charges that render rooftop solar cost-prohibitive. The proposed change represents a sharp deviation from the existing requirement that all residential electric customers be treated the same.


Hours of testimony at an Indiana Senate committee meeting this month exposed deep divides between the state’s utilities and policies that promote growth in the clean energy economy. New legislation (SB309[10]) is the latest attempt by the state’s utilities to dampen mounting enthusiasm for renewable generation.

The proposed bill[11] would ban net metering by 2027 and restrict state regulators’ options for replacing it with alternative compensation for households and businesses that generate their own solar power. Rather than getting the retail price for energy they feed back onto the grid, solar customers would instead receive the much lower avoided cost or wholesale rate, despite this energy being absorbed at the retail level by their neighbors.

Further, the bill includes a mandatory “buy-all, sell-all” provision — its attempt at a replacement for net metering — that would prohibit customers from actually using the energy they generate using rooftop arrays, forcing them to send all of it onto the grid. The proposed pricing changes mean these customers would lose money selling their power to the utility at the wholesale rate, then buy it back at a premium. (This mechanism isn’t unfair by default. Minnesota’s “value of solar” policy has a similar provision, but its carefully calculated solar valuation[12] actually pays a premium to retail prices for solar based on its value to the grid.)

As with previous efforts[13] designed to limit regulatory oversight in Indiana, the state’s investor-owned utilities are playing a key role this time around. But co-ops landed in the spotlight recently when senators passed an amendment[14] to the legislation that would exempt rural utilities from competitive procurement requirements.

A Tough Battle Ahead

The legislative assault on solar generation, particularly in rural areas, doesn’t show signs of letting up. Nor will it, as long as utility customers (and in the case of cooperatives, member-owners) continue to find solar attractive while their utilities fail to deliver solar options.

There are ways forward that don’t involve utilities undermining their owners and customers at the legislature. Minnesota[15] and New York[16] are modeling how to value distributed renewable energy resources appropriately. Many cooperatives are offering customers a chance to subscribe to community solar[17] arrays, and some are even throwing in a free electric water heater[18] that the utility can essentially use like a battery.

In the near term, some utilities will succeed in undermining the economics of customer-owned solar, to their detriment. Because with rapidly falling costs of solar and energy storage, it may not be long before they have to worry about customers–especially those that have been maligned by bad policy–looking to cut the cord[19].

Image credit: User: OgreBot/Uploads by new users/2015 January 15 12:00[20]

This article originally posted at[21]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell[22] or Karlee Weinmann[23] on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly[24] update.

  1. vetoed:
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  20. User: OgreBot/Uploads by new users/2015 January 15 12:00:
  22. John Farrell:
  23. Karlee Weinmann:
  24. Energy Democracy weekly:

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Compostable Plastics Bill Advances in Maryland

by Virginia Streeter | March 29, 2017 3:03 pm

Since we wrote about[1] Maryland House Bill 1349[2], “Compostable, Degradable, and Biodegradable Plastic Products – Labeling,” in late February, it has made significant progress in the Maryland state legislature. As of March 23rd, the bill passed its third reading in the House and moved on to the Senate. Since the bill was not cross-filed with the Senate, it does not receive a public hearing, although it still goes to the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee to be discussed.

The initial bill hearing[3] was held on March 1, 2017, in a joint session with the Environment and Transportation Committee and the Economic Matters Committee. Brenda Platt of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Linda Norris Waldt of the US Composting Council[4], and Rhodes Yepsen of the Biodegradable Plastics Institute[5] all testified in favor as a part of bill sponsor Delegate Shane Robinson’s[6] panel of experts. After an extensive discourse on the bill, where the expert panel fielded questions regarding the standards laid out in the bill and what implementation of the law would look like, the bill was voted out of committee with a favorable-with-amendments designation. The only amendment was suggested by Julie Lawson of Trash Free Maryland[7], who testified about her concern with the standards the bill set for “marine degradable” products, as it would have conflicted with the existing Maryland state ban on microbeads.

Given the bill’s overall intention to prevent products that are not truly compostable from ending up in composting facilities, the references to marine degradable materials were stricken entirely from the legislation. If it passes, Maryland will be on the cutting edge of this crucial issue; only California has adopted similar legislation.

A number of organizations, including ILSR, testified in favor of the bill. The written testimonies for the following organizations are available below:

From left to right: Del. Shane Robinson, Brenda Platt, Linda Norris Waldt, and Rhodes Yepsen. Brenda Platt is holding up an example of a compostable plastic bag.

From left to right: Del. Shane Robinson, Brenda Platt, Linda Norris Waldt, and Rhodes Yepsen. Brenda Platt is showing the committee samples of bags marketed as compostable or biodegradable, but which came out of the composting process mostly intact.




Full bill available here:[12].

Follow the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on Twitter[13] and Facebook[14] and, for monthly updates on our work, sign-up[15] for our ILSR general newsletter.

  1. we wrote about:
  2. Maryland House Bill 1349:
  3. initial bill hearing:
  4. US Composting Council:
  5. Biodegradable Plastics Institute:
  6. Delegate Shane Robinson’s:
  7. Trash Free Maryland:
  8. Biodegradable Plastics Institute:
  9. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  10. United States Composting Council:
  11. Veteran Compost:
  13. Twitter:
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  15. sign-up:

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Public-Private Partnership Pursued in Pennsylvania

by Hannah Trostle | March 28, 2017 6:37 am

Pennsylvania’s state barriers won’t stop this community from improving Internet service for its municipal facilities, residents, and businesses. The City of Lancaster is collaborating with private provider MAW Communications to ensure the community has next-generation technology. Their public-private partnership, LanCity Connect, will offer affordable 1 gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) service over a new Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Shared Risk, Public Financing

The Lancaster Online has closely followed the development of the partnership[1] from a 2015 Wi-Fi project between the partners to the current citywide fiber plan. Here’s a quick summary of the basic framework of the partnership:

MAW Communications originally built a $1.7 million fiber backbone[2] starting in 2015 with financing from the city’s water fund bond. The city had refinanced its water utility debt, saving some $7.8 million and they worked out an agreement with MAW where the private partner would deploy and own a backbone fiber network. Over the 20 year term of the deal, the city has the right to half the network for city services, including automatic meter reading (AMR) and a traffic control system, with the city being able to renew the deal for four additional terms. Officials have said this arrangement will not impact water rates.

MAW Communications will extend the network to premises, aided by a $1.5 million loan with a 7 percent interest rate[3] from the city’s general fund reserves. The provider will repay the loan over a 13 year period. As long as MAW Communications has an outstanding loan to the city, the provider cannot sell the network without the city’s written approval. Though the loan will help MAW to begin building the network, the costs of connecting homes and businesses would still be prohibitive at $1,000 each if not for another element of the plan.

The city developed a creative way to spread that $1,000 connection charge across a longer time horizon. Lancaster will transfer a $1.5 million loan from the city’s water fund[4] to a Special Revenue Fund for LanCity Connect. If more funds are needed, the city can loan $1.5 million in 2018 and again in 2019 from the water fund. These loans will be paid back via a 13 percent surcharge on LanCity Connect’s rates – this surcharge is expected to last indefinitely.

Business Administrator Patrick Hopkins provided the details these financials in this presentation, which the city government live-streamed on its Facebook page (the presentation runs for about 48 minutes):


Savings For The City

The city of Lancaster looks forward to necessary improvements and major cost savings for city services. High-speed connectivity for traffic signals will enable remote monitoring of traffic congestion. The water utility will save $130,000 – $200,000[5] per year through automatic water meter reading. For internal Internet service costs alone, the city will save $110,000[6] annually. Police and city officials will be able to securely and freely connect to the network from anywhere in the city.

seal-lancaster-pa.gifAnd of course, the city will see better Internet service for residents and businesses. Local leaders anticipate that the network will improve economic development and generally improve the quality of life locally.

If MAW Communications defaults on the loan repayments, the city may claim ownership of the network and will have liens on other MAW Communications’ assets and revenues. The community may run a risk if another provider like Comcast were to purchase MAW, however unlikely that may be. The city would be repaid the debt but would no longer have a real market for Internet services.

MAW Communications and the city of Lancaster have attempted to strike a balance between risk and reward that benefits the community overall in this partnership. We think they have done a reasonable job given the challenges of creating a partnership in the current environment. For more about collaborations between the public and private sectors for better connectivity, read the report Successful Strategies Behind Broadband Public-Private Partnerships by Christopher Mitchell and Patrick Lucey.

From Free Wi-Fi To Fiber Fast: Recent History

When Lancaster was originally ready to improve Internet access with fiber, the incumbent provider wasn’t interested. Under Pennsylvania law, the main telecom provider has the right-of-first-refusal and Lancaster approached Verizon but they turned down the offer[7] in February 2015. Lancaster looked to other providers and found a trusted partner.

MAW Communications proved its reliability to Lancaster by working with the city on previous projects. The company had provided free public Wi-Fi and installed fiber in the downtown corridor before considering a citywide network.

For the project in downtown, MAW Communications installed the fiber underground through microtrenching — overhead wires are not allowed in the city center. The city pitched in $500,000[8] to have this fiber installed, and the local ABC affiliate’s video[9] lauded Lancaster as “the first city in Pennsylvania to offer free public Internet access.

At this point, MAW Communications and Lancaster began to look specifically at a citywide network. They created a pilot project, called The Early Adopter Program, to test the possibility of providing Internet service to residents. From the pilot project, 95 percent of the customers described LanCity Connect[10] as “reliable” “high quality” and “useful.”

Building the Network

Over the next two years, MAW Communications will build the network overhead by stringing the cables on the utility poles. The company will divide the city into nine sections and build the network in four phases. See the map of the plan on LanCity Connect’s website.[11]

logo-lanconnect.pngEach phase will feature a registration period when folks can sign up for the new service. After the registration period closes for a particular phase, new sign-ups will not be accepted until the entire network is complete.

The city has an area of about 4 square miles and approximately 21,400 total households. Both partners anticipate quick deployment and attracting customers quickly. MAW Communications estimates 4,000 initial households will take service from the network and a 2 percent annual growth[12] in subscribership. Like an increasing number of communities considering or investing in publicly owned infrastructure, LanCity Connect[13] won’t offer video service, instead focusing only on Internet service.

Rates And Installation

Residents in Lancaster will have four speed tier options:

There will also be a low-income price available for 50 Mbps (price not available yet). This chart compares MAW’s rates to the incumbent’s.[14] The Internet service also requires a router, which costs about $250 through MAW Communications. Residents have three options:[15] pay $250 outright, rent-to-own the MAW Communications router, or provide their own router. All tiers are symmetrical – the same upload and download speeds – which will enable telecommuting opportunities and better service for local businesses that need to share files with clients and colleagues.

Scheduling for installation will begin on April 1st and all phases should be complete by December 2019.

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[16]. Read the original here[17].

  1. Lancaster Online has closely followed the development of the partnership:
  2. $1.7 million fiber backbone:
  3. $1.5 million loan with a 7 percent interest rate:
  4. $1.5 million loan from the city’s water fund:
  5. save $130,000 – $200,000:
  6. save $110,000:
  7. turned down the offer:
  8. pitched in $500,000:
  9. local ABC affiliate’s video:
  10. 95 percent of the customers described LanCity Connect:
  11. See the map of the plan on LanCity Connect’s website.:
  12. a 2 percent annual growth:
  13. LanCity Connect:
  14. This chart compares MAW’s rates to the incumbent’s.:
  15. Residents have three options::
  17. here:

Source URL:

Breaking Through Partisanship: Left-Right-Local – Episode 14 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | March 23, 2017 12:30 pm

Welcome to episode fourteen of the Building Local Power podcast[1]. For full transcript of the podcast, click here[2].

In this episode, Christopher Mitchell, the director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews John Farrell[3], Stacy Mitchell[4], and David Morris[5], directors of our Energy Democracy, Community-Scaled Economies, and Public Good initiatives, respectively. The group discusses the nature of local policies and politics versus the national-level fights and hyper-partisanship.

This free-form discussion centers around the innovative economic structures many communities are investing in and how best to connect them to policies.

“Talking about economics is one way to get there, but also, there are these shared values that we have around democracy, local control, liberty,” says Stacy Mitchell of organizing for better local solutions to national problems. “Those are things that are widely all American. I think, also, going back to those basic values and motivations are really helpful in getting past being trapped in an unhealthy partisan conversation.”



  1. Building Local Power podcast:
  2. here: #transcript
  3. John Farrell:
  4. Stacy Mitchell:
  5. David Morris:
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Legislative and Broadband Relief For Pinetops, North Carolina In Sight

by Lisa Gonzalez | March 23, 2017 7:43 am

Since August 2016, the small community of Pinetops has been on the verge of losing their best connection to the 21st century – high quality Internet access. The North Carolina Legislature has a chance to change all that this session with legislation that will carve out an exception to restrictive state laws that prevent a local municipal provider from serving this rural town.

The State Blocks Service

When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed the FCC’s preemption[1] of state law restricting geographical reach of broadband from municipal electric utilities, Pinetops was in a pickle. Nearby Wilson had extended its Greenlight high capacity Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service to the tiny community where residents and businesses were still slumping on DSL, dialing up, or not connected at all. The court’s reversal required the city of Wilson to risk losing their ability to serve their own community if they continued to do business as a provider for Pinetops[2].

The only way Pinetops and another customer outside Wilson County – Vick Family Farms – could continue with Greenlight was when the City Council voted to continue temporary service at no charge[3]. Elected officials made the decision based on the expectation that legislators would introduce proposals to carve out exceptions for both Pinetops and the Vick Family Farm, commercial potato farm also located outside of Wilson County. Last week, they made good on that promise[4].

Reps Step In To Help

Representatives Susan Martin (R) and Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D), both from Wilson, introduced HB 396[5], which allows Wilson to expand Greenlight to Pinetops and the area in Nash County where Vick Family Farms is located. The legislation would allow the Nash County business to continue with the service it needs for daily operations. Pinetops is located in Edgecombe County. North Carolina’s restrictions prevent municipal networks like Greenlight from serving subscribers beyond county lines.

When the FCC preempted that restriction[6], Wilson answered requests from Pinetops and Vick Family Farms to come to their neck of the woods. Pinetops has steadily lost population and jobs due to its poor connectivity. Vick Family Farms wanted to invest in a new processing facility and open up its business to an online customer base. Both have experienced turn arounds since obtaining access to FTTH connectivity and don’t want to go back[7] to their prior situation.

Hurricane Matthew hit Pinetops in September 2016 and the community is still recovering. Community leaders in Wilson don’t want to compound Pintetops’ difficulties by taking away the Internet access they’ve come to depend on.

Bipartisan And Local

Because HB 396 is local and impacts 15 or fewer counties, it doesn’t require the Governor’s signature to take affect. If both the House and Senate pass the bill, it will immediately become law. In addition to the two main sponsors – one from each party – several other legislators have signed on to HB 396.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[8].

  1. reversed the FCC’s preemption:
  2. if they continued to do business as a provider for Pinetops:
  3. at no charge:
  4. they made good on that promise:,82311
  5. HB 396:
  6. FCC preempted that restriction:
  7. don’t want to go back:
  8. here:

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Video: A Solar Leader Emerges in Rural Iowa

by Karlee Weinmann | March 15, 2017 10:30 am

It seems counter-intuitive that a conservative farming community in southeastern Iowa is home to some of the most expansive solar generation in the U.S. But that’s exactly what’s happening in the area served by Farmers Electric Cooperative, the rural utility whose enterprising leader, Warren McKenna, saw renewables as a gateway to economic vitality.

Last summer, ILSR spent some time experiencing firsthand the solar explosion in this Iowa community and learning how Farmers Electric made it happen. See it for yourself here:

To learn more, read the full story[1] on McKenna’s successful campaign to make his community a solar giant.

Video by Stephen Maturen[2].

This article originally posted at[3]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell[4] or Karlee Weinmann[5] on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly[6] update.

  1. read the full story:
  2. Stephen Maturen:
  4. John Farrell:
  5. Karlee Weinmann:
  6. Energy Democracy weekly:

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America’s Major Market Power Problem – Episode 13 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | March 9, 2017 12:00 pm

Welcome to episode thirteen of the Building Local Power podcast[1]. For full transcript of the podcast, click here[2].

In this episode, Christopher Mitchell, the director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the ILSR and director of the Community-Scaled Economies initiative. The two discuss the environment for small businesses in the United States, especially noting the fact that the rate of small business creation is at one of its lowest rates since the early 1970s.

Additionally, Stacy and Chris talk about how the issue of small businesses and incentivizing their creation is a bipartisan issue that greatly benefits local economies.

“The economy has grown very concentrated, in a lot of industries, there are just two or three huge firms that control most of the market,” says Stacy Mitchell of the current dismal rate of small business creation. “There’s evidence that [these firms] use that power to actually exclude and block smaller businesses from being able to get to market, to have a fair opportunity to compete.”


For the report that Stacy referred to this week, check out our report, Monopoly Power and the Decline of Small Business[9] from August 2016.

Monopoly Power and the Decline of Small Business: The Case for Restoring America’s Once Robust Antitrust Policies[10]

Here are Stacy and Chris’ reading recommendations from this week:

From Stacy:


Yale Law Review Journal’s “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox[12]” by Lina Khan



The Economic Innovation Group’s “Dynamism in Retreat: Consequences for Regions, Markets, and Workers[14]“















From Chris:


“Anansi Boys[16]” by Neil Gaiman Available from an independent retailer here:[17].

View the full transcript of the podcast, below.If you missed our previous episodes make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power [18]Podcast Homepage[19]. Please give us a review and rating on iTunes or wherever you subscribe to podcasts.

Full Transcript of Podcast:

Chris Mitchell: Hey, Stacy. I hear that Americans aren’t creating new businesses anymore. What’s going on?
Stacy Mitchell: The rate of new startup businesses in this country is half of what it was in the late 1970’s. We think of ourselves as a nation of startups, but we really aren’t anymore.
Chris Mitchell: Well, that’s actually pretty disturbing that it’s late 1970’s, because that was when I was born, but also, I associate it with a period of economic stagnation in fact.
Stacy Mitchell: Exactly. There are a lot of ways in which I think today’s economy creates this kind of illusion of dynamism and competition, when in fact if we peel back and look a little closer, there’s much less competition than there used to be. It’s harder and harder for ordinary Americans to start and grow a business.
Chris Mitchell: It’s very disturbing. That’s what we’re going to be talking about for this show. You just heard the voice of Stacy Mitchell with our Independent Business Program at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. She’s coming out of Portland, Maine. I’m Chris Mitchell in Minneapolis. I work on our broadband work. Today, we’re going to be talking about basically what’s hurting local business and small business formation.

Let me just ask you to remember to rate our program, the Building Local Power podcast, on iTunes or wherever you find it. Tell your friends to blog, tweet, do Facebook posts, tumble with it. Do whatever you need to do to get the message out there, please, to share this discuss.

Now, Stacy. Let’s get back into this. Why aren’t new firms being created?

Stacy Mitchell: Well, there’s one reason that a lot of people are looking at, which is that the economy has grown very concentrated. That is that in a lot of industries, there are just two or three huge firms that control most of the market, and there’s evidence that they use that power to actually exclude and block smaller businesses from being able to get to market, to having a fair opportunity to compete. We’ve seen this in lots of different industries where we see big businesses doing this and just making it harder for small businesses to actually get their products to market or be able to compete.
Chris Mitchell: Stacy, you wrote a paper that was published last summer, “Monopoly Power and the Decline of Small Business: The Case for Restoring America’s Once Robust Antitrust Policies.” I find it interesting because I think a lot of people will hear in media that the problem that’s harming businesses is government policy, that there’s too many regulations. I’m curious if you can talk about that. It seems to me that what we’re actually talking about is whether we have good regulations or bad regulations.
Stacy Mitchell: I think that’s absolutely right. There are two storylines out there that are dominant about why small businesses are disappearing. One is the storyline that they’re just inefficient, and they can’t compete, and they’re just going to fall by the wayside naturally because of competition. The other storyline is that government is interfering with them, tangling them up in a bunch of regulations and high taxes and so on.When you look more closely, there’s lots of evidence that small businesses are actually highly competitive, and that there are things that they do better and more nimbly than the big companies, and that the real problem is that they’re getting blocked from the market. When it comes to regulation, I think you’re exactly right. The real question we should be considering is what does the regulation do, and how does it work, does it work well?

What we see a lot of is that big companies game government in ways that result in regulation that doesn’t impede their behavior, but puts a lot of problems in the way of small businesses. Really, as you said, it’s a question of how does government either support a dynamic and diverse economy or not? It’s not a matter of more or less regulation.

Chris Mitchell: It strikes me that you’ve talked about this before in that if you look at surveys of the groups that are pro big business, they’ll often talk about how some of the worst places to do business are San Francisco, maybe, or Vermont. These are areas that actually have the highest number of local businesses. Am I getting that pretty close?
Stacy Mitchell: Yeah. It’s absolutely right. Texas has one of the lowest rates of small business and Texas is a state that we often think of as free and open economy. Vermont, on the other hand, has the highest rate of small businesses. When I look at it, I see Vermont is a state that has done a pretty good job of keeping big companies in check. They use regulation really to ensure competition and ensure opportunity, as opposed to allowing big companies just to use their market power to crush smaller businesses.
Chris Mitchell: Now, as you know, I am a huge book lover. I used to work in a used bookstore. I have 2,500 volumes in my small home. I think it’s actually an interesting little experiment that seems to have been run because small bookstores seems to be getting destroyed when Barnes & Noble and Borders were running rampant. Then the market changed enough that those big bookstores seemed to go away. It seems to me that small bookstores are now actually bucking the trend. There’s been a lot of new, small bookstores that have been created, right?
Stacy Mitchell: That’s right. We’ve added over 500 new, independent bookstores in the last five years or so.
Chris Mitchell: There hasn’t been a major change in government regulations, but it strikes me that there has been a change in basically unfair, very large, consolidated competition.
Stacy Mitchell: It’s been a couple of things that I think are driving that growth of new bookstores. One is that Borders failed. That opened up a lot of territory for bookstores to go in. We lost one of the biggest chains.

Then one of the other drivers is that the buy local movement has, for various reasons, heavily benefited bookstores. When people think about the kinds of community businesses that are important to them, bookstores have been sort of like the local food movement, the other real focal point of those efforts. Independent bookstores have benefited. There’s also a new generation of bookstore owners who are figuring out this new territory and how to be successful in the current market.

That said, Amazon is now incredibly dominant in the book business. The reason that Borders failed and that Barnes & Noble is quite shaky right now is because Amazon’s got a lot of market power. When independent bookstores, they’ve done fairly well in recent years, but when they look to the future, they’re quite concerned about where things are headed.

Chris Mitchell: One of the things that your paper, “Monopoly Power and the Decline of Small Business,” notes is that authors get a lot more sales from small businesses, particularly unknown authors who readers like me learn about them through word of mouth, from local businesses. Is that one of those things you were noting that local businesses just tend to do better?
 Stacy Mitchell: This is one of the most important things that we’ve documented across a lot of different industries, books being one, which is that if you have this diversity of independent retailers and a diversity of distributors and so on, you have a much wider range of products that actually make it to market. What big chains do, and even Amazon, is that they really funnel consumers to a handful of top products. They actually can even manipulate the search results that you’re seeing in order to channel you to products that have a higher profit margin for them. In the case of Amazon, it’s increasingly manufacturing or publishing its own books. It publishes many books. It’s steering consumers to a small number of titles.The result is that a new author or a small publisher has a much harder time breaking into that market. If there are independent bookstores, as a new author, you can get going simply by having some of those bookstore owners notice your book and start hand-selling it to consumers. Then word of mouth starts to take off and you can actually find your way to an audience. That’s true not just of books, but it’s true of toys, clothing. Everything else in the marketplace there’s this same story.

We’ve done a lot of interviews with small manufacturers and they are very concerned about consolidation in the retail sector, that there are so few chains, and Amazon is so dominant. What they all talk about, when you hear them describe the role of independent retailers, it’s clear that they’re like this keystone species for the whole industry. That the health of the independent retail part of the industry is so critical to those new products having a chance to be discovered by consumers in the first place. Just to give you a statistic, you’re about three times more likely to discover a new book that you didn’t know about, but that you’d like to read, if you’re browsing in an independent bookstore than if you’re shopping at Amazon.

Chris Mitchell: It’s interesting to me that you can create a bookstore. I think it’s a little bit easier than, for instance, starting a new pharmacy. In part, that’s because of you have monopoly in a middle layer here, where if you want to start a pharmacy, you have to deal with something called pharmacy benefit management companies. I wonder if you can just tell us a little bit about how that impacts whether or not we can have competitive pharmacies.
Stacy Mitchell: That’s a great question. Pharmacy benefit management companies or PBMs. Most consumers have never even heard of these companies, but they’re among the most powerful players in the health care market, and particularly in prescription drug benefits. PBMs, there are just two of them that control almost 80% of all the prescriptions in this country. They hugely dominate the market.PBMs are basically hired by your health insurance provider to decide what to control your pharmacy, your benefits. They’re the ones that decide which pharmacies are going to be in the network that you can use. They also set the reimbursement rates so when those pharmacies dispense a drug to you, how much they get paid back from the insurance company, that’s set by the PBMs.

The PBMs, what’s astonishing to me is that the PBMs own their own mail-order pharmacies. The largest PBM, CVS Health, owns the second-largest chain of chain pharmacies, CVS. What these companies do is that they use their contracts with independent pharmacies. They basically go to independent pharmacies and they say, “You have two choices. You can either be in the network and be one of the pharmacies that’s covered by this big insurance plan, but in order to be in the network, we’re going to set these reimbursement rates that basically leave you barely getting by or, in fact, losing money on the prescriptions that you dispense.”

You’re stuck between this rock and a hard place as an independent pharmacy. The reason that these companies do that, of course, is that they just want to steer all the business to their pharmacies, to their own mail order, or in the case of CVS, to the CVS chain.

The analysis that we did a couple of years ago that I think is really eye-opening is that we looked at the state of North Dakota. North Dakota doesn’t allow chain pharmacies to operate in the state. A state only has independent pharmacies. This is a law that goes back to 1963. It’s unique in the United States, but it’s similar to laws in a lot of European countries.

It offers this great and sort of unusual test case to look at, “Well, what happens in a market where there are only independents?” We’re trained to imagine that that would be not very competitive. It wouldn’t be good for consumers. It might be high-priced and bad service. All these stereotypes we have about small businesses in our head.

It turns out that North Dakota has among the lowest prescription drug prices in the country and they have very high levels of health care service. They also have a lot of pharmacies. They have more pharmacies per capita than any other state in the country. You can go to these tiny town in North Dakota with 500 people and there will be a pharmacist there, often the only professional health care provider in the community.

The reason that independent pharmacies are so healthy in North Dakota is because unlike pharmacies, they still have to deal with the PBMs, but because there is no other chain in North Dakota, it basically levels that negotiation playing field. The PBMs have to really negotiate with independents instead of just handing them this take-it-or-leave-it contract that is going to ultimately destroy their business, such as what we’ve seen happen in all the other states.

Chris Mitchell: I actually classify this law in North Dakota as weird law. I’ve mentioned this in a previous Building Local Power episode. In Minnesota, we actually just lost a ban on Sunday liquor sales because it was seen as being antiquated. In fact, banning Sunday liquor sales is not about puritanical desires. It’s about supporting small businesses because small businesses, people who run them would like a day off. It turns out that if you allow Sunday liquor stores sales, you’re not going to have a whole bunch of new sales. You’re just going to spread your cost and your revenue across more widely. That’s going to be bad for small businesses, but it’s great for big chains. I’m curious, do you think that we need more of these weird laws to level the playing field?
Stacy Mitchell: I think we do, especially in the absence of federal antitrust action. I think it’s really up to states and cities in this environment to step up and insist that there be a competitive open market that not only serves consumers well, but creates opportunities for people to start businesses, grow jobs, all the other things that our competition laws at the federal level are, in theory, supposed to protect. North Dakota’s pharmacy ownership law is a great example in the sense that it’s a regulation that actually supports more competition and a healthier, freer, more productive, dynamic market by interfering in that way. That’s effectively what you get.
Chris Mitchell: I also think one of the benefits of that North Dakota law is that you probably don’t have the pharmacies shaping the rules. As you well know, in North Dakota, some big companies like Walmart tried to come in and muscled their way in and changed the rules in North Dakota using various means, but they didn’t have the political power to just change the rules because political power was dispersed because of each community having its own pharmacy, effectively.
Stacy Mitchell: Well, yeah. This is another very powerful reason, it seems to me, that we should be, as a society, very concerned about consolidation, about this drop-off in small business. Is that ultimately the goal of dispersing economic power, going back to the Boston Tea Party, has always been about protecting democracy. The ways in which corporations are able to use their leverage with government to get their way, to make us citizens less and less powerful, that in and of itself should be a reason to break up concentrations of power and to really insist on an economy where power is much more dispersed.
Chris Mitchell: As we round out the interview, I just want to note a report from the Economic Innovation Group called, “Dynamism in Retreat.” It says that the missing companies, if we had just created small businesses along historical norms, that we would have one million more jobs today in the United States than we do. That’s pretty incredible.
Stacy Mitchell: It is. It’s really striking. Another thing that I found quite striking in this data that they just released last month is they looked at how the last four years during this economic recovery period, how many new businesses were created versus previous recoveries in the early 2000’s, the early ’90’s, and the 1980’s. They found that the rate of business creation in this recovery is 1/3 of what it was during the recovery in the 1990’s.

Also, what was most striking is that in previous recoveries, new business formation has been happening all across the country. What they found now is that there are only five metro areas where there’s significant new business growth. All the other metro areas are not seeing that. In fact, in 60% of all metros right now, there are more business deaths than there are business births. In history, we’ve never seen that before. It’s really a remarkable shift and one that, particularly for the reason of job creation, but lots of other reasons, is quite alarming.

Chris Mitchell: One of the things that I liked about this report is that it was pretty nonpartisan. I think sometimes you see reports like this and they just want to say, “This is happening because the Democrats are terrible or the Republicans are for the big guy.” This really, I think, I don’t want to say down the middle, but it’s pretty independent. It notes consolidation within the banking sector, something that I think Republicans tend to support. It notes the rising level of regulations and challenges of starting a new business, which is something that I think Democrats take a little bit more responsibility for at times.

I’m just curious if you have any reactions to that because I think it’s one thing if you have people being like, “Well, that’s just because Obama hated businesses.” I really want to be clear that I think we would root the problems with small-business formations in the deficiencies of both parties, really.

Stacy Mitchell: I think that’s absolutely right. I think in some ways, some of the kinds of reforms that we’ve been advocating at the policy level, we’ve had a tough time with Republicans in the House and Senate, to be clear. That’s certainly the case with respect to beefing up antitrust enforcement. We’ve seen much more movement and leadership from Democrats on that.

On the other hand, there are areas, and I think banking is an excellent example, where the mess that we find ourselves in right now where we have a handful banks that own most of the market, where we’ve lost one out of every four community banks in the last seven years, that kind of consolidation has been driven both by Republicans and Democrats. It was Bill Clinton that passed the two major banking laws that really shifted banking policy and gave the upper hand to Wall Street banks.

There’s a lot to like about Dodd-Frank, the financial reform bill that was passed in the wake of the financial crisis. I like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. I think it’s done a lot of good things. The law certainly closed off some of the worst shenanigans on the part of Wall Street banks. I don’t want to paint it with one brush, but it also didn’t really address the issue of consolidation. It didn’t break up these big banks. At the same time, it created new compliance obligations for community banks that has made it a little bit more difficult to stay in business. I think when you look at banking it’s really clear that powerful wings of each party have played a significant role in causing that consolidation and not really addressing the problem.

Chris Mitchell: I’d like to wrap it up, I think, by just noting that even though we would say both parties have a share of responsibility, under no circumstances are we claiming that that’s shared 50/50. Had Hillary been elected, I have no doubt that we would be very angry at the level of influence that Goldman Sachs would have over White House. However, the level of Wall Street input into the Trump White House is off the charts. I don’t want to do any false equivalence here.
Stacy Mitchell: Well, that’s absolutely right. It’s infuriating to watch the Republican leadership in the House and Senate right now saying, “Oh, we’ve got to roll back Dodd-Frank in order to help community banks.” When you look at the actual provisions of Dodd-Frank that they want to roll back, it’s often related to things that have nothing to do with community banks. It has to do with securities trading, and derivatives, and all this other stuff that Wall Street banks are up to. It’s particularly galling, I think, when you purport to be doing something on behalf of small businesses or local banks when all you’re really doing is giving out big favors and easing up on these large corporations.
Chris Mitchell: We like to end with a reading recommendation. Is there anything that you’ve read recently you want to share with the audience?
Stacy Mitchell: I have two, but they’re both kind of wonky reads. They’re not necessarily curl up by the fireside kinds of reads, but they’re really great. The first one is an article called, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox.” This was in the Yale Law Journal just last month. It’s by Lina Khan, who is a fellow at the New America Foundation and also a Yale law school student. It’s really terrific.It’s a look at the way that antitrust law has been changed over the last 30 years or so and how those changes have made our current antitrust policy really not be able to effectively grapple with the anti-competitive concerns that are raised by Amazon in particular. Although it’s a law journal article, it’s very readable and really walks you through some of those changes and what the implications are and the issues raised by Amazon. I think it’s a great companion piece to the report that we published late last year about Amazon.

Then the other thing that I’ve been reading, and again is deep in the weeds, is a book called, Virtual Competition, by two legal scholars, Maurice Stucke and Ariel Ezrachi. It’s a really fascinating book about how the new world of online commerce and the various ways that the internet has altered business, how in that world there are lots of things that make it seem to us very competitive, but in fact, is a kind of veneer that hides all sorts of ways in which that market is much easier for collusion, and behavioral discrimination, and all kinds of things to actually work against competition and harm consumers.

 Chris Mitchell: Great. Since you’re going to be a little bit wonky, I’ll just note that I just picked up a Neil Gaiman book that I hadn’t read yet, Anansi Boys, which I’m not sure how to pronounce exactly. If people aren’t familiar with Neil Gaiman, or Gaiman, I don’t know how to pronounce anything apparently relating to him, I was blown away by his book, Neverwhere. A little less wonky, a little more fun. May not be right for everyone, but I sure loved him. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
Stacy Mitchell: Thanks, Chris. It’s been great.
Lisa Gonzalez: That was Stacy Mitchell joining Christopher for Episode #13 of the Building Local Power podcast. Stacy is Co-Director of ILSR, as well as heading up the Independent Business Program. Christopher, no relation to Stacy, Mitchell is the Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative. To download the “Monopoly Power” report Christopher and Stacy discuss, go to and check out the resources in the Independent Business Initiative.

We encourage you to subscribe to this podcast, and all of our other podcasts, on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. You can also sign up for our monthly newsletter at

Thanks to Dysfunction_AL for the music, licensed through Creative Commons. The song is “Funk Interlude.”

I’m Lisa Gonzalez from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Thanks again for listening to Episode #13 of the Building Local Power podcast.

Subscribe: iTunes | Android[20] | RSS

Audio Credit: Funk Interlude[21] by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0)[22] license.

  1. Building Local Power podcast:
  2. here: #transcript
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  9. Monopoly Power and the Decline of Small Business:
  10. Monopoly Power and the Decline of Small Business: The Case for Restoring America’s Once Robust Antitrust Policies:
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  12. Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox:
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  14. Dynamism in Retreat: Consequences for Regions, Markets, and Workers:
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Arkansas Utility Leads on Energy, Broadband

by Karlee Weinmann | March 2, 2017 2:00 pm

This article was co-written with ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks initiative research associate, Hannah Trostle, and this piece is cross-posted on[1].

Ouachita Electric Cooperative, nestled deep in south-central Arkansas, is an unlikely innovator in a pair of industries struggling to adapt to shifting market dynamics: electricity and broadband.

Despite rising demand for energy efficiency and renewable electricity generation, large investor-owned utilities — and many rural electric co-ops — have resisted programs to address those needs. Likewise, corporate Internet service providers frequently offer shoddy service at high rates, a particular problem in rural areas with limited competition.

But Ouachita Electric[2] found a way to do both things better, with complementary technologies. Fiber-optic network investments provided lower cost Internet access, but also provide an information backbone for the electric utility that can reduce outage times and verification for energy savings programs. The network and the efficiency programs reduce costs for a customer base dominated by low-income households that can now reinvest their earnings elsewhere in the community.

[3]Inclusive Financing

The utility’s tariff-based, on-bill financing program — known as HELP PAYS[4] — allows customers to invest in energy efficiency upgrades at their homes, like insulation and heat pumps, at no upfront cost. Ouachita Electric covers eligible expenses, then recoups its buy-in through payments from participating customers on their monthly bills. Customers immediately pay less thanks to utility-financed energy-saving improvements.

Unlike other energy efficiency programs, the opt-in “inclusive financing” program, HELP PAYS, enables all Ouachita customers to capture significant benefits:

Customer interest in the tariff-based, on-bill program surged immediately[5] after Ouachita Electric implemented it last year. In the first three months, the number of customers seeking efficiency assessments — a precursor to improvements — doubled, from 73 to more than 162.

In August, the utility reported[6] 100 percent of multifamily and rental units eligible for the program had opted in. At the same point, 92 percent of single-family customers that had received offers to invest in upgrades agreed to do so.

The impact of inclusive financing is especially pronounced in this co-op’s service territory, where the average household income hovers around $33,000 per year, far below the national median of $52,000.

But the benefits of inclusive financing, as proven by Ouachita Electric, extend much further.

The enterprising utility reports cost savings, confirmed and quantified using smart meters. Thanks to inclusive financing, Ouachita Electric has reduced the amount it spends on power to supply electricity to its members. Going forward, it will curb the need to add expensive new generation capacity.

A New Fiber Network

Electric cooperatives have tried a number of approaches to improve internet access for their largely rural customers, from working with satellite communication companies to experimenting with broadband over power lines. Now, Ouachita Electric has started a project to bring some of the fastest Internet service in the U.S. to their co-op members.

Ouachita Electric is collaborating with the local, family-owned, telephone company, South Arkansas Telephone[7], which already provides Internet service to half of Ouachita Electric’s service territory. The partnership, the Arkansas Rural Internet Service (ARIS)[8], is set to bring phone, video, and gigabit Internet service — more than ten times the speeds typically offered by cable companies — to all 9,500 homes and businesses throughout Ouachita Electric’s service territory.

Ouachita Electric and South Arkansas Telephone are co-owners of ARIS, as described by ARIS Director Mark Lundy in Telecompetitor[9]. As such, they will share both the cost of construction and the overall revenues.

Mark Cayce, the general manger of Ouachita Electric Cooperative, explained that the partnership builds on the strengths of both[10] the electric cooperative and the local telephone company:

“They have technical expertise and back office skills we didn’t have. We have access to our members and we built a long-standing reputation of a company that provides really good service.”

They announced the project in mid-June 2016, expecting to hook up the first customers that September. ARIS will offer speeds of up to one gigabit (1,000 Mbps) directly to homes for less than $100 per month. The entire venture will involve installing about 1,800 miles of fiber over the next few years.

These rural communities cannot wait for the better connectivity — which won’t just be better than what they had, it will rival the best networks in the country. Within the first week of the announcement, over 400 members signed up for service.

Fiber networks not only provide high-speed Internet service, but also create opportunities to innovate. Cities have used fiber to improve traffic management, electrical systems, and public safety systems. Ouachita Electric’s investment could enable many of these innovations, but they are starting with smart meters.

Complementary Benefits

With real-time sensors, these smart meters monitor power quality and can deliver notifications of power outages. They form part of a smart grid system that improves monitoring and management of the overall electric power system, resulting in power savings and lower costs.

In an April 2012 report[11], ILSR explained the benefits of the smart grid owned by Chattanooga municipal utility EPB in reducing the time customers are without power:

“EPB credits the smart grid automation with preventing 2.4 million customer minutes of interrupted service during the 2011 tornadoes alone. As of Feb 29, EPB reported that its fiber network had saved 5 million customer minutes interrupted since July 1, 2011—an average of 30 minutes per customer.“

Chattanooga’s smart grid again proved its worth during the July 2012 storms that caused regional power outages. EPB and Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s case study[12] found that the smart grid reduced customer outage time by 55 percent and customer costs by 33 percent. In that one day alone, the smart grid saved the city utility more than $1 million in the expected overtime costs for restoring service.

A 2017 publication[13] by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University estimated that the EPB smart grid also provides indirect benefits of $43.5 million annually. That number only includes cost savings from quickly detecting failing equipment and isolating potential problems. EPB also directly saves at least $9.6 million with the new sensors – from catching power theft to better regulating power purchasing.

Additionally, the Chattanooga EPB smart grid actually prevented a house fire,[14] in 2014. Thanks to the real-time information from the smart meter, the municipal electric utility sent a nearby employee to check out an anomaly. It turned out to be a fire in the bushes near the back door of a home. The employee put out the fire and fixed the electric line all before the family came home from church. This would not have been possible without the community fiber network supporting high-speed communication between the meter and the utility.

Ouachita Electric’s decision to invest in the fiber network means the co-op’s members will be well-connected and well-served. Members will save money and conserve energy with the smart meters, and they will have access to some of the most reliable, highest-speed Internet service in the entire country.

What’s Next

Ouachita Electric has cemented its status as a pioneer in boosting access to energy programs and broadband, but it shouldn’t be an outlier. The co-op’s attentiveness to its member-owners’ needs spotlights opportunities to introduce well-designed initiatives that plug gaps in the local economy. It’s a formula that should attract all co-ops, designed with democratic ideals in mind.

These initiatives are a set of powerful tools to address low member-owner engagement that plagues rural utilities nationwide[15]. With trailblazers like Ouachita modeling real-world initiatives that deliver measurable results, other co-ops and their member-owners face a substantially lower barrier to pitching and implementing similar efforts, and to cash in on the robust — and proven — potential of energy savings and Internet access.

This article originally posted at[16]. For timely updates, follow Karlee Weinmann[17] on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly[18] or Community Broadband Networks weekly[19] update.

