Not Just Illegal, Targeting Solar Facilities With Fees is Poor Policy

by John Farrell | May 12, 2016 5:10 pm

Should utilities be able to add special fees on customers that have solar or small wind installations?

Not only is it against Minnesota state law, but in our recent comments to the state’s Public Utilities Commission, we explain how one-off fees on customers using distributed generation to cut their energy consumption violates the spirit of good utility rate design, and inhibits development of a more efficient electricity system.

Six Minnesota utilities were singled out by the Commission in the recent investigation, all guilty of having fees imposed (usually associated with metering) on customers with distributed generation systems. The fees were wide ranging, as were the purported costs they were intended to recover. The fees also directly conflict with the state laws meant to encourage “maximum encouragement” of distributed renewable energy resources.

From our comments:

“Targeted fees on qualifying facilities can hardly be considered consistent with ‘maximum possible encouragement,’ especially when there has been so little evidence presented by the state’s electric utilities that such fees reflect a full and accurate accounting of the costs and benefits of such facilities. A regulatory tool does exist to fulfill this purpose, called the value of solar tariff, but no utility has yet opted to use it.”

It’s unfortunately not unexpected to see utility companies reacting to change on the electric grid in this manner, as several other technological shifts in other industries suggest:

To an extent, this reaction reflects the slow and conservative nature of the electric utility business. Electric utilities are often as unprepared for the rapid technological changes in efficiency or solar as were typewriter manufacturers or landline phone companies were for computers or cell phones. But such a lack of preparation is not an excuse to penalize customers whose own investment of capital can offer system benefits greater than their compensation, as suggested by the premium of Xcel’s 2016 value of solar price over its residential retail rate.

What could utilities do differently? In Minnesota, specifically, they could learn a lot from the Commission’s Alternative Rate Design proceeding, exploring ways to design rates in a way that incentivizes customers to act in a way with maximum benefit to themselves and the electric grid. Examples include time-of-use rates that charge customers less to use electricity when it costs less to deliver, or reward them more for putting power onto the grid at times of high demand.

The fees aren’t just illegal or poorly conceived, as we say in our comments, “they reflect a knee-jerk reaction to change—reflected in inconsistent and incomplete rationale—rather than a thoughtful and transparent approach to appropriate rate design. “

We can do better.

Download the full comments here[1].

This article originally posted at[2]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[3] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[4] update.

  1. Download the full comments here:
  3. Twitter:
  4. Democratic Energy weekly:

Source URL:

Minnesota’s Broadband Grant Program: Getting the Rules Right

by Christopher | May 12, 2016 1:15 pm

placeholder[1]Minneapolis, MN —In its first two years of implementation, the Minnesota Border-to-Border program distributed $30 million to 31 rural Minnesota communities. But the state has not put enough money into the program and needs to put more focus on getting investment in Greater Minnesota cities to spur economic development.

“This funding is essential to greater Minnesota communities that are being left behind,” says Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “The current disbursement is only meeting a fraction of the state’s high-speed Internet needs as it is. The program’s rules must be reconsidered to meet economic development goals for the state.”

“Getting the Rules Right”[2] is a policy brief on the Border-to-Border Broadband program. It covers what the program is, how it works, and why funding must be expanded in order to serve more greater Minnesota communities.


border to border cover image[3]



  1. [Image]:
  2. “Getting the Rules Right”:
  3. [Image]:
  5. (more…):

Source URL:

What Should Bernie Do Now?

by David Morris | May 11, 2016 11:07 am

“What should Bernie do?” That seems to be the question of the month. Permit me to weigh in.

Here’s what we know at this point in the campaign.

For Sanders to have any chance of winning the support of superdelegates he must arrive at the convention with more elected delegates than Hillary.   To do that he needs to win about 65 percent of all elected delegates in the remaining electoral contests.

On March 26 Bernie did win three states (Washington, Alaska, Hawaii) by huge margins. They were all caucus states. He has never won a primary in a state where only Democrats are allowed to vote and 5 of the remaining 10 are in states with closed primaries.

So his chances are infinitesimal. Is this an argument for him to drop out? No. Hillary supporters might recall at this point in the 2008 race she was about the same number of delegates behind Obama as Bernie is behind Hillary and Obama had twice the number of superdelegates pledged to him. Some people did ask her to drop out but she continued to campaign through the primaries.

More importantly Bernie’s campaign is offering a narrative we haven’t heard for at least two generations from a major political candidate. It is a powerful, vibrant, angry, coherent narrative that forcefully runs at the powerful while defending and nurturing the weak. Bernie is as mad at concentrated corporate power and billionaires as Republicans are at government and the poor.

Bernie should continue to educate America. He needs to stay in not only to gather more delegates but also to magnetize more young people to the possibilities of politics.

But his campaign should cease any further attacks on Hillary. He can effectively sell his philosophy and program without attacking her. He can emphasize their differences about how to tackle financial concentration without attacking her for being “bought” by Wall Street.

I am less worried that further attacks will weaken Hillary’s support among the general population than I am that it will harden the hostility his supporters have built up toward Hillary during this vigorous campaign.

Bernie’s support is strongest among young people. These are voters who have yet to internalize an ethic of voting.   Traditionally they are a highly cynical population and cynicism breeds apathy. They could opt out of the election. Indeed, in some polls a quarter of Bernie’s voters say they will not vote for Hillary.

Hillary is a weak candidate. She can’t win without the support of Bernie’s followers. Trump may prove a catastrophe, and his own worst enemy during the campaign, but we can’t count on it. Turnout is the key and this year the turnout in Republican primaries has been the highest in over 50 years while the turnout on the Democratic side has been about average.

Bernie needs to make a convincing case to his supporters that in the general election they should support Hillary without thinking they have sold out. They need not be passionate but they do need to be vocal, at least among their friends. When Trump attacks Hillary they shouldn’t reflexively respond by saying, “Trump is an idiot but he does have a point.”

Bernie can honestly maintain that his differences with Hillary pale into insignificance to the differences between the Democrat and Republican parties. He can argue passionately about the dangers of a one party government. What protections will be left after the furies of a far right wing Republican Party are expressed through the control of all three branches of government, including the Supreme Court?

Bernie can be very supportive of Hillary’s election while at the same time contending that her election is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the dramatic structural changes needed.

In politics there is always a quid pro quo. In return for his support, what should Bernie ask of Hillary?

Certainly Hillary will offer Bernie a prime time slot for his speech at the Convention. I look forward to watching it. That will be an ideal opportunity for Bernie both to present his philosophy while at the same time warmly supporting Hillary and reminding Americans about the urgent importance of this election.

The Sanders campaign will also inevitably influence the platform. That may result in an especially vigorous and perhaps contentious debate, but we should remember that political platforms are usually forgotten the day after the convention closes. Moreover, this platform, like the 2012 Democratic platform, will be devoted largely to touting the accomplishments of Barack Obama. It is not going to include potshots at him.

What Should Bernie Demand from Hillary?

So what should Bernie ask for that are not gimmees? (more…)[1]

  1. (more…):

Source URL:

Infographic: Compost Impacts More Than You Think

by Brenda Platt | May 7, 2016 7:03 am


Thank you for your overwhelming support of our International Compost Awareness Week (#ICAW) infographic! We have received so many thank you’s and requests for full resolution versions, so keep them coming!


Compost Infographic_FULL[3]

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[4] ([5]), 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:[6] 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[7]


Below are the web-optimized versions of all of the graphics we revealed this week. For full resolution versions of these pieces, email Rebecca Toews at


  1. [Image]:
  2. HERE:
  3. [Image]:
  4. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  7. [Image]:
  8. (more…):

Source URL:

Report: Beyond Sharing – How Communities Can Take Ownership of Renewable Power

by John Farrell | April 26, 2016 6:55 am


Browse the Report

Benefits of Community Renewable Energy
U.S. Barriers to Community Renewable Energy
Barrier Busting
Exceptional Community Energy Projects
Community as City
A Community Renewable Energy Gold Standard

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?

Download the Report[1]

Download the Executive Summary[2]

Executive Summary

In the past five years, the opportunity for community renewable energy has coalesced around “shared solar,” where participants share the electricity output from a nearby solar array in the form of credits on their electricity bill. Some forecasts suggest that shared solar could supply 5-10 gigawatts of new power capacity in the next 5 years.

Trnsprt Growth in Community Renewable

But shared solar is just a small slice of the community renewable energy opportunity, which could include many other renewable technologies such as wind or geothermal, but also community-owned projects that would allow greater local capture of economic benefits[3]. While shared solar is a model shown to avoid several of the pitfalls typical for community renewable energy, these pitfalls could be bridged to much more broadly expand the economic opportunity.

U.S. Barriers to Community Renewable Energy

Three major barriers still inhibit widespread expansion of community renewable energy, much as they did when ILSR published its community solar report in 2010[4].

  1. Federal and state securities laws, meant to shield ordinary people from Ponzi schemes and bad investments, are often too onerous for community-scale renewable energy projects.
  2. Federal tax incentives require specific and sufficient tax liability, in ways that often precludes ordinary community investors.
  3. Finally, legal limitations to sharing electricity output from community-based renewable energy projects mean only states with explicit exemptions are likely to see substantial growth in community renewables.

Trnspt 14 State with VNM policies

Busting the Barriers?

Within limits, policy makers have found ways to work around or reduce the barriers to community renewable energy, but their solutions haven’t yet proven widely scalable without significant compromise. (more…)[5]

  1. Download the Report:
  2. Download the Executive Summary:
  3. greater local capture of economic benefits:
  4. community solar report in 2010:
  5. (more…):

Source URL:

New Report: How Rising Commercial Rents Are Threatening Independent Businesses, and What Cities Are Doing About It

by Olivia LaVecchia | April 20, 2016 6:00 am


ILSR’s new report examines how high rents are shuttering businesses and stunting entrepreneurship, and explores 6 strategies that cities are using to create an affordable built environment where local businesses can thrive. 

Image: Report cover.[1]In cities as diverse as Nashville and Milwaukee, Charleston and Portland, Maine, retail rents have shot up by double-digit percentages over the last year alone. As the cost of space rises, urban neighborhoods that have long provided the kind of dense and varied environment in which entrepreneurs thrive are becoming increasingly inhospitable to them. Local businesses that serve the everyday needs of their communities are being forced out and replaced by national chains that can negotiate better rents or afford to subsidize a high-visibility location.

This new report from ILSR offers elected officials insights on what’s causing commercial rents to skyrocket, and explores six broad policy solutions, with practical examples, that cities can use to keep commercial space appropriate, accessible, and affordable for independent businesses.