Photo Credit: Justin Cozart via Flickr[20] (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  1. cross-posted on
  2. Ouachita Electric:
  3. [Image]:
  5. surged immediately:
  6. the utility reported:
  7. South Arkansas Telephone:
  8. Arkansas Rural Internet Service (ARIS):
  9. Telecompetitor:
  10. partnership builds on the strengths of both:
  11. April 2012 report:
  12. case study:
  13. 2017 publication:
  14. prevented a house fire,:
  15. plagues rural utilities nationwide:
  17. Karlee Weinmann:
  18. Energy Democracy weekly:
  19. Community Broadband Networks weekly:
  20. Justin Cozart via Flickr:

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Energy Democracy in 4 Powerful Steps

by John Farrell | March 1, 2017 1:27 pm

There’s no question that the energy system is undergoing change. One need look no further than the 1 million solar rooftops in the U.S. or — for the wonky — the source of new power capacity in the U.S. over the past 15 years. In 2003, just 20% of new electric capacity came from renewable power plants. In the last eight years, it’s been at or over 60% almost every year. In the first three quarters of 2016, 16% of our new power capacity came from distributed solar alone (such as home rooftop solar arrays).

But few people realize that the change from fossil fuels to renewable sources is just a harbinger for a phase of massive disruption in energy markets. The disruption will remake how the energy system serves its users and offer unprecedented choices for customers. It may go further than choice.  As the energy system shifts away from the outdated utility monopoly model, the four Ds of energy democracy — distributed power, decentralization, democracy from ownership, and disruptive technology — have the potential to put those users in charge and allow them to reap the economic benefits.


Democracy from Distributed Power

Power generation is the first line of democratization, brought on by the miniaturization of power plants. Last century was defined by gigawatt-scale nuclear and coal and hundred-megawatt-scale gas power plants. Now, power generation has shrunk down to multi-megawatt wind turbines and multi-watt solar panels.

Even the largest wind and solar power plants are compilations of hundreds or thousands of mass produced individual turbines or solar cells.  (more…)[2]

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Maryland Bill to Increase Food Recovery Infrastructure Advances with ILSR’s Help

by Nick Stumo-Langer | February 27, 2017 1:13 pm

Legislation is making its way through the Maryland legislature that will encourage a distributed infrastructure to divert yard waste and food waste from the waste stream. The legislation is called “Department of the Environment – Yard Waste and Food Residuals Diversion and Infrastructure – Study” (Senate Bill 0099[1] and House Bill 0171[2]). The Institute for Local Self-Reliance has been instrumental in working on this legislation with MD Delegate Shane Robinson[3] (District 39). ILSR organized the expert panels to testify and the submittal of written testimonies to the Senate and House committee hearings. ILSR has also helped facilitate a series of consensus amendments. This is the same legislation[4] that passed the Maryland House of Delegates last session but did not move in the Maryland Senate.

The legislation would direct the Maryland Department of the Environment to identify means to promote investment in infrastructure to expand food waste recovery, evaluate the current recovery of food waste in Maryland, identify opportunities for expansion, and more. It specifically calls for the Department to explore ways “to encourage a decentralized and diverse infrastructure.” The Department would report its findings and recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly. ILSR helped to craft the bill and is named as 1 of 20+ organizations to be represented on the study group. The legislation would go into effect on July 1, 2017.

Senate Bill 99 Hearing

Senate Bill 99[5] was heard by the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs committee on January 24th, 2017. The Senate bill was introduced by Senator Thomas Middleton (D-Charles)[6]. ILSR, along with a number of ally organizations, testified in favor of the bill.

Testimony and Resources

A number of experts testified at the committee hearing and even more submitted written testimony to the committee. Video of in-person testimony is available from the Maryland State Senate. In-person testimonials came from:

All testimony was in favor of SB 99. Written testimony was submitted by:

Testifiers from Senate Bill 99 Committee Hearing, January 24, 2017.

The Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs committee approved Senate Bill 99 by unanimous vote of 11-0[22] on February 21st, 2017.


House Bill 171 Hearing

House Bill 171[23] was heard by the Environment and Transportation committee on February 8th, 2017.The House bill was introduced by House Delegate Shane Robinson (D-Montgomery Village)[24]. ILSR, along with a number of ally organizations, testified in favor of the bill.

Brenda Platt from Institute for Local Self-Reliance & HB 171 Sponsor Maryland Delegate Shane Robinson

Testimony and Resources

A number of experts testified at the committee hearing and even more submitted written testimony to the committee. Video of in-person testimony is available from the Maryland House of Delegates. In-person testimonials came from:

Commentary and questions continued until 1:00:00 in the video[34]. All testimony was in favor of HB 171.

Written testimony was submitted by:

House Bill 171 is in the line to be voted on at the end of February 2017.


See full bill, here:[47].

Next Steps for SB 99/HB 171

Over the next few weeks, ILSR will monitor the legislation’s progression through both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly, reconciliation through the conference committee to ensure both bills are identical, and (hopefully) seeing it signed by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.

Follow the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on Twitter[48] and Facebook[49] and, for monthly updates on our work, sign-up[50] for our ILSR general newsletter.

  1. Senate Bill 0099:
  2. House Bill 0171:
  3. MD Delegate Shane Robinson:
  4. same legislation:
  5. Senate Bill 99:
  6. Senator Thomas Middleton (D-Charles):
  7. [Beginning at 00:30]:
  8. [Beginning at 04:00]:
  9. [Beginning at 07:49]:
  10. [Beginning at 10:03]:
  11. [Beginning at 11:11]:
  12. The American Biogas Council:
  13. Agricity LLC (dba Compost Cab):
  14. Chesapeake Bay Foundation:
  15. The John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, Bloomberg School of Public Health:
  16. The Compost Crew:
  17. Greenbelters for Zero Waste:
  18. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  19. Maryland Horse Council:
  20. Montgomery County Food Council:
  21. Waste Neutral:
  22. unanimous vote of 11-0:
  23. House Bill 171:
  24. House Delegate Shane Robinson (D-Montgomery Village):
  25. Delegate Shane Robinson:
  26. [Beginning at 46:13]:
  27. Delegate Andrew Cassilly:
  28. [Beginning at 48:00]:
  29. [Beginning at 50:26]:
  30. [Beginning at 52:32]:
  31. [Beginning at 54:30]:
  32. [Beginning at 58:40]:
  33. [Beginning at 59:20]:
  34. 1:00:00 in the video:
  35. Agricity LLC (dba Compost Cab):
  36. American Biogas Council:
  37. The Compost Crew:
  38. Future Harvest, Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture:
  39. Greenbelters for Zero Waste:
  40. Gromax Organic Recycling:
  41. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  42. The John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, Bloomberg School of Public Health:
  43. Maryland-Washington D.C. US Composting Council Chapter:
  44. Maryland Horse Council:
  45. Montgomery County Food Council:
  46. [Image]:
  48. Twitter:
  49. Facebook:
  50. sign-up:

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The Power and Perils of Cooperatives – Episode 12 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | February 23, 2017 12:00 pm

Welcome to episode twelve of the Building Local Power podcast[1]. For full transcript of the podcast, click here[2].

In this episode, Christopher Mitchell, the director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews Hannah Trostle and Karlee Weinmann, Research Associates for the Community Broadband Networks and Energy Democracy initiatives, respectively. The three discuss the cooperative model of ownership and how this model can enable investment in gigabit Internet connections for their member-owners, but also how they are subject to a low participation rates in their elections.

The trio details the challenges of cooperative ownership and the myriad of benefits for active and engaged cooperative boards and administration structures.

“There are co-ops out there that are finding ways to…have their members understand how solar can work for them,” says Karlee Weinmann on the benefits of cooperatives for renewable energy. “[They’re] finding ways to implement solar in a way that is financially feasible and financially beneficial.”


  1. Building Local Power podcast:
  2. here: #transcript
  3. [Image]:
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  5. Download:
  6. iTunes:
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Sherco Power Plant: The Wrong Project, for the Wrong Reasons, At a Big Cost

by Nick Stumo-Langer | February 22, 2017 2:00 pm

The proposed Sherco natural gas plant[1] bill will soon be at Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton’s desk, give him a call and tell him you oppose this billion-dollar boondoggle.

Call Gov. Mark Dayton at 651-201-3400 or email him at[2].

Read more below in the op-ed[3] that we submitted to the Minneapolis Star Tribune or in our original post excoriating the planned fossil fuel power plant[4].

Minneapolis Star Tribune[5] – February 13, 2017

Sherco power plant: The wrong project, for the wrong reasons, at a big cost

By John Farrell & Karlee Weinmann

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers, including Gov. Mark Dayton, last week endorsed Xcel Energy’s plan to build a new natural gas plant in Becker, Minn. What they’ve left out is that this project is a multibillion-dollar boondoggle.

Fortunately, there’s still time to stop it.

Led by Xcel and labor groups, proponents say the plan will safeguard jobs lost when Xcel shutters coal-fired generators at the site in the mid-2020s. But the new facility is projected to employ just 150 workers, roughly half the number currently employed by the coal operations. It’s hardly worth the $1 billion upfront price tag and billions more in fuel costs borne by ratepayers — especially when there are cheaper ways to protect the workers and generate the power.

Read the full story here.[6]

This article originally posted at[7]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell[8] or Karlee Weinmann[9] on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly[10] update. (more…)[11]

  1. proposed Sherco natural gas plant:
  3. op-ed:
  4. original post excoriating the planned fossil fuel power plant:
  5. Minneapolis Star Tribune:
  6. Read the full story here.:
  8. John Farrell:
  9. Karlee Weinmann:
  10. Energy Democracy weekly:
  11. (more…):

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Community Composters Gather at Conference in Los Angeles

by Linda Bilsens | February 10, 2017 4:20 pm

On January 24th, 2017, ILSR along with BioCycle[1] and the US Composting Council[2] (USCC) co-sponsored the 4th Cultivating Community Composting (CCC) Forum, held in conjunction with the USCC’s International Conference & Trade Show in Los Angeles, California. The Forum was preceded by a full-day Best Practices in Community Composting Workshop. The Workshop and Forum provided attendees a unique opportunity to network, share best practices, and build support for community scale composting. ILSR secured funding from a number of sponsors to support these events. A hearty thanks to 11th Hour Project[3], Food Waste Experts[4], ReoTemp Instruments[5], Sustainable Generation[6], BioBag[7], Green Mountain Technologies[8], O2 Compost[9], and EPA Region IV[10] for their generous support!  We provided scholarships of up to $500 for 42 community composters to attend. Check out presentations from the 2017 CCC Workshop and Forum here[11].

Rodette Jones (MD), Tracie Troxler (FL), Kat Nigro (NC), Molly Lindsay (NY) and Tiffany Bess (FL) share why they attended the 2017 USCC Conference in LA. Photo courtesy of USCC.

CCC 2017 served as a valuable reminder that community composters serve an integral and unique role in both the broader composting industry and the sustainable food movement. We are the social innovators and entrepreneurs that are collecting food waste by burning calories instead of fossil fuel[12], employing youth[13] and marginalized groups, and developing innovative data-sharing applications[14] and cooperative ownership structures[15]. We are the compost educators and facilitators that are building equity and power[16] in our communities from the ground up, by supporting businesses[17], schools[18], farmers[19], community centers[20], and other communities in need[21]. We are the front lines, grassroots, boots-on-the-ground that are cultivating awareness and demand for compost and its associated benefits. We are transforming landscapes, urban[22] and rural (and everything in between), by getting compost into the hands that feed the soil that feeds us[23].

The CCC Workshop brought together 60+ community composters from 17 states for one of the largest gathering of local-scale composters in history. It was a full-day, pre-conference event where community composters shared practices that work through both presentation and small group discussions. Attendees explored how to adapt the efforts and achievements of other programs for their communities and explored next steps to keep the momentum of the movement moving forward. Topics included: Key Ingredients of Community Composting; Small-Scale Composting Systems and Processing Best Management Practices; Hauling, Bike and Other Logistics; The Business of Community Composting; and a panel discussion on Community Engagement and Building Community Power via Community Composting. 

“This was so inspiring! It’s so easy to feel all alone in micro hauling & processing and it’s very refreshing to be with so many others in the same boat!”

– Meredith Danberg- Ficarelli (Common Ground Compost, New York NY)

Some key takeaways from the CCC Workshop:

Dustin Fedako of Compost Pedallers leads a breakout discussion on Marketing & Outreach at the 2017 CCC Workshop

The CCC Forum, which took place as a track in the broader USCC Conference, brought other composters, compost advocates and stakeholders to the discussion. This part of the event provided a number of community composters a national stage for their expertise, helping to make the case for partnerships between community composters and larger-scale haulers and composters, as well as government fiscal and regulatory support for community-scale composting systems. In the Forum Keynote, our local LA host community composter, Michael Martinez of LA Compost[25], told how he is using composting to empower the marginalized people of LA County, which if it were its own state, would be the 8th largest in the U.S. in terms of population. California produces a sizable majority of the country’s produce, and yet, according to Michael, the people living in LA County are often bypassed by the current food system even though they make up a lion’s share of its farm labor. 

Participants of the 2017 CCC Forum create a word cloud while answering the question, “How can strengthen the interconnection between community composters and larger-scale composters?” Photo courtesy of USCC.

In a session focused on how community composters drive local programs, Jennifer Mastalerz of Philly Compost[26] (community composter) and Tim Bennett of Bennett Compost[27] (mid-scale composter) discussed how they have a mutually beneficial partnership that makes their businesses stronger than if they were on their own. David Paull of Compost Wheels[28] explained how the combination of local YouthCorp members and individuals pulling themselves out of homelessness has become an unexpected, yet beautiful formula for successfully managing his food scrap collection routes. The CCC Forum wrapped up with a panel on how government policies can help grow community composting:

Panelists of the “Supporting a Distributed Composting Infrastructure: Dollars and Rules” session at the 2017 CCC Forum

To cap off an already successful and inspiring event, ILSR co-director and Compost Initiative director, Brenda Platt, was awarded the prestigious H. Clark Gregory Award[31] from the USCC, “for outstanding service to the composting industry through grassroots efforts.” After 30 years of service dedicated to fighting incinerators, expanding recycling, cultivating composting at all scales, and building community power from the ground up, we feel certain that Brenda could not have been more deserving of this honor.

Check out presentations from the 2017 CCC Workshop and Forum here[11].




Take a visual tour of CCC 2017 below:


Cultivating Community Composting Workshop & Forum - 2017[32]






Subscribe to our Cultivating Community Composting mailing list

Follow the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on Twitter[33] and Facebook[34] and, for monthly updates on our work, sign-up[35] for our ILSR general newsletter.

  1. BioCycle:
  2. US Composting Council:
  3. 11th Hour Project:
  4. Food Waste Experts:
  5. ReoTemp Instruments:
  6. Sustainable Generation:
  7. BioBag:
  8. Green Mountain Technologies:
  9. O2 Compost:
  10. EPA Region IV:
  11. here:
  12. burning calories instead of fossil fuel:
  13. youth:
  14. data-sharing applications:
  15. cooperative ownership structures:
  16. building equity and power:
  17. businesses:
  18. schools:
  19. farmers:
  20. community centers:
  21. communities in need:
  22. urban:
  23. feed the soil that feeds us:
  24. glossary of social justice terms:
  25. LA Compost:
  26. Philly Compost:
  27. Bennett Compost:
  28. Compost Wheels:
  29. stakeholder webcast:
  30. “Hierarchy to Reduce Food Waste and Grow Community”:
  31. awarded the prestigious H. Clark Gregory Award:
  32. [Image]:
  33. Twitter:
  34. Facebook:
  35. sign-up:

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Bolstering Waste Recovery Through Model Legislation – Episode 11 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | February 9, 2017 12:00 pm

Welcome to episode eleven of the Building Local Power podcast[1]. For full transcript of the podcast, click here[2].

In this episode, Christopher Mitchell, the director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews Brenda Platt, ILSR co-director and director of our Waste to Wealth initiative. The two discuss the history of ILSR’s Zero Waste work and how the conversation around composting and waste has changed in her 30 years at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Platt is also working closely with Maryland legislators to implement laws that increase the percentage of waste diverted from landfills to create rich compost and increase economic development.

“One of the beauties of composting is that it can be small-scale, large-scale, and everything in between,” says Brenda Platt. “But we’ve been promoting communities to build small-scale, distributed infrastructure around composting with local partners such as residences, businesses, and schools.”


Here are Brenda’s recommendations to learn more about our composting work, please send any comments on the hierarchy (below) to[9]:

[10]Growing Local Fertility: A Guide To Community Composting[11]

by Brenda Platt, Institute for Local Self-Reliance; James McSweeney and Jenn Davis, Highfields Center for Composting


  1. Building Local Power podcast:
  2. here: #transcript
  3. [Image]:
  4. Play in new window:
  5. Download:
  6. iTunes:
  7. Android:
  8. RSS:
  10. [Image]:
  11. Growing Local Fertility: A Guide To Community Composting:
  12. (more…):

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Press Release: Brenda Platt Receives Major Composting Award for Grassroots Advocacy

by Nick Stumo-Langer | February 8, 2017 5:06 pm

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, February 8th

Contact: Nick Stumo-Langer,[1], 612-844-1330[2]

ILSR Co-Director Brenda Platt Receives Prestigious H. Clark Gregory Award from US Composting Council

LOS ANGELES – Brenda Platt, Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) co-director and director of ILSR’s Composting for Community initiative, was honored on Wednesday, January 25th, 2017, with the US Composting Council’s prestigious H. Clark Gregory Award[3], “for outstanding service to the composting industry through grassroots efforts.” The award came at the closing ceremony of the US Composting Council’s annual conference, this year held in Los Angeles.

Frank Franciosi, the US Composting Council’s executive director, presented the award, including notable past recipients. They include such outstanding grassroots composting leaders as: Alice Waters of the Chez Panisse Foundation, Will Allen of the Growing Power Farm, and Christine Datz-Romero of the Lower East Side Ecology Center.

“[Platt] began her career in the late 1980’s, successfully fighting dozens of mass-burn waste incineration plants planned across the country and promoting non-burn alternatives,” said Franciosi in his speech. “Brenda Platt has played a critical role in fostering the growing community composting movement, having co-hosted the National Cultivating Community Composting Forums she has brought together dozens of community composters from across the country,” he continued.

Franciosi concluded by imploring the audience to join him “in congratulating one of the hardest working women in our industry.”

“It is an incredible honor to work in an industry where you just absolutely love your job…an industry that addresses so many of the pressing issues of the day, whether it’s soil, climate, trash, food access, [or] food security,” said Platt in her remarks accepting the award. She concluded, “let’s go after that one trillion dollars in infrastructure, and let’s help build a diverse and distributed composting infrastructure.”

Photo Credit: US Composting Council[4]

For more information on the H. Clark Gregory award, see the US Composting Council’s website here:

For more information on our Composting work, visit:


The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is a 42-year-old national nonprofit research and educational organization. ILSR’s mission is to provide innovative strategies, working models and timely information to support strong, community rooted, environmentally sound and equitable local economies.[5] – Email[1] for press inquiries.

  2. 612-844-1330: tel:(612)%20844-1330
  3. H. Clark Gregory Award:
  4. US Composting Council:

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Despite Intense Bipartisan Opposition, Virginia’s Anti-Municipal Broadband HB 2108 Passes

by Lisa Gonzalez | February 8, 2017 12:00 pm

On February 7th, the Virginia House of Delegates voted 72 – 24 to pass HB 2108[1], otherwise known as “Byron’s Bad Broadband Bill.” The text of the bill[2] was a revised version substituted by Del. Kathy Byron after Governor Terry McAuliffe[3], local leaders across the state[4], and constituents very handily let her know that they did not want the bill to move forward. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Byron’s original “Broadband Deployment Act” has been whittled down to a bill that still adheres to its main purpose – to protect the telephone companies that keep Byron comfortable with campaign cash[5]. There is no mention of deployment in the text of the new draft, but it does dictate that information from publicly owned networks be made open so anyone, including national providers, can use it to their advantage.

According to Frank Smith[6], President and CEO of the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA),

…Virginia Freedom of Information Act stipulations already codified in the Wireless Services Authority Act are sufficient and the new requirements in Byron’s bill could require the broadband authority to reveal proprietary information about its customers.

“There’s nothing hidden under the table,” Smith said. “The Wireless Services Authority Act is sufficient because you all did your job in 2003.”

The broadband authority’s rates, books and board meetings already are open to the public.

Private providers would never be required to publicize information that could jeopardize their operations. The objective here is to discourage public private partnerships and prevent local governments from investing in the type of infrastructure that would attract new entrants into the region.

Not “Us” vs. “Them”

At a time when everything seems political, both Republicans and Democrats appreciate that this is not a political issue. The bill’s new language, terrible as it is, passed through the House Labor and Commerce Committee on February 2[7]. The vote in the committee was close – 11 supported the bill and 9 opposed it. Six Republicans opposed the bill while two Democrats supported it.

Likewise, when the bill passed in the House yesterday, Delegates voting against passage were 13 Republicans and 11 Democrats.


Better connectivity is not a partisan issue but a matter of economic development, educational opportunities, public savings, quality of life, and local control. Rural communities that have been passed over by big corporate providers understand those reasons but AT&T doesn’t see it that way. To big the incumbent telephone company that wants to maintain its monopoly with slow DSL service in rural Virginia, it’s about maintaining a monopoly. Once the word gets out that municipal networks offer the fast affordable, reliable connectivity that local communities need, it’s only a matter of time before they lose their grip on that monopoly.

The best way to protect their position is through the Virginia General Assembly. They’ve been at it for years; it works in about 20 states[8].

Speaking Misinformation Through A Delegate

When Byron brought the new language to the House floor, she presented a speech that attacked municipal networks and used the same talking points we’ve heard over and over again. In fact, her speech was almost good enough to have been written by an AT&T lobbyist.

In the video of her presentation of the revised bill to the body (available below), she distorts the facts and relies on the same old examples from a very short list of municipal networks that have had financial problems, or are being privatized. Byron’s speech takes on the patronizing tone we so often hear from the big corporate providers as they purport to “protect the tax payers” while their true motives are to protect their monopolies. Watching the video is a good lesson in preparedness because it’s straight out of the anti-muni playbook.

Christopher summed up the situation:

“Once again, we see a state legislature prioritizing the anti-competitive instincts of a few telephone companies over the need for more investment and the desire for more choices in rural communities across their state. Virginia’s communities need more investment and more choices from ISPs, not new barriers crafted by powerful lobbyists in Richmond.”

The bill now goes to the Senate. View Delegate Byron’s testimony from the bill’s engrossment, below:

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[9].

  1. voted 72 – 24 to pass HB 2108:
  2. text of the bill:
  3. Governor Terry McAuliffe:
  4. local leaders across the state:
  5. comfortable with campaign cash:
  6. According to Frank Smith:
  7. passed through the House Labor and Commerce Committee on February 2:
  8. it works in about 20 states:
  9. here:

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Community Development Block Grants Aid Connectivity In Nelson County, VA

by ILSR | February 6, 2017 5:26 am

This article was written by Community Broadband Networks initiative intern, Kate Svitavsky[1].

Publicly owned Internet infrastructure is typically funded with[2] revenue grants, interdepartmental loans, or through avoided costs at the local level. Part of the planning and infrastructure costs, however, can sometimes be covered by state and federal grants known as Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). Nelson County, Virginia[3], leveraged CDBG to expand their fiber network and maximize benefits to the community.

CDBG funds, are distributed to 1,200 units of state and local government by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and can go toward a variety of infrastructure and development purposes. When communities consider ways to use CDBG funding, they can get long-term valuable benefits by directing those funds toward Internet infrastructure.

Nelson County Broadband

Currently, the network has 39 miles of middle mile fiber and laterals. Nelson County began preparing for the network in 2007, when it received an initial planning grant of CDBG funds. The grant allowed the county to develop a project which improved their eligibility for federal funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

They applied and in 2010 for stimulus funding and received a $1.8 million grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) to build out a middle mile network. In the first phase of their construction, the county used the BTOP funding and approximately $456,000 in required local matching funds to deploy 31 miles of fiber backbone. The second phase added another eight miles to the network in 2015, funded in part by $200,000 of CDBG funding; the community has also contributed about $690,000 in other local funds.

“It becomes a win-win for residents and businesses and for service providers,” said Alan Patrick[4], Chair of the Nelson County Broadband Authority. “Residents and businesses have an opportunity to receive broadband access, which may have not been available prior to the county building infrastructure in the area, and it is also a benefit to the service providers.”

As of November 2016, 240 businesses, residents, and organizations subscribe to Nelson’s network, which serves the communities of Lovingston, Nellysford, Colleen, Woods Mill, Martins Store, and Avon. Multiple ISPs operate on the open access network[5], including Nelson Cable, SCS Broadband, and Ting Internet.

The Broadband Authority hopes to add another 52 customers[6] in two additional neighborhoods in the near future. They retained a consulting firm that recently provided[7] a broadband build out plan. The Authority is still considering the recommendations that suggest adding another 75 miles of fiber. The expansion would reach the towns of Faber, Shipman, Piney River, Tyro, Arrington, Afton, and Wintergreen. The estimated cost of the expansion is approximately $7.8 million.

About CDBG

Congress created the CDBG program in 1974 as a way to help communities revitalize neighborhoods, requiring the majority of funds to benefit low-to-moderate income (LMI) individuals, families, and areas.


In 2015, HUD distributed over $3 billion in CDBG funds to units of government including cities, counties, and 49 states. A funding formula, which takes into account population trends and indicators of need such as housing age and poverty levels, dictates what level of CDBG support HUD offers recipients. If communities aren’t populous enough to receive funding on their own, they are eligible to apply for CDBG funds through their state CDBG authority. (more…)[8]

  1. Kate Svitavsky:
  2. is typically funded with:
  3. Nelson County, Virginia:
  4. said Alan Patrick:
  5. open access network:
  6. hopes to add another 52 customers:
  7. that recently provided:
  8. (more…):

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Thanks to Co-op, Small Iowa Town Goes Big On Solar

by Karlee Weinmann | February 3, 2017 12:52 pm

It’s hard to imagine a place more bucolic than the rural farming communities clustered around Kalona, Iowa — the kind of place that for generations has embodied conservative, blue-collar values woven throughout rural America.

Nestled in the gently rolling hills of southeastern Iowa, it’s at first difficult to tell what sets Kalona apart from countless similar places on the Midwestern landscape. Small towns like these form the backbone of a region whose economy depends on a rich farming tradition, even well into the 21st century.

But Kalona’s charm doesn’t obscure the innovation that makes it a national leader in clean power generation. In this small community, where many Amish and Mennonite families shun electricity and cars, solar power has proliferated. In fact, the Kalona area is a surprising national leader in solar power generation.

Sparking Solar

The local solar movement traces back to Farmers Electric Cooperative, the utility serving 605 households and businesses in Kalona and its surrounding villages. Per capita, Farmers Electric generates 3,719 watts of solar power per subscriber — 76 percent more than the next utility[1]! The utility, owned by its customers, offers a window into how community-minded thinking can shape sensible energy policy and reinvent the local economy.

Eight years after Farmers Electric launched a fierce campaign to integrate renewables into its energy mix, it’s obvious that solar has caught on. Skeptics were slow to opt in to clean power in the beginning. But now, in Kalona, solar power is the norm. They line the roofs of farmhouses and other local businesses, and ground-mounted arrays power other agribusiness operations.

What started with a single pilot array at a local high school has grown into a robust distributed generation network including farmers, homeowners and business owners cashing in on clean energy. Even as customers save money, more of their energy dollars stay within the community, boosting the local economy.

See our video[2] of Farmers Electric excellent solar reality:

Farmers Electric remains an outlier in promoting solar so aggressively, but its approach provides a blueprint for other power providers.

“Solar is like the electric car. I think people see it as the future, basically, in technology,” said Warren McKenna, who heads up Farmers Electric and spearheaded its solar plan. “If you make it easy, I think they’re going to grab a hold of it. It’s been very, very popular with our customers.”

There is no single path to unlocking the economic and community benefits seeded by solar, captured widely in Farmers Electric’s territory. Still, the unexpected success in bringing widespread solar generation to a tiny farming community about 30 miles south of Iowa City offers a pivotal lesson: it all comes down to the money.

The Pitch

Farmers Electric harnessed the power of the dollar to gets its solar campaign off the ground, and keep it going. In order for the program to succeed, McKenna knew early on that it had to provide a financial boost to co-op members — the environmental benefits, he says, were an unspoken cherry on top. (more…)[3]

  1. 76 percent more than the next utility:
  2. See our video:
  3. (more…):

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“Why Local Solutions?” Internet Access Fact Sheet

by Lisa Gonzalez | February 1, 2017 6:01 am

The next time you’re attending a city council meeting, attending a local broadband initiative, or just chatting with neighbors about better local connectivity, take a few copies of our Why Local Solutions?[1] fact sheet.


Our new one-pager addresses three main reasons why local telecommunications authority is so important:

In addition to providing some basic talking points to get the conversation moving, the fact sheet offers resources to guide you to more detailed information on publicly owned Internet networks. This resource is well paired with our other recent fact sheet, More than just Facebook[3]. You’ve already started to get people interested in all the advantages of high-quality connectivity, now show them how local self-reliance it the most direct route to better access.

Download Why Local Solutions? fact sheet[4].

Other Fact Sheets At Your Fingertips

Fact sheets are a useful tool for getting your point across without overloading the recipient with too much information. They can easily be digested and carried to meetings with elected officials and often are just the right amount of information to pique someone’s curiosity.

Check out our other fact sheets[5].

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[6]

  1. Why Local Solutions?:
  2. [Image]:
  3. More than just Facebook:
  4. Download Why Local Solutions? fact sheet:
  5. our other fact sheets:
  6. here:

Source URL:

Tennessee Broadband Bill Is A Jackpot For AT&T, Junk For EPB

by Lisa Gonzalez | January 27, 2017 11:19 am

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam doesn’t want the public’s money to pay for publicly owned Internet infrastructure. He has no problem, however, writing a $45 million check backed by taxpayers and payable to the likes of AT&T in Tennessee.

“A Little Song, A Little Dance, A Little Seltzer Down Your Pants”

On Wednesday, Haslam introduced the “Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act,”[1] another state sponsored handout to the national Internet Service Providers who have made countless broken promises to expand to rural areas. The bill contains some provisions dressed up to look like measures that make big strides for the state, and will be helpful, but it’s not ground breaking.

The bill lifts existing state restrictions on electric cooperatives that may wish to offer retail Internet access to members. The state restrictions on co-ops are dubious anyway and could be challenged under federal law. For the state’s electric cooperatives that reach all over the rural areas, the bill is welcome, but communities near Chattanooga’s EPB gets the short end of the stick.

EPB, Chattanooga’s Municipal Electric Utility, has advocated for several years to expand beyond their service territory. Neighboring communities, such as Bradley[2] and Polk Counties, need better connectivity because the national providers don’t consider their regions a good investment. Nevertheless, state law prohibits EPB from expanding to them and this legislation won’t change that.

“Don’t Confuse The Conversation”

State Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, where the local municipal network has jump started economic development and improved the quality of life, pointed out the problem[3] in Haslam’s shell game legislation:

Bowling said the measure only goes halfway in removing regulatory limits that she said now limit fiber optic service in much of Tennessee “and keeps too many rural citizens from participating in the 21st century digital economy.”

“I’m certainly glad that electric co-ops will be able to retail fiber services under this measure and I think that will be significant,” she said. ” I am amazed that some of the giant, investor-owned telecoms have been able to confuse the conversation by trying to make it about what is fair for the provider, instead of focusing on what is right for the consumer.”

Bowling has introduced legislation to repeal the state’s law that prevents municipal electric utilities that offer connectivity from expanding. The measure has had wide constituent support, as many of these efforts do, but elected officials at the state level who may be swayed by campaign donations are harder to convince.

att-death-star.PNGHere, AT&T, Have Some Money!

The Times Free Press reported[4]:

Asked why he didn’t include EPB and other municipal electric services, Haslam said, “You have a situation where we’d much rather have private providers rather than government-subsidized entities have the first crack at getting that done.”

AT&T has collected billions in taxpayer subsidies over the years, and is about to receive a fair chunk of another $45 million.

Ignoring Sage Advice

Last summer, the state’s own Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) released a study[5] that recommended eliminating the barriers that prevent entities like EPB from expanding. Haslam chose to dismiss his own agency’s recommendation to keep EPB corralled and AT&T happy.

AT&T has lobbied hard to keep EPB contained and appears to have won this round. To date, the national provider has had no interest in updating service outside Chattanooga. They know they won’t have to compete with EPB now, and still have no motivation to spend any of that taxpayer money in the region. The people in Bradley and Polk Counties, who have held public meetings[6], passed resolutions[7], and practically begged the state to allow EPB serve their community now know that their Governor chooses AT&T lobbyists over them.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[8].

  1. “Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act,”:
  2. Bradley:
  3. pointed out the problem:
  4. Times Free Press reported:
  5. released a study:
  6. held public meetings:
  7. passed resolutions:
  8. here:

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Trump’s FCC Pick Bodes Poorly for Net Neutrality & Broadband Competition

by Christopher | January 26, 2017 6:00 pm

StateScoop[1] – January 26, 2017

Commentary: The chairman’s track record of opposition to equitable telecom policy could lead to fewer choices in the market and the upending of one of the internet’s most treasured aspects — but the fight’s not over yet.

Donald Trump picked his FCC chairman much earlier than anyone expected, though Ajit Pai is not a very big surprise. Formerly a lawyer for Verizon, Pai has been a constant voice in favor of large incumbent cable and telephone positions, especially opposing the Open Internet Order, known more commonly as network neutrality[2].

He has served on the FCC for four years, giving a strong sense of what his priorities are. In speaking to staff on his first day, he focused on the digital divide[3] but offered few clues as to what he might be planning to improve access aside from cutting regulations — as though the only thing holding back the nation’s ISPs from offering high-quality lower-cost access in low-income neighborhoods was prohibitions against the practice.

Pai opposed efforts to help low-income families access the internet via the Lifeline program, advocating instead for a cap that would create a waiting list rather than covering all qualifying families. And more telling, he actually opposed efforts to rein in the ripoff charges in many prisons, where the incarcerated have to pay incredibly inflated rates[4] to make phone calls. For those who don’t care if people in prison are ripped off, consider that the amount of contact a prisoner has with family is correlated with recidivism. That means you are paying higher taxes to house prisoners so CenturyLink and others can charge them a buck a minute or more to talk to their families.

Pai’s opposition to equity extends beyond individual programs and into the content of the internet itself. Pai has proven himself an opponent of net neutrality and said in December that its days are numbered under Trump.

To be fair, Pai has claimed at times to adhere to some net neutrality principles — such as no blocking of websites. But to be honest, he has also consistently argued that the FCC should not have the power to effectively enforce such rules.

The issue with Pai, and more broadly among the Republicans running the federal government these days, is that they believe the market for internet service works well. In fact, the party line seems to be that if there is a problem, it is the possible need for even more consolidation — AT&T buying Time Warner properties like HBO and CNN, for instance.

The belief is that if one provider engages in anti-consumer behavior, the market will correct it. It’s a great theory, but I’m not exactly sure where it gets the average American living in a large urban area. I live in St. Paul, Minnesota, and if I get annoyed at the Comcast bandwidth cap, my other option is a much slower CenturyLink DSL connection. I can say from my own infuriating personal experience with these providers that this “market” is not self-correcting.

Many claim that I have more options. Any number of think tanks that get checks from the big cable and telephone companies are happy to remind me that I could get even slower service from Verizon Wireless over LTE, though the cost of blowing through my monthly data cap would exceed my mortgage. Even statistics collected by the FCC or the NTIA support the view that my neighborhood is full of choices, but it’s an illusion. It’s just that there is a business corridor in my census block that has a few more choices, so “Hey, presto,” I too have more choices officially! But not really. (more…)[5]

  1. StateScoop:
  2. network neutrality:
  3. the digital divide:
  4. incredibly inflated rates:
  5. (more…):

Source URL:

Preemption, Local Authority, & Municipal Broadband – Episode 10 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | January 26, 2017 12:00 pm

Welcome to episode ten of the Building Local Power podcast[1]. For full transcript of the podcast, click here[2].

In this episode, John Farrell, the director of ILSR’s Energy Democracy initiative, interviews Christopher Mitchell (our usual podcast host) and Lisa Gonzalez of our Community Broadband Networks initiative. The three discuss the power of municipal broadband networks, how the power held in cities is integral to these projects, and the barriers put in place by cable monopolies to prevent these networks.

Gonzalez and Mitchell dive deep into a few models that have benefitted their communities across the nation.

“These big cable and telephone companies are against competition,” says Chris Mitchell. “For them, they’ve grown up in monopoly environments. They are opposed to private-sector competition and public-sector competition.”


Here are Christopher and Lisa’s reading/watching recommendations:

From Lisa: Genius on Hold[9] is available on Netflix, currently:

From Chris:

The Deal of the Century: The Breakup of AT&T[10] by Steve Coll, Atheneum

Be sure to read up on some of our Community Broadband Network initiative’s other work, as well as a previous Building Local Power episode Christopher and Lisa spoke on:

If you missed our podcast make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power [14]Podcast Homepage[15]. Please give us a review and rating on iTunes or wherever you subscribe to podcasts. (more…)[16]

  1. Building Local Power podcast:
  2. here: #transcript
  3. [Image]:
  4. Play in new window:
  5. Download:
  6. iTunes:
  7. Android:
  8. RSS:
  9. Genius on Hold:
  10. The Deal of the Century: The Breakup of AT&T:
  11. Community Broadband Networks Map:
  12. Broadband Bits Podcast:
  13. Broadband Boosted at the Ballot, An Election Wrap-Up:
  14. Building Local Power :
  15. Podcast Homepage:
  16. (more…):

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Taking on the Billionaires

by David Morris | January 26, 2017 11:53 am

Combatting defeatism may be our single most important psychological objective in the wake of the election. We need to revive the spirit embodied in Barack Obama’s vague but hopeful campaign slogan in 2008, “Yes We Can.” At the federal level this is a time to expose, to educate and to resist. But at the state and local level we can act proactively to fashion strategies that both embrace progressive values and directly benefit those who mistakenly voted for Donald Trump as an economic savior. This is the first in a series of pieces focusing on what can be done.

The Giveaway

Over the next 6-12 months Congress will almost certainly give the richest 1 percent of the population an income tax gift totaling some $75-150 billion. The 1 percent, with annual incomes averaging $1.3 million will capture 47 percent of the tax cuts for an average annual tax saving of $214,000 each, the non-partisan Tax Policy Center[1] estimates based on Trump’s proposal, which does not differ dramatically from that of the House Republicans[2].

The top 0.1 percent, a population comprised of only 117,000 taxpayers who earn, on average $37 million a year will see their tax bill slashed by $1.3 million. The top .001 percent of taxpayers, fewer than 1400 individuals, who earn a dizzying $160 million annually, may see their bank accounts swell by some $10 million.

Profligacy is reserved for the few. For the many this Administration and Congress will be downright tightfisted. The bottom 20 percent of the population, some 80 million low income and working class people, will receive on average a $100 income tax reduction. By one estimate[3] that, given the whole package of proposed changes, almost 9 million families could see their taxes could actually increase.

Adding insult to injury the Trump tax plan would not only give the wealthy far larger dollar benefits but it actually reduces taxes on the wealthy by a greater percentage.

The Response[4]

It will be virtually impossible to stop this unprecedented giveaway. But states can fight back. They can raise state income taxes on the rich in proportion to the reductions at the federal level, diverting as much of the massive federal tax gift as possible from the pockets of the 1 percent into public investments, public services and support for the 99 percent.

State-based campaigns that focus on progressive income taxes will illuminate the dangers of the increasing concentration of private wealth and its relationship to the increasing impoverishment of public services, wage stagnation and widespread privation. They can address fundamental questions. How are we connected? Do we have a responsibility to one another and to future generations?

Class Matters

Those who now run Washington insist the “me” should take precedence over the “we,” that the private is superior to the public. Michigan Republican State House Speaker Tom Leonard, who proposes eliminating the state’s income tax, already the lowest in the country, justified[5] his stance by invoking a common meme, “This is the people’s money, not ours.” We need to make clear that, given the current distribution of tax breaks and the unprecedented concentration of wealth, the attitude of the 1 percent might more accurately be summarized as, “This is our money, not the peoples.”

Despite the election of Donald Trump, a clear message of this election was that the American people believe that class matters. They are outraged that the top 1 percent have captured[6] 99 percent of all new income generated since 2009 and amassed more wealth[7] than 95 percent of the population. They understand the inherent unfairness and danger when 400 individuals have more wealth than 150 million Americans.

Bernie Sanders emphasized this unfairness and promoted a steep increase in taxes on millionaires and came within a whisker of being the Democrat’s nominee. Hillary Clinton favored raising taxes on the rich and won nationally by almost 3 million votes. And at least one pre-election survey by the Rand Corporation found that over half of those intending to vote for Trump supported increasing taxes on the wealthy.

The Consequences

The tax gift to the rich will demand real sacrifice from the poor and the middle class—more closed state parks, fewer health services, overcrowded classrooms, more prison unrest. The House tax plan will reduce federal revenues by $3 trillion in the first 10 years; Trump’s plan will reduce them by $9.5 trillion according[8] to the Tax Policy Center. The Administration appears to agree with the higher estimate given that Trump’s staff proposes[9] federal spending cuts of $10.5 trillion over the next decade.

The brunt of these cuts will occur in the non-defense part of the discretionary budget, spending on Medicaid, science, veterans’ benefits, food stamps, job training, health research, disaster assistance, housing assistance, national parks, roads and transit will suffer disproportionately. Indeed, Trump proposed[10] during the campaign an increase in military aid to be “fully offset” by reduced spending on social insurance and public works.

These reductions will put even more pressure on already strapped state and municipal budgets. Federal government spending comprises, on average 30 percent of state revenues. This varies from a high of 43 percent in Mississippi to a low of 21 percent in Hawaii. Red states, where politicians rail against federal spending, are more dependent on Washington than blue states.   A recent Associated Press survey found that 33 states are currently dealing with a budget shortfall or expect to confront one in the coming fiscal year.

Why Raise State Income Taxes?


The premise of state-based campaigns focusing on fairness and the obligations of citizenship is that the major problem is not a stagnating economy. The economy is growing. The problem is that all the benefits of that growth are going to a tiny portion of the population while the rest of us experience stagnating wages, declining benefits, and dwindling public services.