The report finds that the sharp rise in rents is happening across a range of communities, with some of the most intense pressure falling on businesses in lower income neighborhoods. And the trend isn’t limited to retailers. The price of industrial space is rising rapidly too, jeopardizing a budding renaissance in urban manufacturing.

There’s a public interest in the commercial side of the built environment, the report concludes, and smart city policy has an important role to play in creating an urban landscape in which locally owned businesses can thrive.

Read: ONE-PAGE FACTSHEET  |  Press release  |  Full Report  |  MAPPING RISING RENTS[2]



For 22 years, Lisa Monson ran her business out of a building she rented in Salt Lake City’s 15th and 15th business district. The 2,800-square-foot space was a good size for her hair salon, and she liked being in a neighborhood of locally owned businesses.

Like many business owners, though, the more Monson continued to invest in her business, the more wary she became of losing her space. Her landlord wouldn’t offer her a long-term lease, and every three years, she faced a tough renegotiation. Meanwhile, national chains had started moving into the neighborhood, including a Starbucks and an Einstein’s Bagels that bought out a local bagel shop.

“It kept me in a place where I was completely at risk of being thrown out,” Monson explains. “I knew that if he got an offer for a lot more money, I wouldn’t be able to match it.”

The cost of commercial space is spiking upward around the country, driven both by run-away real estate speculation and the growing popularity of urbanism. As a new generation discovers the appeal of walkable and mixed-use neighborhoods,[1] demand for small commercial spaces in those neighborhoods is far outpacing supply, and rents are rising to match. Locally owned enterprises, which thrive in these areas, are increasingly threatened with displacement from the neighborhoods that they’ve made vibrant, and getting replaced by national chains that can negotiate better rents or afford to subsidize a high-visibility location. As high rents shutter longtime businesses, they also create an ever-higher barrier to entry for new entrepreneurs, stunting opportunity and leading to a scarcity of start-ups in cities once known for their business dynamism.


  1. [Image]:
  3. (more…):

Source URL:

RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for new Rural Internet Cooperative

by Christopher | April 18, 2016 9:46 am

21ST CENTURY FARMS REQUIRE 21ST CENTURY CONNECTIVITY. Denied Access by telephone and cable companies, they created a new model.

Winthrop, MN — A new trend is emerging in rural communities throughout the United States: Fiber-to-the-Farm. Tired of waiting for real Internet access from big companies, farmers are building it themselves. Communities in and around Minnesota’s rural Sibley County are going from worst to best after building a wireless and fiber-optic cooperative. While federal programs throw billions of dollars to deliver last year’s Internet speeds, local programs are building the network of the future.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Next Century Cities present this in-depth case study co-authored by Scott Carlson and Christopher Mitchell.



In “RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative,” the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) and Next Century Cities (NCC) document a groundbreaking new model that’s sprung up in South Central Minnesota that can be replicated all over the nation, in the thousands of cities and counties that have been refused service by big cable and telecom corporations.

From the technologies to the financing, rural communities can solve their problems with local investments.

“This cooperative model could bring high quality Internet access to every farm in the country,” says Christopher Mitchell, director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks[3] initiative. “It’s time we stop giving billions of dollars to the big telephone companies that have refused to meet local needs. There is a better way, there are better models emerging. We can do this. RS Fiber proves it.”

RS Fiber Fact Sheet image[4]


In the report you’ll meet:

Mark Erickson of the city of Winthrop. Erickson is the local champion that has breathed life into RS Fiber. Without the project, the city of Gaylord would have not attracted the forthcoming medical school. “We have that opportunity because of the FTTH network. Without it, no medical school.”

Linda Kramer of Renville County. Kramer’s family farm relies on the Internet to upload soybean and wheat reports to business partners. DSL connections are simply not fast enough to handle the massive amount of data agricultural businesses need in order to stay competitive with the Farming Industrial Complex that is the reality of the 21st century.

Jacob Rieke, a 5th generation family farmer. Rieke’s motivation for backing the project was his pre-school aged daughters. Not wanting to put them at a disadvantage to their peers in other cities, he considered moving to a different location in order to have access to Internet.


Read ongoing stories about these networks at ILSR’s site devoted to Community Broadband Networks[6].  You can also subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks[7].


  1. [Image]:
  3. Community Broadband Networks:
  4. [Image]:
  6. Community Broadband Networks:
  7. subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks:
  8. (more…):

Source URL:

The Most Substantive Political Debate in Recent History

by David Morris | April 7, 2016 5:32 pm

Win or lose, Bernie Sanders has made this Democratic primary the most substantive in my lifetime. Not that Hillary Clinton’s campaign is devoid of ideas. She has some thoughtful ones. But the boldness of Sanders’ proposals is what has driven this historic and instructive debate.

The dynamic so far consists of Sanders setting a marker (e.g. free tuition, universal free health care, breaking up the banks, a $15 federal minimum wage, a $1 trillion public works investment); Clinton responds, and their two camps engage in a spirited, intelligent, and surprisingly concrete debate.

This back and forth has forced both candidates to raise their game. When Sanders proposed free college tuition, Clinton responded by unveiling her detailed New College Compact Plan. When Clinton attacked Sanders for failing to identify revenue sources to finance his free tuition and health care proposals, he promptly posted chapter and verse on his web site.

When economics Professor Gerald Friedman concluded that if all Sanders policies were implemented the combined effect would be to stimulate dramatically strong economic growth, four former heads of the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) wrote an open letter not only dismissing his conclusions as not credible but admonishing, “Making such promises runs against our party’s best traditions of evidence-based policy making…”

The three-paragraph letter generated a collegial scolding from James Galbraith, former Executive Director of the Joint Economic Committee, the Congressional counterpart of the CEA. He pointed out the signatories’ own lack of evidence for their conclusion. “I looked to the bottom of the page to find a reference or link to your rigorous review of Professor Friedman’s study. I found nothing there.” That led one of the signers to undertake a far more detailed[1] response, which in turn generated an instructive and much too rare discussion[2] regarding the validity of assumptions inside the black box of conventional economic models.

The back and forth has also revealed strategic differences born of a distinct political philosophies.   Bernie would deal with concentrated economic power through structural change; Hillary would rely on regulatory oversight. Bernie would work to break up giant banks directly. Clinton prefers to strengthen the Dodd-Frank law. Clinton sees Sanders’ proposal as politically untenable. Sanders sees Clinton’s proposal as unworkable.

Sanders’ prescription for structural change often includes using government as a competitive service provider. That is the case with his proposal to revive Postal Banking. From 1910 to 1967 the U.S. Post Office, the most ubiquitous of all public institutions, provided financial services. At its peak 1947 the U.S. Postal Bank had over 4 million accounts and deposits exceeding $3.3 billion. Almost 90 million people in the United States have no bank account and pay[3] about l0 percent of their income in fees and interest to gain access to credit or other financial services. (more…)[4]

  1. detailed:
  2. discussion:
  3. pay:
  4. (more…):

Source URL:

More Colorado Communities Shut Out State Barriers At The Voting Booth

by ILSR | April 6, 2016 6:31 am

Once again, local communities in Colorado chose to shout out to leaders at the Capitol and tell them, “We reclaim local telecommunications authority!”

Nine more towns in the Centennial State voted on Tuesday to opt out of 2005’s SB 152. Here are the unofficial results from local communities that can’t be any more direct at telling state leaders to let them chart their own connectivity destiny:

Akron[1], population 1,700 and located in the center of the state, passed its ballot measure with 92 percent of votes cast supporting the opt-out.

Buena Vista[2], also near Colorado’s heartland, chose to approve to reclaim local authority when 77 percent of those casting votes chose to opt out. There are approximately 2,600 people in the town located at the foot of the Collegiate Peaks in the Rockies. Here is Buena Vista’s sample ballot[3].

The town of Fruita[4], home to approximately 12,600 people, approved the measure to reclaim local authority with 86 percent of votes cast. Now, when they celebrate the Mike the Headless Chicken Festival[5], the Fruitans will have even more to cheer.

Orchard City[6], another western community, approved their ballot measure when 84 percent of voters deciding the issue chose to opt out. There are approximately 3,100 people here and a local cooperative, the Delta-Montrose Electric Association (DMEA) has started Phase I[7] of  its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network in the region. According to an August article[8] in the Delta County Independent, Delta County Economic Development (DCED) has encouraged local towns, including Orchard City, to ask voters to opt out of SB 152. With the restriction removed, local towns can now collaborate with providers like DMEA.

In southwest Colorado is Pagosa Springs[9], where 83 percent of those voting supported the ballot measure to opt out. There are 1,700 people living in the community where many of the homes are vacation properties. Whether or not to reclaim local telecommunications authority was the only ballot issue[10] in Pagosa Springs.

Silver Cliff[11] began as a mining town and is home to only 587 people in the south central Wet Mountain Valley. Voters passed the ballot measure to opt-out of SB 152 with 80 percent of votes cast.

In the north central part of the state sits Wellington[12], population approximately 6,200. The community has some limited fiber and their ballot initiative specifically states[13] that they intend to study the feasibility and viability of publicly provided services. Their initiative passed with 83 percent of the vote:


Another small community, Westcliffe[14] with 568 people, also took the issue to the voters. Of those voting on Ballot Question A, 76 percent voted “yes” to reclaim local telecommunications authority. The town is located at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Custer County.

Two weeks ago, we told you about Mancos[15] where community leaders want to explore the possibility of using existing publicly owned fiber for better connectivity. In Mancos, the Board of Trustees of the community of 1,300 recognized that the bill was anti-competitive and passed a resolution urging voters to approve the opt-out. As the Town Administrator acknowledged, reclaiming local authority, “gives us a lot more leeway.” Mancos wants to have the freedom to investigate public projects and public private partnerships. Voters agreed and 86 percent of those casting ballots approved the measure.

C’mon Already!

Last November nearly 50 local communities[16] sent a message loud and clear to the state legislature that they want the freedom to make their own decisions about connectivity. Opting out of SB 152 does not mean a community will build a muni but allows them to explore the possibility of serving themselves or using their own fiber assets to work with private sector partners.

For these communities, there is no good that comes from SB 152. Its only purpose is to limit possibilities and restrict competition in favor of the big corporate providers who lobbied so hard to get it passed in 2005.