Within states the income dynamic mirrors that of the nation as a whole. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities[11] (CBPP) in Arizona, the top 1 percent increased their incomes by 73 percent while the bottom 99 percent saw their incomes drop by 6 percent. In Washington the difference was 142 percent to 1 percent; in Wisconsin it was 120 percent to 4 percent and in Indiana 76 percent to zero.

Raising state income taxes and thereby diverting federal tax breaks to the wealth into state spending will arguably benefit not only that state, but also the nation. The majority of federal discretionary spending goes to the military, and in the future its proportion will likely increase. Meanwhile all state spending goes to health, education, welfare and transportation. The economic impact of military spending is far less than that of non-defense spending. Each military dollar grows the economy by 60-70 cents, according to research[12] by Robert Barro and Charles Redlick.   On the other hand, each federal dollar spent on food stamps grows the economy by $1.74 and by $1.36 if spent on general aid to state governments according[13] to Moody’s Mark Zandi.

State campaigns can also make a strong case that giving money to the rich is an ineffective and inefficient way to boost the economy.

Giving money to the rich has a similar low-yielding dynamic to spending it on the military. Since the rich spend much less of a tax cut than those of lower incomes tax cuts for high earners boost employment less than those for low earners. An analysis[14] of the 2008 Bush stimulus cuts found that for every $1 in cuts, high income households spent 77 cents while low income spent $1.28 (The authors explain that a stimulus can increase average total spending by more than its own value, if it tips the balance for enough people to make large purchases like computers, cars that are purchased on credit.)

Taxing Labor and Capital

Congress wants to cut the tax on capital, which because of past tax cuts, already is taxed at about half the rate as income from labor. Most of us earn our income by working. The rich are different. They earn most of their money from capital, not labor. In 2007, wages and salaries accounted[15] for only 40 percent of the income of the richest 1 percent, according to Professor Alexander Hicks. Sixty percent came from profits, dividends, interest, rent and capital gains. For the richest 0.1 percent, the figure is almost 70 percent.

Those who favor even further cuts in taxes on capital argue this will increase private savings, which will increase investment. The evidence is that it will do neither. Indeed, the Congressional Research Service[16] has examined the issue from the opposite direction addressing the question, “What would be the impact of increasing capital gains tax rates?” It concludes that doing so “appear(s) to increase public saving and may have little or no effect on private saving. Consequently, capital gains tax increases likely have a positive overall impact on national saving and investment.”

Most states tax income from capital at the same rate as income from labor. Thus raising the state income tax will raise the state tax on capital gains. In a state like California, the top tax rate on income from capital, at 13.3 percent, nearly that of the federal rate, if Republican tax proposals become law.

The False Benefit of State Tax Cuts

State tax cuts do not stimulate economic growth. They generate deficits, which because of the states’ constitutional requirement to balance their budgets, results in reduced public spending, which itself reduces economic growth. According to economist Robert Lynch,[17] “there is little evidence that state and local tax cuts—when paid for by reducing public services—stimulate economic activity or create jobs…”

Researchers at the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution conclude[18], “We find that states have no good reasons to believe that cuts in income tax rates will bring the desired benefits. Yet, states continue to erode their tax bases in the name of economic growth during a time when few states can afford to cut services, such as education and infrastructure repair that are critical for both businesses and households.”

As Michael Leachman and Michael Mazerov of CBPP point out[19], the historical evidence is compelling. In the 1990s states with the biggest income tax cuts experienced job growth during the next economic cycle at an average rate only one-third as large as states with less significant or no cuts.   From 2000 to 2007 four of the six states that reduced personal income taxes significantly saw their share of national employment decline. (The other two states are major oil and natural gas producers.) Since 2010, four of the five states that have enacted the largest personal income tax cuts have had slower job growth afterwards than has the nation as a whole.

Kansas is the poster child for this dynamic. After its legislature slashed personal income taxes in 2012, state revenue decreased by $1 billion a year. Newly elected Governor Sam Brownback insisted, “Our new pro-growth tax policy will be like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.” Instead, since December 2012, Kansas experienced job growth of 2.4 percent compared to 6.9 percent in the rest of the nation.

Some argue that raising taxes on the rich will lead them to leave the state, resulting in a net loss in state revenue. The empirical evidence contradicts that argument.  An analysis of New Jersey, a good test case because the tax increase there was large (from 6.37 to 8.97 percent) and many New Jersey residents can easily move to neighboring states, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut without changing where they work found little movement. Charles Varner and Cristobal Young of Stanford found[20] that only 80 of the roughly 40,000 people who earned over $500,000 a year left New Jersey.   Professor Varner observes, “the loss in revenues … is very small compared to the revenue gain.”

After an extensive review of the literature, Mazerov concludes[21], “No state has ever lost revenue by raising taxes on rich people.”

A state-based campaign could personalize the impact of inequitable tax cuts and the resulting inequitable spending cuts. It could focus on the meaningless of additional money for billionaires and the centrality of money for a growing number of us.

Consider what has happened in Oklahoma. Oklahoma[22] reduced its income taxes, resulting in over $1 billion a year in reduced state revenues. The wealthiest 1 percent of households cumulatively received nearly the same share of the tax cuts as the bottom 80 percent. The median Oklahoma household saw tax reductions of $228, compared to $15,519 for the average household in the top 1 percent. The bottom 20 percent of households received an average of just $4 per year.

While gaining virtually nothing from the tax cuts, the vast majority suffered from the accompanying spending reductions. The state’s Medicaid agency eliminated dental services for low-income adults.

More than 7,300 families are on a waiting list for home and community-based services for those with developmental disabilities, and the wait has extended to 10 years. The number of teachers decreased, class sizes grew, and class offerings and programs were eliminated.   An acute teacher recruitment and retention crisis has forced districts across the state to issue emergency certifications to under-qualified teachers or leave positions unfilled. Oklahoma’s correctional facilities are operating at more than 10 percent above inmate capacity but with 30 percent less staffing, creating threats to the safety of staff, prisoners, and the public.

State Income Taxes: The Lay of the Land

[23]In the 1970’s, on average, states raised their income tax rates. In 1980 they were two times higher than sales tax rates. Beginning in the 1980s, however, states consistently lowered income taxes while raising sales taxes. Today, according to Elizabeth McNichol[24] of CBPP, the median state sales tax rate is equal to the median state top income tax rate.


The result has been to make state and local taxes, on the whole, regressive. The share of income paid by the poorest 20 percent is twice that of the richest 1 percent. Unsurprisingly, the disparity is widest in states without an income tax. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reports[25] that Washington’s working class pays seven times more taxes, as a share of income, than its super-wealthy. Maine and Minnesota’s tax structures come closest to treating the poor the same as the rich. In fact, Maine’s recently passed income tax surcharge on the wealthy may make it the only state that has a progressive tax system when all state and local taxes are included.



Typically, personal income taxes generate one third of state revenues in states that have an income tax. As noted above, federal spending accounts for another 30 percent of state revenues.

[26]Forty-three states impose an income tax. Seven impose no income taxes (AK, FL, NV, SD, TX, WA and WY). Eight states have flat taxes (CO, IL, IN, MA, MI, NC, PA, UT).

Top marginal tax rates for states imposing an income tax vary by a factor of three, ranging from a low of 4.25 percent in Michigan and 4.54 percent in Arizona to 10.15 percent in Maine and 13.3 percent in California.

A History of Failure and Success

Can a campaign focusing on fairness, equity, and responsibility win? The signs are mixed.

Between 2000 and 2009 10 states raised[27] income taxes on the wealthy. Between 2005 and 2015 about a dozen decreased them. In some cases the same state both raised and lowered income tax rates. New York, Wisconsin, New Jersey and Maine fall in that category.



In 2012, by a wide margin Californians voted to raise top tax rates by 30 percent. (Only 3 percent of taxpayers are affected.) In 2016 they voted to extend that tax hike.

In 2016, the people of Maine voted narrowly to approve a 40 percent hike in their top tax rate despite the opposition of the Governor and most political leaders. The increase will raise $142 million the first year and $12 million additionally each year thereafter.

Both California and Maine’s initiatives dedicated the new money to education.

On the other hand, in 2010 Washingtonians decisively defeated an initiative to introduce a state income tax for the first time, initially imposed just on the rich. In 2011 Colorado voters just as decisively rejected an initiative to raise the income tax despite the increased revenue being dedicated to education. (In 2016 an initiative petition, targeting a modest income tax increase restricted to the rich wasn’t submitted in time.)

Constitutional barriers will pose high barriers to progressive tax reform in some states. This appears to be the case in Illinois and may be the case in Colorado. Michigan’s 1963 state constitution flatly states, “No income tax graduated as to rate or base shall be imposed by the state or any of its subdivisions.” Louisiana, Oklahoma and California require a two-thirds favorable vote in the legislature to raise taxes, although the question can be put on the ballot by petition.

The Changing Landscape

State campaigns may be aided by the changing landscape of tax reform. In the face of deteriorating roads and overcrowded schools, even those who ideologically favor reducing taxes are conceding that increased revenues are needed.  And drastic cuts in federal aid will exacerbate the problems faced by state legislators. Currently they almost always favor increasing sales taxes. For example, in recent years some 20 states have raised gas taxes to pay for sorely need infrastructure. Nevertheless, once the conversation focuses on how to tax rather than whether to tax, the discussion, but once the tax taboo is overcome, the conversation about equity and the income tax may be facilitated.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is promoting a tax hike for millionaires to pay for the states $3.5 billion budget deficit. Montana’s Governor Steve Bullock similarly proposes a tax hike on the wealthy. Washington Governor Jay Inslee advocates a tax on capital gains. Alaskan Governor Bill Walker raised the possibility of a new state income tax to pay for that state’s large budget deficit, although he recently backed off from that proposal.

Voters may be showing their dissatisfaction with continual tax cuts that result in deteriorating public services.  Even in Red states. In November 2016 the Republican voters of Kansas declared their frustration with state policies that consistently cut public services to reduce deficits caused by tax giveaways to the rich. The Atlantic summarized[29] some aspects of that dissatisfaction, “Moderate Republican candidates ousted 14 conservative state legislators allied with the governor in primary elections across the state, while anti-Brownback contenders won nominations for open seats in another seven races.”

People who ideologically oppose taxes often change their minds when their car hits a deep pothole. Or when the response time for 911 calls significantly lengthens. Or when their kids can no longer attend after school activities. Or when state parks are closed.

Private splendor and public squalor has never been more evident. While the recent election gave federal power to those who would widen the gap, state and local governments, the governments closest to the people, are where increasing needs, the perilous state of public services and the growing disparity between the super-wealthy and the rest of us, may offer fertile ground for progressive strategies that largely benefit those who voted for Trump.

Sign-up for our monthly Public Good Newsletter[30] and follow ILSR on Twitter[31] and Facebook[32].

  1. Tax Policy Center:
  2. House Republicans:
  3. estimate:
  4. [Image]:
  5. justified:
  6. captured:
  7. wealth: http://The%25201%2520percent%2520has%252035.6%2520percent%2520of%2520all%2520private%2520wealth,%2520more%2520than%2520the%2520bottom%252095%2520percent%2520combined.%2520%2509%2509The%2520400%2520wealthiest%2520individuals%2520on%2520the%2520Forbes%2520400%2520list%2520have%2520more%2520wealth%2520than%2520the%2520bottom%2520150%2520million%2520Americans.
  8. according:
  9. proposes:
  10. proposed:
  11. Center for Budget and Policy Priorities:
  12. research:
  13. according:
  14. analysis: http://consumer%2520payments%2520and%2520stimulus%2520payments%25202008
  15. accounted:
  16. Congressional Research Service:
  17. Robert Lynch,:
  18. conclude:
  19. point out:
  20. found:
  21. concludes:
  22. Oklahoma:
  23. [Image]:
  24. Elizabeth McNichol:
  25. reports:
  26. [Image]:
  27. raised:
  28. [Image]:
  29. summarized:
  30. Public Good Newsletter:
  31. Twitter:
  32. Facebook:

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“More Than Just Facebook” Internet Connectivity Fact Sheet

by Lisa Gonzalez | January 26, 2017 11:49 am

Our newest fact sheet, More than just Facebook[1], provides an overview on how Internet access and fast, affordable, reliable connectivity reaches most aspects of our lives. We provide statistics on economic development, education, and methods of delivering Internet access. This fact sheet is a good introductory tool that points out how we’ve Internet access is much more than just social media.

We also offer some explanations of concepts that may not be familiar to people who don’t work in the telecommunications field or advocate for municipal networks. This fact sheet is a tool that lays out what publicly owned Internet infrastructure and better connectivity can mean for your community.

Share it with friends, relatives, and your elected officials who might wonder if they could do more than “Like” pithy posts if they had better connectivity.


Download More than just Facebook[3].

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here.[4]

  1. More than just Facebook:
  2. [Image]:
  3. Download More than just Facebook:
  4. here.:

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Solar: Choice, Competition, and Clean Air

by John Farrell | January 17, 2017 6:00 am

It’s simple to promote solar power as a money saver and clean alternative to fossil fuel generation. But it sells solar short to focus only on savings, when it also gives Americans the freedom to generate their own energy and to challenge the economic and political power of big corporations.

Individual Freedom

If individuals want to invest their money, or pay someone else, to put solar on their rooftop, who is the government or the utility to tell them no? Americans should be free to decide how best to spend their money, and rooftop solar is one of the few ways they can spend it that pays back by cutting their use of electricity.


In more than 30 states, utilities operate as monopolies. The monopolies serving most customers are a private companies that receive a generous rate of return (10% or more) on money they invest in the grid system. Utilities suggest their monopoly is “natural,” and that the grid operates most efficiently in their clutches. But if that’s the case, why are utilities across the country scrambling to cut compensation for solar producers[1], add fees to the bills of solar owners, and modify electric bills so people who use less energy can’t avoid paying the utility less money[2]?

The truth is that technology from solar to smartphones undermines the rationale for a utility monopoly[3], and customers should be able to compete with their utility to get the best deal.

Americans also deserve to have a say in the rules of the electricity business. Big monopoly utilities wield their customers’ dollars against them in court and at the capitol. In Florida, investor-owned utilities have one lobbyist for every two legislators[4]. One of California’s biggest investor-owned utilities spent over $46 million[5] opposing a policy allowing cities and towns to shop for a better deal. And utilities can use money from their captive customers[6] to pay for membership in trade organizations that spread their monopoly-protection legislative ideas from state to state. Monopolies don’t just mean bad business, they make for bad politics, and less concentrated economic power means more people power in making the rules.

Benefits for Everyone

Solar is good for individuals, but their investments also pay dividends for the grid. For one, solar power produces power right where we use it. Think about a delivery from Amazon: is it better to have items sent to the distribution center 30 miles away or to your front porch?

Solar also produces power during times of peak energy use. Most state or regional grids reach their peak capacity on hot, sunny afternoons, the same time solar pours electricity into the grid. Consider congestion lanes on a freeway: when traffic is heavy, the price to use them goes up. The value of solar energy is higher because of when it’s produced.

Furthermore, solar on a local rooftop likely involves a local installer and maybe even a local loan. The money spent to finance and build a rooftop solar installation stays in the local economy when most other energy dollars do not.

Finally, solar reduces health and environmental costs that big companies unload onto their customers.  Every kilowatt-hour of energy produced at a coal or natural gas power plant produces several pounds of pollutants. Their spread into the air and water spurs warnings[7] to limit our consumption of fish, higher incidences of respiratory diseases like asthma, and other public health dangers. Because it reduces energy consumption from power plants, rooftop solar helps avoid these health and environmental costs otherwise borne by individuals rather than the utility companies that cause them.

If you like, it’s possible to get into the weeds[8] of the financial and economic benefits of rooftop solar versus coal or gas or nuclear, but aren’t choice, competition, and cleaner air enough?

This article originally posted at[9]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[10] or get the Energy Democracy weekly[11] update.

  1. cut compensation for solar producers:
  2. people who use less energy can’t avoid paying the utility less money:
  3. undermines the rationale for a utility monopoly:
  4. one lobbyist for every two legislators:
  5. $46 million:
  6. use money from their captive customers:
  7. warnings:
  8. into the weeds:
  10. Twitter:
  11. Energy Democracy weekly:

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Fact Sheet On Municipal Networks In Virginia

by Lisa Gonzalez | January 16, 2017 2:05 am

The latest addition to our list of fact sheets focuses on Virginia: Municipal Networks Deliver Local Benefits[1]. We noticed that municipal networks in the “Mother of States” have spurred economic development, saved taxpayer dollars, and improved local connectivity.

A number of local governments in Virginia that have invested in Internet network infrastructure have attracted Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to use the publicly owned assets to offer services to residents and businesses. Local governments are using fiber-optic networks to improve public safety, take control of their own connectivity needs, and attract or retain employers.

Download the fact sheet here[2].


Download the fact sheet here[2].

Learn more about the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) open access network, located in southwest Virginia. Christopher spoke with Frank Smith, President and CEO of the RVBA for episode 221[4] of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Take a look at our other fact sheets[5]; we will continue to add state-specific editions so check back for more. Subscribe to our weekly email[6] for a run down of stories so you can stay up-to-date on what’s happening in community broadband networks.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[7]

  1. Municipal Networks Deliver Local Benefits:
  2. Download the fact sheet here:
  3. [Image]:
  4. episode 221:
  5. our other fact sheets:
  6. Subscribe to our weekly email:
  7. here:

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Official Agendas Available, Fourth National Cultivating Community Composting Forum

by Nick Stumo-Langer | January 13, 2017 3:17 pm

placeholderIn collaboration with the US Composting Council (USCC) and BioCycle[1], the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is releasing the agenda for the Fourth National Cultivating Community Composting Forum from January 23rd-24th to be held in conjunction with the USCC’s International Conference and Trade Show[2], COMPOST2017, in Los Angeles.

These events will bring together composters to network, share best practices, and build support for community-scale composting systems and enterprises. The Cultivating Community Composting Forum 2017 is the fourth national forum sponsored by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and BioCycle.

Thank you to our sponsors!


Best Practices in Community Composting Workshop Agenda

Monday, January 23rd, 2017 Los Angeles, California

8:30AM to 4:30pm

Agenda available here for download[3]


Welcome & Who’s Here



Part 1: Key Ingredients of Community Composting



Part 2: Small-Scale Composting Systems/Processing BMPs

Moderator: Brenda Platt, Institute for Local Self-Reliance







Part 3: Hauling, Bike, & Other Logistics

Moderator: Dan Matsch, Eco-Cycle, Boulder




Lunch & Informal Breakouts

At restaurants outside of the hotel – on your own.

Breakout Topics:



Part 4: The Business of Community Composting

Moderator: Kyle Isaacksen, Reno Rot Riders, Reno




Part 5: Community Engagement & Building Community Power via Community Composting

Moderator: Linda Bilsens, Institute for Local Self-Reliance Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders, Washington D.C.




Part 6: Breakout Discussions

Topics TBD: BMPs, hauling logistics, business plans/financial viability, outreach & marketing, policy agenda, volunteer management, community engagement/community empowerment, school composting, etc.)



Report Back from Breakouts, Closing, & Next Steps

Agenda available here for download[3]

4th National Cultivating Community Composting Forum


Tuesday, January 24th, 2017 Los Angeles, California

Agenda available here for download[22]


Nora Goldstein, BioCycle[23], @BioCycleMag[24]

Brenda Platt, Institute for Local Self-Reliance[25], @ILSR[26]


Part 1: Cultivating Community Composting Forum


Community Composting: Distributed, Diverse, and Growing

Welcome from Institute for Local Self-Reliance and BioCycle
Overview & Introduction to Community Composting (interactive polling)

Forum Keynote: Empowering Neighborhoods Through Compost, Michael Martinez, LA Compost[15]

Panel: Community Composters Drive Local Programs

This panel will showcase how community composters bring public attention to composting and the potential partnerships. Commercial scale composters and haulers – along with local government – will learn the benefit of these programs and how to support/partner with community-based efforts.




Opening Plenary – Welcome to Compost2017[30]



Lunch in the Exhibit Hall Sponsored by Exhibitors



Part 2: Cultivating Community Composting Forum

Panel Discussion: Supporting a Distributed Composting Infrastructure – Dollars and Rules

This panel will address the importance of local and state financing and policies to the development of a diverse and distributed composting infrastructure that includes community scale operations. How can state agencies such as CalRecycle’s create funding incentives to support community composters? How can local government revisit districting rules to allow for community composters to compete? What local governments are already financing and supporting community scale composting?

Moderator: Brenda Platt, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Washington D.C.


Closing Remarks



ReFed’s Roadmap Hits the Road: Building Processing Capacity at the Right Scale[36]

Discussion Panel includes:

Agenda available here for download[22]


Community composting is the radical idea that compost is used within the same community where the material is generated and that the community participates in some way. Community composters keep the feedstocks, process and product as local as possible while engaging the community through participation and education. Projects range from urban to rural and include small enterprises, demonstration/training sites, schools, universities, pedal-powered collection systems, worker-owned cooperatives, community gardens and farms.

For more information on community composting, download our report:
Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting[37]

  1. BioCycle:
  2. USCC’s International Conference and Trade Show:
  3. Agenda available here for download:
  4. Compostwheels:
  5. Compost Pedallers:
  6. BK ROT:
  7. Howard University Community Garden:
  8. Cornell Waste Management Institute:
  9. NYC Compost Project hosted by Lower East Side Ecology Center:
  10. Rust Belt Riders:
  11. CompostNow:
  12. Tilthy Rich:
  13. Philly Compost:
  14. Compost With Me:
  15. LA Compost:
  16. Terra Nova Compost:
  17. Food Plus Detroit:
  18. Real Food Farm – Civic Works:
  19. Howard University Community Garden:
  20. Edible Flint:
  21. CERO:
  22. Agenda available here for download:
  23. BioCycle:
  24. @BioCycleMag:
  25. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  26. @ILSR:
  27. Bennet Compost:
  28. Compost Wheels:
  29. Compost Pedallers:
  30. Welcome to Compost2017:
  31. NYC Department of Sanitation:
  32. Sustainable Economies Law Center:
  33. Austin Resource Recovery:
  34. CalRecycle:
  35. ReFED:
  36. Building Processing Capacity at the Right Scale:
  37. Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting:

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State Bills To Block Municipal Networks Start In Missouri, Virginia

by Lisa Gonzalez | January 13, 2017 7:22 am

With each new legislative session come the new bills from the incumbents aiming to limit competition. We typically expect at least one and begin looking for them early in January as legislatures begin assembling in state capitols; this year the anti-muni efforts begin in Virginia and Missouri.

“Show-Me” Your Bill

Missouri’s communities have been the object of legislative persecution from big national incumbents and the legislators they back for several years. When we learned that another effort to severely limit the ability for municipalities to bring better connectivity to the community was afoot, we weren’t surprised.

This year, the bill is from Republican Senator Ed Emery[1], who has recently moved from the House to the Senate. Surprisingly, Emery’s bio reports that he also worked with his father and grandfather in their feed and grain business. As some one with a connection to farmers, one would expect him to understand the importance of high-speed connectivity in today’s agriculture industry. Emery also has a significant history in the utilities industry. He’s received both the Legislator of the Year Award from the Missouri Cable Telecommunications Association and the Leadership Award from the Missouri Telecommunications Industry Association[2].

SB 186 starts out strong by prohibiting local government from offering “competitive service,” which includes both retail or wholesale models. By preventing wholesale models, the bill interferes with a municipality’s ability to work with private sector partners, a major complaint about the bill introduced last year[3].

The bill states that voters can only choose to allow a municipality to offer any services after the community has engaged in a very thorough feasibility study and the results have been publicized. As with last year’s bill, SB 186 sets up onerous hurdles that threaten to sabotage a network in the early days, discouraging local communities from pursuing a chance to serve residents, businesses, and municipal facilities. The bill also dictates ballot language, establishes geographical limits on any local network, and clearly established that no funds from other municipal services can be directed toward a municipal network. Much of SB 186’s language comes from last year’s bill.

The bill is now in the Local Government and Elections Committee[4] but no hearing has been scheduled yet; we’ll let you know when and if it’s on the agenda. View the entire text of SB 186 online[5].

Meanwhile In Virginia

Fresh from Virginia comes HB 2108[6], the “Virginia Broadband Deployment Act,” which makes changes to existing law by adding an entire section. The bill also repeals several disclosure exclusions relating to telecommunications; those exclusion are now under the Freedom of information Act. (more…)[7]

  1. Senator Ed Emery:
  2. Missouri Telecommunications Industry Association:
  3. bill introduced last year:
  4. Local Government and Elections Committee:
  5. View the entire text of SB 186 online:
  6. HB 2108:
  7. (more…):

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Response to Amazon’s Jobs Announcement, January 2017

by Nick Stumo-Langer | January 12, 2017 2:30 pm


Contact: Nick Stumo-Langer,[1], 612-844-1330[2]


Statement on Amazon’s Jobs Announcement

Amazon is Causing More Job Losses than Gains, and It’s Lowering Wages

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance[3], and co-author of the recent report, “Amazon’s Stranglehold: How the Company’s Tightening Grip is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities[4],” responded to the announcement on jobs made today by Amazon:

“Amazon’s jobs announcement this morning has it in the headlines as a job creator. But there’s a dirty secret about jobs at Amazon. As we found in our recent report [5]on the company, as Amazon gains market share, it destroys more jobs than it creates,” Mitchell said. “What’s more, these jobs are bad jobs. Our research finds that Amazon pays significantly lower wages than the prevailing rate for comparable work, that it’s experimenting widely with ways to erode job security, and that working conditions in its warehouses are grueling and dehumanizing.”

The report found that Amazon has eliminated about 149,000 more jobs in retail than it has created in its warehouses, and the pace of retail layoffs is accelerating as Amazon gains market share. The report also analyzed Amazon’s wages In 11 metro areas and found that it pays its warehouse employees 15% less on average than the prevailing wage for other warehouse workers in the same region. In Atlanta, for example, Amazon pays 19% less than the regional average for warehouse work. In Louisville, its wages are 17% lower, and in Phoenix 6% lower.

“What Amazon’s announcement really shows is how fast the company is growing, and that’s bad news for U.S. workers, who stand to lose more than they gain as Amazon increasingly dominates commerce,” Mitchell added. “Amazon is at the center of many of our most alarming economic trends, including the rapid increase in temporary and on-demand work, lower wages, and rising inequality.”


The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is a 42-year-old national nonprofit research and educational organization. ILSR’s mission is to provide innovative strategies, working models and timely information to support strong, community rooted, environmentally sound and equitable local economies.[6] – Email[1] for press inquiries.

  2. 612-844-1330: tel:(612)%20844-1330
  3. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  4. Amazon’s Stranglehold: How the Company’s Tightening Grip is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities:
  5. our recent report :

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The Perils of Privatization – Episode 9 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | January 12, 2017 12:00 pm

Welcome to episode nine of the Building Local Power podcast[1]. For full transcript[2] of the podcast click here.

In this episode, Chris Mitchell, the director of our Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews David Morris, a co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the director of the Public Good initiative. The two discuss the climate surrounding privatization in our economy and how the incoming Trump administration will bolster these efforts nationwide.

Morris delves deep into the history of public infrastructure including explanations of how our language around the subject has changed over the years, privatization in other countries, and hope for the future.

“In the late 19th century, 75-85% of all water and sewer utilities were owned by the private sector, and it turned out that that was a disaster in part because they were managed very poorly and in part because they only wanted to serve wealthy people,” says David Morris[3]. “Today, 75-80% are owned by cities and counties, and they have been running them very impressively ever since.”


Here’s David’s reading recommendation for those interested:

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind[10] by Yuval Harari, Harper

Be sure to read up on some of David’s other work, as well as a previous Building Local Power episode David was interviewed for:

If you missed the first episodes of our podcast make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power [15]Podcast Homepage[16]. View the full transcript of the podcast, below.

Full Transcript of Podcast:

Chris Mitchell: David, welcome back to the office. I hear that the ownership of local water systems is switching. Just tell me the statistic that you just told me.
David Morris: Well, over the last century, I mean the late 19th century, 75%, 85% of all water and sewer utilities were owned by the private sector. It turned out that that was a disaster, in part because they were managed very poorly and in part because they only wanted to serve wealthy people. Today, 75% to 80% are owned by the public sector. That is, cities and counties took them over and have been running them very impressively ever since.
Chris Mitchell: Well, that’s how we’ll kick off this episode of Building Local Power in which we’ll be talking about who owns our infrastructure and the movements that are fighting about whether it’s going to be public or private. I’m Chris Mitchell. I do the broadband type work for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. David Morris is back with us. Welcome back, David.
David Morris: Thank you very much. I appreciate being back.
Chris Mitchell: David is a co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and runs our Public Good initiative, in which he thinks a lot about privatization. Let me just start by asking you why do you think so much about privatization?
David Morris: I mean, privatization almost by its very definition means that something is proprietary. It means that something is not accountable inherently. It means that something is driven by selfishness. It’s driven by greed. It’s secret. That’s what privatization means. In fact, the original kind of Latin verb form is private, which means to tear apart. Public, on the other hand, is based on cooperation and openness, and it’s sometimes aspirational, but in essence it is accountable to the voters, so it’s a completely opposite way of doing things. We have in this country, over the last century, increasingly accepted the fact that public work should be owned by the public and for the common good, and in the last 20 years we’ve begun to reverse that, that guiding principle.
Chris Mitchell: I get the impression this is not a discussion that would have been held 150 years ago, right? I mean, before that the water system, the electricity system, the roads, all of these things are creatures of the last 130 years more or less.
David Morris: They’re not creatures. Public, the public sector, they’re creatures, but we had roads in the early part of the 19th century, they were privately owned roads.
Chris Mitchell: Right. I guess I was thinking of the kind of roads we have today. We did have those roads, you’re right. We had privately owned roads back then, and we have a long history even of privately owned ferries and bridge crossings and things like that presumably.
David Morris: That’s right. When we built the interstate highway system in the 1950s, it was built without toll roads. It was clearly a public works project. Now under the new kind of infrastructure plan that Donald Trump and the republicans have, we will have a public infrastructure that’s almost entirely owned by the private sector and will be based on tolls.
Chris Mitchell: From an infrastructure perspective, the conversation really started to change in what? The 80s, the 90s? I guess one place to start might even be this whole thing, public works. In my lifetime I never really knew what public works was because I came of age at a time in which that term fell out of fashion. I think the Clinton administration really popularized this term infrastructure. I just wonder if that triggers anything for you in terms of the importance of language and how we call these things.
David Morris: Oh, absolutely it does. It was Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s that began the process of privatization, and we all remember that in his inaugural address. His key phrase was, “The government is the problem, not the solution.” He firmly believed that, but it was Bill Clinton, that’s correct, and Al Gore that essentially embraced privatization from a liberal perspective. Yes, they changed the language. You don’t hear the word public works any longer.

You hear the word infrastructure, which is a very neutral word that essentially means, well, we have to build something and maybe the private sector can build it and run it just as efficiently. Whereas the word public works says, we have to build something for the common good, whether it’s a park, whether it’s a school, whether it’s a road, whether it’s a sewer system, and therefore it has to be structured and organized in a certain ways. The construction itself is the same. You’ll be using the same materials, the same technology. It’ll be occupying the same place, but who will be accountable to and who it’ll be owned by are very different.

Chris Mitchell: The idea of who it’s accountable to I think is really important. I think we can come back to that, but one of the things that always rises to the top in privatization is the motivation of those who claim they’re just supporting privatization because it will be more efficient and less costly; that if you contract this stuff out rather than doing it in-house, tax payer dollars will be saved, there will be innovation, something magical will happen, and these public services will be delivered in a better way in some way. How do you respond to those claims?
David Morris: One can respond empirically and one can respond theoretically. Empirically, it’s false. Empirically, the studies that have been done indicate that the private sector, when it runs things like waterworks and sewer works, charges more than the public sector and when the public sector takes back, as it has in a number of cases, their water system or the sewer system, the prices go down. That’s empirically.

Theoretically, it makes sense that that happens. It makes sense because the private sector, especially if it’s private equity, which is sort of a new phenomenon in the public works field, private equity has a return of 8% to 18% that they require, so you have this enormous profit requirement. The private sector borrows money at one and a half to two times the cost of money to the public sector, and so you would expect that it would be more costly all things considered.

As for innovative, you don’t really find an enormous amount of innovation from the private sector. You don’t find that enormous amount of innovation from the public sector as it is. I think that we would all agree that if you’re going to have any innovation or cost reduction, it would come from competition. The thing about public works is that almost always they’re monopolies. In fact, when you sign a privatization agreement with one of these firms, you often guarantee that more revenue flow and you put in a non-compete clause, which means if I, as an investor, build a road, under the contract the state cannot build another road that competes with my road. It is astonishing. In terms of competition, it’s not going to be the motivating factor for them to keep their costs down or for them to innovate.

Chris Mitchell: One thing that they do do is they pay a lot less, right? This is one of the sources, I think, of the claims that the private sector may be more efficient, is that they will take a person who is getting a perhaps living wage, a wage that is above the norm in the private sector, who’s working for the public sector, they will fire that person. They will replace them with someone who will work for less. That’s a dynamic that they will point to in terms of their cost savings, and also fewer benefits and things like that. Is that right?
David Morris: Yes, that’s correct. There’s two responses to that. One is a response from the public perspective, which is that those employees of the local infrastructure works or public works are local people. They are local residents. They’re our neighbors. Are we essentially saying, now you’re paid a living wage, but we want to pay three cents less per month on our water bill, and therefore we’re going to force you into a lower wage and maybe into foreclosure and delinquency and the like. I don’t think if people put that to a vote that they would want that to happen.The second thing that happens is that you get worse employees. On average, if a investor takes over a water utility, it fires about a third of the workers, which means the other workers are working harder. If you pay workers less, you get workers that are less trained, and so you tend to get sloppier work or you get poor customer service. I mean, you sort of get what you pay for. Either from a moral perspective, if you will, or from a customer service perspective, it’s very harmful.
Chris Mitchell: Do you have any examples that come to mind from where a community has engaged in privatization and then regretted this decision? It turned around and come back to hire those people back and make it public again?
David Morris: Evansville, Indiana. Durham County, North Carolina. Gary, Indiana. Houston, Texas. Atlanta. All those sold, essentially, their water utilities or sewer utilities, and then they bought them back and they lowered their prices. We don’t have a word. You know, we have a word for nationalization, but we don’t have a word when a city takes back its public works, but Europeans have. Nationwide it is called the remunicipalization movement and that makes sense because we’re talking essentially about a local movement.
Chris Mitchell: Right. Actually, we’re seeing this in Boulder and our colleague John Farrell has written about that. Actually, you’re right. Municipalization is the word that they use in the case there with the electric utility. Here in Minneapolis we’ve seen this with the IT services for the City of Minneapolis, which they thought would be better privatized. I believe that one of the things that they realized afterward was the different incentives. When you’re a private company running a help desk, your incentive is to get the person that’s calling you to hang up. It’s not necessarily to solve their problem; it’s to get them to hang up. If you’re a local government with a problem and your help desk has an incentive of just trying to get you to hang up, that’s not a very good situation to be in.
David Morris: No, it’s not. Now, the public sector is responsible too here. I said earlier that if you have a public works, it’s accountable. It is accountable, but who is it accountable to? Because it turns out that if you raise my water rates, I throw you out of office. What happens is that local officials that want to get elected do not increase their water rates or their sewer rates or their parking meter fees. As a result, that infrastructure runs down. The pipes begin to leak. Then the less you maintain, the higher the price that you’re going to have to pay. Often, what you find is that these privatization efforts spur from a city being unwilling to go to its citizens and say, “I can ask you to pay more now or I can privatize this, and the other firm is going to ask you to pay a lot more than.”They’ve been very reticent to do that, so this, it works both ways. The public sector can borrow money at a longer term at a much lower rate. The public sector knows what’s going on locally. The public sector is accountable, but the public sector, it turns out, is a coward and that elected officials are not willing to go to people and say, “Look, we need to maintain this system.” The best example was the parking meters in Chicago. The parking meters in Chicago were such that they were run down. I can’t remember. 20%, 30% of them didn’t even work and so they sold them, and because they wouldn’t raise the parking meter fee. They sold them and the fees literally overnight tripled, but it wasn’t the responsibility of the city anymore. Yell. You want to yell? Yell at that investor. Yell at the bank that now owns it.
Chris Mitchell: One of the things that I want to bring into this, I think, is experience. You talked about a bit about water systems. I just wanted to bring this out. You have experience in terms of governing a body of a water utility, so this is not something where you’re just romanticizing them. You actually know how this works.
David Morris: Yes. I was on the board of directors. We called ourselves commissioners of the Saint Paul water utility, a city run water utility, which is one of the finest utilities, if I say so, in the country. It’s meticulous in its efficiency and it is innovative. Yes, I have a good experience, but I also know that on that commission I was a citizen representative. There was also a city council representative. The city counselor, and I will remember this meeting to the end because I said, “Why don’t we raise the rates, you know, slightly so that we can invest in technologies that will be … make it more efficient and reduce the water consumption overall?” and the city counselor said, “You know, once we raised the rate a penny and I got phone calls.” A penny and I got phone calls.
Chris Mitchell: It’s interesting that you make that point because I’m a Saint Paul resident on a house in Saint Paul. I say I own a house. I love that. I own my house, the one house that I live in and that I own, my wife and I. Our water bill is so low. It’s just astonishing to me, frankly, how … I don’t want to say anything negative about people who are in very tough circumstances and paying their bills, but when you look at the value of getting unlimited free water, fresh water to your home, the amount that my wife and I pay it’s just … I can’t believe how little it is, frankly.I think that’s a credit to how well it’s run, but one of the things that I think some people point to is where it’s not working as well. Where they have a utility and they would like to change it and they feel that it’s not accountable, but maybe they’re a minority at the ballot box. People are voting on different issues and things like that. I think there are times where people have this frustration. They just feel like it’s not as accountable as they want it to be.
David Morris:  I think that’s true. Very few people like government. We hate the national government. We’re not quite sure about the state government. We tend to like the local government, but we always have complaints, and we need a process by which those complaints are considered and dealt with, and if they’re correct, that there corrections that occur. You do have bureaucracy at the local level. Yes, but the question then is whether the solution to that is to make changes internally or is this solution to that giving up control of the system? I think that the evidence is that giving up control of the system means that the next time you want to complain, you’re complaining to the Suez, literally, the Suez water company, which now owns your system, and good luck to you.
Chris Mitchell: I think that raises a final point that I want to make sure that we make. That is, the impact of this when you have not just private ownership, but this is generally absentee private ownership, right? It’s not like all these cities have their own private company with a guy who lives in the city or a woman lives in the city owns it. We’re talking about massive multinational corporations in many cases. In my business in broadband we talk about how frustrating it is that money that I pay on my bills leaves my community and goes to Philadelphia. Here we might be talking about money that’s going to Germany or anywhere else in the world, so there’s a real impact on local dollars because these are utilities everyone is paying into this. If the money is leaving the community, that’s kind of a big deal.
David Morris: It is a big deal. Now what we’re seeing is these private profit making companies are giving away to private equity firms. Private equity firms are a strange little beast and they could care less about your community. Private profit making firms might be in there for five years, 10 years, 20 years. Private equity firms want to flip it, and so they will come in and they will own it, and within a few years they will sell it, so they’re not there for the long run at all. That’s a problem.
Chris Mitchell: Right.
David Morris: I think that the Republican, because I think it’s not just Donald Trump, the Republican proposal for infrastructure financing is a very serious change in American historical strategies. There was a time in the 60s and the 70s where if you wanted to build a sewer system, the government paid 90% of it, the federal government paid 90% of it. Then they paid 50% of it. Then they paid 20% of it, but they understood that they would come in to make grants to cities.

Now the current privatization proposal is that a private firm would put up 20% of the money as equity, 80% would be borrowed and the federal government would give them an 80% tax credit against that 20% that they had put down. Governments can use tax credits, so in essence this means that this is going to be privately owned. The public sector could build it themselves, but they’re not going to get any incentives to build it themselves and that means that you could end up with literally a majority, maybe even a vast majority in certain sectors, of our public works programs becoming private works programs.

Chris Mitchell: I’ve seen a lot of head-scratching over this because it might make sense if it was 50 years and we were building out brand new things, but it’s not like we’re going to build a new bypass around the Twin Cities. It’s not like we’re going to build a whole new water system. A lot of the infrastructure spending we need in this country is on updating existing things. Do you have a sense of how this is going to interact? Because I don’t get the sense that these investors are looking to just invest in the Saint Paul water system. They’re trying to build something new that they can then extract maximum profits from.
David Morris: They do want to just invest in the Saint Paul. These are sunk investments and why not buy them? In Missoula, Montana, which is, by the way, because of a quirk of historical circumstances the only city that doesn’t own its own water company, a group bought it for, I think it was $30 million and sold it for $300 million about 10 years later. There’s enormous profit to be made from flipping these types of investments.
Chris Mitchell: This money that’s going to be made available, you’re saying it’s going to be buying existing systems and maybe a promise to upgrade them, so in order for Saint Paul to figure out how we’re going to benefit from this infrastructure package, if it rolls forward, we have to figure out what to sell off, basically?
David Morris: Oh. Yes, that’s right. Exactly. If it wants to benefit from it. What you have often in these privatization agreements is that you sell it and then the private, the investors give you, you being the city government, $50 million, $100 million, $200 million upfront. Now upfront is a wonderful thing from a city government, especially if you happen to be a city counselor who’s going to only be in office for two years, and so you take that money and you use it to pay down your debt. Your credit rating tends to be increased and suddenly then the rates increase, and everybody is screaming at the private company, but it’s upfront money that is what makes local governments salivate about this.Under these 80% tax credit, you could certainly have a lot of upfront money that is paid to … Let’s call it a bribe to city officials. Often, if they’re put up for a vote by the citizens, call them customers, if you will, they reject it. New Jersey just changed their law. Illinois, Pennsylvania. This is in the last three years. They’ve changed their law so that they can bypass a vote on this by the local citizenry. We’re talking about something here which is not popular by the local citizenry and we’re now talking about a federal program which is a massive subsidization, but only to privately owned infrastructure.
Chris Mitchell: Wow. It’s a sobering thought, but I’m hoping that you have a reading suggestion which will be more entertaining, enlightening, positive, leaving us with a little bit more hope than perhaps we’re sending at the ebb of this conversation right now.
David Morris: Yes, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with infrastructure or public works. I thought people might be interested in a book called Sapiens by Yuval Harari, an Israeli writer. It’s an astonishing book. It’s a book that goes from Prehistory to post-human, if you will. He essentially traces the development of humanity and makes these insights that are remarkable, and so I recommend it to people. For example, he talked about how 100,000 years ago there were several human species. There was erectus, there was Neanderthal, there was of course Homo Sapiens. There was a bunch of us really running around. And that we had the same brain size and the like.100,000 years ago the Sapiens in East Africa tried to invade or tried to migrate into the Middle East where the Neanderthals already were and got the crap beat out of them. 30,000 years later the Sapiens migrated again and destroyed the Neanderthals, and then took over the world. The question is, how did that happen? What happened? According to Harari, he said that it’s that language, certainly, the development of language, and the development of cognitive ability, but the essence of that was the development of gossip. He said that gossip is essential if your group becomes more than a small clan because you need to know what your neighbor is doing, who’s trustworthy, who’s not trustworthy. You need to know about the human relationships that are going on.