We’ve said it before[17] and we’ll say it again. Rather than force local communities to spend local funds on these referendums to reclaim a right that was taken away from them by the state in 2005, Colorado needs to repeal the barriers erected by SB 152.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[18]

  1. Akron:
  2. Buena Vista:
  3. sample ballot:
  4. Fruita:
  5. Mike the Headless Chicken Festival:
  6. Orchard City:
  7. started Phase I:’s-fiber-premises-business
  8. August article:
  9. Pagosa Springs:
  10. only ballot issue:
  11. Silver Cliff:
  12. Wellington:
  13. ballot initiative specifically states:
  14. Westcliffe:
  15. told you about Mancos:
  16. nearly 50 local communities:
  17. We’ve said it before:
  18. here:

Source URL:

What Is the Best Medical System in the Country? The Answer May Surprise You.

by David Morris | March 31, 2016 10:59 am

The Veterans Administration (VA). Yes, a medical system 100% financed by the government and run by the government, provides higher quality care, at a lower cost, than private hospitals. That’s the conclusion of dozens of independent studies. But a multi-year, well-financed and highly effective campaign has persuaded Congress to ignore the data because, well, we all know the government cannot do anything efficiently. The tragic result? Congress has begun the process of dismantling the most effective (and largest) medical system in the United States. In the Washington Monthly Alicia Mundy reports[1] the sad and revealing story.

  1. reports:

Source URL:

Report: Re-Member-ing the Electric Cooperative

by John Farrell | March 29, 2016 7:58 am

by John Farrell, Matt Grimley & Nick Stumo-Langer

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.

Download the Report[1]

Executive Summary

Electric cooperatives face diverse challenges, from their power sources to member engagement. This report details those challenges and the tools that cooperatives are using to overcome them.

The Challenges

low turnout for rural electric cooperative board elections ILSR[2]Tied to Coal Power
Coal accounts for about 75% of energy generated by electric cooperatives, compared to just 32% for the United States’ entire electricity sector (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2016).

Captured in Long-Term Contracts
Contracts with electricity suppliers extend for decades, sometimes past 2050, trapping locally-based electric cooperatives into increasingly expensive distant power plants and fossil fuel sources, while forbidding them from buying outside energy.

Losing Member-Owners.
Electric cooperative members have a right to vote for their boards of directors. But 70% of cooperatives have less than a 10% voter turnout, increasing the disconnection between the cooperative and its members.

The Solutions

Fortunately, the solutions lie in the best of the cooperative movement.

Finding Ways Out of Coal Power
A new ruling from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission may allow electric cooperatives to purchase local power outside their contractual obligations, providing a novel level of flexibility for most cooperatives.

Using Clean Energy and On-Bill Financing
Electric cooperatives are finding new ways to enable energy savings for member-owners. They’re leaders in experimenting with community solar. A few are supporting the highest penetrations of rooftop solar in the nation. They’re creating cost-effective on-bill financing programs that help members save energy and money.

And Empowering Member-Owners
The member-owners of Pedernales Electric Cooperative, Beartooth Electric Cooperative, Jackson Energy Cooperative, and many others have made their cooperatives more accessible, more dedicated to renewable energy and energy efficiency, and more democratic than ever.

Cooperatives may face their greatest challenge since the inception of rural electrification in the 1930s, but with their members, they have the power to overcome.



  1. Download the Report:
  2. [Image]:
  3. (more…):

Source URL:

AT&T Tries to End the Magic of One Touch Make-Ready

by ILSR | March 28, 2016 5:06 am

On the border of Kentucky and Indiana a fight is brewing as AT&T and Google Fiber have both announced plans to bring Gigabit Internet service to Louisville, Kentucky. Home to over half a million, the city could see major economic development with new ultra high-speed Internet access, but there’s a problem: the utility poles.

AT&T is suing the city[1] over a “one touch make-ready” ordinance. On February 11, 2016, the Louisville Metro Council passed the ordinance[2] in order to facilitate new competitors, i.e. Google Fiber.

Utility Poles: Key to Aerial Deployment

Make-ready is the shorthand for making a utility pole ready for new attachments. Although it may seem simple, this process is often expensive and time-consuming. To add a new cable, others may have to be shifted in order to meet safety and industry standards. Under the common procedure, this process can take months as each party has to send out an independent crew to move each section of cabling.

To those of us unfamiliar with the standards of pole attachment it may seem absurd, but this originally made sense. Utility poles have a limited amount of space, and strict codes regulate the placement of each type of cable on the pole. Competitors feel they have to fiercely guard their space on the pole and cannot trust other providers to respect their cables. Make-ready must involve coordination between multiple providers and the utility pole owners. For some firms, like AT&T, this is an opportunity to delay new competition for months.

“One touch make-ready” simplifies the entire process. A single crew only makes one trip to relocate all the cables as necessary to make the utility pole. Under the amended ordinance in Louisville, the company that wants to add a cable to the utility pole can hire a single accredited and certified crew, approved by the pole owner, which will accomplish the work much more quickly and at lower cost. Also, it must pay for needed fixes or any damages to the pole-owner’s equipment and inform the pole-owner of any changes within 30 days. Such “one touch make-ready” policies quicken network deployments by preventing delays inherent in coordinating many different entities.

Why Oppose It? Private Utility Pole vs. Public Right-of-Way

AT&T is suing to stop Louisville from implementing this new policy in an effort to stop the new competition from entering the market. Ostensibly, AT&T argues they filed the suit because they own many of the utility poles (an estimated 25-40%) in Louisville. The company argues that the municipality does not have the authority to regulate the utility poles and that this is an unjust seizure of property. In other communities where this is the case, the new companies that want to use the utility poles must sign a licensing agreement with AT&T.

AT&T’s argument, however, fails to recognize that local governments are required to manage the public Rights-of-Way (in layman’s terms, that is the land kept for the public interest near a roadway). The utility poles, although privately owned, serve a key function for connecting the public with needed services. That is why those utility poles are permitted on the public Right-Of-Way in the first place. Local governments, moreover, must have the authority to ensure that anything permitted on the public Right-Of-Way, such as utility poles, meet safety and industry standards in the quickest and most efficient way possible.

Further Resources on “One Touch Make-Ready”

Chris interviews Ted Smith, Chief Innovation Officer for Louisville in Community Broadband Bits Episode 193[3]. Smith describes how “one touch make-ready” is quicker, safer, and more efficient to use the utility poles in the public Rights-of-Way to their full potential for the good of the community.

For more information on the importance of “one touch make-ready,” check out analyses from the Coalition for Local Internet Choice[4], Next Century Cities[5], and FTTH Council[6]. For an in-depth analysis of Right-of-Way regulations, listen to Sean Stokes of Baller, Herbst, Stokes & Lide on Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 169[7].

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

  1. AT&T is suing the city:
  2. Louisville Metro Council passed the ordinance:
  3. Community Broadband Bits Episode 193:
  4. Coalition for Local Internet Choice:
  5. Next Century Cities:
  6. FTTH Council:
  7. Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 169:
  8. here:

Source URL:

Mancos Voters The Latest To Decide Local Authority In Colorado

by ILSR | March 25, 2016 3:47 pm

 Mancos[1], a rural community of about 1,300 in rural southwest Colorado, hopes to join over 50 other communities across the state that have reclaimed local telecommunications authority. On April 5th, the town will decide whether to exempt itself from SB 152, Colorado’s 2005 state law that removed local choice from municipalities and local governments.

Located at the base of the Mesa Verde National Park, Mancos is best known for outdoor recreation and as the gateway to the park, home to the historic Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings. Rangeland and mountains surround the community.

The Pine River Times Journal reports[2] that Mancos is looking to utilize 3,300 feet of fiber optic assets already in place. The fiber now connects municipal facilities but community leaders want to have the option to use the network for businesses, residents, or to provide Wi-Fi to visitors. SB 152 precludes Mancos from using their publicly owned fiber for any of those purposes without first opting out.

On March 9th, the Town Board of Trustees approved a resolution encouraging voters to pass the ballot initiative that will reclaim local authority. They have information about the ballot question and what it will mean for the community on their website[3].

“It’s an anti-competition bill [SB 152],” [Mancos Town Administrator Andrea Phillips] said. “[Exempting out] gives us a lot more leeway.”

Mancos has no specific plans to develop a municipal fiber network but, like many other communities that opted out last November[4], they want the ability to do so or to work with a private sector partner. Nearby Dolores is collaborating with Montezuma County; the two have contracted jointly for a feasibility study.

According a March 16th Pine River Times Journal article[5], Dolores and Montezuma County will put the issue to voters in November. Jim McClain, IT Manager for the county said:

“Opting out unties our hands in order to build up the system. It’s like we build the road, and then private companies provide the service on that road.”

“When people and businesses are thinking of moving here, the first thing they want to know is if there is broadband.”

In Mancos, the local Chamber of Commerce is considering the needs of visitors as well as residents.

“It’s all about economic vitality,” [Mancos Valley Chamber of Commerce Administrator Marie Chiarizia] said.

Mancos potentially could make broadband service available anywhere in the town if it’s exempted from SB 152, Chiarizia said. Outdoor events such as Mancos Days draw temporary vendors, and broadband access would allow those vendors to be able to take credit and debit cards more quickly, she said.

The Mancos Board of Trustees voted to contribute $4,100 to participate in the feasibility study on March 23rd.

“To look to the future and become prosperous you have to look at the infrastructure of the town and offer these services…Mancos is a unique community unto itself, but this will help us promote our town better and place us on a competitive edge,” [Chiarizia] said.

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

  1. Mancos:
  2. Pine River Times Journal reports:
  3. on their website:
  4. opted out last November:
  5. March 16th Pine River Times Journal article:
  6. here:

Source URL:

Listen to the Lawyers: Audio of Oral Arguments Now Available in TN/NC vs FCC

by ILSR | March 22, 2016 2:36 pm

Attorneys argued before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on March 17th[1] in the case of Tennessee and North Carolina vs the FCC. The attorneys presented their arguments before the court as it considered the FCC’s decision to peel back state barriers that prevent local authority to expand munis.

A little over a year ago, the FCC struck down[2] state barriers in Tennessee and North Carolina limiting expansion of publicly own networks. Soon after, both states filed appeals and the cases were combined.

You can listen to the entire oral argument below – a little less than 43 minutes – which includes presentations from both sides and vigorous questions from the Judges.

To review other resources from the case, be sure to check out the other resources, available here[3], including party and amicus briefs.

audio/mpeg iconOral Arguments, 15-3291 State of Tennessee and North Carolina v FCC et al[4]

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[5]

  1. on March 17th:
  2. the FCC struck down:
  3. available here:
  4. Oral Arguments, 15-3291 State of Tennessee and North Carolina v FCC et al:
  5. here:

Source URL:

CLIC to Host Preconference Day in Austin on April 4th

by ILSR | March 21, 2016 10:35 am

Are you going to the Austin Broadband Communities Conference this spring? If you plan on attending the April 5 – 7 event, you may want to head out one day early so you can check out the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) Preconference Day event on April 4.

From the CLIC email invite:

CLIC’s pre-conference day will focus on how communities can facilitate the development of local gigabit networks. Our interactive panel of experts will share best practices and how successful community-led networks have responded to various fiber deployment hurdles, including political, legal, financial, market or resource barriers. You will be able to meet in-person and hear from the public officials who are facilitating, and the private companies who are engaged in and seeking, local public-private broadband partnerships.

The event will be open to all conference attendees and will start at 8:45 a.m. Some of the presentations include:

A Discussion of How Successful Community-Led Networks Have Responded to Barriers and Challenges

Public-Private Partnerships

For more information on speakers, you can review the full agenda here[1].

Join CLIC[2] and register online[3] for the conference. As a member of CLIC, you will receive a special BBC rate of $350 for the entire BBC conference. Use the code CLIC2016 when you register to take advantage of your membership bennie.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[4]

  1. the full agenda here:
  2. Join CLIC:
  3. register online:
  4. here:

Source URL:

Race and Democracy in Michigan

by David Morris | March 18, 2016 10:30 am

In 2013, 52% of all African-Americans living in Michigan had their voting rights taken away by  Emergency Managers, compared to only 2% of whites. In November 2014 a federal judge concluded[1] that the Emergency Managers law had been applied in a racially discriminatory manner. That law allows the state to appoint a manager to unilaterally govern a city. His decisions pre-empt and supersede decisions by city councils or mayors.  In a November 2012 referendum, the citizens of Michigan had voted to overturn the 2011 law but within weeks the state legislature enacted an almost identical law immune to the popular will.

Some argue[2] the exercise of undemocratic authority was a key to the widespread lead poisoning of residents in the city of Flint.


(Photo: Jake May/

  1. concluded:
  2. argue:

Source URL:

Webinar: Crowdfunding for Community Composting

by Rebecca Toews | March 16, 2016 1:51 pm

On March 22, 2016 Brenda Platt was joined by Dustin Fedako of Compost Pedallers and Ethany Uttech of Ioby to talk about best practices for community composting. Below is the link to the recording, please pass it along to whomever you think would benefit from the conversation.

If you’d like to be updated on ILSR events, please feel free to subscribe to our newsletter:[1]

Lor Holmes was unable to attend due to technical difficulties, but we’ll be sure to have her on for our next event. If you have any questions, ideas for future webinars, or if you’d like to volunteer to present, let me know that as well.


Crowdfunding and worker-owned cooperatives are just two of the models that have proven to work for community composters around the United States.

Please join Lor Holmes with CERO[2], and Dustin Fedako with Compost Pedallers[3] for a deeper dive into crowdfunding for community composters.

Business planning and financing were among the hot topics community composters identified. In less than a year, CERO raised over $350,000 via nearly 100 community investors. The Compost Pedallers raised $25,000 on Indiegogo from336 backers. They’ll share tips based on their own lessons learned, and attendees will come away with a realistic idea of what to expect in the preparation, launch, live campaign, and reward fulfillment phases of a crowdfunding campaign.

CCC2016_Holmes Lor headshot[4]

Lor Holmes is CERO Cooperative’s General Manager.

She leads business development, and like all of the CERO worker-owners,

Lor shares a passion for environmental and social justice, sustainable

economic development and democratic models for community ownership.







CCC2016_Fedako_Dustin_Compost Pedallers[5]Dustin Fedako is the co-founder of the Compost Pedallers in Austin, Texas

and has worked as CEO of the company since its founding in 2012.

Under Dustin’s leadership, the Compost Pedallers have moved

over half a million pounds of organics by bike, and established themselves as

leaders in the pedal powered revolution and the community composting movement.



NEW Special Guest!

Ethany Uttech headshot jpeg[6]Ethany Uttech  with[7] will join our webinar discussion as well!

Ioby is a nationwide, nonprofit crowdfunding platform that provides one-on-one coaching to leaders of projects that make communities healthier and more sustainable. They’ll share examples of past successfully funded projects and some top tips for nonprofits or community groups looking to build a local base of support through crowdfunding.

Ethany Uttech focuses on partnership building and outreach to connect with new ioby Leaders across the country. She never tires of meeting people who are dedicated to making positive change in themselves and in the world, and is particularly inspired by projects that increase neighborhood sustainability and livability in tangible ways.

Before joining the ioby team, Ethany led Brooklyn Arts Council’s grant-giving and professional development programs for seven years, and worked in a variety of organizational development, project management, and teaching capacities. She is also a civically engaged resident of Brooklyn and a long-time volunteer activist in the arenas of social and environmental justice.



The event is organized by ILSR and BioCycle.

  2. Lor Holmes with CERO:
  3. Dustin Fedako with Compost Pedallers:
  4. [Image]:
  5. [Image]:
  6. [Image]:

Source URL:

Are Rural Electric Cooperatives Driving or Just Dabbling in Community Solar?

by Nick Stumo-Langer | March 11, 2016 9:00 am

Electric cooperatives, member-owned organizations that sell electricity to those within their service area, are perhaps the nation’s largest group of utilities that could champion clean, local power[1]. They tend to cover enormous swaths of the most rural territory, often with excellent wind and solar resources.

In one manner of renewable energy, cooperatives are leading the fray: community solar.

78 different electric cooperatives allow their members to buy into a collectively owned solar project. The total is small— just 92 megawatts (MW), equivalent to only 0.18% of their overall power generation—but these cooperatively-owned utilities are much more likely to experiment with customer-owned generation than their municipal and for-profit peers.

The Solar Opportunity

Electric cooperatives serve an estimated 42 million people in 47 states[2], but their member-ownership structure is what makes them unique. While for-profit, monopoly utilities tend to limit the ability of communities to invest in their own energy, electric cooperatives allow each member to own a stake in their renewable energy future.

Utility Community Solar Projects

Cooperatives have a history of serving local needs[3]. In the New Deal era, thanks to the establishment of the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), community cooperatives were essential in bringing electricity to all parts of the country. If these cooperatives hadn’t stepped up and large power companies had had their way, these rural areas’ economies could, according to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, still be “entirely and exclusively dependent on agriculture.”

Community solar follows naturally from the cooperatives’ historical democratization of the electric system.

The benefits from community solar[4] include savings on your energy bill and a chance to own a slice of the sun whether or not you own a sunny rooftop[5]. This option is a popular one, with many community solar arrays “selling out”[6] within a few weeks.

Below is a map identifying the 78 community solar projects throughout the country separated by ownership structure. The lion’s share are owned by electric cooperatives.

The Trico Community Sun Farm in Marana, Arizona allows individuals[7] to purchase solar panels in quarter, half, or full panel increments, ensuring that the all of the members can make clean energy commitment that works best for them. The credit structure also works in exactly the same way as net metering for a residential rooftop solar system would, reducing members bills on a per-kilowatt-hour basis for every kilowatt-hour generated by their share of the community solar array.

Meanwhile, the Yampa Valley Electric Association markets their Community Solar Garden in Colorado is a renewable energy option for members who “want the benefits of solar ownership without the research, construction and maintenance of a stand-alone system.” They are also committed[8] to flexibility for their members, allowing them to take their energy credits with them if they move within a different utilities’ service area.

Finally, in Michigan, Cherryland Electric Cooperative’s Solar Up North Alliance explicitly utilizes[9] its electric cooperative history when setting up their community solar project: “Today, solar energy is out of reach for a lot of people – it can be expensive to set up, and there’s a lot of maintenance involved. So we thought, why not do something about it?” Hailed as Michigan’s first community solar project, the Solar Up North Alliance allows Cherryland members to purchase solar shares for a one-time investment fee (they can bring the price down via state-based clean energy rebates). Their project is currently fully subscribed.

When the cost benefits to members and the cooperative are paired with a lighter load on the electric grid, relief from volatile fossil fuel pricing, and the sustainability of local energy production, community solar is a win for the subscribers and the entire cooperative.

Potential to Grow?

Although electric cooperatives are dabbling in community solar, it’s not making a large dent in their power generation mix, for a big reason. Currently, many cooperatives purchase power from outside their service area via long-term contracts in an attempt to keep costs low. Coal power accounts for 59%[10] of rural electric cooperative power purchases, more so than any other kind of utility (public or investor-owned). These deals have powered the cooperatives’ past, but with the rising price of coal and growing grassroots support for distributed generation of renewable energy, this continued coal commitment is unsustainable.

Now may be a good time for electric cooperatives to change their practices. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently ruled[11] that some cooperatives with long-term contracts with large-scale, dirty energy producers could — despite those contracts — invest in local, renewable energy. This could include purchases from third parties, but also purchases from local power generators or community solar.

The key for cooperatives is self-determination and collective ownership. Most electric cooperatives are regulated far less than their for-profit counterparts, giving them the potential to fulfill member interest in solar energy.

We updated this map based on 2015 data from the Government Accountability Office. You can still see the 2008 version here[12].

Community solar is one tool, but since cooperatives are collectively owned, any purchase of local solar generation distributes the benefits to all members. Community solar in particular allows for voluntary participation and a new way to raise capital from the cooperative members for new power generation capacity.

Community Solar or Bust?

There was a saying among cooperatives in the 1930s: “if we don’t do it, no one will.” Now it’s the opposite: “if we don’t do it, someone else will.” Like most Americans, cooperative members want their electricity to come from non-polluting resources, and for their utility to seize the free solar resource falling on their community for their benefit. In many states, third parties are serving this need by offering those with sunny rooftops a low-cost solar lease, dramatically reducing the customer’s need for utility electricity.

Developing local, clean energy is about proving the cooperative’s relevance in the 21st century. Electric cooperatives are operating a disproportionate number of community solar projects, but these pilot projects are serving only a fraction of their power needs and member-owners.

Cooperatives that provide a community solar option can wean themselves off of dirty power, broaden the opportunities for members to invest in clean energy, and show that they’re committed to making a renewable energy future of benefit to all their members.

For more information, see ILSR’s other posts on rural electric cooperatives:

This article originally posted at[17]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[18] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[19] update.