When it’s a very small clan, what you need to know is, is there a saber-toothed tiger out there that’s going to eat me or where is the animals that we’re going to hunt? You know, that sort of outward oriented information. With gossip, you could have larger and larger communities, and so initially when the Sapiens went into the Middle East, it was groups of 20 fighting groups of 20, but then when they went in 30,000 years later, it was groups of 200 fighting groups of 20. These are the kind of insights and I strongly recommend it to people who are interested about us.

Chris Mitchell: That sounds interesting, and it fits with what we’ve done with communications and technologies, in that telephone originally, it was expected to be only a business use and then people started using it to gossip it was actually seen as sort of sin and an inappropriate use of technology. Certainly you skip ahead to today and seeing how Twitter and Facebook have dominated usage for how we use our media, it’s clear that there is something very social going on. Thinking of it in terms of gossip is something I had not thought of, or potentially the evolutionary advantages of, so that’s interesting.
David Morris: One of the nice things about gossip 50,000 years ago is that it was personal gossip. It might be terrible gossip, but it was one person talking to one person or three people or four people. Unfortunately, in 2016 gossip is one person talking to several billion people who don’t even know they’re being talked about, so there’s a difference in scale that we’re talking about, but the gossip originally is literally small town gossip, which some people feel might be harmful, but in this case was a matter of gathering information, who’s trustworthy, who’s sleeping with whom, who has stolen something and that type of thing, which was extremely useful to bond the groups. The other thing that Harari says that was the definitive of the cognitive revolution was that we began believing fictions, whether it was religion, nation states, whatever it turned out to be. We believe in fictions. Animals, other animals, do not believe in fictions, and so we created societies-
Chris Mitchell: By fictions I think you mean things beyond that you can readily sense, right? Imagine things perhaps.
David Morris: Are really things that don’t exist. I mean, nation states don’t exist.
Chris Mitchell: Right.
David Morris: Right? And religions don’t exist and we so made them up, but they became ways to bond larger and larger communities together because we all believed in the same fictions.
Chris Mitchell: Right. In some ways it’s actually … It’s almost creating something through shared belief.
David Morris: That’s right. That’s right. Exactly. The emphasis there is on shared.
Chris Mitchell: We face a threat from privatization and other sources, and building local power, but hopefully gossip will save us.
David Morris: If people gossip sufficiently I think that it might very well save us. You had started by saying that the people who are in favor of privatization essentially say the private sector is more efficient than the public sector. It’s more innovative than the public sector and why don’t we let them do it? They say it as if that’s an established belief system, which it is. It is the conventional wisdom. It just happens not to be true. What we need is that when someone says that to your neighbor or a city council or whatever, their immediate reaction isn’t to say, “Yeah. That’s probably true.”

Their immediate reaction is to say, “That’s false, and I know it’s false because how could you borrow money at one and a half to two times the cost and how can you have a profit of 10% when we don’t need a profit of and end up delivering it to us more cheaply? That doesn’t make sense. You’re going to have to prove yourself to me. I’m just not going to accept it as an article of faith.”

Chris Mitchell: I think this always comes down to, in my mind, the underpants gnomes of South Park. I’ll leave that as an exercise for people to find out what I mean by that, but the underwear gnomes have a three stage process for profiting. I think the uncertainty that’s in the middle stage is worth looking into for people who are unfamiliar with it. Judging from your look, you’re one of them. Thank you, everyone, for joining us. This has been another episode of Building Local Power. Please check us back in two weeks when we’re back with another discussion.
Lisa Gonzalez: That was David Morris, co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, who now heads up our Public Good initiative. He and Christopher, director of the Community Broadband Initiative at the Institute, were discussing privatization of infrastructure and traditionally public services. This was episode number nine of the Building Local Power podcast. Check out more of David’s articles and interviews at, Public Good initiative. We encourage you to subscribe to the podcast and all of our other podcasts on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever else you get your podcasts.

Never miss out in our original research by also subscribing to our monthly newsletter, also available at Thanks to Disfunction L. for the music, license through Creative Commons. The song is Funk Interlude. I’m Lisa Gonzalez from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Thanks again for listening to the Building Local Power podcast.

Audio Credit: Funk Interlude[17] by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0)[18] license.

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How 2017 Will Transform Broadband Opportunities for Local Governments

by Christopher | January 10, 2017 5:36 pm

StateScoop[1] – January 10, 2017

Commentary: Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance predicts new connectivity opportunities and an altered broadband landscape as a pro-business Trump administration prepares to disrupt the status quo.

This may well be the year of local government broadband solutions. For some communities, it will be because they are prepared to step up and are excited about ensuring all residents and businesses in the community have the tools to thrive in the digital economy. For others, it will be a last resort in the face of new political and economic challenges — but many will be taking action.

There’s a new landscape for broadband

For years, improving internet access has been — at best — an afterthought in Congress. Now with Rep. Marsha Blackburn[2] chairing the House’s telecom subcommittee and Donald Trump widely expected to appoint a pro-incumbent FCC leader, AT&T and Comcast are setting the agenda and I do not expect any federal actions will improve the competitive landscape in telecommunications.

While nearly every state has elected officials talking about how important connectivity is, very few have the will to put serious money up for network investment following recent programs with questionable outcomes. New York is putting $500 million into a complicated broadband program[3] and Massachusetts has thrown tens of millions of dollars at consultants and a massive middle-mile ring that hasn’t done much to solve its connectivity problems because it attempted to micromanage solutions in an industry it barely understands[4]. Wisconsin is actually taking money out of a smart energy efficiency program in a poorly-designed[5] one-time giveaway to internet service providers (ISPs). (more…)[6]

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Waste to Wealth, 2016 in Review

by Nick Stumo-Langer | January 9, 2017 2:00 pm

Now that 2016 is firmly in the rearview mirror, we are looking back at some of the great work that we did in our Waste to Wealth initiative during the year. We’ve broken down some of our top content into the two active categories of our initiative: Composting Makes Sense[1] & Recycling, Economic Development, and Zero Waste[2]. We’ve also included some of our top media hits[3] from the year as well as a full index of our stories available here[4] or below.

Top Posts from Composting for Community Project:

Infographic: Compost Impacts More Than You Think[5]

by Brenda PlattMay 6, 2016

From healthy soils, to good local jobs, we bet you didn’t know that compost can have such an impact on your daily life! So think twice before you throw away your compostable food scraps… because one person’s trash is another’s black gold. Please help us spread the word!



We want you to be able to share these infographics under creative commons license, free of cost. Read more…[7]

ILSR’s NSR Program Replicated in Atlanta, GA[8]

by Linda BilsensJuly 8, 2016

ILSR is proud to introduce the Atlanta Community Compost Advocates! Corinne Coe of Terra Nova Compost Cooperative[9] partnered with ILSR and ECO City Farms[10] to adapt their Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders (NSR) Composter Training Program[11] for the City of Atlanta. ILSR and Terra Nova Compost collaborated closely to fundraise for, design and implement the inaugural class of the Community Compost Advocate Training Program (CCATP), which was offered with with generous financial support of the Food Well Alliance[12]. On the weekends of June 11th-12th, 18th-19th, and 25th-26th, a culturally diverse group of 16 participants came together to learn about the art and science of composting and community. Read more…[13]

Montgomery Co., MD Bill Requires Distributed Composting[14]

by Brenda PlattJuly 14, 2016

On June 28, 2016, Montgomery County Council (Maryland) Vice President, Roger Berliner, introduced legislation to require the development of a comprehensive composting and food recovery strategic plan. The bill might be the first in the country to stipulate a diverse and distributed plan that considers food rescue, backyard composting, community scale composting, on-site institutional and commercial composting, on-farm composting, local use of compost to support soil health and the County’s stormwater management program, and more. Read more…[15]

Composting Will Help Flint Recover From Its Water Crisis[16]

by Linda BilsensAugust 9, 2016

It would be an understatement to say that Flint has been in the news a lot lately—one of the most recent stories has to do with a lapsed trash collection contract[17] that left residents without service. The city still has a long road ahead before it can fully heal from the water contamination crisis that started in 2014: more than 8,000 children[18] are thought to have been effected; 6 city officials have just been charged[19] in connection; and Flint’s Mayor, Karen Weaver[20], used the podium at the recent Democratic National Convention to remind the nation that “The water is still not safe to drink or cook with from the tap”. Like many older industrial cities, Flint also has lead and other heavy metals in its soils[21], exacerbating the effects of the water crisis. As is often the case, low-income communities are more likely to be exposed to the highest concentrations. Read more…[22]

EPA’s New Rules for Landfills Won’t Cut Greenhouse Gas Pollution[23]

by Rebecca ToewsSeptember 12, 2016

The Federal Register recently published new landfill rules which fail to meet any of the goals that the White House and EPA have set forth to reduce landfill gas emissions.

In July, US EPA’s “Fuels and Incineration Group” (FIG) pushed through its final revisions to new rules regarding landfills in the United States. The rules state that landfill owners may receive greenhouse gas credits that profit a landfill operation’s bottom line.

Garbage is Not Renewable.” states Neil Seldman of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “While we applaud the EPA for its public statement in support of food loss reduction,” he says, “this new landfill policy will do nothing to help move toward the food recovery goal. It will even hurt these efforts.” Read more…[24]

Vote for the White House Kitchen Garden[25]

by Linda BilsensOctober 31, 2016

On a chilly day in late-February, my husband and I received an unexpected visitor[26] to our backyard: First Lady Michelle Obama. We are deeply honored that the First Lady chose our family’s garden (along with a couple of local schools) to act as the launchpad of her Let’s Move! Initiative[27]. The initiative has succeeded in bringing the connection between gardening, homegrown food, and an active, healthy lifestyle into the national spotlight, and it is thought to represent the largest single impact the Obama Administration has had on food issues[28]. Read more…[29]

Video: Prospect Heights Community Farm Community Composting Feature[30]

by Linda BilsensNovember 18, 2016

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we document and promote innovative uses of local power that can be used around the country. Community composting is a way that neighborhoods can take control of what could be waste, such as food scraps, and turn it into wealth, such as healthy soil. Prospect Heights Community Farm[31] in Brooklyn shows us how they are doing just that in our latest video. Read more…[32]

Video: Compost Happens, But Training Matters[33]

by Linda BilsensNovember 23, 2016

Composting is an age-old practice that still benefits our soils as much today as it did in ancient times. But, what many people may not know is that proper training matters[34] in order to create this “black gold” both safely and effectively. At ILSR’s Composting for Community Project, we’re cultivating a greater awareness of the myriad benefits compost can provide to our soils and ourselves, the critical role community plays in the composting process, and what it takes to create high-quality compost. Read more…[35]

The Community Compost Cooperative at the Howard University Community Garden[36]

by Valerie OnifadeDecember 8, 2016

The composting site at the Howard University Community Garden in NW Washington, DC (Shaw/Howard area) showcases what a collaboration between a local government department, non-profit organizations, small businesses, institutions of higher education, and members of the community can accomplish for composting efforts. This project demonstrates the benefits that come from community composting and has the potential to become an example of the onsite institutional systems that ILSR promotes[37]. Read more…[38]

Composting Cultivates Economic Development – Episode 7 of the Building Local Power Podcast[39]

by Nick Stumo-LangerDecember 15, 2016

In this episode, Chris Mitchell, the director of our Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews Linda Bilsens, Project Manager of ILSR’s Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Program. Bilsens explains how producing compost from food scraps builds local economic development, fights climate change, and cultivates community.

Chris and Linda discuss how both individuals and communities can partake in rebuilding their local soils by composting organic materials. Check out the further information on our composting work here: Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders training program[40]. Contact Linda Bilsens[41] if you’re interested in replicating this program. Read more…[42]

Top Posts from Recycling, Economic Development, and Zero Waste Project:

Zero Waste: A Short History and Program Description[43]

by Neil SeldmanJanuary 20, 2016

In the last 20 years, No Waste, a simple term expressing the aspirations of recycling activists, became Zero Waste and a social movement bearing that name quickly took root in the USA, Europe, Asia and the entire globe.

In 1995, Dr. Daniel Knapp of Urban Ore, Berkeley, CA traveled to and toured Australia for the first of a series of talks with governments, businesses and citizens in major cities on how to maximize materials recovery and minimize wasting by reusing, recycling, and composting everything currently being wasted. Read more…[44]

Is Recycling Stagnating? The Case of Los Angeles[45]

by Neil SeldmanMarch 8, 2016

In the past several months, journalists in major publications such as Forbes, the Huffington Post, the Washington Post, the New York Times and Mother Jones have concluded that recycling rates have stagnated. They tend to blame the recent downturn in materials prices. They’re half right. Recycling levels have stagnated in many cities and towns, largely in the South and Midwest, and the national average of 35 percent has not moved much in more than a decade. Read more…[46]

Activists Win The Day: Huge Grassroots Victory Over Curtis Bay Incinerator[47]

by Neil Seldman | March 18, 2016

The best way to defeat proposed incinerators has proven itself once again: community organizing. The Maryland State Department of the Environment[48] pulled the permit on the proposed 4,000 ton per day incinerator to be built in the long suffering industrial communities of Curtis Bay-Brooklyn on the Fairfield Peninsula in south Baltimore. Curtis Bay and Brooklyn are adjacent to communities in Anne Arundel County, MD which are also celebrating this grass roots victory. Read more…[49]

The Victory Over Proposed Incinerator in Logansport, Indiana[50]

by Neil SeldmanApril 21, 2016

For the past 40 years organized citizens and small businesses have successfully defeated proposed incinerators in over 400 cities and counties in the US. Each confrontation was unique even as they shared common elements: Opponents of garbage incineration used facts against the administration’s public relations, focused at the local level where elected officials are most vulnerable to public outcries, stayed polite and professional in the face of ad hominem attacks, and relied on community meetings and social media to get around black outs by local media. Read more…[51]

Save the Albatross Coalition Formed[52]

by Neil SeldmanMay 9, 2016

The Save the Albatross Coalition was initiated by recycling activists through the Grass Roots Recycling Network, founded in 1995. ILSR’s Brenda Platt and Neil Seldman were two of the five co-founders of GRRN.  The Coalition aims to address the earth’s global plastic pollution problem through responsible behavior by companies that generate the plastic products that threaten our oceans.  Neil Seldman co-chairs the Save the Albatross Coalition with Captain Charles Moore of Algalita Research and Education, based in Long beach, CA. Read more…[53]

The Future of Garbage in Maryland Is Not What It Used To Be[54]

by Neil SeldmanJune 13, 2016

A few years ago it looked like Maryland would start to resemble states like Connecticut and Massachusetts that invested heavily in garbage incineration. Baltimore has a downtown incinerator, Harford County wanted to expand theirs, Washington County wanted its own facility, Frederick and Carroll Counties were under contract for building a new 1,500 ton per day plant, a private company wanted to build a 4,000 ton per day plant at Curtis Bay in south Baltimore, and Prince George’s County began exploring ‘conversion technologies’ or as Bradley Angel of GreenAction for Environment and Health calls them, ‘incinerators in disguise.’ Read more…[55]

Eureka Recycling: Efficient, Cost Effective, and Socially Beneficial Recycling[56]

by Neil SeldmanSeptember 8, 2016

Grassroots recycling companies were a critical link in the United States as the transition from the drop off recycling centers that sprung up after Earth Day in 1970 and municipal curbside service that emerged in the mid 1970s. Non-profit and for profit enterprises demonstrated the feasibility of curbside collection and by the mid 1980s municipal services were being introduced throughout the U.S. Established hauling companies bought some of the more successful enterprises.[1][57] Several remain in operation today: Recycle North in Burlington, VT, Center for Eco Technology in Pittsfield, MA, Infinity Recycling in Chestertown, MD, EcoCycle in Boulder, CO, Berkeley Ecology Center, Ann Arbor Ecology Center, Resource Center in Chicago, and Eureka Recycling in St Paul, MN. Read more…[58]

ILSR Co-Founder Speaking at Ralph Nader’s Breaking Through Power Conference[59]

by Nick Stumo-LangerSeptember 14, 2016

On Monday, September 26th, Institute for Local Self-Reliance co-founder Neil Seldman[60] will present at Ralph Nader’s Breaking Through Power Conference[61] in Washington D.C. His presentation: “Community Business is Revolutionary”[62] will be at 11:10AM at Carnegie Institution of Washington[63].

Tickets for one-day passes are only $10 and can be purchased through TicketMaster[64]. Here is the description of the event from the organizers of the Breaking Through Power Conference. Read more…[65]

Murray J. Fox, The “Johnny Appleseed” of U.S. Recycling[66]

by Neil SeldmanOctober 6, 2016

In my career of five decades of working in the recycling field for ILSR there is only one person I consider a true “Johnny Appleseed of Recycling” in the U.S.  His name is Murray J. Fox and he remains a sage of recycling, whose own history provides insight into today’s policies and issues. He never failed to teach others about the configuration of the equipment, the technologies to be employed and the problems to be solved.  In the 1970s, Fox provided guided tours to beginning community recyclers of his ingeniously designed beneficiation plants with modern equipment and expandable walls along concrete pads.  These were the people  who subsequently became national leaders in the emerging U.S. recycling movement. Read more…[67]

Review of the “Facts” that Guide Waste Management, Inc.’s CEO[68]

by Neil Seldman | October 20, 2016

The CEO of Waste Management, Inc. (WMI) commented to CNBC that, based on the facts, glass and organics should not be collected because they lack economic value for shareholders. In a related panel discussion, the need for top-down legislation to help recycling was deemed unnecessary. Accordingly, WMI is reducing its investments in recycling. “As profits in this area decrease,” one report states, “WMI has reduced its investment in recycling from $300 to $400 million per year to under $20 million per year, (See, Waste Dive for September 6[69], 7[70], and 14[71]). Read more…[72]

Top Media Highlights from 2016:

5. 4 Money Stories in the Compost Industry[73]

by Jenna Miller, National Center for Business Journalism | November 25, 2016

The feasting season is also the season for food waste. According to the Worldwatch Institute the amount of discarded food in the U.S. increases by a third between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Composting helps with some of that. Year-round, compostable material makes up between a third and a half of residential waste produced in the U.S, according to the Institute for Local Self Reliance. Read more…[74]

4. The Not-So-Great Side Effect of Your Sheet-Mask Addiction[75]

by Fawnia Soo Hoo, Refinery29November 12, 2016

Don’t let the unseasonal heat wave fool you — winter is, eventually, coming. That means it’s time to stock up on those hydrating and repairing products. One of the most effective ones out there? Sheet masks. But as we drench our faces in donkey milk or snail goop, we can forget one glaring issue: all the leftover waste. After a week of regular treatments, your garbage can can might look like Hannibal Lecter and Jason Voorhees went on a bender — full of crumpled eyeless and mouthless masks along with heaps of plastic packaging, which will all end up in a landfill. Read more…[76]

3. Getting Smart About Waste[77]

by Bob Graves, Governing MagazineApril 26, 2016

With the advent of the Internet of Things, it may seem that technology can make virtually anything “smart.” We hear regularly about intelligent transportation systems, electrical grids and vehicles. But what about waste? Can technology make waste smart? Read more…[78]

2. Seeds of Hope[79]

by Taylor Haynes, Clever Root MagazineNovember 7, 2016

In 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama, aided by local school children, planted the first seeds of what would become an impressive garden on the grounds of the White House, overflowing with vegetables, fruit and herbs. Nearby, the White House beehives keep busy pollinating the garden and making honey, which is often used as a gift for foreign dignitaries.

On February 25, 2016, the First Lady visited the Washington D.C. home and garden of The Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Compost Project Manager Linda Bilsens and Eriks Brolis. Her visit was a complete surprise — but Brolis and Bilsens were more than happy to give the First Lady a tour. The First Lady even sifted the couples’ compost. In return, she personally invited the couple to visit the White House Kitchen Garden. Read more…[80]

1. Landfills Have a Huge Greenhouse Gas Problem. Here’s What We Can Do About It.[81]

by Erica Gies, EnsiaOctober 25, 2016

We take out our trash and feel lighter and cleaner. But at the landfill, the food and yard waste that trash contains is decomposing and releasing methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Landfill gas also contributes to smog, worsening health problems like asthma. Read more…[82]

Full Index of Waste to Wealth Content, Chronologically:

Follow the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on Twitter[138] and Facebook[139] and, for monthly updates on our work, sign-up[140] for our ILSR general newsletter.

  1. Composting Makes Sense: #compost
  2. Recycling, Economic Development, and Zero Waste: #zero
  3. top media hits: #media
  4. index of our stories available here: #index
  5. Infographic: Compost Impacts More Than You Think:
  6. HERE:
  7. Read more…:
  8. ILSR’s NSR Program Replicated in Atlanta, GA:
  9. Terra Nova Compost Cooperative:
  10. ECO City Farms:
  11. Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders (NSR) Composter Training Program:
  12. Food Well Alliance:
  13. Read more…:
  14. Montgomery Co., MD Bill Requires Distributed Composting:
  15. Read more…:
  16. Composting Will Help Flint Recover From Its Water Crisis:
  17. lapsed trash collection contract:
  18. 8,000 children:
  19. just been charged:
  20. Karen Weaver:
  21. in its soils:
  22. Read more…:
  23. EPA’s New Rules for Landfills Won’t Cut Greenhouse Gas Pollution:
  24. Read more…:
  25. Vote for the White House Kitchen Garden:
  26. received an unexpected visitor:
  27. Let’s Move! Initiative:
  28. food issues:
  29. Read more…:
  30. Video: Prospect Heights Community Farm Community Composting Feature:
  31. Prospect Heights Community Farm:
  32. Read more…:
  33. Video: Compost Happens, But Training Matters:
  34. training matters:
  35. Read more…:
  36. The Community Compost Cooperative at the Howard University Community Garden:
  37. onsite institutional systems that ILSR promotes:
  38. Read more…:
  39. Composting Cultivates Economic Development – Episode 7 of the Building Local Power Podcast:
  40. Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders training program:
  41. Linda Bilsens:
  42. Read more…:
  43. Zero Waste: A Short History and Program Description:
  44. Read more…:
  45. Is Recycling Stagnating? The Case of Los Angeles:
  46. Read more…:
  47. Activists Win The Day: Huge Grassroots Victory Over Curtis Bay Incinerator:
  48. The Maryland State Department of the Environment:
  49. Read more…:
  50. The Victory Over Proposed Incinerator in Logansport, Indiana:
  51. Read more…:
  52. Save the Albatross Coalition Formed:
  53. Read more…:
  54. The Future of Garbage in Maryland Is Not What It Used To Be:
  55. Read more…:
  56. Eureka Recycling: Efficient, Cost Effective, and Socially Beneficial Recycling:
  57. [1]:
  58. Read more…:
  59. ILSR Co-Founder Speaking at Ralph Nader’s Breaking Through Power Conference:
  60. Neil Seldman:
  61. Breaking Through Power Conference:
  62. “Community Business is Revolutionary”:
  63. Carnegie Institution of Washington:,-77.0657896,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x89b7c9b1c191e789:0x732bc14c4a51d628!8m2!3d38.9587651!4d-77.0635956
  64. TicketMaster:
  65. Read more…:
  66. Murray J. Fox, The “Johnny Appleseed” of U.S. Recycling:
  67. Read more…:
  68. Review of the “Facts” that Guide Waste Management, Inc.’s CEO:
  69. 6:
  70. 7:
  71. 14:
  72. Read more…:
  73. 4 Money Stories in the Compost Industry:
  74. Read more…:
  75. The Not-So-Great Side Effect of Your Sheet-Mask Addiction:
  76. Read more…:
  77. Getting Smart About Waste:
  78. Read more…:
  79. Seeds of Hope:
  80. Read more…:
  81. Landfills Have a Huge Greenhouse Gas Problem. Here’s What We Can Do About It.:
  82. Read more…:
  83. Update on Houston One Bin System Plan:
  84. DC Department of Public Works Gets Waste Diversion Staff:
  85. A Response to Anti-Recycling Ideology:
  86. Minnesota Report Underscores Potent Recycling Industry in the State:
  87. Congratulations to the 2015 Deconstruction/Reuse Contest Winners:
  88. Indianapolis puts MRF on hold, first step towards a modern recycling program:
  89. Lawsuit Possible Next Step in Baltimore Community’s Battle Against Proposed Garbage Incinerator:
  90. Cultivating Community Composting Forum and Workshop Bring Composters Together:
  91. First Glance at Second Chance – A nonprofit deconstruction company:
  92. Recycling and the Skid in Oil Prices:
  93. Gold in the Garbage: How Recycling Rates Could Be a Lot Higher:
  94. MD Bill Introduced That Names ILSR to State Task Force:
  95. Update on One Bin Plan in Houston and Dirty MRF in Indianapolis:
  96. Survey says…Recycling Quality Harmed by One-Bin Approach:
  97. Condo in the Scarborough District of Toronto Gets Serious About Recycling:
  98. Webinar: Crowdfunding for Community Composting:
  99. New England Reuse and the Reuse People of America Partner on Deconstruction:
  100. Activists Win the Day: Huge Grassroots Victory Over Curtis Bay Incinerator:
  101. Destiny Watford Wins Recognition for Work Fighting Curtis Bay Incinerator:
  102. Paul Connett Hand Delivers Zero Waste Book to Pope Francis:
  103. ILSR Leading Free Worm-Powered Composting Workshop as Part of DC Food Recovery Week of Action:
  104. Incinerator News: From Baltimore, MD, to Arecibo, Puerto Rico:
  105. Anti-Incineration Efforts in China: Two Plants Canceled in One Week:
  106. Getting Smart About Waste:
  107. Saint Vincent de Paul Continues to Expand Re-Use Partnerships:
  108. Lesson From the 2016 NCSU Vermiculture Conference:
  109. Niagara Falls Jumps Ahead in Recycling, Reduces Waste by 20%:
  110. The Future of Garbage in Maryland is Not What it Used to be:
  111. Revolution Recovery – Dealing in All Things Deconstruction:
  112. Reaching for Zero Waste is Contagious.:
  113. Compost Combats Desertification: Download New Poster:
  114. The Repurpose Project – Building Community Through Reuse:
  115. Recent Developments in the World of Mattresses:
  116. Community Forklift: A Blueprint for Reuse Success:
  117. Technology Industry Kills Right to Repair Bill in New York State Senate:
  118. Montgomery Co. MD Bill Requires Distributed Composting:
  119. Zero Waste to Landfill?:
  120. HERC’s Emissions and Toxic Ash Make it a Far Cry from Best Practices in Dealing with Trash:
  121. Saluting ILSR’s 2016 Interns:
  122. Prince George’s County Has Officially Declined to Move Forward with Garbage Incineration:
  123. Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Compost Training Program:
  124. NSR Master Composter Course in Baltimore, Fall 2016!:
  125. Sweden is not recycling 99% of its waste.:
  126. Eureka Recycling: Efficient, Cost Effective and Socially Beneficial Recycling:
  127. Gay Gordon-Byrne on the Right to Repair:
  128. The True Value of Recycling and the Waste Stream – Episode 2 of the Building Local Power Podcast:
  129. ILSR Sponsors the Fourth National Cultivating Community Composting Forum, Scholarship Fun Announced:
  130. Brenda Platt Speaks to San Diego Food Waste Summit:
  131. Review of the “Facts” That Guide Waste Management, Inc.’s CEO:
  132. Statements on Extended Producer Responsibility in Europe:
  133. Seeds of Hope:
  134. EPR in British Columbia and its relevancy for the U.S.:
  135. 2016 World Soil Day: Benefits of Composting Infographic Posters:
  136. Community Purchasing Alliance Expands Waste and Recycling Services:
  137. Dramatic Economic Impacts of Increased Recycling in South Carolina:
  138. Twitter:
  139. Facebook:
  140. sign-up:

Source URL:

New Resource: Map, List Of Citywide FTTH Munis

by Lisa Gonzalez | January 9, 2017 5:03 am

It’s no small feat to plan, deploy, and operate a municipal citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, but communities are doing it. We’ve put together a Citywide Municipal FTTH Networks list and a map[1], with quick facts at your fingertips. If your community is considering such an investment, this list can offer a starting point on discovering similarly situated locations to study.


The list is divided by state and each state heading offers a description of any barriers that exist and a link to the statute in question. Under each community, we also included relevant links such as to the provider’s website, coverage on, and reports or resources about the network.

We used four basic criteria to put a community on our list and map:

Share the list far and wide and if you know of a community network that meets our criteria that we missed, please let us know. Contact H. Trostle at[3] to suggest additions.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[4]

  1. Citywide Municipal FTTH Networks list and a map:
  2. [Image]:
  4. here:

Source URL:

Energy Democracy, 2016 in Review

by Nick Stumo-Langer | December 28, 2016 6:00 am

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[1] | Top Media Hits of 2016[2] | Top Twitter Posts of 2016[3]

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[4]. Here are some of the highlights of our work in 2016:

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[5].

Top 5 Energy Democracy Posts of 2016:

5. Report: Re-Member-ing the Electric Cooperative[6] 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…[7]

4. Just How Democratic are Rural Electric Cooperatives?[8] 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[9] 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…[10]

3. Report: Beyond Sharing – How Communities Can Take Ownership of Renewable Power[11] 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…[12]

2. Community Power Map[13] – Interactive Resource

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

ILSR’s Community Power Map[14] 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…[15]


1. Report: Mighty Microgrids[17] 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…[18]

Top 5 Media Highlights of 2016:

5. Will Trump Quit Mocking Climate Science When He Sees The Viability Of Free Market Solutions?[19] by Ken Silverstein, Forbes – July 27th

The Democrats, meanwhile, are calling for the country to generate half of its electricity[20] 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[21], 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[22] by Frank Jossi, Midwest Energy News – September 16th

A new state “community power[23]” 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)[24] 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)[25], 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[26] 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[27] by Frank Jossi, Midwest Energy News – October 17th

John Farrell, director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s[28] 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?[29]” — 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[30] 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:

Imagine if other industries followed electric utilities in pursuing fixed fees:[31][32]

— John Farrell (@johnffarrell) February 5, 2016[33]

How $400 million could have doubled U.S. solar capacity, but was squandered on lobbying.[34][35]

— John Farrell (@johnffarrell) May 5, 2016[36]

We spend $360 B /yr on electricity. Changing who owns the power has huge upside, says @johnffarrell[37] #commonbound[38][39]

— Stacy Mitchell (@stacyfmitchell) July 9, 2016[40]

A reminder to take renewable energy forecasts with a grain of salt:[41][42]

— John Farrell (@johnffarrell) October 10, 2016[43]

Solar is getting so so so cheap.[44][45]

— John Farrell (@johnffarrell) November 18, 2016[46]

This article originally posted at[47]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[48] or get theDemocratic Energy weekly[49] update.

  1. Top Energy Posts of 2016: #post
  2. Top Media Hits of 2016: #media
  3. Top Twitter Posts of 2016: #twitter
  4. 2016 Annual Report: Decentralizing Economic Power, Reinvigorating Democracy:
  5. by making a tax-deductible gift today:
  6. Report: Re-Member-ing the Electric Cooperative:
  7. Read more…:
  8. Just How Democratic are Rural Electric Cooperatives?:
  9. Kentuckians for the Commonwealth:
  10. Read more…:
  11. Report: Beyond Sharing – How Communities Can Take Ownership of Renewable Power:
  12. Read more…:
  13. Community Power Map:
  14. ILSR’s Community Power Map:
  15. Explore the map…:
  16. [Image]:
  17. Report: Mighty Microgrids:
  18. Read more…:
  19. Will Trump Quit Mocking Climate Science When He Sees The Viability Of Free Market Solutions?:
  20. generate half of its electricity:
  21. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  22. New mapping tool showcases clean energy policies and projects:
  23. community power:
  24. Five Policies Blocking Microgrids (From a Veteran of Local Energy Wars):
  25. Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR):
  26. $360 billion/year:
  27. Q&A: New report challenges assumption that bigger solar is better:
  28. Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s:
  29. Is Bigger Best in Renewable Energy?:
  30. Messy Battles Over Energy Are on Ballot Across States:
  33. February 5, 2016:
  36. May 5, 2016:
  37. @johnffarrell:
  38. #commonbound:
  40. July 9, 2016:
  43. October 10, 2016:
  46. November 18, 2016:
  48. Twitter:
  49. Democratic Energy weekly:

Source URL:

New Year’s Resolutions for Electric Utilities, Happy 2017!

by Karlee Weinmann | December 26, 2016 12:00 pm

The turn of the year is a perfect time for monopoly electric utilities nationwide to reflect on their substandard policies and embrace changes that will bring cleaner, more affordable energy to their customers. By finally committing to truly support distributed generation and renewables, these utilities can ensure their customers will have the choice and freedom they deserve in an evolving energy economy.

In 2017, fair-minded and forward-thinking monopoly electric utility CEOs will resolve…

…to not impose fixed fees[1] that undermine the value of customer-owned renewable generation.

…to not stop customers from installing solar[2].

…to encourage engagement among member-owners[3] if the utility is a cooperative.

…to be honest with my customers[4] about the proven benefits of distributed solar power.

…to recognize that the traditional utility business model is outdated[5], and to find new ways to support customer choice.

…to maximize demand response and energy efficiency[6] before building out new capacity.

…to support inclusive financing[7] to allow universal access to efficiency upgrades and on-site renewables.

…to support local jobs[8] by encouraging renewable energy and energy efficiency installations.

…to seek new business models[9] that align my financial interest with that of utility customers.

…to focus more on the benefits for utility customers[10], rather than the profits of utility shareholders.

Share the infographic below, or the individual resolutions above, to tell electric utilities that valuing renewable energy is good for their customers, good for their business, and good for the United States’ grid.


Created by Nick Stumo-Langer

This article originally posted at[12]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell[13] or Karlee Weinmann[14] on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly[15] update.

  1. not impose fixed fees:
  2. not stop customers from installing solar:
  3. encourage engagement among member-owners:
  4. be honest with my customers:
  5. recognize that the traditional utility business model is outdated:
  6. maximize demand response and energy efficiency:
  7. support inclusive financing:
  8. support local jobs:
  9. seek new business models:
  10. focus more on the benefits for utility customers:
  11. [Image]:
  13. John Farrell:
  14. Karlee Weinmann:
  15. Energy Democracy weekly:

Source URL:

Dear Santa…ILSR’s Federal Energy Policy Wish List

by Karlee Weinmann | December 20, 2016 6:00 am

A new administration critical of clean energy[1] imposes vast uncertainty on a U.S. energy sector that in recent years has tiptoed toward greater local control and increased renewable energy generation. This year, our federal policy wish list includes a series of items that would keep up the trend and deliver economic benefits to communities nationwide.

This infographic spotlights our most sought-after policies, and while it would be nice if Santa could deliver them this week, we likely must rely instead on incoming federal officials to drive changes.


Created by Nick Stumo-Langer


Clean Energy Incentives

Extend clean energy incentives, using cash rewards in place of the federal tax credits. Offering cash incentives for solar, wind, and other projects lowers the barrier to building them[3], opening the field to more market participants and reducing the need for Wall Street financiers.

Conversely, without tax credits or a cash substitute, the federal government could impose a fee on fossil fuel users based on the amount of carbon and other pollutants they emit. Measures designed to favor renewable generation, such as other countries’ carbon taxes[4] or Minnesota’s “value of solar” policy[5], could serve as models.


Include Proximity in Cost of Energy Produced

Update PURPA, the federal law passed in 1978 to promote renewable energy generation[6], to explicitly incorporate the cost of power delivery in avoided cost. A more comprehensive calculation would reward projects built near substations for putting less strain on the grid, boosting their compensation.


Competitive Bidding for Transmission Projects

Require all transmission projects under federal jurisdiction to undergo a competitive bidding process that includes non-wires alternatives[7], ensuring the chosen method is the best way to meet the need.


Antitrust Enforcement in Electric Utilities

Ask the Justice Department to study the implications of consolidation in the U.S. electricity industry. A steady flow of mergers and acquisitions[8] in the power sector has stifled competition, with likely implications for consumers.


Electric Vehicle Funding

Earmark Federal Highway Administration funds for electric vehicle infrastructure development, continuing work accelerated under the Obama administration[9].

This article originally posted at[10]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell[11] or Karlee Weinmann[12] on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly[13] update.

  1. critical of clean energy:
  2. [Image]:
  3. lowers the barrier to building them:
  4. other countries’ carbon taxes:
  5. “value of solar” policy:
  6. to promote renewable energy generation:
  7. non-wires alternatives:
  8. steady flow of mergers and acquisitions:
  9. accelerated under the Obama administration:
  11. John Farrell:
  12. Karlee Weinmann:
  13. Energy Democracy weekly:

Source URL:

Composting Cultivates Economic Development – Episode 7 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | December 15, 2016 12:00 pm

Welcome to episode seven of the Building Local Power podcast[1]. For full transcript[2] of the podcast click here.

In this episode, Chris Mitchell, the director of our Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews Linda Bilsens, Project Manager of ILSR’s Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Program. Bilsens explains how producing compost from food scraps builds local economic development, fights climate change, and cultivates community.

Chris and Linda discuss how both individuals and communities can partake in rebuilding their local soils by composting organic materials. Check out the further information on our composting work here: Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders training program[3]. Contact Linda Bilsens[4] if you’re interested in replicating this program.

“The communities that are embracing this…that I’ve seen that they’re tired of waiting for someone else to do something,” says Bilsens of the powerful benefits that composting can have on communities.


If you missed the first episodes of our podcast you can find those conversations with Olivia LaVecchia here[11], Neil Seldman here[12], John Farrell here[13], David Morris here[14], Lisa Gonzalez here[15], and Stacy Mitchell here[16]. Also to see all of our episodes make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power [17]Podcast Homepage[18]. View the full transcript of the podcast, below.

Full Transcript of Podcast:

Linda Bilsens: We throw away quite a bit of material each year. More than 50% of what we throw away is actually compostable. We actually throw away about 38 million tons of food waste each year, and only 5% of that is composted, which I think is crazy.
Chris Mitchell: That sounds pretty crazy. I think maybe we should talk about it for the next 20 minutes or so.
Linda Bilsens: Sounds good.
Chris Mitchell: You’re Linda Bilsens, the program manager for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Program. I’m Chris Mitchell. I do broadband-type stuff for the institute focusing on locally-owned networks, but I also interview people at ILSR about building local power. That’s what we’re going to talk about today. I’d like to start out a little bit wide since this is the first time we’re talking about composting on building local power and just ask you, sure, those are big numbers that you just threw out, but why should we care about composting?
Linda Bilsens: I was asking myself the same question a few years ago when I first starting getting into composting. Basically I got into composting because I wanted to be able to grow my own food, so I started gardening and working on farms. When it came down to it, the soil is pretty much what makes all of that possible. If you’re going to be growing in the same place over and over again, you have to add back what you take away, and composting is the way that you do that. So I basically came to composting because I wanted to grow my own food.
Chris Mitchell: One of the things that I think is interesting about composting as well as many components of our waste stream is that you can pretty much do it anywhere. Is that right?
Linda Bilsens: Yep, absolutely. You don’t need a lot of infrastructure to make it happen especially at the small scale, so that’s pretty much we focus on is just getting people started. There are some lessons to learn about how to do it a little bit better without running into some of the nuisance problems that you could otherwise come across, but in general it’s really you just got to go start doing it.
Chris Mitchell: If we were to see hundreds of communities doing that around the nation, in what ways would that contribute to more local power do you think? Aside from just having better soils, how would the community benefit if they were putting energy into these kinds of programs?
Linda Bilsens  The main reasons that get me excited about this work is that composting is something that you don’t really have to wait for a government program or a business to provide a service. You can basically start doing it today. Because as long as you’re producing waste, which we all do, if you eat any food, if you cook at all, if you have a backyard or a garden, you have stuff to compost. Instead of throwing it in your garbage bin, if you have any space or a community garden, you can start composting that today and see a tangible product in a few months time.
Chris Mitchell: My wife is very supportive of composting, and we got into it a number of years ago. I’ll say two immediate impacts in our household that I wouldn’t say are about building local power but just were interesting to me is that most of our trash disappeared. It turned out that we cook a fair amount, so a lot of our trash was stuff that we could compost. Then the second thing is that we don’t have to take our trash out as often …
Linda Bilsens: Totally.
Chris Mitchell:  … because we’re mostly throwing away plastic or other things that is not going to rot in our kitchen, so we could wait until the bag was more full to take that trip out that nobody wants to do.
Linda Bilsens: Totally.
Chris Mitchell: So those are concrete effects.
Linda Bilsens: You’re actually taking out the smelliest part of your waste as well, which is pretty exciting, I think, and you’re doing something productive with it at the same time.
 Chris Mitchell: What else were you going to say in terms of what helps us build local power?
Linda Bilsens With the community composting scale, which is really what we tend to prioritize, is that you have this opportunity to … It’s like another opportunity to connect with your neighbors and your neighborhood. It’s another opportunity to come together and work on something together for a common end goal. Here in DC, around a number of the community gardens that exist, there are about 40 or so, you see people of diverse backgrounds coming together and working together on something as simple as compost. There’s just kind of a touchpoint for the community. I think it gives us another opportunity for common ground, another opportunity to interact with each other, get to know each other, which I think is pretty critical if you want to come together to exert any sort of local power.
Chris Mitchell: Some people have started businesses, too. I mean this isn’t just something one does to make one’s self feel better. You could actually start a small business doing this.
Linda Bilsens: Definitely. It still requires you to be quite entrepreneurial at this stage. I think that we don’t really value compost or soil or the other benefits that comes from composting enough for it to be something that just anybody could start up, but I think if you’re entrepreneurial and you’re dedicated to it, you can definitely start a business.
Chris Mitchell: Let’s talk about the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilder Program. What exactly is that? What do we do at ILSR around this issue?
Linda Bilsens: The full title is the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Composter Training Program. That’s pretty much what it is it’s a composter training program. It’s built off of what is more broadly known as the Master Composter model. This is offered throughout the country, and it’s often offered in conjunction with a master gardener program, which more people would be familiar with likely. Yeah, there’s like at least 50 plus programs around the country. There’s probably more, but that’s the number that we identified a couple of years when we were surveying. It’s all about giving people the basic tools that they need to start composting. What differs for us and I think the title makes the point, is that we’re focusing on neighborhoods not just backyards, so we focus on community composting which involves not just one household but a number of households or a community of some sort.
Chris Mitchell: Is this something that it’s just white people do? I think that a lot of people might think, “Oh, composting. It’s the latest trend in counterculture, white folks.” I suspect that’s not been your experience.
Linda Bilsens: Definitely not. What excites me so much about composting and what I’ve witnessed here in the DC community in particular but also in the Baltimore community where we just started working is that it is empowering for everyone. Composting is an opportunity to take control of what would be a waste and make it a resource. I think that’s appealing to most everybody. I do think that whether it’s immigrant populations or groups of immigrants that are just coming over that come from agriculturely focused countries, or anybody that’s interested in growing their own food for the various reasons that someone might be interested in that, composting is a natural complement to all of that. So I do think it’s appealing to just about anybody. Especially with the inequalities that we see in our food system, it’s really a compelling tool for any community.
Chris Mitchell: I see that. It’s interesting that [you’re 00:07:58] worked and we have programs that are related as far away as Atlanta and Lincoln, Nebraska. Is there anything that you find interesting about the kind of communities that are embracing this?
Linda Bilsens: The communities that are embracing this, there is a common thread that I’ve seen. It’s basically people who are just tired of waiting for somebody else to do something.
Chris Mitchell: That’s great.
Linda Bilsens: Yeah. I mean it’s just this really simple … It almost seems silly. Composting to some people seems silly, but once you start doing it and you actually see that you can create something and you’re also helping address a number of other big problems that we as a humanity face, it’s pretty inspiring stuff.
Chris Mitchell: Let’s talk about one of those in particular. How does composting interface with climate change?
Linda Bilsens: By composting, we’re taking out this huge chunk of the waste stream that otherwise ends up in landfills or incinerators. I think that food waste in specific is the largest portion of waste that ends up being incinerated or landfilled in the United States, so you’re taking it away from being burned or from sitting in a landfill. Also food waste in particular, organic materials, when they decompose in anaerobic conditions, they basically create a stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. It creates methane.
Chris Mitchell: A different way of saying that, of course, when they rot, bad things happen, right?
Linda Bilsens: Totally. There’s ground water pollution. There’s air pollution. There’s always bad things that can come from it, so you’re kind of avoiding that.
Chris Mitchell: Right, and rotting is not composting.
Linda Bilsens: Nope, nope. Though I do hear people in the composting world say, “Rot on,” as like a “Rock on.” Though I think rotting is not necessarily a negative term, yeah, you don’t want to putrefy things. You want things to decompose properly.
Chris Mitchell: That’s a good word, putrefy. You think rot, it’s kind of a word that makes you think of nasty things, but then putrefy is yet another level up.
Linda Bilsens: Definitely. Another benefit to the climate from composting has to do with the carbon sequestration potential of healthy soil, and compost is an important amendment to keeping soil healthy. By improving the quality of the soil, you improve the biology of the soil, which is tied to the ability of soil to sequester carbon, basically pulling it out of the atmosphere and holding on to it, but you also grow more plants which also sequester carbons. So it’s really exciting. This is a new field that I think is gaining traction now, but it’s kind of a hot topic.
Chris Mitchell: It is. In fact some very powerful people have become more interested in it. Can you tell us about a surprise guest that you had over last winter?
Linda Bilsens: My husband and I had been nominated basically to be featured as part of what we thought was an HGTV special on urban farming. Home and Garden Television was supposedly coming to DC, and they wanted to feature some community gardens in the DC area to show how cool urban ag is. My husband was arranging all this. After a few visits with what we thought was HGTV staff, we had this interview. So we arrive in our backyard, and there’s 20 plus people kind of crawling around. We start this interview with Home and Garden Television. As we’re answering a random question about how we started the garden and what did we do to the soil to improve it, as my husband’s in the middle of answering, up behind us comes this voice. We turn and it happens to be the First Lady Michelle Obama so both of us completely awestruck and speechless.
Chris Mitchell: I can imagine.
Linda Bilsens: I’m pretty sure I squealed actually.
Chris Mitchell: There’s probably video evidence of that.
Linda Bilsens: Oh, yeah. No, I’ve heard it lots of times at this point. I’m certain of it. Yeah, so she surprised us. We totally got pumped by Michelle Obama, and it was pretty exciting.
Chris Mitchell: That’s great. Do you have a sense, then, that this is something that is catching on around the country?
Linda Bilsens: Yeah. No, absolutely. Though Michelle Obama’s visit was fantastic and such an honor and it was exciting to see somebody that prominent supporting or interested in what we were doing because she was technically there to see the garden. But as soon as we brought up the concept of composting and how important it is to us maintaining our garden and the importance of not wasting that food, she wanted to go see the composting system. So she led the entire camera team through our tiny little walkway to the composting system, and she wanted to test out the compost sifter that we have. She totally understood why we were doing what we were doing, and she was excited about it, and she was very complimentary of it. It was really exciting to see that. Also through the rest of our work and the Composting for Community Project under which the NSR falls …
Chris Mitchell: That’s the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Program, NSR?
Linda Bilsens: Yes. Through the rest of our work in the Composting for Community Project under which the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Program falls, we’re getting a chance to work with community composters from around the country, so it’s certainly something that is growing in terms of a movement.
Chris Mitchell: What’s the best place to go for people that want to learn more about it and how they might get involved?
Linda Bilsens: Our webpage on the ILSR website would be a great place to start. That’s the Other places that they might look for information would be BioCycle. It’s a magazine for the composting industry. Nora Goldstein, who’s a close friend of the institute, she’s the editor of that magazine. Composting at the community scale is a passion for hers as much as it is for us. So those are two great places to start.
Chris Mitchell: Wonderful. We’d like to end this show by asking for a recommendation for something to read: article, book, maybe even a podcast, who knows? What’s something interesting you’ve heard or read that you want to share with people?
Linda Bilsens: A couple of things come to mind. The Marin Carbon Project in California is putting out lots of interesting research papers on the topic of carbon sequestration and soil and compost in particular, so if anybody’s interested in that, they’re a great source for information. There’s also a series about the inequality in our food system and how to address that I’ve been fully making my way through. It’s actually a publication called Food First, The Institute for Food and Development Policy. There’s a series that they put out recently about dismantling racism in the food system, which I think is really eye opening. It gets me motivated.
Chris Mitchell: Excellent. I think those are very interesting recommendations. I’ll be checking them out myself. Thank you for taking some time to tell us more about the composting work and why it’s relevant, how it can build local power.
Linda Bilsens: Thanks Chris.
Lisa Gonzalez That was Linda Bilsens, program manager for the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Program at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance talking with Chris Mitchell about the program and how composting contributes to local power. Learn more about the program at Subscribe to this podcast and all of the podcasts in the ILSR family on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research by also subscribing to our monthly newsletter at Thanks to Dysfunction Al for the music licensed through Creative Commons. The song is “Funk Interlude.” I’m Lisa Gonzalez from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Thanks for listening to Episode Number 7 of our building local power podcast.

Audio Credit: Funk Interlude[19] by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0)[20] license.

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Decentralizing Economic Power, Reinvigorating Democracy: ILSR’s Impact in 2016

by ILSR Admin | December 15, 2016 6:00 am

Image: Donate Button[1]ILSR’s forward-thinking, bottom-up solutions have never been more needed.   Please help us expand our impact in 2017 by making a donation[2] to ILSR.


Download the Report[4]

As we head into a turbulent era of government, the values and goals of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) remain steadfast. Every day we help communities tap into their own power to build a more democratic, equitable, and sustainable future. Our 2016 Annual Report: Decentralizing Economic Power, Reinvigorating Democracy[5] illustrates how ILSR’s initiatives have gained important victories, connected with people across the country, and moved the needle on our most important economic and political conversations.

With the generosity of people like you, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has been at the forefront of advancing policies and models that support locally driven economies while protecting the climate and reducing inequality. Please take a look through our annual report[6] and donate to support our work[7].

Here’s a look at a few highlights from 2016 and what lies ahead for 2017:


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Fact Sheet on Minnesota’s Rural Digital Divide

by Lisa Gonzalez | December 5, 2016 12:14 pm

The fact sheet highlights the great work that Minnesota cooperatives and municipalities have done to bring fast, affordable, reliable Internet service to rural areas throughout the state. They’ve built many Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks, but there is still much work to do.

One in 4 Minnesotans lives in a rural area, and of those rural households, 43 percent lack access to broadband, defined by the FCC as 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Resilient, robust, fiber is the long-term goal, but fixed wireless can help extend coverage in hard-to-reach rural areas.

Download the fact sheet[1] and pass it on.

See all of our Community Network Fact Sheets[2] here.

Read ongoing coverage related to these networks at ILSR’s site devoted to Community Broadband Networks[3].  You can also subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks.[4]

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2016 World Soil Day: Benefits of Composting Infographic Posters

by Brenda Platt | December 5, 2016 6:00 am

placeholderDecember 5th is World Soil Day, on this day we celebrate the eminent power of soil reinforced with compost. In 2002, the International Union of Soil Sciences declared December 5th as World Soil Day[1] “to celebrate the importance of soil as a critical component of the natural system and as a vital contributor to human wellbeing.” In 2013, when the resolution was introduced to the full United Nations General Assembly, it was passed unanimously.

Check out our newly printable and shareable infographic pages:

One Person’s Trash…[2] | Composting Enhances Soils and Protects Watersheds[3]

Composting Protects the Climate[4] | Composting Creates Jobs[5] | What Can You Do?[6]

On this World Soil Day, we are pointing to the vast benefits that locally-based composting has in improving soil.

“The dust storms and floods of the last few years have underscored the importance to control soil erosion. I need not emphasize the seriousness of the problem and the desirability of our taking effective action, as a Nation and in the several States, to conserve the soil as our basic asset. The Nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”

– Franklin D. Roosevelt, Letter to all State Governors on a Uniform Soil Conservation Law, Feb. 26, 1937

With almost 30% of U.S. cropland eroding above soil tolerance levels – meaning the long-term ability of the soil to sustain plant growth is in jeopardy – these words ring as true today as they did in 1937. FDR was responding to the devastation wreaked by the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. Today, much of the western United States remains under severe drought conditions. In the East, we’ve had our share of droughts but extreme storms seem to be reigning lately. Enhancing the ability of soil to retain water, slow stormwater run-off, and resist erosion is vital to life on this planet as we know it.

Fortunately we have one fairly simple solution: amending soil with compost. Compost-amended soil enhances soil properties, stems soil erosion, and protects against soil desertification. In addition, compost converts wasted food and resources into a valuable asset.

In honor of World Soil Day, we are releasing our popular compost infographic as a series of individual printable and shareable images. Check out the original post here: Infographic: Compost Impacts More Than You Think[7].






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The Public Good Newsfeed – December 1, 2016: The Perils of Privatization

by David Morris | December 1, 2016 3:00 pm

placeholderA selection of recent news stories with an ILSR insight into “The Public Good.”

Stories in this Newsfeed:

The Privatization of Everything[1] |  Privatizing Education[2] | Privatizing the Oceans[3]

Privatizing Municipal Services[4] | A Resource Guide to Privatization[5]

The outcome of the Presidential election will make the word “privatization” will become central to our political conversations. We should be mindful that the privatization movement did not start with Donald Trump, nor has it solely been a Republican initiative. For those wanting to familiarize themselves with the already pervasive nature of that movement and its problematic impact, we offer a few choice readings.

29The Privatization of Everything

Talking Points Memo[6] (TPM) has an excellent primer on privatization. The Hidden History of the Privatization of Everything[7] consists of three essays by experts in the field.

Donald Cohen, founder and Executive Director of In the Public Interest, offers a sobering review of the rapid growth of privatization from an idea to a movement to dominance.

He notes:

Journalist David Dayen, reports on the true cost of private prisons:

“Actual housing of convicts in prisons and jails is only one part–perhaps the smallest part–of the overall industry revenue stream. Private companies seek to pull profits from the moment someone is suspected of a crime to the final day they meet with a parole officer. Private industry transports prisoners, operates prison bank accounts, sells prescription drugs, prepares inmate food, and manages health care, prison phone and computer time. And that’s just the start. The money comes from the taxpayer, in state and federal contracts, and the suspects, inmates, and parolees themselves, in fees and add-ons. Those caught in the web represent what marketers would call the ultimate “captive audience”: there is no way to shop around for a better deal.”

… private prison companies can prosper whether the incarceration rate expands or lowers, by controlling the other ends of the pipeline, from pre-trial supervision to post-prison re-entry. The greatest source of profits now comes from federal contracts to detain, transfer, and deport undocumented immigrants. The more toxic the immigration debate becomes, the more advantage for-profit corporations take.”

Journalist Erika Eichelberger describes how privatization circumscribes public control and actions.

“In 2006, the city leased four major parking garages to a Morgan Stanley-led firm for $563 million[8]. In 2009, Morgan Stanley sued the city for threatening its profits by allowing a nearby building to open a public garage. Chicago had to pay $62 million[9] to settle.

In 2008, Mayor Daley sold off 36,000 city parking meters[10] to another Morgan Stanley-backed company, with little[11] public input. It was later revealed that the deal was undervalued[12] by $1 billion. Meter rates skyrocketed from $3 an hour to $6.50 an hour. And the firm charged the city millions[13] for violating the contract by putting certain meters out of use for street repairs, parades, and festivals, and for giving free parking permits to people with disabilities…

Between 1994 and 2006, 43 highways[14] became so-called public-private partnerships, according to a 2009 report by the Frontier Group. Many toll road contracts include[15] provisions discouraging[16] governments from improving or expanding nearby public routes in order to funnel traffic—money—to the privatized road…

Virginia’s 2006 contract with two private firms to build toll lanes on the Capital Beltway requires[17] the state to compensate the companies whenever carpools exceed 24 percent of traffic in carpool lanes for the next forty years—‘or until the builders make $100 million in profits.’

The state of Indiana had to reimburse[18] the private company operating the Indiana Toll Road $447,000 in 2008 because the state waived the tolls of people who had to evacuate during severe flooding. The company also refused[19] to allow state troopers to close the toll road during a snowstorm because it would hurt profits…

Some 700[20] jurisdictions across the country have elected to privatize transportation policy on the traffic enforcement side as well, in the form of red light cameras. These are the cameras mounted at intersections that take a photo of your license plate when you run a red light. The company will then issue the ticket, usually after approval by local authorities.

Some of these firms require[21] cities to approve a fixed percentage of all tickets in order to guarantee the company a certain level of income, thereby eliminating local judicial discretion. Some companies impose[22] financial penalties on municipalities that make safety improvements at intersections if those improvements could affect the volume of tickets a company can issue…

‘When you sell off public assets to private parties basically what you’ve done is absolutely confined the ability of the public sector to dictate the terms by which public good is determined,’ Mac McCarthy, president of the Lincoln Institute for Land says. ‘[Private] contract becomes law.’”

Milpitas School District Solar Carports 2Privatizing Education

Back in 2011 Diane Ravitch, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, and President of The Network for Public Education, in a terrific piece in the Saturday Evening Post, declared[23],  “The media tell you that other nations have higher test scores than ours and that they are shooting past us in the race for global competitiveness. The pundits say it’s because our public schools are overrun with incompetent, lazy teachers who can’t be fired and have a soft job for life. Don’t believe it. It’s not true.”

She noted that these complaints have been repeated over the last 60 years, a time during which the United States became the world’s most innovative, technologically advanced and economically powerful and prosperous nation.  “Is it possible that we succeeded not because of test scores but because our society encourages something more important than test scores: the freedom to create, innovate, imagine, and think differently?”

Ravitch addresses the crucial publicness of public schools.

“Since the 1840s, our public schools have been a bulwark of our democratic society. Over time, they have opened their doors to every student in the community regardless of that student’s race, religion, language, disability, economic standing, or origin…

With this openness, there is a price to be paid: Our public school teachers have one of the most difficult jobs in society. Their classes include children who are recent immigrants, many of whom don’t speak or read English; they include children who have social, emotional, mental, and physical disabilities; they include children who live in desperate poverty….

Our schools are now expected to educate all children, whatever their condition. In 1975, Congress mandated special education for children with disabilities. It promised to pay 40 percent of the cost but has never followed through…”

“(Later) (i)nstead of sending the vast sums of money that schools needed to make a dent in its goal, Congress simply sent testing mandates to every school. It required that every child in every school must reach proficiency by 2014—or the schools would be subject to sanctions. If a school failed to make progress over five years, it might be closed or privatized or handed over to the state authorities or turned into a charter school. There was no evidence for the efficacy of any of these strategies, but that didn’t matter.

Setting an impossible goal, providing inadequate resources to pursue that goal, and then firing educators and closing schools for failing to reach it is cruel and unusual punishment…

Charter schools on average do not produce better academic results than regular public schools. As charters proliferate, regular public schools lose students and funding, and many charters try to avoid the students who are most costly and difficult to educate…

Piece by piece, our entire public education system is being redesigned in the service of increasing scores on standardized tests of basic skills. That’s not good policy, and it won’t improve education. Twelve years of rewarding children for picking the right answer on multiple-choice tests is bad education. It will penalize the creativity, innovativeness, and imaginativeness that has made this country great.”

In late 2016 AlterNet,[24] one of the most widely read sources of information from a progressive perspective, examined the role of charter schools more deeply in an eBook, Who Controls Our Schools?[25]

Many will be surprised to discover, that charter schools were first proposed by the head of a major teachers union.  Albert Shanker viewed them as vehicles that would allow liberate teachers from stifling bureaucratic rules and allow them the freedom to experiment with different education strategies.  Lessons learned would be used to improve public schools.

But soon the charter movement became a vehicle, not to improve the public school system, but to hobble and eventually eliminate it. Conservatives, whose proposal for education vouchers, had been consistently rejected by voters, viewed charters as a way of achieving the same goal:  the privatization of public education. The Walton Family Foundation, for example, which initially supported a school voucher movement, has spent more than $1.3 billion on K-12 education and boasts it has given seed funding to one-in-four charter schools.

As charters expanded investors became interested in this huge new potentially lucrative sector. When media mogul Rupert Murdoch announced in 2010 that News Corp. planned to enter the for-profit K-12 education market, he called it “a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.” (Today that figure is more than $600 billion.)

Democrats as well as Republicans jumped aboard the charter train.  When Bill Clinton’s Presidency began, the U.S. had a single charter school. When it ended, there were more than 2,000. The Bush Administration made state acceptance of charters a requirement for receiving billions of dollars in education federal funds. The Obama administration reinforced that policy.

In 2014 three million students attended 6,700 charter schools, an increase of 70 percent since 2009. Forty percent were part of corporate chains or franchises.

Who Controls Our Schools?[26] also examines the impact of privatization on the long American tradition of local control of education and on minority and poor communities.

“New Orleans, Detroit, New York, Chicago, Columbus, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, the District of Columbia, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Baltimore, and Houston have all seen elected school boards upended by privatization. Collectively, these cit­ies experienced the forced closure of more than seven hundred public schools and replacement by charters, according to a May 2014 report by Journey for Justice Alliance[27], a nationwide coalition of community groups as well as youth and parent organizations in twenty-one cities. ‘America’s predominantly black and Latino communities are expe­riencing an epidemic of public school closures,’ their report begins. ‘We need the American people to know that the public education sys­tems in our communities are dying,’ their report continues.”

28Privatizing the Oceans

Award winning investigative reporter Lee Van der Voo has written a blockbuster of a book about something most people are unaware of:  the privatization of our oceans.

Fish Market: Inside the Big Money Battle for the Ocean & Your Dinner Plate[28] notes the rise of a cap-and-trade arrangement for fish.  To reduce overfishing, governments create caps on the amount of fish that can be caught.  Then they dole out the rights to fish them among qualifying entities.

“(O)nce those rights are awarded by the government, whoever holds that slice of the pie holds exclusive access to a corresponding percentage of fish. Those rights are privately controlled after that… Now the rights to catch fish are private market assets that trade hotter in places like Alaska than brick-and-mortar real estate.

The private property rights attending catch shares had locked many fishermen and even whole communities out of the oceans. Catch shares created powerful landlords on water and as those landlords grew more powerful, catch shares were converting fishermen from proud family-business sorts into sharecroppers who were leasing their access to the sea from wealthy and increasingly corporate power brokers.”

In a review of Van der Voo’s book, Larry Getlen comments:

“Regulators would cap the number of fish that could be caught, but the right to fish then would be doled out, like property, to the people that had historically fished them…

“Those who own the rights to fish a certain area can rent or sell them like feudal landlords, in perpetuity. That means fishermen, who used to freely fish certain areas, now have to rent those same areas from absentee landlords.

“The bizarre setup means owners of fishing boats have become the equivalent of Uber drivers for share owners who take anywhere from 50 percent to 75 percent of the profit.”

Owners of less than 20 percent of a boat are required to be aboard any vessel catching their fish, but are not required to fish. This has led to boat owners offering amenities such as “big screen and satellite TVs, massive DVD collections, quality grub and staterooms” to attract share owners aboard to relax while the owner and his crew do the back-breaking work of fishing.”

Getlen continues, “The town of St. George, off the Bering Sea near Alaska, was long home to some of the most robust pollock fishing in the country. But due to a fishing rights management scheme called “catch shares,” the town has no rights to fish its own waters and regularly watches their former industry literally pass them by.

“Every year, the industry takes about $2 billion in gains out of this fish resource on the Bering Sea,” St. George Mayor Pat Pletnikoff tells Lee van der Voo in “The Fish Market[29].” “Not one plug nickel sticks to St. George.”

27Privatizing Municipal Services

“Privatization was supposed to yield greater efficiency due to competitive pressures on private providers to produce quality service at a lower cost. However, after 40 years of experience, this result has not been born out,” writes[30] Cornell Professor Mildred E. Warner.

Warner, an expert on local government and public management maintains:

“One of the keys to cost savings from privatization is competition.  But competitive markets in most public services do not exist. So privatization merely substitutes a private monopoly for a public one. Private providers will reduce service quality to enhance profits – especially if competition is not present.

Contracting out to low competitive markets requires local governments spend so much time managing the market that it cuts into their ability to monitor.”

Increasingly cities are revisiting their original infatuation with privatization.  A 2009 survey[31] by the International City Management Association, found that from 2002 to 2007 cities re-municipalized services as often as they contracted them out.  The reasons? Poor service quality, lack of cost savings, improvements in public delivery, and problems with monitoring.  Another factor was the local political support for bringing the work back in-house. It turns out citizens prefer local services to be locally controlled and publicly delivered.

As Warner notes, cities contract with other governments as well as with for profit corporations. However, bringing the function back into the city is 60 percent more likely when the contract is with a for profit partner.

Inter-municipal cooperation is growing in popularity. Indeed, according to Warner, inter-municipal contracting is now larger than for profit contracting. Local governments view cooperation as an effective way to gain economies of scale, better coordinate services in a region and still keep public control.  Rather than being focused on competition as the basis for efficiency, inter-municipal contracting has successfully built on the positive benefits of cooperation.

In an article in the New York Times Elliot Sclar, a Professor of Urban Planning at Columbia University and an expert of privatization, notes[32] that ideology often drives a city’s decision to privatize but in the private sector, ideology rarely plays a role in determining “make or buy” decisions.

“Three factors drive the decision: the number of interactions required between the service supplier and the purchasing organization; the ability of the purchasing organization to judge the quality of the product; and the nature of control over the physical assets and people involved in delivering the goods.

The general rule of thumb is that when the number of interactions is high, quality is not easily determined and control over assets is required, you should keep the function in-house. If the reverse is true, you can outsource.

That is why, for example, it makes perfect sense to hire a contractor to paint city hall every few years but why attempting to privatize something as complex as New York City’s employee record keeping system has proved to be a disaster.

Why is this the case? Because success or failure is connected to the complexity of the organizational relationship between buyer and seller and the amount of information that the public buyer continually needs to assess in determining how the project is progressing. These two factors explain virtually all of the reported failures of privatization for functions like prison medical services or highway construction.”

30A Resource Guide to Privatization

Since opening its doors 8 years ago, the non-profit group, In the Public Interest[33] has established itself as the go-to organization for information about privatization.  Its web site contains a treasure trove of current news and short and long reports on the whole spectrum of privatization-related issues and the experience of privatization in various sectors:  education, prisons, water, infrastructure, childcare, transportation, etc.

In 2014 the organization released a resource guide[34] that allows first timers and old timers to easily navigate its rapidly expanding library.  At the time there were over 35 reports available.  I imagine by now there could easily be 50. The two most recent, published in the fall of 2016, are How Privatization Increases Inequality and The Banks That Finance Private Prison Companies.

A sampling of the titles in their library will give you a taste of the information available.

Closing the Books: How Government Contractors Hide Public Records

The Decision to Contract Out: Understanding the Full Economic and Social Impacts  

Shift: How Taxpayers Began Reclaiming Control of their Public Services

Out of Control: The Coast-to-Coast Failures of Outsourcing Public Services to For-Profit Corporations

I particularly like the groups’s ability to synthesize dozens, if not hundreds, of reports into easily digestible, sometimes bite-sized information sheets. A prime example is their brief, and I do mean brief publication, Privatization Myths Debunked[35], which exposes the fallacies of the principal arguments in favor of privatization.

Myth #1:  Privatization saves money

The Truth: Privatization often raises costs for the public and governments

Myth #4:  Privatization allows governmental entities more administrative flexibility.

The Truth:  Privatization requires substantial administrative resources for monitoring and oversight.

Myth #6:  If anything goes wrong, the government can easily fire the contractor or adjust the contract.

The Truth:  Reversing privatization involves huge costs and service interruptions.

Sign-up for our monthly Public Good Newsletter[36] and follow ILSR on Twitter[37] and Facebook[38].

  1. The Privatization of Everything: #Everything
  2. Privatizing Education: #Education
  3. Privatizing the Oceans: #Oceans
  4. Privatizing Municipal Services: #Municipal
  5. A Resource Guide to Privatization: #Guide
  6. Talking Points Memo:
  7. The Hidden History of the Privatization of Everything:
  8. $563 million:
  9. $62 million:
  10. parking meters:
  11. little:
  12. undervalued:
  13. millions:
  14. 43 highways:
  15. include:
  16. discouraging:
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  18. reimburse:
  19. refused:
  20. 700:
  21. require:
  22. impose:
  23. declared:
  24. AlterNet,:
  25. Who Controls Our Schools?:
  26. Who Controls Our Schools?:
  27. Journey for Justice Alliance:
  28. Fish Market: Inside the Big Money Battle for the Ocean & Your Dinner Plate:
  29. The Fish Market:
  30. writes:
  31. survey:
  32. notes:
  33. In the Public Interest:
  34. resource guide:
  35. Privatization Myths Debunked:
  36. Public Good Newsletter:
  37. Twitter:
  38. Facebook:

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Media Outlets Cover 2016 Colorado Broadband Ballot Initiatives

by Nick Stumo-Langer | December 1, 2016 8:00 am

Various Sources[1] – November 2 – 19, 2016

On November 8th, 2016, 26 Colorado cities and counties joined[2] 69 of their fellow communities in opting out of the restrictive, anti-municipal broadband state law, SB 152. For years, we at ILSR have been covering the developments in Colorado as voters reclaim local telecommunications authority.

The media, both locally and nationally, took notice of our efforts.

Here’s a roundup of stories in which national, state, and local outlets cited our work and provided information to ensure this vital issue gained coverage. Read more in our story covering the votes[3] and in our podcast about the election[4].

MEDIA COVERAGE – “26 Colorado Communities Opt out of Restrictive State Broadband Law”

Pre-Election Coverage:

+ 26 Colorado Communities Will Vote on Building Their Own Internet Networks[5] by Jason Koebler, Motherboard Vice – November 2nd, 2016

Colorado is the only state in the country that has a ballot measure requirement for locally run networks; 22 other states have different laws that restrict local broadband efforts. With so many cities overwhelmingly voting in favor of local government-run broadband, Mitchell says that Colorado’s law hasn’t quite had the effect CenturyLink would have liked.

“If this is the worst barrier we had to deal with, I don’t think anyone would be complaining,” he said. “It’s not as bad as Nebraska or North Carolina[6], where cities basically can’t do anything under the circumstances of their laws.”

+ How Election Day Can Shape States’ Community Broadband Laws[7] by Craig Settles, CJ Speaks – November 7th, 2016

The time for community broadband champions to engage their newly and re-elected state senators and representatives is from November 9 until January 3. Chris Mitchell of motherboard-vice-logothe Institute for Local Self-Reliance says, “Concerned citizens need to organize and speak out. This is a great time for meeting your state representatives by phone, email, or in-person because the big industry lobbyists work them constantly. Let legislators know this is an important issue and you are watching them.”

+ Communities Are Finally Taking Back Their Broadband Destiny from Big Telecom[8] by Jason Koebler, Motherboard Vice – November 8th, 2016

“I can’t explain how different it feels to me than a few years ago,” Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self Reliance, told me. “For a few years, we basically tracked every single city that was considering building its own network. Now, we’re struggling to keep up—we don’t even know every city that’s interested in doing this.”

Post-Election Coverage:

+ Colorado Communities Preempt State Muni Broadband Limits [9]by John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable – November 9th, 2016

“We have seen overwhelming support for local Internet choice in Colorado” said the institute’s Christopher Mitchell. “These cities and counties recognize that they cannot count on Comcast and CenturyLink alone to meet local needs.”

dsl-reports-logo[10]+ Colorado Voters Oppose Comcast-Written Protectionist State Law[11] by Karl Bode, DSL Reports – November 9th, 2016

According to the Institute for Local Reliance[12], the voting results haven’t even been close: “Results from ballot initiatives varied by modest degree but all left no doubt that the local electorate want out of SB 152.”

+ Colorado Voters Continue To Shoot Down Awful Comcast-Written Protectionist State Law[13] by Karl Bode, TechDirt – November 9th, 2016

In this week’s election, all 26 of the municipal broadband-related referendums on the ballot in Colorado communities, including Aspen, were approved by relatively wide margins[14]:

“Results from ballot initiatives varied by modest degree but all left no doubt that the local electorate want out of SB 152.”

+ Another Set Of Colorado Counties Vote To Toss Restrictive Law, Permit Municipal Broadband[15] by Kate Cox, The Consumerist – November 10th, 2016

MuniNetworks, which supports and advocates for communities to be able to build networks when they choose, reports that[16] every single one of the 26 local municipal broadband networks on ballots in Colorado Tuesday passed with flying colors.

+ DTNS 2900 – Oh, What Tangled Laws We Weave for ISPs [17]by Daily Tech News Show – November 10, 2016

+ Golden, Lafayette and 24 Colorado communities vote yes on broadband Internet alternatives[18] by Tamara Chuang, The Denver Post [Republished in True Viral News[19]] – November 10th, 2016

The cities of Golden, Lafayette and 24 other Colorado municipalities approved ballot measures Tuesday allowing them to explore the idea of offering their own broadband Internet service. They join 69 other counties and municipalities in the state — or 95 total, according to Community Broadband Networks[20] — who voted in years past to opt out of SB 152.

denverite-logo+ Dozens more Colorado communities rejected SB 152, clearing the way for municipal broadband[21] by Andrew Kenney, Denverite – November 10th, 2016

The law is SB 152, passed by the Colorado legislature in 2005. It effectively bans local governments from providing any kind of television or Internet service — unless they get permission from their voters first.

Gradually, governments around Colorado have been doing just that. Seven counties and 19 municipalities put it to a vote in Colorado this season, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance[22], a nonprofit that advocates for municipal broadband.

+ County officials tout options after broadband measure [23]by Katharhynn Heidelberg, Montrose Daily Press – November 13th, 2016 [Subscription Required]

+ Superior, Lafayette to probe potential of municipal broadband[24] by Anthony Hahn, Longmont Times-Call [Republished in Boulder Daily Camera[25], Colorado Hometown Weekly[26], Colorado Daily News[27], and Government Technology[28]] – November 19th, 2016

longmont-times-call-logoA fiber optic network — strands of fiberglass bundled together by sheath either above or below ground — is extremely scalable, according to the Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a non-profit that advocates for municipal broadband. He adds that the material is also capable of supporting Internet use long into the future. …

“The main thing is that (municipalities) now have the freedom to do with it what they want,” Mitchell said. “There are models all over Colorado — certainly cities like Longmont and Centennial. The most important thing is to basically look at different options that are available, but it takes time to do that.

If you are interested in receiving weekly updates from the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance please click here[29], follow MuniNetworks[30] and Christopher Mitchell[31] on Twitter. Original MuniNetworks article available here[32].

  1. Various Sources:
  2. 26 Colorado cities and counties joined:
  3. our story covering the votes:
  4. in our podcast about the election:
  5. 26 Colorado Communities Will Vote on Building Their Own Internet Networks:
  6. Nebraska or North Carolina:
  7. How Election Day Can Shape States’ Community Broadband Laws:
  8. Communities Are Finally Taking Back Their Broadband Destiny from Big Telecom:
  9. Colorado Communities Preempt State Muni Broadband Limits :
  10. [Image]:
  11. Colorado Voters Oppose Comcast-Written Protectionist State Law:
  12. Institute for Local Reliance:
  13. Colorado Voters Continue To Shoot Down Awful Comcast-Written Protectionist State Law:
  14. were approved by relatively wide margins:
  15. Another Set Of Colorado Counties Vote To Toss Restrictive Law, Permit Municipal Broadband:
  16. reports that:
  17. DTNS 2900 – Oh, What Tangled Laws We Weave for ISPs :
  18. Golden, Lafayette and 24 Colorado communities vote yes on broadband Internet alternatives:
  19. True Viral News:
  20. Community Broadband Networks:
  21. [Image]+ Dozens more Colorado communities rejected SB 152, clearing the way for municipal broadband:
  22. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  23. County officials tout options after broadband measure :
  24. Superior, Lafayette to probe potential of municipal broadband:
  25. Boulder Daily Camera:
  26. Colorado Hometown Weekly:
  27. Colorado Daily News:
  28. Government Technology:
  29. click here:
  30. MuniNetworks:
  31. Christopher Mitchell:
  32. available here:

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Report: How Amazon’s Tightening Grip on the Economy Is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities

by Olivia LaVecchia | November 29, 2016 11:27 am


Download the report

Download the report[1]

For all of its reach, Amazon, the company founded by Jeff Bezos in 1995 as an online bookstore, is still remarkably invisible. It makes it easy not to notice how powerful and wide-ranging it has become. But behind the packages on the doorstep and the inviting interface, Amazon has quietly positioned itself at the center of a growing share of our daily activities and transactions, extending its tentacles across our economy, and with it, our lives.

Today, half of all U.S. households are subscribed to the membership program Amazon Prime, half of all online shopping searches start directly on Amazon, and Amazon captures nearly one in every two dollars that Americans spend online. Amazon sells more books, toys, and by next year, apparel and consumer electronics than any retailer online or off, and is investing heavily in its grocery business. Its market power now rivals or exceeds that of Walmart, and it stands only to grow: Within five years, one-fifth of the U.S.’s $3.6 trillion retail market will have shifted online, and Amazon is on track to capture two-thirds of that share.

But describing Amazon’s reach in the retail sector describes only one of the company’s tentacles. Amazon is far more than a big, aggressive retailer. As we show in this report, Amazon increasingly controls the underlying infrastructure of the economy. Its Marketplace for third-party sellers has become the dominant platform for digital commerce. Its Amazon Web Services division provides the cloud computing backbone for much of the country, powering everyone from Netflix to the CIA. Its distribution network includes warehouses and delivery stations in nearly every major U.S. city, and it’s rapidly moving into shipping and package delivery for both itself and others. By controlling this critical infrastructure, Amazon both competes with other companies and sets the terms by which these same rivals can reach the market. Locally owned retailers and independent manufacturers have been among the hardest hit.


Download ILSR’s one-page timeline of Amazon’s expansion[3]

Amazon’s bet is that as long as consumers are enjoying one-click ordering and same-day delivery, we won’t pay much attention to the company’s creeping grip. Even as consumers, Amazon’s dominance comes with significant consequences. The company uses its data on what we browse and buy to shape what we see and adjust prices accordingly, and its control over suppliers and power as a producer itself means that it’s increasingly steering our choices, deciding what products make it to market and what products we’re exposed to.

But we’re also much more than consumers. We’re people who need to earn a living, who want to have meaningful jobs, who care about the freedom to build a business. We’re neighbors and we’re citizens, entrepreneurs and producers, taxpayers and residents, with needs and wants from an economy that go beyond the one-click checkout.

Amazon’s increasing dominance comes with high costs. It’s eroding opportunity and fueling inequality, and it’s concentrating power in ways that endanger competition, community life, and democracy. And yet these consequences have gone largely unnoticed thanks to Amazon’s remarkable invisibility and the way its tentacles have quietly extended their reach.

Our new report, Amazon’s Stranglehold: How the Company’s Tightening Grip is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities, aims to pull back this cloak of invisibility. It presents new data; draws on interviews with dozens of manufacturers, retailers, labor organizers, and others; and synthesizes a broad body of previous reporting and scholarship. (more…)[4]

  1. Download the report:’s+Stranglehold
  2. [Image]:
  3. Download ILSR’s one-page timeline of Amazon’s expansion:
  4. (more…):

Source URL:

Video: Compost Happens, But Training Matters​

by Linda Bilsens | November 23, 2016 6:00 am

placeholderplaceholderComposting is an age-old practice that still benefits our soils as much today as it did in ancient times. But, what many people may not know is that proper training matters[1] in order to create this “black gold” both safely and effectively. At ILSR’s Composting for Community Project, we’re cultivating a greater awareness of the myriad benefits compost can provide to our soils and ourselves, the critical role community plays in the composting process, and what it takes to create high-quality compost.

Our Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Composter Training Course[2] has a community-scale focus and a community service component. This course involves ~20 hours of classroom instruction and ~20 hours of hands-on fieldwork covering Composting Science, Soil Science, Compost Testing, Pile and Bin Building, Community Engagement, and much more!

The benefits of composting are maximized when the process takes place locally. That’s why Neighborhood Soils are at the core of our NSR program. We emphasize the art and science of hot composting that can be implemented at schools, churches, urban farms, and community gardens. Here, the members that make up these communities can be engaged in the act of cycling uneaten food back into healthy soils that are used to grow more food. Healthy soils and healthy food are key to community self-reliance. Now that’s worth being thankful for!

Watch our video below and see how you can join the movement!

Follow the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on Twitter[3] and Facebook[4] and, for monthly updates on our work, sign-up[5] for our ILSR general newsletter.

  1. training matters:
  2. Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Composter Training Course:
  3. Twitter:
  4. Facebook:
  5. sign-up:

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Amid Murky Energy Outlook, Some Reasons To Be Thankful [Infographic]

by Karlee Weinmann | November 22, 2016 6:00 am

placeholderWithout a clear policy plan from President-Elect Donald Trump, the nation’s energy future hangs in the balance. But in a year that saw an influx of state-level ballot initiatives[1] targeting action in the energy sector, a murky (or hostile) federal landscape will only deepen calls for action in statehouses and city halls.

Despite the unclear future[2], we share a few things we’re thankful for this year. These policy plays prove it’s possible — at the local level — to overcome obstacles to renewable energy generation, local ownership, and widespread access to both.


Created by Nick Stumo-Langer[3]

Community Solar Policies

State-level community solar policies are paying off, expanding solar access to residents otherwise unable[4] to tap into renewable generation. Such projects are critical to reach renters and low-income households, in addition to homeowners with shaded roofs.

Though community solar installations continue to pop up nationwide, the East Coast is home to a few showpiece programs that model how to get community solar done. (more…)[5]

  1. influx of state-level ballot initiatives:
  2. unclear future:
  3. Nick Stumo-Langer:
  4. otherwise unable:
  5. (more…):

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Broadband Boosted at the Ballot, An Election Wrap-Up – Episode 5 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | November 17, 2016 12:00 pm

Welcome to episode five of the Building Local Power podcast[1]. For full transcript of the podcast click here[2].

In this episode, Chris Mitchell, the director of our Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews Lisa Gonzalez, Senior Researcher for the Community Broadband Networks initiative about the recent election and what it means for municipal broadband networks across the nation. In this podcast, Gonzalez delves into the election results coming out of Colorado regarding the two dozen communities who voted to reclaim their broadband connectivity future. 26 additional Colorado cities and counties opted out of a restrictive, cable monopoly-supported state law, passed in 2005, that prevents these entities from providing service or partnering with the private sector.

Chris and Lisa also discuss the general election results that brought Donald Trump to the presidency, specifically noting the impact that his ascension brings to local communities’ ability to provide Internet connectivity to their residents. The two also discuss the implications of a Trump presidency on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s mission of working across partisan lines in local communities.

“A lot of this has to do with just the fact that they want to have that control,” says Gonzalez of the Colorado communities who voted to be able to control their own broadband future. “They want to be the one to make the decisions for themselves.”


Here’s a map of the communities who have voted to reclaim their local authority:


For more information on the issues that Lisa and Chris discussed, read her piece on the Colorado vote: Colorado Voters Choose Local Control in 26 Communities[10]. You can follow the work of our Community Broadband initiative more closely by following[11]. (more…)[12]

  1. Building Local Power podcast:
  2. click here: #Transcript
  3. [Image]:
  4. Play in new window:
  5. Download:
  6. iTunes:
  7. Android:
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  9. [Image]:
  10. Colorado Voters Choose Local Control in 26 Communities:
  12. (more…):

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Going Beyond Candidates: Three State Initiatives That Could Change America

by David Morris | November 11, 2016 9:55 am

On November 8th citizens in 35 states vote[1] on 163 ballot initiatives. They cover a wide range of subjects (e.g. marijuana, minimum wage, taxes, gun control). To my mind, initiatives in three states—California on reducing drug prices, South Dakota on revamping its political system, and New Mexico on the inequitable use of bail– stand out as having a potentially broad national impact.