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

  1. champion clean, local power:
  2. serve an estimated 42 million people in 47 states:
  3. have a history of serving local needs:
  4. benefits from community solar:
  5. whether or not you own a sunny rooftop:
  6. “selling out”:
  7. allows individuals:
  8. They are also committed:
  9. explicitly utilizes:
  10. Coal power accounts for 59%:
  11. recently ruled:
  12. here:
  13. Just How Democratic Are Rural Electric Cooperatives?:
  14. Did FERC Just Smash the Biggest Roadblock to Clean, Local Power for Electric Co-ops?:
  15. Why Aren’t Rural Electric Cooperatives Champions of Local Clean Power?:
  16. A $6 Billion Opportunity for the Rural Energy Economy:
  18. Twitter:
  19. Democratic Energy weekly:
  20. User:OgreBot/Uploads by new users/2015 January 15 12:00 :

Source URL:

American Democracy Under Siege

by David Morris | March 8, 2016 2:45 pm

The founding fathers minced no words about their distrust of the masses. Our first President, John Adams warned[1], “Democracy will soon degenerate into an anarchy…” Our second President, Thomas Jefferson insisted[2], “Democracy is nothing more than mob rule.” Our third President, James Madison, the Father of the Constitution declared[3], “Democracy is the most vile form of government.”

In his argument against the direct election of Senators Connecticut’s Roger Sherman advised[4] his colleagues at the Constitutional Convention, “The people should have as little to do as may be about the government. They lack information and are constantly liable to be misled.” They agreed. Senators would be elected by state legislatures. And they created the Electoral College to shield the Presidency from a direct vote of the people as well.

In 1776, the year he signed the Declaration of Independence, John Adams presciently wrote[5] a fellow lawyer about the collateral damage that would result from “attempting to alter the qualifications of voters. There will be no end to it. New claims will arise. Women will demand the vote. Lads from 12 to 21 will think their rights not enough attended to, and every man who has not a farthing, will demand an equal voice with any other, in all acts of state. It tends to confound and destroy all distinctions, and prostrate all ranks to one common level.”

In 1789 the franchise was restricted to white men, but not all white men. Only those possessing a minimum amount of property or paid taxes could vote. In 1800, just three states permitted white manhood suffrage-the right to vote– without qualification.

In 1812, six western states were the first[6] to give all non-property owning white men the franchise. Hard times resulting from the Panic of 1819 led many people to demand an end to property restrictions on voting and officeholding. By 1840 popular agitation by the swelling ranks of propertyless urban dwellers coupled with “Age of Jacksonian Democracy” increased[7] the percentage of white men eligible to vote to 90 percent. And the advent of a new type of presidential electioneering that spoke directly to the people in raucous proceedings lifted turnout from 25 percent of eligible voters in 1824 to a remarkable 80 percent in 1840.

the suffragist, at lastWomen had to wait much longer. A number of colonies did allow women to vote. But by the time the Constitution was ratified all[8] states except New Jersey denied women that right. In 1808 New Jersey made it unanimous.

In 1875 Michigan and Minnesota allowed[9] women the right to vote for school boards. In 1887 Kansas gave them the right to vote in municipal elections. In 1889 Wyoming was the first state to give women full suffrage. Utah and Idaho followed in 1896. By 1920, the year the 19th Amendment was ratified women had achieved suffrage in 19 of the then 48 states.

Black Suffrage

For blacks the road was much, much longer and far more treacherous. Even as the states extended voting rights to all white men it took away existing voting rights to black men. In the 1790s, African American males who owned property could vote[10] in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Maryland. All effectively stripped their black citizens of voting rights in the first quarter of the 19th century.


  1. warned:
  2. insisted:
  3. declared:
  4. advised:
  5. wrote:
  6. first:
  7. increased:
  8. all:
  9. allowed:
  10. vote:
  11. (more…):

Source URL:

Is Recycling Stagnating? The Case of Los Angeles

by Neil Seldman | March 8, 2016 1:38 pm


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[1][1] has not moved much in more than a decade.

But it is not economics that keeps recycling stagnant in parts of the country. Rather it is a stagnation of citizen activism. Where citizens remain active, recycling levels continue to rise to unprecedented levels. Even as markets for recycled materials fluctuate advanced recycling cities realize that avoided costs of replacement landfills and incinerators and an expanded economy more than compensate for temporary low market prices.[2][2]

Since the advent of the modern recycling movement post Earth Day 1970 advocates have faced great odds. Not only did they have to persuade a skeptical public to embrace recycling before it was economically viable, but even more a skeptical and often downright hostile solid waste bureaucracy that abhorred the idea of having to rely on tens of thousands of households and small businesses changing their daily behavior rather than as they traditionally had, on a handful of large haulers and landfills and incinerators and expensive compacting trucks. They had to deal with Wall Street firms that embraced capital intensive waste handling strategies, large hauling and landfill companies that dominated market share, virgin material companies that did not want to compete with 40,000 local governments, federal government subsidies and several national environmental organizations that enthusiastically embraced the most capital intensive strategy of all—incineration— as a benign waste-to-energy solution. Recyclers often had to create a market for recycled materials and convince manufacturers to use them and retail stores to buy them. (more…)[3]

  1. [1]: #_ftn1
  2. [2]: #_ftn2
  3. (more…):

Source URL:

Happy Birthday National Endowment for the Humanities

by David Morris | March 7, 2016 4:16 pm

On the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Richard H. Brodhead argues[1] the New Deal made possible the NEH and the National Endowment for the Arts.  For the first time Americans endorsed a federal role in promoting the general welfare and creating public goods. In the 1960s the Great Society expanded that role to include supporting the arts and humanities.  Today the very notion of “public goods” has become suspect and federal involvement in creating them is viewed by many as an outdated and even dangerous concept.





  1. argues:

Source URL:

Berta Cáceres Died For Our Sins

by David Morris | March 4, 2016 3:44 pm

On March 3rd Honduran Goldman Prize winner Berta Cáceres was assassinated because of the stunning victories she achieved with and on behalf of indigenous people.  And she did it against the greatest of odds. Beverly Bell of the Institute for Policy Studies gives us some details[1] about this remarkable woman and the sad role our country played in her demise.

  1. details:

Source URL:

Watch: Stacy Mitchell Speaks on Amazon and Empty Storefronts

by ILSR Admin | March 4, 2016 11:57 am

ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell spoke about a strategy to rein in Amazon’s expanding market power in this presentation at the 2016 Winter Institute. The annual conference and educational event, hosted by the American Booksellers Association[1], was held in Denver on Jan. 25 and 26.

The panel discussion, “Amazon and Empty Storefronts,” focused on how Amazon is transforming the retail industry. The conversation covered a new study[2] from Civic Economics that quantifies the costs of Amazon’s expansion in terms of fiscal and land use impacts, as well as local and national policy considerations that will be critical to creating an equitable and sustainable economy.

Mitchell spoke with Matt Cunningham and Dan Houston of Civic Economics, with a welcome from ABA CEO Oren Teicher. (more…)[3]

  1. American Booksellers Association:
  2. a new study:
  3. (more…):

Source URL:

Watch: Stacy Mitchell Speaks on the New Localism

by ILSR Admin | March 4, 2016 11:27 am

ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell spoke about policy to shape the next phase of the local economy movement at the 2016 Winter Institute. The annual conference and educational event, hosted by the American Booksellers Association[1], was held in Denver on Jan. 25 and 26.

In this plenary panel, “The New Localism,” Mitchell spoke in conversation with other thought leaders and experts in local economies. The discussion covered how the U.S. is poised to begin a new phase of the local economy movement, and how, even as more consumers shop locally, we’re also facing critical policy decisions that will affect and shape the economy for years to come.

The other panelists were Joe Minicozzi, principal at Urban3, and Matt Cunningham and Dan Houston of Civic Economics. The panel was moderated by ABA CEO Oren Teicher.


  1. American Booksellers Association:
  2. (more…):

Source URL:

Report: Mighty Microgrids

by Matt Grimley | March 3, 2016 10:00 am

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.



Executive Summary

The electric grid is no longer a 20th-century, one-way system. A constellation of distributed energy technologies is paving the way for “microgrids,” a combination of smart electric devices, power generation, and storage resources, connected to one or many loads, that can connect and disconnect from the grid at-will.


A group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources within clearly defined electrical boundaries that acts as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid and that connects and disconnects from such grid to enable it to operate in both grid-connected or island mode.


Expanding Uses

For years, microgrids were most common at hospitals and military bases — places that require more reliability than the aging grid offers. Today, microgrids are increasingly used for more:

Opportunity to Grow

The economic case for microgrids grows as the cost of distributed generation and energy storage continue to fall. Some companies already offer turnkey “nanogrids” that serve a single building. Larger, community microgrids are also being built, testing out the technology, and the business and legal models.

A few states such as New York and California are changing the rules and offering funding to accelerate development of microgrids.


  2. (more…):

Source URL:

Clean Coalition’s Community Microgrids – Episode 29 of Local Energy Rules Podcast

by Matt Grimley | March 3, 2016 1:07 am

Most microgrids today are single buildings that rely on diesel generators to run when the grid is out. They’re simple backup, redundant power.

But some more advanced microgrids, such as the Clean Coalition’s planned community microgrids[1], are looking into the future, when multiple sources of generation can support a community of homes and businesses[2].

In anticipation of the release of ILSR’s new report, “Mighty Microgrids,” ILSR is releasing two podcasts with the developers, regulators, and practitioners of microgrids in the United States today. This is the first.


Feature Community Microgrid Traditional Microgrid
Scale Spans an entire substation grid area, securing benefits for thousands of customers. Covers only a single customer location or a small number of adjacent locations
Cost Offers a more cost-effective solution by: 1) achieving much broader scale of DER deployment and 2) utilizing a systems approach that identifies optimal locations for DER in context of existing local distribution grid assets and loads. Maximizes benefits for single customer but does little for the local grid. Replicating this approach across an entire community area would be: 1) extraordinarily expensive and 2) fail to leverage and optimize the existing distribution grid assets
Grid resilience and security Provides backup power to prioritized loads that are critical to the entire community, such as police and fire stations, water treatment centers, emergency shelters, etc. Provides backup power to only a single location or customer.
Scalability Enables easy replication and scaling across any distribution grid area. Requires tedious work to implement at each individual location; starting from scratch in terms of both analysis and physical assets.

Chart from Clean Coalition

Intended for Long Island[3] and Hunters Point in San Francisco[4], these microgrids are designed to to optimize local, rooftop solar energy. That means moving distributed solar to 25 to 50 percent of a local area’s annual energy consumption, a feat unprecedented in microgrid technology today, let alone on the larger electric grid.

Craig Lewis, the executive director of the Clean Coalition, joined John Farrell last week to talk about these microgrid projects, why microgrids are moving beyond use in just single buildings, and what policy changes would help his initiative the most.


Planning Ahead

In the town of East Hampton, the Long Island Community Microgrid Project will be designed around the distribution network under a single substation, serving several thousand customers, says Lewis. A substation, where cross-country transmission lines move energy to the smaller distribution power lines, is in this case a building block to remaking the electric grid from the ground-up. Specific solar, storage, demand response technologies, and onsite generators will be used to provide almost “indefinite” backup to critical facilities such as a water filtration plant and a firehouse.

“You’re getting the highest performance at the least cost,” says Lewis.

While deferring more than $300 million of new transmission investment for the local utility, PSEG Long Island, all 15 MW of the local solar will be procured through a feed-in tariff. Property owners and third parties renting roofs will be directly reimbursed for their power production. In all, the Clean Coalition estimates that of every dollar invested here and at their Hunters Point Community Microgrid, 50 percent will remain local, largely in the form of local wages and jobs.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 2.49.13 PM

The Hunters Point substation area (above) serves more than 35,000 customers.
Image credit: Clean Coalition

Behind-the-meter and Behind-the-times

Microgrid rules across the states support only behind-the-meter microgrids, those that serve only one building’s load and do not produce excess energy for other entities. In its Reforming the Energy Vision[11], the New York Public Service Commission is beginning to encourage by microgrids to produce energy for more than one user. In the end, the NY PSC seeks to reform electric utilities into grid market operators that will be disinterested in who owns, sells, and distributes electricity. While the NY PSC has been quick to incentivize third-party ownership, Lewis acknowledges there needs to be more work done on the technological end.

“If you try to design market mechanisms before you know what the technologies are capable of, you end up with very suboptimal outcomes,” says Lewis. There is a need still to incentivize everybody to cooperate, including the incumbent utility, to understand the full extent of the benefit to the ratepayers. Then regulators can design market incentives to award microgrids and other distributed resources.

Tension in the Wires

Right now distributed energy resources represent a small, small precentage of the total annual energy usage across the United States. But as distributed energy such as rooftop solar becomes cheaper and more common, more microgrids will come online. In the end, the need for large power plants and transmission lines will decline 

“You can’t local resilience if you’re getting all your resources from remote locations,” says Lewis.

One big boost to microgrid development would be the creation of a distribution-level wholesale energy market for distributed energy, and not just in terms of pure power, or kilowatt-hours, generated. “The default has been to reward kilowatt-hours,” says Lewis. “That’s real power. But there’s also reactive power. There’s also grid services to provide frequency.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 2.45.45 PM

You can serve your own loads, or build a huge power plant to serve the wholesale market over transmission lines…
but there is still no local wholesale market for serving energy to your neighbors.

That means the market must be designed to reward frequency balancing and voltage support.

When it comes to providing frequency balancing, the most important metric is speed. There’s nothing that can react faster than local energy storage, both in discharging and storing excess energy. A fossil-fueled power plant cannot react fast enough to sudden local load changes.

In addition, distributed energy better supports voltage than centralized generation. Voltage decays over while being sent on long transmission and distribution lines. 

It seems that local, distributed energy is getting a play within microgrids, and within the next few years, the Clean Coalition’s community microgrids hope to show the full potential of community power.

More information on the Clean Coalition’s Community Microgrid Initiative and their other initiatives can be found on their website.[12]

This is the 29th edition of Local Energy Rules[13], an ILSR podcast with Director of Democratic Energy John Farrell that shares powerful stories of successful local renewable energy and exposes the policy and practical barriers to its expansion. Other than his immediate family, the audience is primarily researchers, grassroots organizers, and grasstops policy wonks who want vivid examples of how local renewable energy can power local economies.

It is published intermittently on, but you can Click to subscribe to the podcast: iTunes[14] or RSS/XML[15]

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

  1. community microgrids:
  2. community of homes and businesses:
  3. Long Island:
  4. Hunters Point in San Francisco:
  5. [Image]:
  6. Play in new window:
  7. Download:
  8. iTunes:
  9. Android:
  10. RSS:
  11. Reforming the Energy Vision:
  12. their website.:
  13. Local Energy Rules:
  14. iTunes:
  15. RSS/XML:
  17. Twitter:
  18. Democratic Energy weekly:

Source URL:

MD Bill Introduced That Names ILSR to State Task Force

by Brenda Platt | February 26, 2016 1:35 am

Maryland House Bill 743 – Yard Waste and Food Residuals Diversion and Infrastructure Task Force[1], sponsored by Delegate Shane Robinson (District 39), would create a Task Force 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. The Task Force would report its findings and recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly. ILSR helped to write the bill and is named as 1 of 20 organizations to be represented on the Task Force.

On February 24th, the bill was heard before the House of Delegates’ Committee on the Environment and Transportation.  ILSR arranged the panel of experts to testify at the hearing in Annapolis in support of the bill, which is unopposed.

Testimony and Resources

Christopher Bradford (Organic Agriculture Recycling), MD Delegate Shane Robinson, Josh Etim (ILSR), Brenda Platt (ILSR), Mike Toole (MD-DC Composting Council), Vinnie Bevivino (Chesapeake Compost Works), and Beth LeaMond (Greenbelters for Zero Waste).[8]

Christopher Bradford (Organic Agriculture Recycling), MD Delegate Shane Robinson, Josh Etim (ILSR), Brenda Platt (ILSR), Mike Toole (MD-DC Composting Council), Vinnie Bevivino (Chesapeake Compost Works), and Beth LeaMond (Greenbelters for Zero Waste).


  1. Maryland House Bill 743 – Yard Waste and Food Residuals Diversion and Infrastructure Task Force:
  2. here:
  3. here:
  4. here:
  5. here:
  6. here:
  7. here:
  8. [Image]:

Source URL:

Google Fiber’s Dark Fiber Announcement Will Change How Cities Build Networks

by Rebecca Toews | February 22, 2016 12:19 pm

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 22, 2016

CONTACT: Rebecca Toews,[1],


Google Fiber’s Dark Fiber Announcement Will Change How Cities Build Networks

This morning, Huntsville, Alabama put a nail in the coffin of telephone and cable monopolies. The city is building a dark fiber network for any ISP to use– and Google Fiber was the first to jump on board.

Fiber is the gold standard, offering faster and more reliable Internet access than cable and DSL, but ISPs have generally struggled with its high capital costs.

“Now, cities can ensure everyone has access to the fiber and let ISPs compete over it, much as cities build roads and businesses use them to compete,” says Christopher Mitchell[2], the director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “Think of this like a shopping mall with an anchor tenant. This provides legitimacy for the model, will help cities secure financing, and entice other city leaders to follow Huntsville’s lead.”

This decision means the investment in dark fiber becomes more viable and valuable to cities. They retain ownership to maximize public benefits, and open up space for independent ISPs to innovate and provide options for the local businesses and residents..

We applaud Huntsville for its innovation and Google for encouraging a model that will result in more competition and choice.

About Christopher Mitchell

Christopher Mitchell is the go-to national expert on Municipal Networks. He advises the White House on publicly-owned networks, the FCC on policy improvements, and city government officials on what they need to do to bring their communities access and competition.[3] tracks publicly owned Internet networks and gathers resources for cities like Huntsville so that they can implement smart policies that help bring them toward a 21st century future.

For interviews please contact Rebecca Toews at 612-808-0689[4]  or at For more on the goals met by community broadband providers, please visit:[5].


  2. Christopher Mitchell:
  4. 612-808-0689:

Source URL:

Small Ohio Town to Feature Large Distributed Solar and Storage

by John Farrell | February 22, 2016 11:31 am

Energy storage is the “next charge[1]” for distributed renewable energy, and the small town of Minster, OH, provides a powerful illustration.

Committed to building a 3-megawatt (AC) solar facility, the village’s energy department[2] (municipal utility) was blindsided by the state legislature in mid-2014. The state’s energy policy had previously favored purchase of solar from in-state resources, but an abrupt change to the state’s solar renewable energy credit market[3] removed this provision, sharply reducing the long-term potential revenue for the Minster solar array.

The village wasn’t put off, but instead decided to see how battery storage could recoup the lost solar credits. A 7-megawatt battery (one of the largest in the country) will allow the village to reduce energy costs by deferring transmission and distribution costs, improving power quality, and shaving peak demand[4]. The contractor, Half Moon Ventures, will also be able to sell “frequency regulation services” into the regional grid system, helping improve overall system reliability. Don Harrod, village administrator, says the “revenue stacking” from the multiple uses of the battery is what makes the project so attractive for the village and the investor.

The solar array came online just weeks ago[5], and will sharply reduced the town’s need to purchase power from the wholesale market, and Harrod reports that the energy storage facility should be online by mid-March. The solar array is projected to provide about 13% of the village’s total electricity needs on an annual basis, and it provides a similar portion of the village’s peak energy demand of 23 megawatts.

The village isn’t done with solar, either. In the coming weeks, the village council will be discussing a community solar array to allow residents and businesses to buy in.

At just under 3,000 residents, the village of Minster is rather small, but it’s renewable energy and storage project is anything but.

This article originally posted at[6]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[7] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[8] update.

Photo credit: USDA via Flickr[9] (CC BY 2.0 license)

  1. next charge:
  2. energy department:
  3. abrupt change to the state’s solar renewable energy credit market:
  4. deferring transmission and distribution costs, improving power quality, and shaving peak demand:
  5. came online just weeks ago:
  7. Twitter:
  8. Democratic Energy weekly:
  9. via Flickr:

Source URL:

New Research Finds Water Privatization Raises Rates

by David Morris | February 19, 2016 6:06 pm

Food & Water Watch has issued a thoroughly researched report[1] on water privatization. A survey of more than 200 public and private water systems found that private suppliers charge significantly more than public systems. The 10 largest initiatives increased water rates  on average 15 percent a year after privatization. After local governments brought water systems back in-house their rates, on average, were 21 percent cheaper.

Many cities privatize their water systems to generate a much-needed quick infusion of revenue.  But the report offers compelling evidence that this decision is penny-wise and pound-foolish. “The funding that a city receives by selling or leasing its water system is effectively an expensive loan that a water company will recover from consumers through water bills. A Food & Water Watch analysis estimated that the typical interest rate on this loan would be 11 percent. This is 56 percent more expensive than public financing through a typical municipal revenue bond.”