California Takes on Big Pharma

Californians will vote on a ballot initiative that requires state agencies to pay no more for any prescription drug than the lowest price paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for the same drug. It would apply to more than 1 million state and public university employees as well as 3 million Medicaid patients (although it would exclude 10 million Californians on managed care Medicaid plans.)

Pharma Exec[2] magazine warns its readers, passage of Proposition 61[3], “would shake the rafters of every single state drug program in the nation, as well as the federal Medicaid and Medicare programs.” It’s a warning well with heeding. Federal law entitles all state Medicaid programs to the lowest prescription drug prices available to most public and private payers in the U.S., excluding the VA. Medicaid discounts ordinarily are in the 20 percent range, but VA discounts[4] can be as high as 42 percent. Thus the California measure could extend the VA’s low drug prices to Medicaid programs serving tens of millions of additional people nationwide.

As of October 20, pharmaceutical companies had spent more than $109 million to defeat the measure compared to just $15 million for supporters. Nevertheless, the initiative appears headed to victory.

The pricing of drugs has become a national disgrace. Horror stories abound. Turing Pharmaceuticals purchased the rights to a generic AIDS drug and promptly raises its price from $13.50 to $750 a pill. According to Forbes[5], prices increased by 100 percent or more between 2013 and 2014, in 222 generic drug groups. Specialty drugs have become astronomically expensive. Reuters[6] reports that in 2014, annual medication costs of 139,000 Americans exceeded $100,000, nearly triple the number who reached that level a year earlier.

The pharmaceutical industry is astonishingly profitable. Median return on assets is more than double the rest of the Fortune 500, according[7] to Alfred Engelberg. The industry is awash in cash. Pfizer holds $74 billion in unrepatriated profits overseas and Merck holds $60 billion, enough to fund their respective annual research budgets for l0 years.

While the industry reaps the financial benefits, the taxpayer bears much of the financial cost. Some observers calculate that direct and indirect government support is such that private industry pays[8] only about a third of R&D costs. Pouring salt in he taxpayers’ wounds, the government gifts these largely publicly funded drugs long-term patent protection. Which is one reason, as the Washington Post[9] reports, drug companies focus on marketing, often spending $2 for marketing for every $1 spent on research.

Despite repeated scandals, the federal government has been unwilling or uninterested in stepping in. Congress hoots and hollers about the outrageous price hikes but specifically prohibits Medicare from negotiating with drug companies for price discounts. Federal law allows the government to unilaterally lower the price of drugs developed with government funds when a company is gouging customers, but the Administration so far has refused to wield this power. The government could also allow the import of less expensive equivalent drugs, but the Administration has refused to exercise this authority either.

Which leaves it up to the people to assert their own authority, in those states where this is possible. That’s what Californians have done. (more…)[10]

  1. vote:
  2. Pharma Exec:
  3. Proposition 61:,_Drug_Price_Standards_(2016)
  4. discounts:
  5. Forbes:
  6. Reuters:
  7. according:
  8. pays:
  9. Washington Post:
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Report: Inclusive Financing for Efficiency and Renewable Energy

by John Farrell | November 11, 2016 7:00 am


Download the Report[1]


Browse the Report

Executive Summary
A Huge Opportunity
     Challenges to Reaching Most Customers
     A Necessary Paradigm Shift
A Powerful Universal Tool: Inclusive Financing
     Program Design 
     Key Results
     Immediate Savings
     Universal Access
     Bigger Savings
     High Cost Recovery Rate
 A Time-Tested Tool
 Inclusive Financing in Practice

Executive Summary

Energy efficiency and renewables represent the most promising pathway to lower energy costs for individual consumers and utilities. Programs that help utility customers pursue home improvements, like better insulation or rooftop solar panels, can slash monthly utility bills and eliminate the need for utilities to add costly — and outdated — power and gas infrastructure. The upside is undeniable, with energy efficiency measures alone predicted to save customers $2 trillion by 2030. But limited access hinders progress. The best energy efficiency programs serve less than 2% of customers each year, and few reach the majority of a utility’s customers, including renters, customers without strong credit, and low- and moderate-income households, who pay disproportionately high energy bills.

Utilities can knock down major barriers to energy efficiency and renewables by allowing customers to make site-specific investments and recovering utility costs through an opt-in tariff. Tariffed on-bill programs are often referred to as inclusive financing because they allow all utility customers the option to access cost effective upgrades. Inclusive financing solves many of the problems dogging the push for a more sustainable, affordable, and equitable energy economy because, unlike loan-based programs, tariffed on-bill programs are open to all customers regardless of their income, credit score, or renter status.

The Opportunity:


  1. Download the Report:
  2. (more…):

Source URL:

As Trump Heads to White House, Lack of Actual Policy Threatens U.S. Energy Future

by Karlee Weinmann | November 9, 2016 12:00 pm

The U.S. energy economy faces unprecedented pressure to integrate clean and renewable fuel sources like wind and solar, but after a distracting 2016 presidential campaign sidelined energy policy, troubling and untenable gaps in the president-elect’s strategy remain unchecked.

In the run-up to Tuesday’s election, the lone flicker of interest in clean energy was promptly extinguished when Ken Bone, who raised the issue during the Oct. 9 town hall-style debate, became an Internet sensation known more for his red sweater than for probing the unknowns clouding the country’s energy future (we wrestled[1] with the answers).

Even as the U.S. tiptoes away from coal and grapples with environmental concerns, reporters and debate moderators sidestepped energy plans. Not unexpectedly, each candidate’s vision generally tracked with their party’s[2] overarching views[3]. But Donald Trump, even as he sits poised to take over the presidency, has yet to offer a comprehensive agenda.

Broadly speaking, the Republican has pledged to revert the U.S. energy economy back to coal and lift regulations on oil and gas production[4], erasing efforts by the Obama administration to bolster clean energy sources. He would repeal federal spending on clean energy, including wind and solar power. And Trump has also famously (and egregiously) claimed that climate change is a “hoax,”[5] diminishing a central political motivation for promoting clean energy.

Trump’s coal-centric vision veers sharply from Democrat Hillary Clinton’s proposed plan, which hinged on jump-starting the clean energy economy. The candidates shared a bit of common ground, though — through the campaign, neither addressed local ownership of energy, a touchstone[6] in the push to expand renewable generation left in flux after Trump’s election.



  1. we wrestled:
  2. their party’s:
  3. overarching views:
  4. lift regulations on oil and gas production:
  5. climate change is a “hoax,”:
  6. a touchstone:
  7. (more…):

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Colorado Voters Choose Local Control In 26 Communities

by Lisa Gonzalez | November 9, 2016 11:30 am

We didn’t need a crystal ball, magic potion, or ESP to predict that local Colorado voters would enthusiastically reclaim telecommunications authority yesterday. Twenty-six more local governments put the issue on the ballot and citizens fervently replied, “YES! YES, WE DO!”

Colorado local communities that want to take action to improve their local connectivity are hogtied by SB 152, the state law passed in 2005. Unless they hold a referendum and ask voters if they wish to reclaim the right to do so, the law prevents[1] local governments from providing service or partnering with the private sector. Since the big incumbents that pushed the law through aren’t providing necessary connectivity, their only choice is to opt out and work with new partners or move forward on their own. (more…)[2]

  2. (more…):

Source URL:

Powering a Political Revolution, North Dakota’s Non-Partisan League – Episode 4 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | November 3, 2016 12:00 pm

Update November 16, 2016: Full transcript[1] of this podcast is now available.

Welcome to the fourth episode of the Building Local Power podcast[2].

In this episode, Chris Mitchell, the director of our Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews David Morris, the co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the director of the Public Good initiative about the history behind North Dakota’s Non-Partisan League. In this podcast, Morris goes into detail on the League’s political influence and how their policies set North Dakota on a trajectory of local ownership and a tradition of fighting concentrated economic power. He also notes that North Dakotans are still fending off challenges from major banks and pharmaceutical chains, and that the tradition of local ownership is strong throughout the state.

nonpartisan-league[3]“This is an example of effective organizing that had an impact,” says Morris. “There are much more examples of that than there are top-down, ‘somebody created a great idea somewhere in Congress or the White House’ and they implemented it. It’s almost always pressure from the grassroots level that moves us forward.”


For more information on the issues that David and Chris discussed, read his piece on the Non-Partisan League: How to Make a Political Revolution[10], and our report on North Dakota’s independent pharmacy law: North Dakota’s Pharmacy Ownership Law Leads to Better Pharmacy Care[11].

If you missed the first couple episodes of our podcast you can find those conversations with Olivia LaVecchia here[12], Neil Seldman here[13], and John Farrell here[14]. Also to see all of our episodes make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power [15]Podcast Homepage[16].

Full Transcript of Podcast:

David Morris: This was an investment that they were making. It wasn’t a contribution to the betterment of the world. This was a personal investment.


Chris Mitchell: What are you going to have for lunch?


David Morris: I don’t know what I’m going to have for lunch. Probably a caesar salad, but I may splurge and have a hamburger, I have to ponder that.


Chris Mitchell: Today, I’m excited to be talking to David Morris, the co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. The guy who makes us all honest, in the office, otherwise I would be totally dishonest without your presence, I have to admit. Welcome to Building Local Power.


David Morris: Thank you, Chris, and thanks for the introduction.


Chris Mitchell: No problem. I just wanted to say that for people who are not familiar with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, it’s almost forty-three years, now. You’re a co-founder of it. I’m Chris Mitchell, I run the internet related work for the Institute. When I started here almost ten years ago, I didn’t really have a sense of what it would be like to work in an environment like this, but I am very impressed with how seriously you take empirical research, and the truth over just ideology. It’s something that I’ve been inspired by.


David Morris: Thank you. I believe in evidence based ideology.


Chris Mitchell: Right. Today, we’re going to talk, it’s election season. We’re going to talk today about this populist uprising in North Dakota, and the reason that I find it very interesting is not just that it’s led to almost a hundred years of change, and set the tone for North Dakota, but that people don’t really know about it. Stacy Mitchell, one of our colleagues, incredible mind, here, she believes that the reason people aren’t familiar with it is that liberals don’t want to talk about North Dakota, and that conservatives don’t like the reforms, because they involve the government doing good things. That’s why we’re going to talk about it. What is your interest in talking about this? How would you describe it?


David Morris: My interest is that it came out of a certain period of American history, which in some ways is being repeated, in some ways it’s not, because it was a hundred and twenty years ago, but nevertheless, it was a time where people were not only concerned about inequality, but were tackling it, people were very concerned of big corporations. People were very concerned about how big corporations in cities were dominating farmers. There were depressions every ten years in the United States, and there were movements, there was the populous movement, which was also a party, there was the peoples party, there were the progressives, and what they were trying to do was to make structural reform. That’s the context, if you will, out of which the North Dakota political revolution happened.


Chris Mitchell: I just think it’s worth noting for people who haven’t studied the history, this wasn’t just sort of a secular thing, this was the first time we had corporations on the scale that they were, and I think, right now, we probably have corporations on a scale that we have not seen, the power of a single corporation to enact its will is not unparalleled, perhaps, but it’s near the peak, it seems like. Then, and now.


David Morris: That’s exactly right. In the late nineteen century is when your little businesses became industries, your industries became large manufacturing firms, and you large manufacturing firms consolidated into what they call trusts, what a interesting word, so now when we want to break them up we have to call ourselves, antitrust, I ask you, but in the late nineteen century you literally had industries where you had one dominant firm in each industry, and you had state legislatures, which were controlled by the corporations. It was similar to now. Those corporations were smaller in size, certainly, than those in 2016, but their power was probably even greater.


Chris Mitchell: Although, as you say that, I have to immediately think you have oil, and then a few decades later you have standard oil controlling all of it. Right? I mean, oil wasn’t out of the ground, hydrocarbon oil, not whale oil, and eventually any standard oil takes over everything. Now, we have the internet, Facebook, and Google kind of have taken over everything. I think as we talk about what happened in North Dakota, it’s important to recognize that some of the things we just take for granted, the power of Google, and Facebook, I think are very analogous to what we saw with, what people are reacting to there.


David Morris: I think that, that’s very true. In North Dakota, the farmers, we’re talking about primarily an agricultural state then, and now, but then it was about 90%, agriculture, and the farmers knew that they were a colony of Minneapolis, which is where we’re conducting this interview. Their railroads were controlled by Hill, who was based in Saint Paul, and he …


Chris Mitchell: There’s a wonderful house you can tour there, still.


David Morris: Yes. A wonderful house. A house where it’s lit by both gas, and electricity, he wasn’t exactly sure what the future was going to bring, and he had his own power plant.


Chris Mitchell: He was diversified. Let’s dig into North Dakota. In North Dakota you are wrestling with these issues, where do you want to start with, what they did?


David Morris: The initial thing that they did is they came together, the farmers, and they said, “We want to cooperatively owned, what they call a terminal elevator, which is essentially a mill, and a storage facility, and we would drop off you grain, and cooperatives were a big deal in the late nineteen century in rural areas, so they wanted that. In 1913, in North Dakota, they adopted initiative systems, which meant basically if you got enough signatures on a petition you could put something on the ballot, and you could essentially pass a statute.


In this case, they did in 1913, 1914, actually they passed an initiative that said we want a grain elevator, but the legislature had to then make that law, their initiative process was enabling, but not determinants, if you will. The next January, January of 1915 the legislature reported back that it would be catastrophe if they did such a thing, that it shouldn’t be done, and it wouldn’t be done. Two months later, two former socialist party candidates decided that they would create a new party. It would be called the nonpartisan league, that is it would not be a political party that had a label, that ran it’s own candidates on the line on the ballot.


What it would do is it would endorse anyone who endorsed their program. Their program would be very concrete and very specific. One other factor, that is important, here is that in 1905, North Dakota adopted an open primary system. Now, the progressive league had essentially introduced primaries around the country as a way to avoid the backroom deals of political parties. It was a fresh air time to enable democracy, North Dakota went one step further and said there would be an open primary, which essentially meant that anybody could vote in any primary. You didn’t have to be a democrat to vote in the democratic primary, and so forth.


The nonpartisan league took advantage of that, and essentially it established it’s first convention in March of 2016, it endorsed candidates who would support their program, and their program was very concrete. It wasn’t a 2016 program, which essentially said, “We will help the small businesses, and we will help the poor, and we will help the this,” very concrete. It said, “We’re going to have a state owned flour mill. We are going to have state owned bank. We are going to have a state owned insurance company.” There were about five or six specific planks, that was March of 2016.


Chris Mitchell: Yeah. Let’s just pause for a second. They wanted all this stuff to be state owned, because they didn’t want it to be controlled out of Minneapolis?


David Morris: That’s right. They wanted to be able to control it themselves, and they felt that the state would be an enabling mechanism for this. Now, we should understand that they weren’t talking about state monopolies, they were talking about if you want to use 2016 jargon, they were talking about public options.


Chris Mitchell: Mm-hmm (affirmative).


David Morris: In other words, they wanted a state bank, but that didn’t mean that all the banks were going to be eliminated in North Dakota, in fact, when they did get a state bank, it was an enabling bank, it didn’t provide direct loans, it was a partnership bank with the existing small banks in Minnesota. Same thing with the flour mill, not the only one that exists in North Dakota, but they wanted an option, and an option, which would be either owned directly by them, as cooperatives or that would be owned indirectly by them, by the state.


Chris Mitchell: I think it’s worth noting. That this public option it’s not just like, and then you have a state owned bank, I think it impacts the entire ecosystem, where then all of the entities that are playing there have to offer better products, better services for the most part.


David Morris: Absolutely. I mean, what you do is, it’s not so much that you engender competition into the marketplace as that you engender effective, genuine competition. This is competition by an institution that is owned directly or indirectly by the citizens, and by the customers. This is an institution that’s nonprofit, it’s not profit oriented, this is an institution that has a social mission, but it also has to compete with the private marketplace, if you will. It goes both ways in terms of competition. It’s a very, very effective tool in American history, but North Dakota took that tool, and made it the central part of it’s economy.


In March of 1916, the nonpartisan league had, actually, it’s second political convention, it endorsed candidates that embraced it’s program. In June of 2016, they ran in the republican primary and took over, essentially the republican party, which then, as now, has a lock on North Dakota, it is a republican state, the nonpartisan league in November of 1916, literally took over the state, in terms of all state elections. They did not take over the senate, but they took over the house. They then, tried to pass a legislative program, and what they found was what they needed a constitution amendment that would allow the state to participate in business. In other words, they had to, if you want to use 2016 language, again, is that they wanted permission to go socialists.


Chris Mitchell: Sure.


David Morris: They had the votes to do that in the house, but not in the senate, and the next election they won the senate, as well. Winning the senate, as well, they got the Constitutional Amendment passed by initiative that allow the state to participate in business. With that, sort of opening the dam, they got a grain elevator, they got a bank, they actually put ten initiatives on the ballot, all ten won. Now, you have a completely different structure to the economy of North Dakota.


Chris Mitchell: Can I ask, and I just have to wonder, what was the rest of the republican party thinking around the country as the republican party in North Dakota is enacting these changes?


David Morris: I don’t know what they were thinking, but we need to remember that this was a moment that the populous movement got the income tax passed, the supreme court declared it unconstitutional, this was a moment where people were busy amending the US Constitution, so they could allow that to happen. People were getting direct election of US senators, at this point, by an amendment to the Constitution, there were antitrust legislation that was passed, there was a lot of things going on.


Chris Mitchell: Okay.


David Morris: I don’t think, necessarily that the republican party viewed this in the same way as they would, there was no social media at that time. This was not a moment where I think that they saw this as a political earthquake, however, within North Dakota, they did see it as a political earthquake, and there was a push back, and what they did, among other things, the nonpartisan league was to make it easier to get initiatives on the ballot. To make those initiatives be stronger in terms of their implementation and then they also passed a law that said that initiatives could recall elected officials. They were the first in the country to do such a thing.


Chris Mitchell: I’m sensing that this might be an agent of their demise.


David Morris: It was the agent of their destruction, actually, because there was an opposition, and it  was an opposition that arouse for a number of different reasons that we can talk about, if you are interested, but within two years, 1921, that opposition essentially recalled every official that the nonpartisan league had elected on a statewide basis.


Chris Mitchell: Why had the popular tides swung against them?


David Morris: One of the things was that they overreached in the sense that they were elected on specific program, and they were beginning to do things that were beyond that program. The second thing is that the price of wheat dropped by 70%, after World War I ended, by 1921, by 70%, so there was a significant dissatisfaction as tends to happen when economies collapse. The third is that when the war ended this thing called the Russian revolution occurred, and therefore the anti Bolshevik, you were communist, and so forth, in fact, the leader of the, the founder of the nonpartisan league, a man named Townley, was actually arrested indited, and tried in Minnesota for preaching sedition, essentially. It was a state anti sedition act, and so the combination of those three things essentially did them in.


What was interesting was that, so the opposition took over, and the opposition put, I cannot remember, I believe it was ten items on the ballot for initiatives to essentially overturn, get rid of the bank, I mean so it was essentially to completely strip, and lost every one of them. Not by much, it was close, two thousand vote shift, and the bank of North Dakota would have disappeared, would have been stillborn, essentially. It was still in the process of being created.


The point is that the nonpartisan league had done enough good basic organizing, and educating, and doing in terms of enacting, that people, although the didn’t like them personally, for a number of different reasons, they didn’t want that program, that structure to go away. That’s really the most important point, if you will, of the nonpartisan league, because that’s the spirit, the value system, in fact, that continued, that endured. The political structure was gone by 1921, it was essentially gone, the party continued for about ten more years with the movement, the formal movement continued for about ten more years. The sentiment continued, so in 1933, they passed a Constitutional Amendment that prohibited corporations from owning land.


Then in 1963, they passed a law, I’m not sure it was a Constitutional Amendment, it might have been, that said that the pharmacies had to be owned by a registered pharmacist, in other words there couldn’t be chain pharmacies. They put that in, and a number of other things that they passed, and now if we want to go fast forward to the current time, there’s been a push back of all of those, and in fact there have been three. First there was two legislative efforts to overturn the pharmacy provision, by Walmart, and Walgreen’s, and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance was involved in that at the legislative level in providing the data that convinced the legislature to not to approve those. Then, Walmart spent nine million dollars to get it on the ballot, and lost by two to one on the ballot, and that was in 2014. Then, last year, there was a major effort to overturn that 1933 prohibition on corporations owning farm land, and that lost, significantly. We still have that value system from a hundred years ago.


Chris Mitchell: I think it’s worth making sure people are aware that the resources we put together on the pharmacies, for instance, is all available on our website. I hope people check it out, because for me it’s very fascinating to see that any thought you might have that Walgreen’s, and Walmart bringing economies of scale would lower drug prices, rather than having independently owned pharmacies is not true, and it’s not born out by the data.


David Morris: No. It’s not born out by the data, in fact, we did a study, which we submitted to the legislature that compared North Dakota, and South Dakota in terms of pharmacies and found out that North Dakota has many more pharmacies in rural areas. We did a study and compared prices, actually, between the Walmart’s and the family owned pharmacies in North Dakota, and found that they were lower in price. That on any measure that you would use to compare pharmacies, they came out better, and there are of course more pharmacies per capita in North Dakota than there are in South Dakota. It really has been a very, very compelling, they couldn’t get it through the legislature, they lost overwhelming there, and that’s where essentially the peoples representatives are, then they lost on the ballot. The people like it, and it really is a good structure. Similarly, we’ve done studies of the impact of the Bank of North Dakota.


Chris Mitchell: This is what I’m really interested in. If the bank had been cancelled out, way back when, how would North Dakota be different?


David Morris: When the bank first set up, when it first opened its doors in 1921, the interest rates that were charged to farmers on farm loans, dropped by one-third, it had an immediate impact. Also, the bank of North Dakota in 1930s was not interested in taking over peoples farm land. There were foreclosures because there were private mortgages, but essentially the state was not interested in doing that. If you fast forward to 2016, the Bank of North Dakota, which let’s call it, it is a socialist institution, has enabled the capitalist system to be much more healthy in that the banks sent in North Dakota, and there are more banks in North Dakota, than there are in any other part of the country, and they are family owned banks, 83% of the deposits are in essentially community banks, and they have a return on their assets, which is almost twice that, 50% more than in the big banks.


By any measure it has enabled a very healthy economy, significant majority of student loans are given through the bank, and the small business loans are primarily given through the bank. If you look nationwide, and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has all that data on our website, as well. If you look nationwide, you find that the small business loans are coming from small banks, they’re not coming from big banks, the student loans are coming from small banks, they’re not coming from big banks. What big banks do is to provide the loans that would allow AT&T to decide that it wants to take over Time Warner, and they get involved in international trading, and they picked around the derivatives in the like, but if your small banks that actually do what people thought banks were supposed to do all along.


Chris Mitchell: Right. Here, we talk often on my internet program related stuff, about US Internet, here in Minneapolis, financed by local banks to get back to North Dakota and to put a bow around it. I think, also North Dakota did better in the housing crisis, and the most recent recession of 2007 through, however long you want to date it. Is that right?


David Morris: That’s right. The Bank of North Dakota has generated, I think, in the last 20 years or less than that a billion dollars in quote profits, which half of it went into the state. In 2007, 2008, North Dakota suffered much less than the rest of the country. Now, there’s a kicker, here, in that with fracking there’s an enormous amount of oil that was discovered in North Dakota, so you have to uncouple that from a nonpartisan league. From the Bank of North Dakota, they have a surplus in their budget, and certainly what has happened in the last six or seven years is essentially more to the fact that they have this enormous revenue coming from oil. However, that is temporary, and already the oil prices have been reduced, there’s less drilling, there’s less pumping than there has been before North Dakota now, I believe, this year, has a deficit and they’re having to deal with the fact that they didn’t plan very well. It’s the nonpartisan league was not in control in North Dakota when the oil came in, let’s just say that.


Chris Mitchell: I think as we wrap this up, I think, lessons for today are important, and one of them that I takeaway is this idea of talking to people on concrete issues, rather than abstract notions of capitalism, socialism, or this, or that, it’s kind of like, here’s a solution, it’s a policy solution, it’s a state bank, and here’s what it’s going to do for you, and you said concrete maybe five times in talking about the nonpartisan league. Do you think that the lessons from the nonpartisan league can help us to organize today in a time where we’re perceived to be more partisan than ever?


David Morris: Yes. I think, absolutely. I mean one thing that the nonpartisan league did was require membership dues that were very stiff. They were very stiff. They were about two percent of peoples income.


Chris Mitchell: Wow.


David Morris: These were poor farmers, really. Right? Yet, by 1915, very early on forty thousand out of six hundred thousand people in the state were members, so that’s how they got their revenue, and how did they get that revenue? By going to the farmers and looking them in the eye, and saying, “This is an investment, because this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to get you a state owned grain mill, grain and flour mill. As a result you are not going to be having your grain degraded, because it’s owned by a Minneapolis firm. You do not have to pay the truck, the railroad fees to get it to Minneapolis to be turned into flour.” Farmers are smart, they can do that, but on a back of an envelope, they can figure out, so this was an investment that they were making, it wasn’t a contribution to the betterment of the world, this was a personal investment.


I think that people can in fact do that, now, in terms of being very concrete. There is some things that we couldn’t do that about, but I think that if we could colorless on sort of half a dozen very concrete institutions, if you will, or laws, or statutes, or policies that we would embrace, we could then go out and we could sell those very specifically, and I think that, that’s important. The other thing that is important is for us to understand how important primaries are. The Tea Party discovered how important primaries were and they took over the republican party not through the open primary process, they literally went into the republican party and took it over at the primary level. We tend to wait until the general election, but because we wait until the general election, we don’t, sometimes we don’t have a choice that we would like to have, and we never really have a choice about specific planks of a program.


Chris Mitchell: Thank you, so much, for coming in, and talking about this. I feel like this isn’t one of those issues that could disappear from history. I hope that we can make sure that, that doesn’t happen, because you might think state bank, some of these issues are kind of yesterday’s issue, but this is the effective organizing that makes a difference. These are the minor changes that can make a difference in a state decade in, decade out. It seems to me.


David Morris: Yes. Absolutely. I mean, this is an example of effective organizing that had an impact. There are many examples in American history of effective organizing that had an impact. In fact, there are much more examples of that than there topped down, somebody created a great idea, somewhere in congress, or the white house, and they implemented it. It’s almost always pressure from the grassroots level, that moves us forward.


Chris Mitchell: We’ll be talking about more of those in the future, as we continue to build local power. Thank you.


David Morris: Thank you, Chris.


Lisa Gonzalez : That was David Morris, co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and the man behind the public good initiative. He was visiting with Chris Mitchell for episode number four of our Building Local Power Podcast. Learn more about the nonpartisan league on, by reading David’s article titled, How to Make a Political Revolution. You can also download the 2014 report on North Dakota’s pharmacy ownership law at Subscribe to this podcast, and all the podcasts in the ilsr podcast family on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get you podcasts, never miss out on our original research by also subscribing to our monthly newsletter at Thanks to Dysfunction Al, for the music, license through Creative Comments. The song is Funk Interlude. I’m Lisa Gonzalez, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Thanks, again, for listening to the Building Local Power Podcast.


Audio Credit: Funk Interlude[17] by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0)[18] license.

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Vote for the White House Kitchen Garden

by Linda Bilsens | October 31, 2016 4:15 pm

On a chilly day in late-February, my husband and I received an unexpected visitor[1] to our backyard: First Lady Michelle Obama. We are deeply honored that the First Lady chose our family’s garden (along with a couple of local schools) to act as the launchpad of her Let’s Move! Initiative[2]. The initiative has succeeded in bringing the connection between gardening, homegrown food, and an active, healthy lifestyle into the national spotlight, and it is thought to represent the largest single impact the Obama Administration has had on food issues[3].

To our great surprise, the First Lady was as excited to see our compost system, which we use to recycle our food and garden scraps, as we were to show it to her. We discussed the critical role of composting in minimizing the waste our family creates and maintaining the health of our garden’s soil while the First Lady sifted our compost! After the filming ended, we continued discussing our garden, our compost, and the First Lady’s hopes for the future of the Let’s Move! Initiative. Before departing with her large entourage, as a reciprocation to her visit and as is common courtesy among gardeners, she invited us to tour her own garden at the White House.


Months later, when the growing season was in full bloom, we were hosted at the White House and were blown away with the beauty, bounty and elegance of the First Lady’s White House Kitchen Garden[4]. What we saw were dozens of varieties of vegetables, fruits and herbs, all artfully companioned to grow in succession so that something is always ready for harvest — it is clear that a staff of skilled growers is working behind the scenes there. (more…)[5]

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A Massachusetts Co-op Makes A Powerful Vintage

by Karlee Weinmann | October 31, 2016 6:00 am

placeholderFor more than five years, Vineyard Power Cooperative[1] has provided electricity customers living in one of Massachusetts’ best-known island communities the chance to buy into an energy future that favors renewables and bolsters their local economy.


This is part of a series released in October 2016 for Energy Awareness Month highlighting

communities and community energy projects on ILSR’s Community Power Map[2].

Vineyard Power serves the small resort island of Martha’s Vineyard, planted off of Cape Cod and famous for drawing well-heeled visitors during summer months. But those who live in the resort area year-round are known for their deep emphasis on community and civic engagement, values reflected in their push for a diverse energy mix.

Owners Not Just Customers

Since it launched in 2009, Vineyard Power has welcomed more than 1,300 community members to its rolls. The cooperative structure means those “customers” don’t merely buy electricity — instead, they are member-owners with an ownership stake in Vineyard Power and a say over its strategic direction. That’s a distinctly different approach[3] from the investor-owned utilities in town.

Leveraging its community-owned cooperative structure, Vineyard Power set out specifically to promote generation from renewable resources on the island. Historically, Martha’s Vineyard has imported virtually all of its energy[4] through undersea cables or by boat — an expensive and unreliable process.

Vineyard Power joins some other enterprising electric co-ops that have emerged as frontrunners in serving member-owners hungry for renewables — in some cases to match their values and in others to drive down costs. Farmers Electric Cooperative[5], which serves a handful of rural farming communities in rural Iowa, for example, is considered a national leader[6] in solar power.

A Competitive Cooperative

Vineyard Power’s business deviates a bit from traditional electric cooperatives. It generates revenue in part through membership fees, but mostly through direct retail energy sales[7] to its member-owners in a competitive retail market. As a nonprofit, it redistributes any net gains into energy savings programs or new generation projects designed to increase cost savings for member-owners.

Unlike other utilities, it doesn’t enjoy the government’s guarantee of a monopoly service territory.  That distinction means Vineyard Power’s success hinges much more directly on its ability to match community needs and values — something cooperatives, rooted in democratic control[8], supports.

The model separates Vineyard Power from investor-owned utilities that often shortchange their customers by leaning on an outdated profit model[9]: selling more power and building fossil fuel-burning plants, despite technology that makes in-demand renewables a more viable choice than ever.

Tapping the Sun and Wind, and Smart Use

The price of installing solar panels, for example, plunged in recent years[10] to historic lows. Lower costs have helped Vineyard Power and its member owners install solar arrays on parking lots and capped landfills — about 300 kilowatts of generation capacity to date.

Vineyard Power has planned to integrate offshore wind power into its portfolio. Aligning with a new requirement[11] for Massachusetts’ investor-owned utilities to buy up to 1,600 MW of offshore wind power over the next decade, the cooperative solidified its partnership[12] with a Danish group that holds the lease to windy areas in the Atlantic near the island.

In addition, Vineyard Power is exploring smart grid technology[13], which better links energy users to energy sources, to boost energy efficiency. Through a pilot project, more than three dozen member-owners received access to a web portal that allows them to more closely monitor energy use. At the same time, some replaced appliances[14] with smart, energy-efficient models, allowing the cooperative to experiment with demand response strategies[15] by adjusting when those appliances run to avoid periods of peak energy use[16].

Guiding Vineyard Power is the idea that communities thrive when they chart their own futures — “Our Island, Our Energy” is emblazoned on its original logo[17]. It offers residents an alternative to

investor-owned utilities, which have a wider-reaching service areas and can still cash in even when customers get a raw deal.

The cooperative’s success hinges instead on its ability to match member-owners’ needs and expectations, and for now, that means finding news ways to save energy and promote the growth of local renewable energy.

To learn more about the national movement toward distributed generation and renewables, visit ILSR’s interactive Community Power Map[2]. The tool showcases programming, policies and projects across the U.S., and compares state-by-state performance. Bookmark it and check back for updates.

This article originally posted at[18]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[19] or get the Energy Democracy weekly[20] update.

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Movie Monster Madness At MuniNetworks! Internet Terror Triple Feature!

by Lisa Gonzalez | October 28, 2016 12:00 pm

Much like the the bone-chilling flicks celebrating eerie entertainment that dwells in the depths of our dark imaginations, monster cable and DSL Internet service providers strike terror in the hearts of subscribers…if they survive. Mesmerizing fees, hair-raising customer service, and shockingly slow connections can drive one to the brink of madness.

In celebration of Halloween 2016, our writers each selected a national ISP and reimagined it as a classic horror character. The results are horrifying! Read them here…if you dare!

frankenmerger-attAT&T’s Frankenmerger

by Kate Svitavsky, Broadband Intern

This shocking film tells the horrific tale of a mad scientist in his quest to create the world’s largest telecommunications monopoly monster. The scientist’s abomination runs amok, gobbling up company after company, to create a horrifying monster conglomerate. Watch the monster terrorize towns across America as it imposes data caps[1], denies people access[2] to low-cost programs, and refuses to upgrade infrastructure[3]. What nightmare lies ahead? Will the townsfolk and their elected officials unite to stop the monster, before it acquires Time Warner? Watch and find out!

mummy-last-centurylinkThe Mummy From Last CenturyLink

by Scott Carlson[4], Broadband Research Associate

Archaeologists unearth the Last CenturyLink Mummy from a rural field of copper wires. Townspeople put the Mummy on display in Hard Luck City Hall. Little do they know the Last CenturyLink Mummy was once Pharaoh of DSL (Dreadfully Slow Line) service. Long ago, he was cursed by subscribers[5] and doomed to remain in the slumber of purgatory, much like the DSL Internet access they endured. He awakes when he hears the City Council talk of launching a muni fiber network and summons his zombie lobbyist worshippers[6]. Will the brave people of Hard Luck prevail against Last CenturyLink Mummy and his lobbyists from beyond the grave? Will Hard Luck finally get the Internet connectivity they need to banish last century technology forever? (more…)[7]

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  2. denies people access:
  3. refuses to upgrade infrastructure:
  4. Scott Carlson:
  5. cursed by subscribers:
  6. zombie lobbyist worshippers:
  7. (more…):

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RePower Madison Challenges Old Electric Monopoly Model

by Karlee Weinmann | October 28, 2016 6:00 am

placeholderAn unconventional approach to grassroots organizing in Wisconsin’s capital city has in recent years tipped incumbent utility Madison Gas & Electric (MGE) toward policies that favor consumers and renewables, a distinct shift in a state held back for years by entrenched monopolies with outdated business plans.


This is part of a series released in October 2016 for Energy Awareness Month highlighting

communities and community energy projects on ILSR’s Community Power Map[1].

RePower Madison[2], a local nonprofit whose mission is to give citizens more flex in the energy economy, led the fight. While state-level efforts failed in front of utility-controlled regulators and an unhelpful legislature, RePower quietly emerged as a pioneer in the fight to grow local power and push MGE away from an archaic business model hinged on building new power plants and selling more electricity.

That outdated model doesn’t sync with a marketplace where renewable energy, including wind and solar power, is more abundant and less costly than ever before. RePower Madison and its allies are making progress, thanks in large part to a strategy that brings the clean energy debate straight to the heart of an investor-owned utility: its boardroom.

Photo Credit: Mitch Brey

Activist Shareholders Take Charge

A RePower Madison report released last year[3] showed that MGE sourced roughly 70% of its power from coal, and that its rates were among the highest of any Wisconsin utility. The organization helped to rally shareholders[4] around better policies that support cost savings for customers and greater clean power capacity.

Once a year, the utility’s investors can propose changes to how the company does business, forcing accountability on utility brass and fostering a more public conversation about its strategy.

This boardroom influence puts weight behind clean power proponents who have picketed the shareholder meetings in recent years. Roughly 1,800 people attended MGE’s annual summit last year, where shareholders pressured the utility to sharpen its focus on clean power.

Across virtually all major economic sectors, “activist investors[5]” have elbowed their way into boardrooms clamoring for strategic overhauls during shareholder meetings. When the Madison utility proposed to saddle customers [6]with a substantial across-the-board fee hike in 2014, RePower Madison used the annual get-together to make waves that reverberated across the power sector.

A coalition of investors interested in restoring customer control and keeping costs down used their stake in the utility to force an overhaul of that plan. While MGE had planned to pump up monthly fixed fees from around $10 to nearly $70 over a few years[7], shareholder blowback derailed the plan. The opposition reduced the monthly fee to $19 and created opportunities for customers to offer feedback[8] through several dozen “community conversations”[9] held last year.

Last year, RePower Madison again proved boardroom leverage is a powerful tool to influence investor-owned utilities. The group’s 2015 push united investors in a call for greater accountability as MGE shapes its energy policy.

Together, they urged MGE to shift away from dirty power[10] — it held stakes in multiple coal-fired plants — and flesh out its portfolio with renewables. Ultimately, MGE agreed to a compromise with a pledge to explore alternatives and see whether it could source a quarter of its electricity with renewables by 2025. If successful, this would match state renewable requirements in many states, including neighboring Minnesota.

RePower Madison’s twist on shareholder activism is just one piece of its multi-pronged approach to improving Wisconsin’s clean energy economy. The organization also focuses on maximizing community input on utility policy and educating the public[11] on the pitfalls of dirty power.

Distributed Generation in the Crosshairs

The organization’s actions come at a time when Wisconsin’s most prominent investor-owned utilities — including MGE and We Energies, which serves Milwaukee — have been slow to adopt policies that align with greater demand for renewables and long-range sustainability.

Despite substantially chipping away at the fixed fee proposal, the increase still stung distributed generation. Similar fee hikes across the country[12] threaten rooftop solar, skewing the cost-benefit calculus for such projects. Fixed fees amplify the cost burden even for customers who reduce their energy use or integrate renewables — both moves that ease strain on the grid and give customers more control over their electricity.

Due to increased scrutiny, MGE has made some improvements to its renewables strategy[13]. Last year, the utility touted a series of initiatives, including sourcing 30% of its power from renewable sources by 2030 and planning for a 500 kW community solar project in a Madison suburb.

Gary Wolter, MGE’s chairman and CEO, echoed clean power advocates when he discussed the project with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Challenging traditional utility values, he showcased that the community solar array will feed power back onto the grid and allow more customers to buy locally generated power.

“Importantly, it will give customers, some of whom could never install solar generation themselves, the opportunity to benefit from renewable energy,” he told the paper[14]. The project, expected to serve 250 subscribers, notched approval from state regulators earlier this year.

Still, one community solar project representing a fraction of total energy production will do little by itself to shift power to customers, especially when locally owned.

The utility reported that “a significant majority[15]” of customers surveyed through its community meetings said it was important to them to have more control over their energy use. It committed to develop products and services to support that, potentially including additional community solar and pricing options that reward electric vehicle owners for off-peak charging.

But advocates say it remains to be seen[16] exactly how much and how effectively the utility will factor consumers into its plans.

Madison Redoubles Pressure on MGE

The utility’s playbook — specifically its reluctance to adopt transformative clean energy reforms — defies the city’s longtime focus on sustainability. More than a decade ago, Madison ushered in the Sustainable Madison Committee[17], a body formed within City Hall to spearhead green design and sensible energy policy.

One of the committee’s most notable actions was a developing a plan to push Madison to the forefront of energy innovation.

In June, the City Council adopted an ambitious framework[18] — backed by RePower Madison — that calls for an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 and a 50 percent reduction in energy consumption by 2030.

As part of the plan, MGE agreed to supply 30% of its retail electric sales with renewables by 2030, with 25% of its retail electric sales covered with renewables by 2025.

Achieving that goal will require substantial cooperation between the city and MGE, though the two have not solidified many specific plans for a partnership. So far, the joint effort does not go as far as Minneapolis’ first-of-its-kind Clean Energy Partnership[19], a formalized union between the city and the incumbent gas and electric utilities to further aggressive climate goals.

To date, Madison has said it will work with MGE to broaden customer access to renewables and energy efficiency. For its part, the city will launch a Property Assessed Clean Energy program[20] to promote energy efficiency, and log city-owned properties that could install rooftop solar.

The MGE solar farm lines up with that broader vision, though its output remains relatively paltry. The project could, however, stir complementary grid upgrades[21] to accommodate smart meters and rate design that rewards customers for shifting energy use to off-peak times. An existing utility-run program, Green Power Tomorrow[22], charges customers who opt in a premium for clean power (a practice that defies the low cost of clean power[23]).

“MGE staff are looking forward to working with city representatives to determine how we can partner and where we can advance common interests,” MGE’s Wolter said in a July statement[24]. “The work plan presents a valuable opportunity for the city and MGE to continue working collaboratively toward our shared goals of reducing carbon emissions, increasing renewables and deepening community engagement on energy issues.”

But while the city-led initiative redoubles pressure on the utility to cooperate on clean energy goals, RePower Madison remains committed to its core mission: pressing for deeper changes at the utility that favor renewable generation and community control. Mitch Brey, the organization’s campaign manager, told Midwest Energy News[25] that delivering results will be key.

“There is always more that can be done and I’m hoping the city will not stop after they’ve passed this,” he told the news site. “It’s a start, and it’s clearly a clean energy victory and a victory for everyone in Madison.”

To learn more about the national movement toward distributed generation and renewables, visit ILSR’s interactive Community Power Map[1]. The tool showcases programming, policies and projects across the U.S., and compares state-by-state performance. Bookmark it and check back for updates.