  1. report:

Source URL:

Where Do The Presidential Candidates Stand On The Proposed Trade Pact?

by David Morris | February 18, 2016 1:21 pm

In early February 12 nations, including the U.S. signed the highly controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This trade agreement would diminish U.S. sovereignty, undermine democracy and create a new world court where corporations can sue governments and corporate lawyers decide the cases. The TPP now goes to Congress for a vote.

If you want to know about TPP and keep up with its progress, visit Public Citizen[1]. If you want to know where the Presidential candidates stand on the trade agreement go here[2]. You’ll note some hemming and hawing by the candidates and a few about-faces. Bernie Sanders has been the most consistently and outspokenly opposed.

  1. Public Citizen:
  2. here:

Source URL:

With 269 Stores Closing, Is this the Beginning of the End for Walmart?

by Stacy Mitchell | February 17, 2016 10:51 am

All great empires eventually fall.  This is as true in retail as it is in geopolitics.  Often the descent into oblivion takes decades.  A&P, which was once such a formidable market power that it was the subject of antitrust hearings in Congress, began to falter in the 1950s, some 80 years after cloning its first store.  At the time, it was by far the largest grocer in the country.  It would remain the industry leader for another quarter of a century, even as its stores seemed increasingly outdated and its corporate practices inexplicably unable to keep up.  After several rounds of store closures in the 1970s and 1980s, and a bankruptcy filing in 2010, A&P finally threw in the towel for good just last year.  By then, it was a two-bit player in the grocery business, its once continent-spanning empire now confined to the Northeast.

The fall of Montgomery Ward was also a long time coming.  The company altered the course of 20th century retailing by pioneering the general merchandise store, and then it tripped and stumbled[1] for nearly 50 years before its final Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in 2000.  Those decades saw the company undergo various retrenchments, corporate takeovers, and attempted reinventions.  “A very difficult retail environment simply did not permit us to complete the turnaround that might have been possible,” Montgomery Ward’s last CEO still maintained on the day the lights finally went out, 84 years after the retailer opened its first store.

And so when Walmart, which turns 54 years old this year, announced[2] that it would close 269 stores, including 154 in the U.S., one had to wonder if this might be the beginning of the chain’s inevitable end.  We’ll only know for sure in hindsight, perhaps decades from now.

But at the moment, it would be a mistake to leap to any conclusions.  Walmart is a global powerhouse.  It has half a trillion dollars in annual revenue and a track record that warns against underestimating it.  Walmart is so vast that these newly shuttered stores account for less than 1 percent of its total real estate footprint.  And when it announced the closures, the company clarified that it’s still planning to open over 140 new stores in the U.S. this year, and more than 200 internationally.

Walmart’s store closures may be less an initial stumble along a path toward demise than a move to abandon communities that Walmart has decided simply aren’t worth the trouble.  The company’s U.S. pullback really consists of two distinct events.  One is the closure of 52 stores, across 20 states, that Walmart claims are underperforming.  The other is Walmart’s across-the-board abandonment of its Express format, a group of 102 small stores, each about the size of a Walgreen’s and stocked with groceries and pharmacy goods. (more…)[3]

  1. tripped and stumbled:
  2. announced:
  3. (more…):

Source URL:

Downton Abbey and Obamacare

by David Morris | February 16, 2016 9:36 pm

As the rightly acclaimed tv series Downton Abbey unspools its final episode some fans have criticized the producers decision to devote so much time to a debate about the future of Downton’s Cottage Hospital. The show makes the issue mostly personal with delightfully snippy exchanges between Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham who speaks for a way of life that is passing, and her cousin Isobel, widow and daughter of physicians and trained as a nurse during WWI, who is the voice of modernity. But underneath the repartee lies a serious and persistent issue: what should be the relationship of the community to the emerging age of a high tech, highly capitalized and highly specialized medical system?

As Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, Senior Vice President of the Washington State Hospital Association, who has taken a keen interest in the show told me, “They’re asking the right questions. Who will be in charge? Will someone tell me what to do? Will we be able to continue to provide free care?”

The US and British health systems, while dramatically different, have had to grapple with these same questions. And in their exploration they’ve discovered that case can be made for big and for small but the weight of evidence suggests that the optimum medical configuration is when high tech and specialization is in service to responsible and accountable community hospitals.

In 1859, in real life, Albert Napper opened the first cottage hospital in Cranley. As Doctor Irvine Loudon at Oxford University observes[1], it was “built explicitly as a warm, clean idealized version of the farm labourer’s cottage in order to reassure patients.” A familiar doctor would treat people in a familiar atmosphere. Communities rallied around the concept. Hundreds of cottage hospitals sprang up and over the decades evolved into relatively sophisticated operations, often with state-of-the-art medicine and surgery.

In a very early episode in the series a farmer John Drake was admitted to the hospital with a terminal case of Dropsy. Isobel suggested to a Dr. Clarkson they use a very new technique. He reluctantly agreed and Drake promptly revived. By 1925, the year in which the final season of the tv series is set, voluntary hospitals constituted about 40 percent[2] of all hospitals. They were largely supported by contributions and staffed with volunteers. There were government hospitals as well: The infirmaries that grew out of the much-despised workhouses of the 19th century. But to many people these remained unwelcome venue.


  1. observes:
  2. 40 percent:
  3. (more…):

Source URL:

Cultivating Community Composting Forum and Workshop Bring Composters Together

by Rebecca Toews | February 16, 2016 3:19 pm

ILSR and BioCycle magazine teamed up for the National Cultivating Community Composting Forum at the US Composting Council’s International Conference & Trade Show January 25-28, 2016, in Jacksonville, Florida.

More than 70 community composters from all over the US gathered in Jacksonville to discuss best practices for community composting. From bike pedallers to urban farmers and local public works and sanitation departments, experts and entrepreneurs brainstormed ways to make their businesses and organizations more effective and efficient in recovering compostable materials from the waste stream at the community level.


Moderated by Brenda Platt of ILSR, this half-day workshop featured community composters sharing their best practices in a peer-to-peer format. Topics included: creative financing, operator training, food scrap collection, equipment and small-scale systems, outreach and communications, cooperative structures, volunteer management, and best management practices for the compost process. Our goal was for participants to learn about other initiatives and how to adapt lessons learned to their projects.




In collaboration with the US Composting Council (USCC) and BioCycle[10], the Institute for Local Self-Reliance held this Forum in conjunction with the USCC’s International Conference and Trade Show[11], #COMPOST2016,  in Jacksonville, Florida. This was the first time the USCC’s annual conference featured Pechu Kucha-style lightning presentations followed by interactive panels of responders to spark dialogue. Community composters presented on three core topics: equipment needs, collaboration with commercial haulers and sites, and government-supported programs.

The first session featured innovative strategies to grow community composting – from the NYC Compost Project to DC’s Department of Parks and Recreation, best management practices, and why local and state government should care about community composting. The second session focused on why equipment manufacturers, commercial food waste haulers, and commercial composters should care about community composting.


Why Local Government Should Support Community Composting:

Community Composting: Why You Should Care:

Why Equipment Manufacturers Should Support Community Composting:

Why Commercial Haulers & Composters Should Support Community Composting

Links to community composter blogs and other articles:

Dustin Fedako, “A Composter’s Dream” [20]Compost Pedallers

Jorge Montezuma, “COMPOST2016: Community Composting & ReFED” [21](2/3/16) Soil Masons

Andrea Carter, The Falmouth Enterprise (2/6/16) Local Composter Represents Community At National Compost 2016 Conference[22]: article featuring Mary Bunker Ryther and Compost With Me

Peter Moon, O2 Compost Winter 2016 newsletter Food Waste Collection, Composting and Urban Farming [23]



  1. View Agenda:
  2. Composting Best Management Practices:
  3. Composting Equipment & Systems:
  4. Bike Collection Equipment & Systems:
  5. Volunteer & Staff Management:
  6. Creative Financing & Fundraising:
  7. Master Composter Train-the-Trainer Programs:
  8. Outreach & Telling the Story:
  9. View Agenda:
  10. BioCycle:
  11. USCC’s International Conference and Trade Show:
  12. The City of New York’s Investment in Community Composting:
  13. DC Community Compost Cooperative Network:
  14. Community Equity & Access,:
  15. Recognizing Best Management Practices for Urban Compost Sites:
  16. From Manual to Equipment-Assisted — An Evolution:
  17. Small-Scale Systems for Community Composters: Meeting the Needs,:
  18. Working with Commercial Haulers and Composters:
  19. Rural Farmer & Commercial Composter Collaborations:
  20. “A Composter’s Dream” :
  21. “COMPOST2016: Community Composting & ReFED” :
  22. Local Composter Represents Community At National Compost 2016 Conference:
  23. Food Waste Collection, Composting and Urban Farming :

Source URL:

Independent Businesses Report Growing Sales and Hiring, but Policies Tilted in Favor of Large Companies Hold Them Back

by Olivia LaVecchia | February 10, 2016 10:24 am

A large national survey has found that public support for independent businesses led to brisk sales and a sharp increase in hiring in 2015, but biased policies and other obstacles are limiting their success.


MINNEAPOLIS, MINN.  (Feb. 10, 2016) — Independent businesses experienced healthy sales growth in 2015, buoyed by their strong community ties and growing public awareness of the benefits of locally owned businesses, according to a large national survey released today. (Download the full report.[1])

The Independent Business Survey[2], which is conducted by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance[3] in partnership with the Advocates for Independent Business[4] and is now in its 9th year, gathered data from over 3,200 independent businesses. The respondents reported brisk sales in 2015, with revenue growing an average of 6.6 percent. Among independent retailers, who comprised just under half of survey respondents, revenue increased 4.7 percent in 2015, including a 3.1 percent gain during the holiday season. These figures contrast sharply with the performance of many national retail chains, and overall holiday retail sales, which rose just 1.6 percent in December according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

This growth led to a significant increase in hiring. Overall employment at the independent businesses surveyed expanded by 5.6 percent in 2015, with more than 30 percent of respondents reporting the addition of at least one employee.

Local First initiatives are part of what’s strengthening independent businesses, the survey found. Two-thirds of respondents in cities with an active Local First, or “buy local,” campaign said that the initiative is having a noticeable positive impact on their business, citing benefits such as new customers and increased loyalty among existing customers.

About one-third of businesses in Local First cities also said that the initiative had led them to become more engaged in advocating on public policy issues, and 44 percent said that the campaign had made elected officials more aware and supportive of independent businesses.