This article originally posted at[26]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[27] or get the Energy Democracy weekly[28] updates. Photo Credit: Mitch Brey[29]

  1. Community Power Map:
  2. RePower Madison:
  3. RePower Madison report released last year:
  4. rally shareholders:
  5. activist investors:
  6. proposed to saddle customers :
  7. to nearly $70 over a few years:
  8. for customers to offer feedback:
  9. several dozen “community conversations”:
  10. urged MGE to shift away from dirty power:
  11. educating the public:
  12. fee hikes across the country:
  13. made some improvements to its renewables strategy:
  14. he told the paper:
  15. a significant majority:
  16. remains to be seen:
  17. Sustainable Madison Committee:
  18. an ambitious framework:
  19. first-of-its-kind Clean Energy Partnership:
  20. Property Assessed Clean Energy program:
  21. stir complementary grid upgrades:
  22. Green Power Tomorrow:
  23. defies the low cost of clean power:
  24. in a July statement:
  25. told Midwest Energy News:
  27. Twitter:
  28. Energy Democracy weekly:
  29. Mitch Brey:

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Google Fiber Pauses – But No One Else Should

by Christopher | October 27, 2016 4:30 pm

Google Fiber has finally announced its plans[1] for the future after weeks of dramatic speculation that it will lay off half its workforce and give up on fiber-optics entirely. Google has now confirmed our expectations: they are pausing new Google Fiber cities, continuing to expand within those where they have a presence, and focusing on approaches that will offer a better return on investment in the short term.

Nothing Worth Doing Is Easy

In short, Google has found it more difficult than they anticipated to deploy rapidly and at low cost. And in discussions with various people, we think it can be summed up in this way: building fiber-optic networks is challenging and incumbents have an arsenal of dirty tricks to make it even more so, especially by slowing down access to poles.

That said, Google is not abandoning its efforts to drive better Internet access across the country. In the short term, people living in modern apartment buildings and condos will be the greatest beneficiary as Google takes the Webpass model[2] and expands it to more cities. But those that hoped (or feared) Google would rapidly build Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) across the country are likely disappointed (or slightly relieved, if they happen to be big incumbent providers).

This is a good moment to talk about the lessons learned from Google Fiber and what we think communities should be thinking about.

Let’s start by noting something we have often said: Google Fiber and its larger “access” approach have been incredibly beneficial for everyone except the big monopolists. Its investments led to far more media coverage of Internet access issues and made local leaders better understand what would be possible after we dismantle the cable broadband monopoly.

Benoit Felton, a sharp international telecommunications analyst wrote a very good summary of Google Fiber titled Salvaging Google Fiber’s Achievements[3]. Some of my thoughts below overlap his – but his piece touches on matters I won’t address, so please check out his analysis.

I want to focus on a few key points.

This is Not a Surprise

utility-pole-1Google is a private firm that has a fiduciary responsibility to maximize returns for its shareholders. More to the point, so is Alphabet, which houses Google Fiber. Google’s interest in fiber was not solely pulling revenue out of the network in the same way that Comcast, AT&T, and others do. They wanted to maximize good Internet access to get more people to use the Internet more and thereby increase the value of their ad business. That is why they have been more consumer-friendly in many ways than the big cable and telephone companies. Google believes it wins even when it simply forces other providers to upgrade their networks. (more…)[4]

  1. finally announced its plans:
  2. Webpass model:
  3. Salvaging Google Fiber’s Achievements: //">
  4. (more…):

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A Deep Dive to Answer Ken Bone’s Energy Question

by John Farrell | October 27, 2016 9:45 am

placeholderAt the second presidential candidate debate, one red-sweater-wearing American earned notoriety for his question about little-discussed energy policy. The question deserved a thorough response, given that it brushes on some myths of the clean energy transition but also the challenge of guaranteeing justice for displaced workers.

Midwesterner Ken Bone asked this question:

What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs, while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?

Ken Bone

Credit: Washington Post[1]

There’s a few items to unpack here:

  1. That energy policy must help meet our energy needs
  2. That energy policy should be environmentally friendly
  3. That we should minimize job losses for workers in fossil fuel power plants (and the fossil fuel energy industry more broadly)

Meeting the needs of the energy system is a basic issue of supply and demand, but what many Americans may not realize is that the options for supply are rapidly changing and that we have many new tools to manage demand as a way to meet our needs.

Meeting Needs with Supply, Switching, Savings, and Shifting

Take the supply issue. Most folks realize that we can produce electricity more cheaply[2] from new wind and solar power plants than those powered by coal or gas.

What folks may not realize is that other energy uses, such as transportation and building heating, may also go renewable through electrification. Electric vehicles will allow us to switch from oil to power from the wind and sun. Renewably-powered heat pumps (basically air conditioners that can produce cold and heat with electricity) can supplant propane, fuel oil, and natural gas.

And although it’s conventional wisdom that the cheapest energy supply comes from conservation, Americans may not realize how big the potential savings are. Simply using smiley faces on bills to reward efficient energy users, Opower[3] has motivated electricity customers to reduce energy use by 1% to 3%. Energy efficiency investments like Energy Star appliances and LED lighting go further, and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy found that every $1 spent on efficiency yields $1.24 to $4.00 in economic returns[4]. A McKinsey analysis[5] backs this up, showing that many of the tools to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (and energy use) will save money.


The question of supply doesn’t only concern total energy delivered, but also WHEN energy is delivered. A substantial fraction of the electric system (around 30%) is built just for redundancy in periods of peak use, similar to how many lanes on major urban freeways are filled only during the two daily rush hours. But smart thermostats and smart appliances offer new tools to reduce peak use[7] by shifting when we use energy. We can run washers and dishwashers in the evening instead of the afternoon, for example, to avoid expensive and unnecessary grid expansion simply to serve those short periods of highest demand.

In other words, good energy policy allows us to take advantage of cost-effective renewable energy, enabling us to switch from fossil fuels to wind and sun, to replace fuels with electricity, to reduce our energy needs, and to maximize the efficiency of the whole system by diversifying when we use energy.

Easy Environmentally Friendly Energy Policy

We’re in an era when the cleanest energy sources are often the cheapest. Wind provides the lowest-cost electricity of nearly any new power source. Solar energy, whether vast fields of panels or small rooftop arrays, competes with electricity from fossil fuel resources.

But more importantly than what’s cheapest now is how we lay the groundwork for the future. Renewables will be the cheapest option everywhere well within the timeframe (40-50 years) that we plan new power plants and power lines. Smart strategies employed today ensure those investments will not be stranded as the cost of new technology continues its rapid descent, avoiding what economists call “path dependency.” Path dependency is what happens when you buy a Hummer and gas prices rise to $4.50 per gallon. Keeping the car is costly, but high fuel prices also lower its resale value, sticking you with poor options. (See more on path dependency in our 2015 report on Hawai’i[8]).

In the energy sector, environmentally friendly policy means investing in low-cost renewables. It also means very carefully considering proposals for new fossil fuel power plants, gas pipelines, or other infrastructure that won’t serve the energy system of the next decades.

Minimizing Job Losses for Existing Workers

The questions of the employment future for fossil fuel workers, power plant or otherwise, is the most insightful and challenging element of Ken’s question. It’s also the one to which we have the fewest well-developed answers.

Handling transitions in technology isn’t new. We’ve seen cars replace horses, computers replace typewriters, and smartphones replace point-and-shoot cameras. But few of these evolutions have been as policy-driven and fast-moving as the growth of renewable energy. There’s a moral obligation to account for those whose livelihood has depended on jobs in the fossil fuel industry, and whose skills may not translate well to the renewable energy future.

One important note is that job losses across the fossil fuel industry thus far have not been driven by renewable energy, but rather by automation and competition among fossil fuels. The demise of many coal power plants in the past decade has had as much or more to do with the exploitation of inexpensive (not counting environmental harms) natural gas[9] with new fracking techniques. Mechanization of tasks also drove the demise of jobs in the coal industry, replacing humans with machines (a process that continues[10]).

The following chart shows how the productivity of the coal mining industry rose significantly even as jobs decreased three-fold.


Although automation may be the major culprit behind job losses in the past, there’s no question that either economics or sound environmental policy will render many (if not all) existing jobs in the fossil fuel industry obsolete by mid-century. So where to turn?

Future Employment for Fossil Fuel Industry Workers

Employment in the fossil fuel industry falls into two categories that will be most impacted by the shift to renewable energy. Oil, gas, and coal extraction jobs will fall sharply as the U.S. reduces dependence on fossil fuels. Employment in traditional power plants will also drop, with those jobs displaced by a 21st century power grid with wind and solar power plants.

In short, we can’t protect the jobs IN the fossil fuel industry, but we can help workers OUT of the industry and into a better future.

As of May 2015, the U.S. coal-mining and oil and gas extraction industries employed[12] 263,000 people, doing everything from digging up coal to processing forms for environmental compliance. Another 60,000 worked in coal power plants, all facing shutdowns due to competitive clean energy.

The good news is that, based on the age of the existing workforce in the extraction business, about 70 percent of the job losses (resulting from a 60% drop in production over the next 20 years) can be addressed through retirement as the workers reach age 65. The remaining 30 percent would need (five years of) wage and benefit insurance, as well as retraining and relocation funds. In a 2016 article[13] in the American Prospect, University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers Robert Pollin & Brian Callaci showcase results of their study[14] pricing these benefits at $200 million per year. Programs like these already exist, such as Solar Ready Colorado[15] that helps displaced coal miners in western Colorado learn skills in the solar industry. Rapid growth ahead signals that employment growth in solar and other renewable energy industries will far outstrip[16] job losses in the fossil fuel sector.

The Prospect article authors also include $90 million per year in their plan to fully fund pension programs for coal miners, which given the recent bankruptcies of multiple coal mining companies are unlikely to be made whole otherwise[17]. Additionally, the authors dedicate $200 million to community-level transition, directing investment in clean energy technology into communities disproportionately impacted by the shrinking fossil fuel industry, such as oil and gas towns like Odessa, TX or Midland, TX.

They peg the total cost of these initiatives around $500 million per year over 20 years, or about 1/500th of a percent of the annual U.S. gross domestic product. Put another way, if every American paid 10¢ more per month on their electric bill, we could fully fund a smooth transition for most fossil fuel industry workers.

It’s also worth noting that leaving behind fossil fuel jobs also means leaving behind significant health and safety hazards. Extraction jobs are among the riskiest in America[18], as measured by fatalities per worker, and jobs like mining threaten permanent health impairment[19] via conditions like black lung.

Ken Bone has earned notoriety for his red sweater and his online indiscretions, but he should be given credit for a question that gets at the complexity and nuance of good energy policy. The answers aren’t always easy, but they’re worth taking time to address.

Photo Credit: Washington Post[1]

This article originally posted at[20]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[21] or get the Energy Democracy weekly[22] update.

  1. Washington Post:
  2. more cheaply:
  3. Opower:
  4. every $1 spent on efficiency yields $1.24 to $4.00 in economic returns:
  5. McKinsey analysis:
  6. [Image]:
  7. new tools to reduce peak use:
  8. 2015 report on Hawai’i:
  9. natural gas:
  10. continues:
  11. [Image]:
  12. employed:
  13. article:
  14. study:
  15. Solar Ready Colorado:
  16. far outstrip:
  17. unlikely to be made whole otherwise:
  18. the riskiest in America:
  19. permanent health impairment:
  21. Twitter:
  22. Energy Democracy weekly:

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The Public Good Newsfeed – October 26, 2016: California Takes on Big Pharma, South Dakotans Take on the Political Establishment, and more…

by David Morris | October 26, 2016 9:32 am

placeholderA selection of recent news stories with an ILSR insight into “The Public Good.”

Stories in this Newsfeed:

California Takes on Big Pharma[1] | South Dakotans Take on the Political Establishment[2] | New Mexico Takes on Debtors’ Prisons[3]

17California Takes on Big Pharma

This November, Californians will vote on a ballot initiative that, according to Pharma Exec[4] magazine, “would shake the rafters of every single state drug program in the nation, as well as the federal Medicaid and Medicare programs.”

Proposition 61[5] requires that state agencies pay no more for any prescription drug than the lowest price paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for the same drug. It would apply to more than 1 million state and public university employees as well as 3 million Medicaid patients (although it would exclude 10 million Californians on managed care Medicaid plans.)

The impact could be even broader.  Federal law entitles all state Medicaid programs to the lowest prescription drug prices available to most public and private payers in the U.S., excluding the VA.  Medicaid discounts ordinarily are in the 20 percent range, but VA discounts[6] can be as high as 42 percent.  The California measure could extend the VA’s significant  discounts to health programs serving tens of millions of additional people nationwide.

As of October 20, pharmaceutical companies have spent more than $109 million to defeat the measure compared to just $15 million for supporters.  Nevertheless, as of two weeks before the election, it appeared well on the way to victory.

The pricing of drugs has become a national disgrace.  Horror stories are an almost every day occurrence. Turing Pharmaceuticals purchases the rights to a generic AIDS  drug  and promptly raises its price from $13.50 to $750 a pill.  In fact, in 222 generic drug groups, prices increased by 100 percent or more between 2013 and 2014, according to Forbes[7]. Specialty drugs have become astronomically expensive. Medivation’s prostate cancer drug Xtandi costs $129,000 a treatment. Reuters[8] reports that in 2014, 139,000 Americans had medication costs in excess of $100,000, nearly triple the number who reached that mark a year earlier.

The pharmaceutical industry’s median return on assets is more than double that of the rest of the Fortune 500, according[9] to Alfred Engelberg.  The industry is awash in cash.  Pfizer holds $74 billion in un-repatriated profits overseas and Merck holds $60 billion, enough to fund their respective annual research budgets for l0 years.

While the industry reaps the benefits, the taxpayer bears much of the cost. Some calculate that direct and indirect government support is such that private industry pays[10] only about a third of R&D costs and much of that goes to develop drugs that offer cosmetic or minor improvements.  The Washington Post[11] reports that while government foots the bill for development, drug companies focus on marketing, often spending $2 for marketing for every $1 spent on research.

Despite repeated scandals, the federal government has been unwilling or uninterested in stepping in.   Congress specifically prohibits Medicare from negotiating with the drug companies for price discounts.  Federal law allows the government to unilaterally lower the price of drugs developed with government funds but has refused to do so.  It can also allow less expensive but has refused to that either.   State governments have largely refused to intervene either.

Which leaves it up to the people to assert their authority, where they are able, to put the issue directly to the voters.  That’s what Californians have done.

19South Dakotans Take on the Political Establishment

On November 8th South Dakotans will vote on three initiatives which, if taken together, could change the face of state politics.

Amendment V[12] converts all state elections into nonpartisan contests. There would be no Democrat or Republican primaries. The top two finishers in the first round of voting would face off in the general election. California, Louisiana and Washington have similar run-off systems but in those states candidates still run with a party label.  That would be prohibited in South Dakota, making it the only state apart from Nebraska to have purely non-partisan elections. (Nebraska had its own political revolution in 1934 when its citizens voted[13] not only for nonpartisan elections but the nation’s first and only unicameral legislature.)

Amendment T[14] creates a commission to redraw state legislative districts every ten years when a new census comes out.  Ordinarily this redistricting is done by legislators themselves but as Matt Sibley, one of the organizers for this initiative, told[15] Governing Magazine,  “There is an inherent flaw in the system when legislators are picking out there own legislative districts.” In-house redistricting often results in a number of uncontested legislative races, diminishing the value of the franchise for those living in that district. The new commission would be barred from considering the party affiliation of voters and location of incumbent lawmakers when drawing new maps. 

Measure 22[16] is the most complex of the three initiatives, requiring as many as 70 changes to election law.  The key is the distribution of two $50 “Democracy Credits” to each registered voter which they could then donate to state legislative candidates who agree to participate in at least three public debates and cap the amount of private money they receive per contributor. Democracy Credits, or Democracy Vouchers as they are sometimes called were first adopted in 2015 by initiative by Seattle voters. (Washingtonians are also voting in November on Initiative 1464[17], which would give every registered voter three Democracy Credits of $50, which they could then donate to state legislative candidates who agree to certain conditions.)

18New Mexico Takes on Debtors’ Prisons

In November, New Mexico will become the first state to decide on whether to directly address a justice system that forces defendants who cannot pay bail to stay in jail.

In 1987 the Supreme Court declared[18], “In our society liberty is the norm, and detention prior to trial or without trial is the carefully limited exception.”   Nevertheless, in most of America, lower-income people who have been arrested and can’t afford bail sit in jail for weeks, months, even years before seeing a judge. Their involuntary incarceration can result in lost jobs and income and increased family stress which raises the likelihood they will reoffend.

Ninety-five percent of the growth in the jail population since 2000 is attributed to an increase in pretrial detainees, Christopher Moraff reports in Next City[19], according to the Department of Justice. Nationwide, according to a Harvard Law School report, 34 percent of defendants are kept in jail pretrial solely[20] because they are unable to pay a cash bond, and most of these people are among the poorest third of Americans.  National data from local jails in 2011 showed that 60% of jail inmates were pretrial detainees and that 75% of those detainees were charged with property, drug or other nonviolent offenses.

According to the Vera Institute of Justice[21], the average number of days that people stay in jail awaiting trial has increased from 14 days in 1983 to 23 days in 2013.

The perverse and unjust consequences of bail have begun to receive national attention as part of the larger issue of the revival of debtor’s prisons[22].  In March the Justice Department sent a letter[23] to judges advising them that employing “bail or bond practices that cause indigent defendants to remain incarcerated solely because they cannot afford to pay for their release” violates the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection.

In September 2015 Equal Justice Under Law[24] and the Southern Center for Human Rights[25] filed a class action lawsuit against the city of Calhoun, Georgia for their practice of requiring bail for indigent defendants. The case involved a disabled man who was jailed for six days because he couldn’t afford to pay a $160 fixed cash bail bond. “Hundreds of thousands of human beings are held in American cages every night solely because they are too poor to make a payment,” Alec Karakatsanis, co-founder of Equal Justice Under Law told the Huffington Post[26].  In January the District Court ruled[27] in their favor, issuing an injunction against the city of Calhoun, ordering it to implement a new bail scheme and release any misdemeanor arrestees in the meantime.

The city has appealed arguing “the Constitution does not guarantee bail, it only bans excessive bail.”

In August the Department of Justice, for the first time submitted an amicus brief[28] on the subject of bail to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Some jurisdictions have begun to change their pretrial release policies so that danger to the community and likelihood of flight are the main factors to determine pretrial release, not whether the accused can pay bail. In a New York City pilot program[29], 1,100 people were granted supervised relief; 87 percent showed up to court when required without incident.  From July 2013 to December 2014, Mesa County, Colorado was able to reduce[30] its pretrial jail population by 27 percent without negative consequences for public safety.

Washington, D.C. has run an essentially cashless[31] justice system for those accused of misdemeanors for many years. Nearly 88 percent of defendants in D.C. are released with non-financial conditions. Between 2007 and 2012, 90 percent of released defendants made all scheduled court appearances; over 91 percent were not rearrested while in the community before trial.  Ninety-nine percent were not rearrested for a violent crime.

The New Mexico initiative originated with a murder case in which the defendant, remained in jail for more than two years without going to trial even though he agreed to wear a GPS device, make regular contact with the court and was not considered a danger to the community or likely to flee. Not only did the state Supreme Court rule[32] in favor of the defendant, it formed a task force that recommended[33] an amendment to the “right to bail” provision in the New Mexico constitution.

Constitutional Amendment 1[34] is a legislatively referred initiative with bipartisan support.  No group is campaigning against it.  Perhaps because it is a result of legislative action, it reflects the give and take of the legislative process.  Thus the Amendment also gives judges more discretion to keep dangerous people in jail — even if they can afford bail. A study[35] from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation shows that nearly half of the highest-risk defendants are released pending trial while low-risk, non-violent defendants are frequently detained.

Perhaps more important, negotiations have resulted in final language more opaque than the original.  Originally the Amendment was clearly and directly stated: “A person who is not a danger and is otherwise eligible for bail shall not be detained solely because of financial inability to post a money or property bond.”  The final language reads, “A defendant who is neither a danger nor a flight risk and who has a financial inability to post a money or property bond may file a motion with the court requesting relief from the requirement to post bond. The court shall rule on the motion in an expedited manner.”

Some worry the additional conditions might raise barriers to achieving the objective of the initiative.  But most are optimistic that the New Mexico law will break new ground in efforts to eliminate a debtors prison in the United States. New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles W. Daniels, a prime mover behind the initiative contends[36], “There is nothing I’ve done or will do on the court that is going to be a more important improvement of justice than getting this amendment passed.”

Sign-up for our monthly Public Good Newsletter[37] and follow ILSR on Twitter[38] and Facebook[39].

  1. California Takes on Big Pharma: #CA
  2. South Dakotans Take on the Political Establishment: #SD
  3. New Mexico Takes on Debtors’ Prisons: #NM
  4. Pharma Exec:
  5. Proposition 61:,_Drug_Price_Standards_(2016)
  6. discounts:
  7. according to Forbes:
  8. Reuters:
  9. according:
  10. pays:
  11. Washington Post:
  12. Amendment V:,_Constitutional_Amendment_V_(2016)
  13. voted:
  14. Amendment T:,_Constitutional_Amendment_T_(2016)
  15. told:
  16. Measure 22:,_Initiated_Measure_22_(2016)
  17. Initiative 1464:,_Initiative_1464_(2016)
  18. declared:
  19. Next City:
  20. solely:
  21. Vera Institute of Justice:
  22. debtor’s prisons:
  23. letter:
  24. Equal Justice Under Law:
  25. Southern Center for Human Rights:
  26. Huffington Post:
  27. ruled:
  28. amicus brief:
  29. program:
  30. reduce:
  31. cashless:
  32. rule:
  33. recommended:
  34. Constitutional Amendment 1:,_Constitutional_Amendment_1_(2016
  35. study:
  36. contends:
  37. Public Good Newsletter:
  38. Twitter:
  39. Facebook:

Source URL:

Energy Policies on the 2016 Ballot, Two Weeks Out

by Nick Stumo-Langer | October 20, 2016 5:00 pm

This is an update of analysis done back in June, state-by-state information has been updated, however, conclusions have largely been left the same, see the original post here[1].

Citizen-sponsored ballot initiatives frequently demand progress on renewable energy implementation (and have for years[2]), oftentimes these occur when state legislatures show little to no political will to increase locally-owned solar or wind energy. In 2016, more states than ever before have attempted to place items on their ballots to change the energy landscape. Sponsored by citizen groups, legislators, and (sometimes) energy industry giants, these initiatives range from encouraging energy choice to placing further limits on the propagation of nuclear energy.

A number of these efforts, particularly those in Florida and Nevada, are the results of unresponsive legislatures and Public Utilities Commissions (PUC), tied down by powerful utility monopolies (where competing initiatives sponsored by the powerful industry incumbents).

The Nevada PUC, for example, completely eliminated net metering benefits[3] for its residents – even refusing to grandfather existing solar projects. This PUC action, at the behest of the utility, Warren Buffet’s NV Energy, motivated citizens of Nevada to propose the Nevada Energy Choice Amendment[4] as well as the Nevada Solar Rate Restoration Referendum[5]. The former would ensure energy market competition and the latter would repeal fixed fees for solar customers (more detail on these and other initiatives is below).

The following map highlights the 12 states with proposed or implemented ballot initiatives in 2016.

Many of these initiatives did not make the ballot in November, but they represent efforts of citizens to reclaim control over an energy system long dominated by powerful private interests.

The following is a list of the initiatives under consideration, by state.


Jump down to Arizona[7], California[8], Colorado[9], Florida[10], Massachusetts[11], Missouri[12], Montana[13], Nevada[14], Ohio[15], Oregon[16] & Washington[17].


Ballot Initiatives Map - Version 2.005[18]The state of Arizona had two proposed initiatives for the 2016 ballot. Both initiatives were withdrawn[19] by their respective parties after an agreement materialized in the Arizona state legislature. Neither initiative seems to be poised for reintroduction in the future.

Net Metering Amendment

The first proposed initiative[20] would have amended the state constitution to “require energy companies to compensate solar users who generate excess power at the same price that the company charges to its customers,” enshrining net metering in the state constitution. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) supported this initiative and it was a solar industry-friendly amendment which prompted a response embodied in the Solar for All Act.

Solar for All Act

The second proposed initiative is a direct refutation[21] of the Net Metering Amendment above, introduced in the state legislature after the first initiative was approved. The initiative “would mandate that solar customers be placed on rate plans that are different from traditional customers and their rates be ‘reasonably based’ on the cost to serve them.” 



[22]The state of California had two proposed initiatives for the 2016 ballot. Neither initiative gained enough signatures to be considered, but could be considered in the future.

California Nuclear Power Initiative  √

The first initiative[23] expands state regulations on nuclear power plants. The official ballot language requires that a nuclear power plant “has approved technology for permanent disposal of high-level nuclear waste” and requires the California Energy Commission to “find on case-by-case basis facilities…with adequate capacity to reprocess power plant’s fuel rods.”

With the frequent[24] cost overruns[25] of nuclear power plants, it seems hard to believe that additional regulation would be required to prevent new construction. This initiative may instead be intended to reduce the economic incentive to continue operating the power plants without a plan for disposing of nuclear waste. Since the federal government has been studying this issue for decades with no solution, this initiative may effectively shutter existing nuclear power plants.

California Publicly-Owned Electric Utilities Initiative  √

The second ballot initiative[26] intends to replace most investor-owned utilities, including San Diego Gas & Electric, Bear Valley Electric, PG&E and Southern California Edison. The initiative would replace them with the publicly-owned California Electrical Utility District, and divide that district into 11, equally-populated wards. Each one of these wards would have a board member elected to 4-year terms. According to the ballot language[27], the district would have “the power to acquire property, construct facilities necessary to supply electricity, set electricity rates, impose taxes, and issue bonds.”

Municipal utility districts have been at the forefront of clean energy innovation. This includes Denton, TX[28], with an already 40% renewable energy supply, Georgetown, TX[29], with its contracts for 100% renewable energy, as well as little Minster, Ohio, with a solar plus storage system[30]. Of course, local ownership is not sufficient to promote clean energy. One of the largest municipal utilities in the country, serving Los Angeles, has been a laggard in developing renewable energy. But local control would give Californians more power to accelerate the transition to cost-effective, renewable energy.


The state of Colorado had two proposed initiatives on the ballot during the 2016 voting cycle.

Colorado Local Control of Oil & Gas Development Amendment  √

The first initiative[31] “authorizes local governments to prohibit, limit, or impose moratoriums on oil and gas development.” The entities can limit this development in order to protect their “community’s health, safety, welfare, and/or environment.” The initiative also protects communities from state preemption of local laws meant to curtail local impacts from oil and gas development.

State preemption of local laws, as we’ve written previously[32], frequently works directly against community’s energy concerns. Protecting local ordinances limiting the development of oil and gas is vital for empowering communities to make their own decisions against dirty energy.

Colorado Mandatory Setback from Oil & Gas Development Amendment  √

The second initiative[33] would change the Colorado state constitution to require a 2,500-foot setback for any new oil or gas facility from the “nearest occupied structure[34].” It would, potentially significantly, reduce the ability to extract additional fossil fuels in Colorado.


[35]The state of Florida had three proposed initiatives on the ballot in 2016: a utility-sponsored, status quo solar initiative, a citizen initiative shifting the right to produce and sell solar energy, and one renewable energy tax measure on the ballot during the 2016 cycle. The citizen-sponsored initiative did not make the ballot but could be considered in future years.

Right to Produce and Sell Solar Energy Amendment  √

This initiative[36], intended for the 2016 ballot, won’t be up for a vote until at least 2018. If passed, the ballot measure would provide businesses and individuals a “constitutional right to produce up to two megawatts of solar power and sell that power directly to others,” language designed to allow solar energy companies to build systems on customer property and sell the power directly to via a power purchase agreement.

This initiative would overturn Florida’s existing policy of only allowing utilities to sell electricity[37], no matter the source, directly to consumers. The organization Floridians for Solar Choice[38] led the campaign for the ballot initiative and is a coalition of conservative activists, environmental groups, and politicians of all ideological orientations.

Right to Solar Energy Choice Amendment  Χ

The status-quo initiative[39] on the 2016 ballot is a constitutional amendment “giv[ing] residents of Florida the right to own or lease solar energy equipment for personal use.” It offers no new power to customers to procure solar energy through a power purchase agreement and adds new statutory language to allow utilities to attempt to undercut the energy savings from those using solar.

The contributors to Consumers for Smart Solar[40], the committee exclusively tasked with passing this constitutional amendment, counts among its donors[41] mainly investor-owned monopoly utilities, including: Duke Energy[42] and Florida Power and Light Company[43]. Representatives from environmental groups as well as conservative, tea party activists have lambasted the proposal[44] as “claim[ing] to support a free-market principle, but…sides with monopolies to stop competition from solar.”

Special note: Recent investigations have revealed[45] that monopoly electric utilities deliberately mis-led Florida voters by selling this amendment as friendly to local ownership of solar energy, despite this not being factually accurate.

Tax Exemptions for Renewable Energy Measure  √

The second constitutional amendment[46] on the ballot this year in Florida would “provide tax exemptions for solar power and other renewable energy equipment included in home values for property taxes.” Previous research has shown that residential property values rise about 1% for each kilowatt of solar installed[47]. The tax exemptions would begin 2018 and continue for 20 years. This measure was approved by a margin of 73%-27%[48] by Florida voters on Primary Election Day on August 30th, 2016. 



Ballot Initiatives Map - Version 2.012[49]Wind Energy Act Repeal and Amendment Χ

This proposed initiative expired for the 2016 election year, however, it could be on the ballot in 2017. The Energy Act Repeal and Amendment would remove[50] specific targets for wind energy development and remove the expedited process implemented for utility-scale wind projects. In any new wind project, new criteria would have to be met and each would have to “receive a public benefit determination from the Commissioner of Environmental Protection.”


The state of Massachusetts had two proposed energy initiatives on the ballot during the 2016 election cycle.

Renewable Energy Initiative  √

This ballot initiative[51] would have required electricity suppliers to increase the minimum electricity generated by renewable energy generating sources by 1% every year until 2019, 2% every year until 2029, and 3% each year starting in 2030.

By requiring electricity suppliers to gradually and continually increase their percentage of renewable energy each year, Massachusetts is making a commitment that 70% of the energy load be met with renewable energy by 2040.

Solar and Renewable Energy Initiative  √

The initiative would[52] have “establish[ed] a Commonwealth Solar Program.” By 2025, 10% of all retail electricity sales would be coming from community-shared solar or commercial community-shared solar facilities. It would also change net metering by “remov[ing] existing limits on available capacity eligible for net-metering facilities within each electric distribution company service territory.”

Removing net metering caps and requiring substantial sales from community-shared solar would dramatically expand solar power capacity in Massachusetts.


This initiative did not gain enough signatures to make it onto the 2016 ballot but still could be on the 2017 election ballot.

[53]Missouri Enhanced Net Metering and Easy Connection Act  √

This ballot initiative[54] would require municipal electric utilities and electric corporations to “make net metering available” to a greater number of customers and increase the amount of net metering capacity available to customers. While there are a number of different versions gathering signatures across the state, the features they hold in common is to remove any interconnection fees for customers utilizing net metering, as well as ensuring customer-generators are compensated at a standardized rate across the state.


Renewable Energy Initiative I-180  √

This ballot initiative[55] would have required the state of Montana to incrementally supply more of their electricity (80% by 2050) from renewable energy sources, specifically wind, solar, geothermal, and hydroelectric. The measure “would also establish a program for displaced fossil fuel workers and a pension program for fossil fuel workers.” The initiative is important to a state that has yet to establish a renewable energy standard through the legislature. It also caps program costs and provides a safety net for fossil fuel energy workers via retraining programs and pension safety nets, funding with a tax on each kilowatt of electricity produced.

These measures are ambitious but “are necessary”[56] to combat CO2 emissions.


Nevada 2016 Energy Ballot InitiativesThe state of Nevada has one proposed, one implemented energy related initiatives on the ballot for the 2016 voting cycle.

Nevada Energy Choice Amendment  √

The first ballot initiative[57] would “make it the policy of the state that electricity markets be open and competitive and minimize the regulatory burden in the electric energy market.” The initiative seeks to end the monopoly of utility company NV Energy.

Like the following one, this ballot initiative arose from the controversial end of net metering in the state by NV Energy-backed public utilities commissioners, which led  multiple solar development companies, such as SolarCity, to pull out of the state. The initiative’s intention[58] is gain “meaningful choices among different providers” and to minimize the “economic and regulatory burdens…in order to promote competition and choice in the electric energy market.” It’s a direct shot at the monopoly power of NV Energy.

Nevada Solar Rate Restoration Referendum  √

The second ballot initiative[59] for Nevada is more typical, and targeted a repeal of a section of Senate Bill 374 that “established a fixed fee for solar customers that differed from the fixed fee for other ratepayers.” The initiative would have removed the discrimination in pricing on solar customers that reduces the value of the net metering program.

As we’ve reported,[60] fixed fees are a way that monopoly electric utilities pass fees onto customers and discourage lower energy use via energy efficiency or on-site power generation.


Ohio Clean Energy Initiative  √

The ballot initiative outlined[61] a $14 billion dollar energy program that includes research for alternative energy development and infrastructure projects, spending $1.3 billion per year to develop wind, solar, and geothermal projects. This measure “would create an Ohio Energy Initiative Commission, which would receive $65 million each year and take part in infrastructure capital improvement projects with counties, municipal corporations, townships, and governmental entities.”

With renewable energy investment stonewalled[62] in the Ohio legislature, this initiative would allow renewable energy projects to move forward in The Buckeye State.


Oregon Fossil Fuel Expansion Ban Initiative  √

This ballot initiative[63] would have “ban[ned] the expansion of infrastructure related to fossil fuel extraction, processing, shipment, transportation, or distribution in Oregon.” This initiative has been labeled The Clean Economy Initiative and, while it doesn’t directly expand renewable energy resources, it does shift the impetus towards clean energy development and against fossil fuels.

This initiative attacks any expansion[64] of fossil fuel development to the benefit of cleaner energy.


Ballot Initiatives Map[65]Carbon Emission Tax √

This ballot initiative[66] would impose a tax on “the sale or use of certain fossil fuels and fossil-fuel-generated electricity, at $15 per metric ton of carbon dioxide in 2017, and increasing gradually.” By placing economic incentives to move towards carbon-free and renewable energy, the state of Washington is encouraging further development of renewable energy technology.

The organization Carbon Washington[67] sponsored this initiative.

Editor’s Note: The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy of Washington state was originally reported as being in favor of the Carbon Emission Tax, this was in error and that section has been changed to reflect it.

This article originally posted at[68]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[69] or get the Energy Democracy weekly[70] update.

Image Credit: Tom Arthur from Wikimedia Commons[71] via CC BY-SA 2.0[72]

  1. see the original post here:
  2. for years:
  3. completely eliminated net metering benefits:
  4. Nevada Energy Choice Amendment:
  5. Nevada Solar Rate Restoration Referendum:
  6. [Image]:
  7. Arizona: #Arizona
  8. California: #California
  9. Colorado: #Colorado
  10. Florida: #Florida
  11. Massachusetts: #Massachusetts
  12. Missouri: #Missouri
  13. Montana: #Montana
  14. Nevada: #Nevada
  15. Ohio: #Ohio
  16. Oregon: #Oregon
  17. Washington: #Washington
  18. [Image]:
  19. were withdrawn:
  20. first proposed initiative:
  21. direct refutation:
  22. [Image]:
  23. first initiative:
  24. frequent:
  25. cost overruns:
  26. second ballot initiative:
  27. According to the ballot language:
  28. Denton, TX:
  29. Georgetown, TX:
  30. solar plus storage system:
  31. first initiative:
  32. as we’ve written previously:
  33. second initiative:
  34. nearest occupied structure:
  35. [Image]:
  36. This initiative:
  37. only allowing utilities to sell electricity:
  38. Floridians for Solar Choice:
  39. status-quo initiative:,_Amendment_1_(2016)
  40. Consumers for Smart Solar:
  41. counts among its donors:,_Amendment_1_(2016)
  42. Duke Energy:
  43. Florida Power and Light Company:
  44. lambasted the proposal:
  45. investigations have revealed:
  46. second constitutional amendment:,_Amendment_4_(August_2016)
  47. residential property values rise about 1% for each kilowatt of solar installed:
  48. margin of 73%-27%:
  49. [Image]:
  50. would remove:
  51. ballot initiative:
  52. The initiative would:
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  55. ballot initiative:,_I-180_(2016)
  56. “are necessary”:
  57. first ballot initiative:
  58. intention:
  59. second ballot initiative:
  60. As we’ve reported,:
  61. ballot initiative outlined:
  62. stonewalled:
  63. ballot initiative:
  64. attacks any expansion:
  65. [Image]:
  66. ballot initiative:
  67. Carbon Washington:
  69. Twitter:
  70. Energy Democracy weekly:
  71. Tom Arthur from Wikimedia Commons:
  72. CC BY-SA 2.0:

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Energy Democracy: Customer Control over Renewable Energy – Episode 3 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | October 20, 2016 12:00 pm

Update November 16, 2016: Full transcript[1] of this podcast is now available.

Welcome to the third episode of the Building Local Power podcast[2].

In this episode, Chris Mitchell, the director of our Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews John Farrell, the director of our Energy Democracy initiative about the concept of energy democracy and about his latest report, Is Bigger Best in Renewable Energy?[3] John specifically outlines some of the key concepts that make up the principles of energy democracy and how locally-owned renewable energy continues to shape our electric grid in new and exciting ways.

“We have traditionally had these large companies produce energy for us and our role is that we are simply customers,” says Farrell, “What’s really been happening in recent years is that we’re seeing a transition in the rules of the system…and that citizens want a bigger say over the [electric] system and their energy future.”


For more information on John’s work, follow John Farrell on Twitter[10] or get the Energy Democracy weekly[11] update and read his latest report: Is Bigger Best in Renewable Energy?[3] and see more fantastic charts like the one below.

Solar Competes at Most Sizes[12]

If you missed the first couple episodes of our podcast you can find those conversations with Olivia LaVecchia here[13] and Neil Seldman here[14], also to see all of our episodes make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power [15]Podcast Homepage[16].

Full Transcript of Podcast:

John Farrell: People definitely resonate with that notion, that once they have an element of control they’re more interested in having more control over their energy future.


Chris Mitchell: Hey, welcome back to the third episode of Building Local Power from the Institute For Local Self Reliance. Today we’re talking with John Farrell, the director of our Energy Democracy Program. Welcome to the shown John.


John Farrell: Thanks for having me Chris.


Chris Mitchell: I’m Chris Mitchell, the guy who heads the internet related program, the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, or program. Depending on how I feel like describing it in a given day. Today we’re going to talk about energy democracy. John, you’ve just released a new report talking about economies of scale. We’re going to get into that, but let’s first start with a general question. For people that are interested in building local power, making sure that their communities empower to make their own decisions, why should they care where their electricity comes from?


John Farrell: Well there’s a huge opportunity, and you think about it in a big scale here. We spend collectively in this country about 360 billion dollars a year on electricity. The technology in the electricity system is changing so fast to allow us more and more control over that at a local level. Whether that’s rooftop solar, or the fact that I can sit here on my couch and control my thermostat from my smartphone, or the rising prevalence of electric vehicles, and the fact that those batteries can both take energy from the grid but also give it back to the grid. We just have so many different ways in which we have local control possible thanks to technology, and the fact that it’s becoming cost effective that it really changes the whole dynamic of the system. It’s a really important place for us to look.


Even more important than that, electricity is so exciting because it’s basically the only kind of energy source that we have, not that we can actually make renewable, that we can make clean. We know with the wind and the sun that we have cost effective alternatives to fossil fuels. Whether it’s from a local control standpoint, or the economic opportunities, or from the environmental standpoint, electricity is really an exciting place to play.


Chris Mitchell: Let’s talk about the newer report that you’ve done, which actually it seems to me this is a continuation of some of the work you did when you first started at ILSR. It’s worth noting, I think our energy program is one of the longest running efforts that the institute has been involved with. Tell us what the new report is all about.


John Farrell: Well the report was intended in some ways as an update, you’re right. In 2008 we examined the economies of scale, and wind energy production, and also in ethanol. Basically to look at this question of, “Is bigger best?” There is this conventional wisdom that bigger sized things are more economically efficient. That persists throughout our economy, but also in energy. It was true for a very long time. For decades in fact in the electricity industry, that the bigger you built the power plant the more energy you could get out of it at a lower cost per unit. That myth kind of persisted into renewable energy, even though renewable energy like wind and solar is really very different. The power plant that you build that’s 500 megawatts, or 1,000 megawatts to conserve hundreds of thousands of homes, is kind of one big built custom unit when you’re talking about fossil fuel generation.


When you’re talking about renewable energy through we’re talking about modular systems. An individual wind turbine only powers maybe 500 homes. An individual solar panel only produces a couple hundred watts, enough to run your toaster, or something like that. When you build a big power plant you just build lots of them. We have this enormous opportunity with renewable energy to build things at a smaller scale, because we don’t need to have 100, or 1,000, or 500,000 of these units in order to make a power plant, we only need a handful of them. You can build a couple of wind turbines and have it power a small community. You can build a solar on a rooftop and have it power that home. That’s really the opportunity provided by the technology, and what we were investigating in our report then was this question of whether or not it’s cost effective in fact to do so at a smaller scale, versus doing so on a large scale.


Chris Mitchell: I feel like when you say, “Cost effective,” I have to wonder where we’re going to draw the boundaries. It might be if you just look at the cost per watt produced, that might be one thing. How do you count in the reliability that comes from having multiple points of electricity production scattered around so they’re not likely to be disrupted by a single tornado, or hurricane, or earthquake? Did you wrestle with issues that are around that, of where you just draw the boundary of what costs are relevant?


John Farrell: We didn’t wrestle with that particular issue in the report, although I appreciate you mentioning it because for example, utilities are required to have a reserve. The regional management of our grid system, the regional managers say to all the utilities, “You have to have as a reserve, basically a duplicate of your largest sized power plant, plus a safety margin.” To take into account that issue of when you lose, let’s say that biggest power plant goes out, plus another transmission line goes out and limits the amount of power you have available on your system. It’s funny because that reserve margin is directly related to the scale of the system. If you didn’t have large power plants then your reserve requirements would be relatively low, because you it would take a lot more disruption in order to turn off a lot of your power plants.


To be fair we didn’t wrestle with that particular issue, although it is an important one in renewable energy in particular because the more you spread out, the less variable it is. With one solar panel on my home rooftop, if it gets cloudy right over my home the power output from that solar panel drops dramatically. If we have solar powered panels spread out all over a metropolitan area for example, on a partly cloudy day it’s unlikely that all of them are going to be clouded at the same time, and so the system can be more adaptable.