That’s significant because the survey also found that independent businesses are facing a number of challenges, many related to public policy.

One obstacle is a lack of credit for businesses seeking to grow. The survey found that one in three independent businesses that applied for a bank loan in the last two years failed to secure one. That figure was 54 percent among minority-owned businesses, and 41 percent among young firms, whose expansion has historically been a key source of net job growth. (more…)[5]

  1. Download the full report.:
  2. Independent Business Survey:
  3. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  4. Advocates for Independent Business:
  5. (more…):

Source URL:

Zapped by the Utility: 5 Reasons Raising Fixed Fees is Unfair

by John Farrell | February 5, 2016 3:47 pm

Like mine, your eyes probably glaze when you see items like “fuel cost adjustment clause,” but tucked in your monthly electric bill are two big components that matter. One is a fixed amount you pay to be connected to the grid every month. The second is a variable portion is based on what you use.

Your utility—like those in Reading, CA[1]; Lincoln, NE[2]; or Indianapolis[3]—may already be planning to shift more of your bill to the fixed portion, undercutting your power to reduce your energy costs.

There are five reasons this shift isn’t fair or reasonable.

1. Economics 101: The Wrong Incentives

When fixed charges rise, customers have a smaller portion of the bill they can control. This reduces the financial incentive to reduce energy use, because energy savings won’t result in significant cost reductions. It reduces the incentive for customers to produce their own energy, again because energy savings won’t be rewarded. It’s particularly hard on customers with fixed incomes[4].

It also changes the utility’s incentive. With more fixed charges, main[5]utilities can make costly investments in un-needed new power plants, because customers can’t avoid those costs by reducing their energy use. It discourages more efficient deployment of infrastructure. Evidence from regional grid operators shows this is already happening, with the ratio between peak energy demand and the average energy demand [6]growing[7], meaning many power plants are lying idle much of the year, waiting for the few periods of very high energy use.

2. Economics 101: The Myth of Cost-Price Symmetry

Utilities have suggested that because they have high fixed costs, they should have high fixed fees. But few other industries work this way, because of the wrong incentives it creates (see #1). The post office encourages efficient use of the mail system by charging per letter based on weight, not per customer, a policy that would make little distinction between Grandma Josie sending a birthday card to her grandson or Netflix mailing 100,000 DVDs. Starbucks charges more based on the complexity of the beverage, not $5 to enter the store. Both of these businesses have high fixed costs for employees, premises, and equipment. High fixed charges would create an unfair shift in costs to occasional users, who incur minimal costs.

This slideshow illustrates the absurdity of fixed cost = fixed price.

Zapped by the Utility: What if other industries could shock consumers like electric utilities? from John Farrell[8]

3. Abuse of Monopoly

One major distinction between Netflix or Starbucks and your electric utility is that the latter is likely a monopoly. This government-sanctioned market power means that, unlike competitive business, its customers can’t switch to a different electric company when they’re treated unfairly. As a monopoly, the electric company has a responsibility to the public interest, and that does not include a pricing structure that is unfair, and that reduces incentives for wise behavior.

4. Energy Producers Add Value

An increasing number of electric customers are producing their own energy, usually from solar. These customers sharply reduce their electricity consumption, reducing payments to the utility. In response, utilities seek higher fixed fees to guarantee higher payments from these customers. But utilities are ignoring the value of this energy. Numerous “value of solar” studies [9]have shown that the total benefits from solar-producing customers outweighs the cost to the utility, and often that the value of solar energy—produced at time of costly peak energy use and close to where energy is consumed—is more than the producer is receiving.

Using higher fixed fees is unfair to solar producers and non-solar customers who receive the economic benefits of having more distributed solar on the electric grid.

5. It’s Short-Sighted

Despite clear financial and economic reasons to avoid fixed fees, utilities that increase them are also undermining their long-term interest. When customers have reduced flexibility and choice to reduce their energy costs, they will necessarily seek alternatives. And if higher fixed fees reduce the incentive to conserve or install grid-connected solar, lower battery costs in the next few years may encourage[10] customers[11] to disconnect entirely, exacerbating the utility’s revenue problem.

What’s the Fair and Reasonable Price Model?

There are a number of options for utility regulators to align pricing and incentives in a way that covers system costs and makes the grid more efficient.

Want to learn more? See this article on the future of utility rate design [12]and a report from the Regulatory Assistance Project suggesting the optimum design for residential electricity pricing includes a low fixed charge, time-of-use pricing, and inclining block rates[13]. Finally, this report from Synapse Energy[14] contains great charts near the end on the impact of fixed charges.

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

Photo credit: Timothy Vogel via Flickr[18] (CC BY-NC 2.0 license)

  1. Reading, CA:
  2. Lincoln, NE:
  3. Indianapolis:
  4. customers with fixed incomes:
  5. [Image]:
  6. the ratio between peak energy demand and the average energy demand :
  7. growing:
  8. John Farrell: //
  9. Numerous “value of solar” studies :
  10. encourage:
  11. customers:
  12. the future of utility rate design :
  13. a low fixed charge, time-of-use pricing, and inclining block rates:
  14. this report from Synapse Energy:
  16. Twitter:
  17. Democratic Energy weekly:
  18. via Flickr:

Source URL:

Seniors, Low-Income, Disabled Communities Pay the Price in St. Paul

by ILSR | February 1, 2016 11:02 am

For seniors, low-income residents, and the disabled in Saint Paul, Minnesota, a Comcast discount within the city’s franchise agreement is not all it was cracked up to be. The Pioneer Press recently reported[1] that, as eligible subscribers seek the ten percent discount guaranteed by the agreement, they are finding the devil is in the details – or lack of them.

This is a warning to those who attempt to negotiate with Comcast for better service. Comcast may make deals that it knows are unenforceable.

“No Discount For You!”

For years, Comcast held the only franchise agreement with the city of St. Paul. In 2015, the city entered into a new agreement with the cable provider and, as in the past, the provider agreed to offer discounts for low-income and senior subscribers. Such concessions are common because a franchise agreement gives a provider easy access to a pool of subscribers.

It seems like a fair deal, but where there is a way to squirm out of a commitment, Comcast will wriggle its way out.

Comcast is refusing to provide the discount when subscribers bundle services, which are typically offered at reduced prices. Because the contract is silent on the issue of combining discounts, the city of approximately 298,000 has decided it will not challenge Comcast’s interpretation:

The company notes that the ten percent senior discount applies only to the cable portion of a customer’s bill. Comcast has maintained that it is under no legal obligation to combine discounts or promotions, and that bundled services provide a steeper discount anyway.

Subscribers who want to take advantage of the discounts will have to prove their senior status and/or their low-income status. In order to do so, Comcast representatives have been requesting a copy of a driver’s license or state issued i.d.

CenturyLink Picks Up the Baton

In November, the city approved an additional franchise agreement with competitor CenturyLink. That agreement also provides that seniors, low-income households, and disabled residents are eligible to receive a ten percent discount. CenturyLink can, in the alternative, offer a discount of $5 off a subscriber’s cable bill if a subscriber applies for the low-income discount. In order to receive this discount, the subscriber must prove they are enrolled in a public assistance program. CenturyLink is not compelled to provide both the $5 reduction and the ten percent discount under the terms of the agreement.

The CenturyLink contract states that bundling discounts will not forfeit the $5 discount but does not say the same for the alternative ten percent discount.


Seniors on the Chopping Block

Discounts for low-income seniors are at risk in the CenturyLink contract reports the Pioneer Press. The contract offers the company an “out” by allowing it to exchange a senior discount to residents for free gigabit per second (Gbps) service at centralized locations. Rather than offering a ten percent discount to senior subscribers at their homes, CenturyLink can provide the high-speed connectivity to two St. Paul senior centers or to one senior center and a community center and present two training session per year on using the Internet.

My own parents, who are elderly and leave the house less frequently than they have in the past, depend on their Internet connection to stay in touch with their kids. A number of elderly folks are lower-income. Ten percent, a modest sum to a profit machine like Comcast, could be the tipping point for whether or not elderly people living on fixed incomes subscribe.

Would I rather have Mom trudging through the St. Paul snow to wait in line at the senior center to Skype in a noisy room filled with other seniors? No. Will Mom go to the senior center? Probably not. This trade-off is not equitable.

When You’re All Lawyered Up, It’s Easy to Break Promises

As franchise agreements expire[2] across the country, communities like St. Paul will be negotiating new contracts or considering other options[3]. Companies like Comcast and CenturyLink, backed by armies of lawyers, have turned backhanded negotiating into an art form. Cities like St. Paul employ smart, capable attorneys, but telecommunications is highly specialized; few communities have legal staff experienced in this field.

Lose The Big Companies, Gain Control

Contrary to the typical behavior of Comcast and CenturyLink, publicly owned networks have a history of lowering prices or increasing speeds[4] for free. When we ask why, decision makers usually tell us they make the change because it’s good for the community. Subscribers are the shareholders when a network is publicly owned.

Communities that invest in municipal networks shake off dependence on big providers like Comcast and CenturyLink. By investing in their own infrastructure, they spur economic development[5], save public dollars, and become more self-reliant.

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

  1. recently reported:
  2. franchise agreements expire:
  3. other options:
  4. lowering prices or increasing speeds:
  5. economic development:
  6. here:

Source URL:

New Fossil Fuel Power Plants: Assets or Liabilities?

by John Farrell | January 28, 2016 4:35 pm

In any conversation about the transition to a renewable energy economy, solar and wind advocates will eventually come up against the term “stranded assets.” It’s a misleading term, usually deployed in defense of legacy fossil fuel power plants (and their owners).

But as times change, “stranded assets” can be redefined and in the next few years it could become a powerful tool for advancing a 100% renewable energy future.

Defining a Stranded Asset

An asset is something you have of value, like a house or a car. In the power sector, it can mean a power plant, a substation, or a power line. “Stranding” an asset means shutting it down either a) before the end of its scheduled life or b) before you’ve finished paying for it, like scrapping a 5-year old car. Under threat of scrapping power plants built 5, 15, or even 50 years ago, utilities warn regulators of the cost of “stranded assets.”

But defending old, dirty power plants as “stranded assets” uses accounting terminology to paper over the tension between the interests of a utility interests and its customers.

Shuttering Old “Assets”

SC_IG_Part01[1]Take a coal power plant, for example. For every kilowatt-hour of electricity it produces, it also generates these negative outputs:

Cumulatively, the Harvard School of Public Health estimates the environmental and health burden adds 18¢ per kilowatt-hour of power[2]—$345 billion per year in total—far