To get to the point in terms of where you draw the line, what we really did that was different than what other folks do is we did extend the line to talk about how much does it cost to bring that power to the point where we use it. Most of the analysis that look at this issue of whether bigger is better say, “Oh, well that really huge power plant that we can build out in the desert for solar, it only costs half as much per kilowatt hour as it does to generate solar on a home rooftop.” It sort of ignores the fact that nobody’s out in a remote area of the California desert charging their iPhone, right? We’re doing that in our homes and in our businesses.


What we tried to do is to take into account that delivery problem, both in terms of building the infrastructure to make that delivery, and the losses of energy that you have when you try to send it long distance.


Chris Mitchell: I’m sitting at the edge of my seat, what’s the result? Is it better to have those giant plants out there in Nevada, or in California? Is it better to distribute it?


John Farrell: The answer is it depends a little bit. We looked both at wind energy and at solar energy. What we found if you look just at where that energy is generated, is that the difference between a very small wind power plant with maybe like three or four turbines, and the really big one’s is about a 16% lower cost of energy if you build it really far away. That there are transmission costs that add a significant amount of cost to your project in terms of going distance. What we found was kind of an approximation is the best we could do. If your wind power project is more than, say about 400 miles away from the city where you’re going to be using the energy, it’s probably not going to pay off to try to go seek either that better wind resource, or build that bigger project than it would … instead it would be better to build that project locally and at a smaller scale, that you could make up that transmission difference.


We actually have a map in the report that kind of looks at this with some concrete examples, whether that’s Minneapolis, or Chicago, or New York City, and just gives you a sense of what those costs are for that kind of distance to travel, and where it actually ends up being more cost effective to generate closer to home. With solar energy, it even gets a little bit more complicated in the sense that … and this is where that analysis starts to get, I think really into the important piece. Which is, it’s not really an apples to apples comparison. That power plant that’s out in the desert, that solar power plant that’s really large and out in the desert, is going to compete in the wholesale market. They’re selling energy into this big regional market, and they’re competing with all the other kind of stuff. Coal power plants, natural gas power plants, what have you.


The solar on the rooftops really competing with whatever it is, whatever the price it is that the utility charges that ultimate customer. When I put solar on my own roof I’m just reducing my energy load, I’m reducing my energy bill. That price is a lot higher than out on a wholesale market when it doesn’t take into account all those delivery charges. There’s a couple things here. One is, yeah you could get cheaper electricity, even with transmission from a solar project delivered into an urban area, maybe. The point is that it’s not even competing with the same energy costs as that rooftop solar project.


What we really found was that solar is competitive just about anywhere. That if you build it out in the desert on that large scale, it competes on the wholesale market. If you build it on a commercial rooftop on the top of a warehouse, or on top of a retail store, it competes with the commercial retail energy price. You can put it on a home rooftop, it competes with that energy price as well. I think that’s the most important thing is to say, “It’s going to compete everywhere. That no matter where we put it, the energy that it generates is going to be more valuable than the energy cost, than the energy that we pay for at that location.”


Chris Mitchell: Is it even the right question to be asking in terms of whether things are cost comparative today when we’re talking about building a new facility? If you put a panel for solar photo voltaic on your roof, it’s going to last 20 or 30 years. If you build a new coal plant, it’s going to be 50, 70 years I’m guessing. To some extent isn’t there a forecasting element to this?


John Farrell: Absolutely. When we compare in our report the price of the large scale wind and solar systems, we don’t compare to what the price is on the grid now from these old fossil fuel plants that are paid off, but that we’ll also have to retire relatively soon, many of them. We instead compare that to what does it cost to build a new power plant. A new natural gas power plant, since we’re not building a lot of coal thankfully. That’s the price that we find appropriate to compete against. When we talk about rooftop solar though, we’re still really only talking about that issue of what’s the price to deliver energy? I pay like, in Minneapolis 11 or 12 cents for every kilowatt hour of energy that I consume from Excel Energy, the electric utility. That’s the price of the competition.


This price to get new natural gas power plant producing energy wherever it is on the grid that it plugs, is more like six or seven cents a kilowatt area. That’s what that large scale solar has to compete against.


Chris Mitchell: You and I were in grad school together where you first became acquainted with my loud mouth. One of the things that I remember from energy course is the psychological impact from having a solar panel on your rooftop. It makes you think differently. It might make you more willing to get up and turn that light off that you’re not using because you’re thinking about where it’s produced. Whereas your neighbor might just be using power that comes from Manitoba’s hydro electric dams, or nuclear power plant that’s really far away, and they don’t really see themselves as having a relationship to it. I’m curious about the democracy part of your Energy Democracy Program. How does that really play into the electricity production in the United States?


John Farrell: It really is a see change in this sort of culture of energy. That we have traditionally had these large companies that produce energy for us, and that we are simply customers. That our only job in terms of managing our energy consumption is to try to use less. What’s really happening in recent years is that we’re seeing a transition in the sort of rules of this system, where regulators are saying, “You know what? We need to focus more on energy efficiency and conservation because those are the cheapest way to get more energy for the whole system.” We’re also seeing more, like you point out, of people thinking about the fact that now that we have the technology at our fingertips, now that we can be producers, we want to have a lot more control and say over the system.


Say in Boulder Colorado for example, the city there has now been in about a five year battle with the Incumbent Electric Utility over wanting to have more say in it’s energy future. On behalf of a lot of customers who have solar themselves who are saying, “Look, I individually can make this decision to reduce my reliance on the Incumbent Electric Utility, and our community wants to do that as well because there’s all these economic benefits, and spillover benefits that have nothing to do with energy, but everything to do with kind of the future and the resilience of my local economy that can come from this.” A perfect illustration of this is something like 30 or 40% of electric car owners served by the San Diego Gas and Electric Utility in Southern California, also have solar power. They look at this, they went out, they bought the car, and they realized, “Hey, rather than charging this from the utilities dirty power plants, I can own my own solar panel and I can charge from that. I can further reduce my transportation costs by generating the energy I use to put into my car.”


People definitely resonate with that notion that once they have an element of control, they’re more interested in having more control over their energy future.


Chris Mitchell: Let’s talk quickly about the, what I sometimes think of as the, “Big guys.” The big incumbent interests. Do they make more money from large central production generation facilities than they would from a grid that is more distributed?


John Farrell: Well it’s important to kind of draw a line here and divide. There’s sort of two kinds of utilities. You have role electric cooperatives and municipal utilities, which are effectively owned by their customers. There’s no profit motive here, but there is kind of a cultural dependence on large scale power generation, sort of the relationship … most cities for example that have their own utility are part of a larger network of power purchasers, and power plant operators, and they all buy from the same people. They’re kind of stuck in this paradigm of, “Well we’ve always bought power from these guys, and they’re the one’s who make the power plant decisions, and they like building big things.” That’s kind of the nature of that relationship.


With the other kind of utilities we have what are called, “Investor owned utilities.” Those are for profit private companies. In many cases, and probably in most states, about 30 states, they have, they are what called, “Regulated Monopolies.” They have control over all of their customers, there’s no alternative supplier. They make money in two ways. One is selling more electricity, although some recent laws have kind of tweaked that to allow them to make some money even when they’re encouraging conservation. They really make their most money, their return on investment when they spend their own money, when they spend their own capitol. Big utilities don’t like to build small things, they like to build big things.


There’s a definitely bias toward building big from investor owned utilities, because that’s where they’re going to make their return on investment. They’re going to build, for example in Minnesota the utility was recently trying to replace a very large coal power plant with about 700 megawatts of natural gas generation. They want to own that themselves of course, because when they build that and own it themselves, however many millions or billions of dollars that costs, they’re going to get about 10% of that back for their share holders.


Chris Mitchell: John, one of the things that I hear, and I sometimes think of this as your uncle at Thanksgiving when you’re talking about these sorts of issues will say, “Yeah, well Germany. They have all of this renewable energy and it’s a disaster. They’re just buying all this coal now, and their prices are outrageous. It’s a horrible, horrible disaster.” You talked about Germany in your report, what’s going on there?


John Farrell: Well there’s a lot of different pieces to this sort of, “Germany is bad,” or this, “Doubling down on renewable’s is bad myth,” about Germany. What I think is important to understand first of all is that they have a term of what they’ve been doing in Germany, they call it, “Energy [Foreign Language 00:16:22],” which means … and I apologize, my German language skills are very limited. I probably mispronounced that horribly, but the basic concept is that word means, “Energy change.”


Chris Mitchell: Just to be very clear for people who might not be familiar, what’s the 30 second thumbnail sketch of what Germany’s actually done?


John Farrell: Germany has built more renewable energy, and gets more of it’s electricity from renewable resources than just about any other country in the world. They did this through kind of a crash plan in terms of investment in both wind and solar energy over the past 15 to 20 years. Germany is doing this form a standpoint about changing their energy supply to renewable energy resources, and also doing it in terms of changing the ownership of those resources. I did a comparison in the report for example, in a similar 5 year period both Germany and the U.S. installed about 22 gigawatts of solar, 22,000 megawatts of solar. There was a huge difference in the way that they deployed that. In Germany three quarters of those projects were smaller than 500 kilowatts, which for example is the roof of a fairly sizable retail store. In the United States, it was less than half of those projects, solar projects, were smaller than a megawatt, which would be like a big box store, like an IKEA for example.


Way more of the solar that Germany built was built at a small scale. There are some policy differences about what drove that development, but the idea was, “Let’s spread this around to everybody. Let’s let everybody make a return on investment in this switch over to solar.” They also had a similar commitment in wind power. There’s that piece of it that I think is crucially important is that they don’t just look at this standpoint of the cost of the energy, but they look at it in terms of the overall benefit to the economy, and to the people. Millions of German’s are owners in solar individually, or they’re part of wind cooperatives, or energy cooperatives that are financially benefiting from this transition that is much more than just the cost of electricity.


I think a second issue that’s important to address with Germany, cause it comes up a lot, is this issue of cost. Yes because of taxes Germany, German’s pay about twice as much per kilowatt hour of electricity as we do here in the United States, sometimes even three times as much. What’s important to understand is that German’s only pay about the same amount per bill as we do, about $100 a month as we do in the United States. They’ve learned to use less. They have tools available to them, like solar, to reduce their energy consumption. It’s not that it’s much more costly in Germany, it’s that they have a lot of different ways to help reduce their bill. Giving customers that control is a huge piece of this energy democracy movement in the United States as well.


Chris Mitchell: I think it’s also worth noting that they have metric hours over there. It’s a totally different system.


John Farrell: Right.


Chris Mitchell: I want to conclude with a question as to recommendation that you can offer for an article, or a book that you’ve recently read that just peaked your interest that you think people should hear about.


John Farrell: That’s a really great question. I guess what I would say is basically anything that David Robert’s over at Vox writes. He is a really insightful writer, he gives, I think really excellent perspective on the change in the energy system, but he also occasionally dives into some really fascinating pieces on politics, and the psychology of both energy and politics. The article that was most interesting to me recently was one that he wrote about kind of Donald Trump’s relationship with the truth, and the bad … he has just kind of a different perspective on truth than most American’s do, which I thought was really interesting. It wasn’t a critique per say, it was just sort of an acknowledgement that he sort of operates at a very different way than most of us do with that relationship. I find that he’s very insightful whether he’s writing about politics or energy, and so very much enjoy his work.


Chris Mitchell: Great, and he was, I remember his name. He was with Grist before wasn’t he?


John Farrell: Yeah. Yeah, he left Grist for Vox a few years ago but has been doing very similar and excellent work at Vox since than.


Chris Mitchell: Great, well thank you for talking about these issues with us. We’ll hear back from you in a few months I’m guessing.


John Farrell: Sounds good, thanks Chris.


Lisa Gonzalez: That was John Farrell, director of the Energy Democracy Program here at ILSR, visiting with Chris Mitchell for episode number three of our Building Local Power Podcast. To download John’s new report, visit where you can also sign up for updates on the Energy Democracy Program, and you can checkout the latest updates from John. In addition to reports he regularly publishes articles on the Energy Self Reliant States blog, and he interviews guests for the Local Energy Rules podcast. In fact you can subscribe to this podcast, and all of the podcasts in the ILSR podcast family on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts from. Never miss out on our original research by also subscribing to our monthly newsletter. You can also do that at


Thanks to Dysfunction Al for the music, license suit, creative commons, the song is Funk Interlude. This is Lisa Gonzalez from the Institute for Local Self Reliance, thanks again for listening to the Building Local Power podcast.


Audio Credit: Funk Interlude[17] by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0)[18] license.

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Report: Sparking Grid Savings Starts at Home

by John Farrell | October 12, 2016 6:00 am



Download the Report[1]


Browse the Report

Big Potential Savings
    Peak Reduction from Commercial Buildings
    Peak Reduction from Homes
Deepening of Peak Energy Reduction in Homes
Powerful Examples
Automated or No?


In the past decade, two major trends have threatened the ability of electric utilities to meet the needs of the electricity system. The first is that national electricity sales have flattened, a reversal of nearly 100 years of constant growth, while peak energy use has continued to climb. In other words, at certain moments each year, the grid is strained to capacity by the simultaneous electric use of all customers. Traditionally, utilities have built new power plants to accommodate these moments of intense use. But now utilities can’t recover the costs of these power plants as effectively, as more efficient appliances and lighting lower the total amount of energy sold annually. The chart below shows the remarkable reversal of this trend.

Flattening Electricity Consumption per Capita (U.S.)

The second challenging trend is a need for flexibility. Wind and solar energy production are growing, and utilities have traditionally focused on flexible supply rather than demand. Now, utilities need low-cost tools to maximize flexibility, such as ways to adjust energy demand, not just supply. The chart below, from the U.S. Energy Information Administration[2], illustrates this need for flexibility on the California electricity grid.

Source: EIA[3]

Source: EIA

xcel-dr-switch[4]Fortunately, there are solutions. For years, utilities have reduced the problem of peak energy demand by controlling customer energy use. Xcel Energy in Minnesota is one of many utilities integrating basic “demand response,” using radio controls (right[5]) on customer air conditioners to cycle them off over 15-minute intervals, reducing grid-wide peak energy consumption. The company’s Savers Switch program[6] can reduce electricity demand by 300 megawatts by controlling the air conditioners of 400,000 residential and commercial customers.

Other utilities are adopting new technology, from smart meters to smart thermostats. These tools allow the utility to price energy based on the time of use and its actual cost, offering customers an incentive to use power when it costs less to deliver and giving the utility more control over energy use.

These programs have just scratched the surface.

New technology, particularly in the hands of electric customers, is creating an unprecedented opportunity to move beyond air conditioners and tap the many other sources of controllable electricity demand in homes and businesses. Utilities, like Xcel, should harness these lower-cost ways to meet rising peak energy demand.


Big Potential Savings

imageedit_83_3656718250Customers empowered with smartphones, smart apps, and smart devices can already adjust their energy use (and lower their costs) in response to the needs of the electricity system. A variety of smart thermostats can be controlled from smartphones, such as the one in the author’s home (right). Customers can restrict when they run appliances or charge electric vehicles to times with low power costs. And in some markets, companies aggregate these empowered customers to lower overall energy demand significantly using “automated demand response.”

Below are a few potent examples of how utilities access available energy resources in homes and businesses when the grid needs more power.

Peak Reduction from Commercial Buildings


Source: Siemens

Five large commercial buildings (100,000 square feet or greater) in the Northwest were selected by researchers from Berkeley Labs to participate in an automated demand response program[8]. The building operators used a number of energy-saving strategies, including pre-heating or -cooling before peak energy periods, cycling off heating/cooling units, and reducing lighting levels.

Over the four winter test periods, buildings averaged a peak demand reduction of 14%, a combined 767 kilowatts. Over four summer test periods, buildings averaged a peak demand reduction of 19%, an average of 338 kilowatts. Electric load reduction was possible even with gas heating systems because of the fans used to distribute heat.

During a Texas grid emergency, 100 retail stores using Siemens automated demand response tools were able to reduce energy use by 21%[9] over 3.5 hours without significantly disrupting customers. The graphic to the left[10] illustrates how the utility sees this demand response.

Peak Reduction from Homes

When it comes to managing residential energy consumption, utilities have used radio-controlled devices for more than two decades, but are just beginning to take advantage of Internet-connected devices or smart appliances.


Think of this as a giant battery.

One historic example comes from Great River Energy, an aggregation of cooperative utilities in Minnesota, which remotely controls over 100,000 water heaters[12], enough to store more than 1 gigawatt-hour of electricity. That’s enough electricity to power 37,000 homes for an entire day. Xcel Energy’s Savers Switch program, mentioned in the introduction, aggregates air conditioners in 400,000 homes and businesses to control 300 megawatts of energy demand.

Some utilities are pushing the envelope with new technology.

Oklahoma Gas & Electric achieved[13] energy use reductions of 2 kilowatts per home in the first year of its smart meter and smart thermostat program. The utility allowed 40,000 volunteer customers to switch to electric rate plans where the price varied based on the demands on the grid. Customers received[14] smart meters and smart thermostats to shift their consumption accordingly. The 70 megawatts of peak power reduction was 50% to 100% more than the utility anticipated. In addition to cost savings for more than 90% of participating customers[15], the utility’s costs of $300 to $400 per home were far less than the cost of adding new peak-time power plant generation to the electricity system.

By its second year, the utility increased residential participation to over 100,000 households with average load reduction of 1.4 kilowatts[16], and by year four, 92% of participating customers saved an average of $140 per summer. The 1.4 kilowatt average load reduction is twice that achieved by Xcel’s Saver’s Switch program.

Oklahoma Gas & Electric’s smart meter network was funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, although Arizona utilities have achieved reliable, if less substantial, results[17] (0.2 kilowatts of peak reduction) with smart thermostats alone. Another 1,000-customer pilot by Energate achieved approximately 1 kilowatt of demand reduction[18] per customer with a Canadian electric utility, a program now slated for expansion.


Deepening of Peak Energy Reduction in Homes

While most programs so far have targeted home comfort (central air conditioning or electric water heating), there are other sources of electricity consumption that remain untouched.

The following table shows numerous power draw estimates for common household appliances whose operation could be time-shifted during periods of high energy draw. Energy savings from dishwashers and clothes washers may already be captured in programs where customers pay more for electricity during peak periods, but refrigerators and window air conditioning units run on their own schedule.

Typical Energy Consumption of Large Household Appliances (Watts)

Data Source:[19] Don Rowe[20] Inverter Company Chabot Space & Science Center[21] Consumer Reports[22] ILSR Estimate
Refrigerator 600 500-750 N/A 725 600
Dishwasher N/A 1,200 1,200-1,500 1,800 1,200
Clothes washer 500-1,000 500 500 425 500
Window A/C units 1,000-1,500 N/A 1,000 1,000 1,000

Using the lower-end estimates for each, we could expect controlling refrigerators to provide around 600 watts, dishwashers 1,200 watts, clothes washers around 500 watts, and room air conditioners around 1,000 watts of power.

Of course, not all these items are available all the time. But the time we most need them is the time of peak energy demand. For this illustration, we’ll use Dakota Electric in Minnesota, a utility with an electricity system that reaches peak use in the summer, between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m.

We can probably assume that almost every household (99%) has access to a refrigerator and clothes washer. Dishwashers are in about 75%[23] of American homes, while 91% of Midwest homes have air conditioning[24]. About 22% of air conditioned homes (around 20% of total homes) use window units.

So let’s say a Minnesota utility wanted to manage energy demand in 10,000 homes in Minneapolis. The following table shows how many available appliances the utility would have at its disposal, at a maximum, and the total megawatts of capacity.

Maximum Number of Available Controllable Appliances and Capacity (10,000 households)

Appliance Number Total Megawatts
Refrigerators 9,900 5.94 MW
Dishwashers 7,500 9.00 MW
Clothes washers 9,900 4.96 MW
Window A/C units 2,200 2.20 MW

Of course, just because a customer has the appliance does not mean it would be on. Newer refrigerators use smaller compressors that run 80% to 90% of the time[25]. We’ll assume 80% of refrigerators are available to cycle (about 4.7 MW). Dishwashers are much less certain, with the average dishwasher running just one cycle every 3 days[26]. The wash/dry cycle takes about an hour, so in the 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. timeframe, we can only assume we’ll have 1 in 6 dishwashers running at all (assuming half are running in our peak time window), and only 20% of those available each hour (0.3 MW).1[27] Clothes washers are used more frequently — the average American does 400 loads per year[28], so the typical washer is running 1.1 times per day. We’ll assume half of laundry loads are done between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m., and that each individual cycle takes one hour. Thus, in a given hour we would have 11% of washers available to control (0.55 MW). Because we’re talking about peak energy times, it’s probably hot out, so we’ll assume 90% of window A/C units are running the full 5 hours (1.98 MW).

Cycling appliances frequently is bad for the compressor (where applicable), so we’ll assume the utility taps at most 20% of available units each hour to cover the entire peak demand period.

Estimated Available Capacity from Controllable Appliances (10,000 households)

Appliance Number Total Megawatts Total % Available Available Megawatts Available Megawatts per hour (20%)
Refrigerators 9,900 5.94 MW 80% 4.7 MW 0.94 MW
Dishwashers 7,500 9.00 MW 03.3% 0.3 MW 0.06 MW
Clothes washers 9,900 4.96 MW 11% 0.55 MW 0.11 MW
Window A/C units 2,200 2.20 MW 90% 1.98 MW 0.40 MW

We’re left with 1.51 MW of controllable energy demand per 10,000 households. It may seem small, but in a city like Minneapolis with 166,000 households[29], the utility has 25 megawatts of untapped energy supply, or about 4% of total peak energy demand.

So how could Xcel Energy or another utility start capturing this potential?

Powerful Examples

California utility PG&E offers a market-based automated demand response program[30], with payments ranging from $200 to $400 per kilowatt of load reduction. For comparison, the owners of the five buildings participating in the pilot program in the Northwest could have earned a minimum of $153,000 for participation in the PG&E program, in addition to their reduced energy bills. Our hypothetical 10,000 Minneapolis households, if grouped together, could have each earned up to $76 had they been participating in the PG&E program.

SDG&E, also in California, offers a similar automated demand response program with incentives[31] worth up to $300 per kilowatt of demand reduction. While 60% of the incentive depends upon completion of the project and test of its load reduction potential, 40% is based on actual performance during the year.

Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative’s Energy Wise[32] demand response program has automated and manual components. The utility provides a free smart thermostat that allows it to automatically control cooling and heating during peak energy events. The 44% of customers who participate receive a 10% discount on electricity during summer months. In exchange, the utility pre-cools the house by two degrees in the morning, and allows temperatures to rise by up to 4 degrees five to seven times per month.

The cooperative’s program goes further, encouraging customers to form teams to beat the peak. The highest-performing teams can win gift cards and prizes, and are notified of peak energy events via email, text, or phone the day prior.

Orvibo Smart OutletThe good news is that these successful programs don’t require advanced or smart meters, which have yet to replace older meters for 50% to 75% of customers[33] across the country, including all of Xcel Energy’s Minnesota customers. Energate, one of many companies in the “connected home” space, offers utility programs that simply pair smart devices with an Internet connection — no smart meter required[34]. That could be a significant tool in Minneapolis, where, like many other large cities, over 90%[35] of households have access to a wired, broadband Internet connection (and the city has a citywide Wi-Fi provider[36]).

Weather forecast company WeatherBug offers forecasting analytics as a tool to enhance the savings from smart, connected thermostats. In a Texas trial, smart thermostats using the company’s integrated weather analysis were able to increase peak energy savings[37] by 13% per home.

Automation technology is available off the shelf today. The Orvibo smart outlet plug[38] (shown right), for example, lets customers set a schedule or turn the device on and off from anywhere via a wifi connection. There are dozens[39] more choices, many available for less than $50. These devices are compatible with large appliances and could be deployed as part of utility demand response programs.


Automated or No?

Of the four appliances we considered, there are two distinct types. Refrigerators and air conditioners run independently, turning on and off automatically based on their thermostat settings. Interrupting the cycle of a refrigerator or air conditioner is a minimal inconvenience, and can be done remotely without the customer even noticing it’s happening. Central air conditioners are already controlled in this fashion by utilities, but smart outlets could allow utilities to control automatic appliances like refrigerators and window air conditioners, too.

The other kind of appliances—in this case, washers and dishwashers—run manually, typically starting when a human interacts with them. Trying to stop a washer or dishwasher mid-cycle may reset the machine or cause it to fail to complete its task.

In other words, automating demand response may only make sense for the automatic appliances. For appliances run manually, requiring human interface, it may make sense to instead change human behavior. This may be done more effectively by using transparent pricing communicated through talk, text, or social media, as is done in the Energy Wise program. It can be aided by timers built into these appliances, such as dishwashers or clothes washers that can be scheduled to run at a later time.

For manual appliances, there’s also an opportunity to use psychology to obtain savings. Opower[40] has teamed up with many utilities to put smiley or frowny faces on monthly electric bills to motivate customers to use less energy than their neighbors. The strategy has helped reduce energy use, some of which overlaps with peak demand periods.



Homes and businesses represent a large source of manageable energy consumption. Decades-old utility programs enable control of a few major sources of household or business energy use, but much untapped potential remains. In one city, Minneapolis, controlling four major household appliances in homes across the city could reduce peak energy demand by 4%.

Utilities can use commercially available smart technology to allow themselves or their customers to cycle automatic appliances—refrigerators and window air conditioners—and reduce peak energy consumption. Transparent pricing based on the actual costs of electricity can motivate customers to shift the time they use manual appliances such as washers and dishwashers, further reducing peak energy demand.

Electric utilities should explore programs for residential and commercial demand response to access this abundant, low-cost source of peak energy supply.



  1. We’re obviously simplifying dramatically, since there’s likely a bias toward dishwashers or clothes washers running later in the evening for working families, or at different times of day entirely. [Back to text][41]
  1. Download the Report:
  2. U.S. Energy Information Administration:
  3. [Image]:
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  5. right:
  6. Savers Switch program:
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  8. automated demand response program:
  9. reduce energy use by 21%:
  10. graphic to the left:
  11. [Image]:
  12. remotely controls over 100,000 water heaters:
  13. achieved:
  14. received:
  15. cost savings for more than 90% of participating customers:
  16. average load reduction of 1.4 kilowatts:
  17. reliable, if less substantial, results:
  18. 1 kilowatt of demand reduction:
  20. Don Rowe:
  21. Center:
  22. Consumer Reports:
  23. 75%:
  24. have air conditioning:
  25. 80% to 90% of the time:
  26. every 3 days:
  27. 1: #Footnotes
  28. 400 loads per year:
  29. 166,000 households:
  30. automated demand response program:
  31. incentives:
  32. Energy Wise:
  33. 50% to 75% of customers:
  34. no smart meter required:
  35. over 90%:
  36. citywide Wi-Fi provider:
  37. increase peak energy savings:
  38. outlet plug:
  39. dozens:
  40. Opower:
  41. [Back to text]: #Commercial

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ILSR Sponsors the Fourth National Cultivating Community Composting Forum, Scholarship Fund Announced

by Brenda Platt | October 11, 2016 5:03 pm

placeholderIn collaboration with the US Composting Council (USCC) and BioCycle[1], the Institute for Local Self-Reliance announces two events to be held in conjunction with the USCC’s International Conference and Trade Show[2], COMPOST2017, in Los Angeles:

Best Practices in Community Composting Workshop – 

January 23, 2017

Cultivating Community Composting Forum 2017 –

January 24, 2017

These events will bring together composters to network, share best practices, and build support for community-scale composting systems and enterprises. The Cultivating Community Composting Forum 2017 is the fourth national forum sponsored by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and BioCycle.

Interested in sponsoring and helping to support this event?[3] Click here to go the sponsorship page[4] and let us know how you can support this event!

Community composters, we invite your participation and input on the agenda! What topics or experts would you most like to hear from? Are you interested in presenting? What are your biggest challenges?

Limited scholarships are available to community composters! Apply by Friday, October 28. We have scholarships up to $500 to help offset COMPOST2017 registration fees, and travel and hotel costs. Community composters are also eligible to receive a waived registration fee (a $350 value) with a commitment to volunteer 8 hours at the conference.




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Report: North Carolina Connectivity – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

by Nick Stumo-Langer | October 11, 2016 12:00 pm

North Carolina’s digital divide between urban and rural communities is increasing dangerously in a time when high quality Internet access is more important than ever. Rural and urban areas of North Carolina are essentially living in different realities, based on the tides of private network investment where rural communities are severely disadvantaged. The state has relied too much on the telecom giants like AT&T and CenturyLink that have little interest in rural regions.

Download the Report[1]

The state perversely discourages investment from local governments and cooperatives. For instance, electric co-ops face barriers in seeking federal financing for fiber optic projects. State law is literally requiring the city of Wilson to disconnect its customers in the town of Pinetops, leaving them without basic broadband access. This decision in particular literally took the high-speed, affordable Internet access out of the hands of North Carolina’s rural citizens.

The lengths to which North Carolina has gone to limit Internet access to their citizens is truly staggering. Both a 1999 law limiting electric cooperatives’ access to capital for telecommunications and a 2011 law limiting local governments’ ability to build Internet networks greatly undermine the ability of North Carolinians to increase competition to the powerful cable and DSL incumbent providers.

In the face of this reality, the Governor McCrory’s Broadband Infrastructure Office recommended a “solution” that boils down to relying on cable and telephone monopolies’ benevolence. What this entire situation comes down to is a fundamental disadvantage for North Carolina’s rural residents because their state will not allow them to solve their own problems locally even when the private sector abandons them.

“It’s not as if these communities have a choice as to what they’re able to do to improve their Internet service,” says report co-author Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “There’s a demonstrated need for high-quality Internet service in rural North Carolina, but the state literally refuses to let people help themselves.”


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ILSR’s Testimony at New York City Hearing on Retail Diversity and Neighborhood Character

by Olivia LaVecchia | October 10, 2016 12:16 pm

Locally owned businesses are taking a hit in New York City. In lower-income and affluent neighborhoods alike, long-time businesses are being forced out by chain stores, rising rents, and new development, and the barriers to starting a new enterprise in the city are higher than ever. These businesses are an essential part of the city’s character and of its economy, and though generations of New Yorkers have pulled their families into the middle class by starting a business, now, this traditional route to a stable and prosperous life is diminishing.

On Sept. 30, the New York City Council’s Committee on Small Business and Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises held a hearing[1] on zoning and incentive ideas to address the crisis. There was heated discussion at the four-hour hearing, including testimony from more than 30 people. A briefing report[2] [.doc] that city staff prepared for the Council draws on ILSR’s work to propose solutions, and we also submitted written testimony.

The City has long discussed[3] taking the kind of policy action that some of its peer cities, like San Francisco, have. While this hearing is a first step, it remains to be seen whether City officials are willing to act to level the playing field for New York’s locally owned businesses.

To see our testimony, download a copy[4] [PDF] or read it below. We also examined the issue of rising retail rents in New York and other cities in our April 2016 report, “Affordable Space: How Rising Commercial Rents Are Threatening Independent Businesses, and What Cities Are Doing About It[5].”


Testimony of Olivia LaVecchia and Stacy Mitchell, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Before the New York City Council Committee on Small Business and Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises
Oversight Hearing on Zoning and Incentives for Promoting Retail Diversity and Preserving Neighborhood Character
September 30, 2016

Thank you, Chairs Cornegy and Richards, and Members of the Committee on Small Business and the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, for holding this hearing and for the opportunity to submit testimony on this critically important issue.

We work at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a 42-year-old national nonprofit research and educational organization with primary offices in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., where Olivia is a researcher and Stacy is co-director. In our work, we examine the many benefits that strong locally owned businesses bring to communities and economies, and public policy tools that support their growth and development. Stacy has presented on this topic at national conferences organized by groups like the American Planning Association and the National Main Street Center, and has advised many communities seeking policy responses. We’re also the co-authors of an April 2016 report titled, “Affordable Space: How Rising Commercial Rents Are Threatening Independent Businesses, and What Cities Are Doing About It,” in which we outline six broad policy strategies cities can use to maintain and create a built environment where locally owned businesses thrive.[1]

Our testimony briefly examines the importance of locally owned businesses to New York City and the crisis affecting them, and then offers examples of effective and proven policy strategies to level the playing field for these businesses. Promoting retail diversity and preserving neighborhood character are worthy policy goals, and ones that help the City achieve many other goals as well, such as creating jobs, advancing economic opportunity, and strengthening neighborhoods. (more…)[6]

  1. a hearing:
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  3. long discussed:
  4. download a copy:
  5. Affordable Space: How Rising Commercial Rents Are Threatening Independent Businesses, and What Cities Are Doing About It:
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In Maryland, Community Solar Pioneers Offer Blueprint

by Karlee Weinmann | October 7, 2016 6:00 am

placeholderA pair of rooftop solar arrays in Maryland spotlight how pioneering communities can pool their resources to expand local access to renewable energy. These “community solar” projects are an increasingly popular approach as electricity customers renounce utilities’ reliance on fossil fuel and look for ways to cut their energy costs.


This is part of a series released in October 2016 for Energy Awareness Month highlighting communities and community energy projects on ILSR’s Community Power Map[1].

The first of the two projects, atop a church in University Park[2] near the border of Washington D.C, went operational in 2010, around the time that legislation promoting community-scale solar projects began to surface nationwide. Back then, these solar projects were much more ad hoc. They cost more, and there were few proven success stories.

But enterprising communities saw the potential and used early solar projects as guides, giving way to a trend that has since brought community solar projects to neighborhoods across the U.S. The roughly 23-kilowatt University Park project directly influenced a separate 22-kilowatt installation in Greenbelt[3], a couple of towns to the east. In both cases, the local investors sell electricity to the host site.

Community Solar Projects and Virtual Net Metering.[4]

Today, more than a half decade after both projects went operational, they deliver the benefits targeted by their backers: they generate renewable energy for local users, replacing some fossil-fueled electricity, while participants steadily earn back the investment made to supplement tax credits and other incentives. Through 2015, they had each earned back $560[5] of their initial $1,000 buy-in.

Both projects used a private financing model to reduce compliance costs with securities regulations, a major barrier[6] for raising capital for community renewable energy projects. With other structures, these compliance costs could rise to as much as 75% of project costs. The graphic below illustrates the strategy, taken from our Beyond Sharing report[7] on community renewable energy.

University Park busting barriers[8]


The investor groups are technically for-profit entities, structured as limited liability corporations, so that they can capture perks tied to renewable energy production in Maryland. Among those incentives are renewable energy certificates, earned by generating solar power, that the groups can sell. Investors can profit from the sale of energy produced by their arrays.

“A social benefit like carbon reduction did not preclude a possible return on an individual’s contribution to the project,” the University Park partnership says it in its materials[9].

University Park and Greenbelt seeded community solar in Maryland, showing how to harness the collective investment of individuals to promote renewable energy. But privately run projects have been tough to scale up despite their success at the hyperlocal level, leaving a gap in a marketplace with unquenched demand for community solar. University Park backers, for example, were able to secure pro bono legal help in arranging the project.

That’s where a new statewide pilot program[10] comes in. The three-year initiative aims to add around 200 MW of community solar, according to plans approved in June, with about 60 MW of that capacity focused on low- and moderate-income electricity customers. Through the program, renters and others unable to install solar on their rooftops can still cash in on renewables. If it works similar to other state programs, the big difference is that the participants won’t own the solar projects, but rather just the right to a share of its electricity production, a key distinction in avoiding securities regulations.
16 states with virtual net metering transparentMaryland’s action brings it into a group of about a dozen states with community solar policies[11], typically crafted to diversify the energy mix and drive new investment in the local clean energy economy — goals that guided the University Park and Greenbelt investors years ago.

Under regulations approved over the summer[12], the Maryland program promises utilities will pay community solar subscribers the retail rate for energy use they offset and excess power generated by their arrays. It also guarantees no subscription fees for customers, meaning those opting in as projects go online will see the same payback on their electricity bills as rooftop solar customers.

One utility, Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative Inc., challenged the state’s ability to impose the on-bill credit guarantee for electricity that exceeds the customer’s own use and has asked federal regulators[13] to review the pilot program.

For their part, though, local officials have touted community solar as a multi-pronged asset to the state. It aligns, they say, with a broader vision for a more dynamic local energy economy. W. Kevin Hughes, who heads the Maryland Public Service Commission, has cheered the initiative.

“This pilot program will implement the General Assembly’s desire to increase access to solar electricity for all Maryland ratepayers, especially low- and moderate-income customers,” he said in June[14], after it sealed regulatory approval. “It will encourage private investment in Maryland’s solar industry and diversify the state’s energy resource mix.”

To learn more about the national movement toward distributed generation and renewables, visit ILSR’s interactive Community Power Map[1]. The tool showcases programming, policies and projects across the U.S., and compares state-by-state performance. Bookmark it and check back for updates.

This article originally posted at[15]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[16] or get the Energy Democracy weekly update[17].

  1. Community Power Map:
  2. atop a church in University Park:
  3. a separate 22-kilowatt installation in Greenbelt:
  4. [Image]:
  5. earned back $560:
  6. a major barrier:
  7. Beyond Sharing report:
  8. [Image]:
  9. says it in its materials:
  10. a new statewide pilot program:
  11. states with community solar policies:
  12. approved over the summer:
  13. has asked federal regulators:
  14. he said in June:
  16. Twitter:
  17. Energy Democracy weekly update:

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Mediacom Lawyers Slow Internet Competition With Court Time, Resources

by Lisa Gonzalez | October 6, 2016 7:26 am

When big corporate incumbent providers fear a hint of competition from a new entrant, they pull out all the stops to quash any potential threat. One of the first lines of offense involves the courts. Iowa City now leases its fiber to Cedar Rapids based ImOn[1] and to stop it, Mediacom is reprocessing an old argument. It didn’t work the first time, but they are going for it anyway; this is another example of how cable companies try to hobble competitors; just stalling can be a “win.”

A Lawsuit In Search Of An Offense

Mediacom has a franchise[2] agreement with Iowa City to offer cable television services and it also provides subscribers the option to purchase Internet access and telephone services. As most of our readers are attuned to these matters, you probably already understand that just any old cable TV provider can’t come into Iowa City and set up shop. State and local law require them to obtain a franchise agreement, which often includes additional obligations in exchange for access to a community’s potential customer base.

According to a 2015 Gazette article[3], Mediacom provides annual payments for use of the public right-of-way, operates a local office, and provides free basic cable services to local schools and government buildings. These types of commitments are commonplace as part of franchise agreements and are small sacrifices compared to the potential revenue available to Mediacom.

ImOn started offering Internet access and phone services to Iowa City downtown businesses in January but the company does not offer cable TV services like it does in other Iowa municipalities. ImOn doesn’t have a franchise agreement with Iowa City but Mediacom says that it should. They argue that, because ImOn has built a system capable of offering video service, it should also have to obtain a franchise agreement.

In August, U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Wolle dismissed the case, stating in a nutshell:

“Although ImOn is constructing in Iowa City a system that may become capable of delivering cable programming, ImOn is not now delivering cable programming. Therefore, ImOn is not presently required to seek a cable franchise.”

Blast From The Past

This isn’t the first time this argument has echoed off the walls of a courtroom. Back in 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit dismissed a similar case between Time Warner Cable (TWC) and the city of North Kansas City. The situation was similar, except the city had not yet decided whether to invest in the required head end to provide video over the fiber-optic[4] network they wanted to deploy. At the time, a Missouri law required a vote if the community planned to build and own a system in order to offer cable TV services. TWC wanted the use the court for a pre-emptive strike: to bar the city from using the network for video services stating that they could not do so because they had never held a vote.

TWC’s argument revolved around the question of whether or not the city owned or operated a cable television facility, which was in violation of state law. Since the network was not offering cable services and there was no head end yet – in fact they didn’t even know if they wanted to invest in one – what really mattered was whether or not North Kansas City owned a “cable TV facility” without prior voter approval. In other words, were they building a network that was capable of offering cable TV services?

As in Iowa City, the court determined that the issue was not “ripe.” From the opinion[5]:

It is factually undisputed that the City’s fiber-optic network is not connected to the required head end facility to receive such signals nor is there any plan to acquire it. Thus, Time Warner’s statutory claim rests on a contingent future event:  the ownership or operation of a cable-television facility by the City;  therefore, Time Warner’s claim that a vote is required under Missouri law is not ripe in that the City does not currently own or operate a cable-television facility because the planned fiber-optic network will not be capable of transmitting cable-television signals and because the City recognizes that in order for it to provide cable-television services a public vote would be required.

Let’s not put the cart before the horse.

Jeff Janssen, vice president of sales and marketing for ImOn said in December that if the provider’s plans change, they will take the necessary steps:

“Franchise agreements are all around cable TV,” he said. “Once we decide, or if we decided to offer cable TV in Iowa City, we would get that franchise agreement, we are required to.”

Every Tool In The Anti-Competitive Toolbox

Mediacom has approximately 4,500 employees and, like the other large corporate providers, they have a highly qualified regiment of attorneys. Not likely they missed the similarities between the North Kansas City and Iowa City cases, but there’s more than one way to win.

Traditionally, winning means presenting the facts and proving to the judge that they fit into the law and that your interpretation of how they work with the law is more correct than your opponent’s. For companies like Mediacom and TWC, however, winning can also mean delaying your opponents project to drive up their costs or cool subscriber interest. In other words, going after the fruit before it is “ripe.”

Winning may also mean forcing the other side to give up and walk away by driving up their legal costs or making them lose progress when construction is delayed and subscribers lose confidence in the project.

Big incumbents have become masters at using the courts for sabotage schemes, no matter how frivolous the perceived infringement. They sue or threaten to sue over poles[6], attempts to streamline[7], and what services a city can and cannot offer[8]. The state legislatures that have passed laws restricting local authority have only helped massive telecoms and cable companies abuse the courts by providing vehicles for their lawsuits. At the same time, they have forced local governments to waste citizen funds and stalled Internet access, typically to the communities most desperate for it.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[9]

  1. Iowa City now leases its fiber to Cedar Rapids based ImOn:
  2. franchise: /glossary/1#term12
  3. 2015 Gazette article:
  4. fiber-optic: /glossary/1#term10
  5. From the opinion:
  6. sue over poles:
  7. attempts to streamline:
  8. can and cannot offer: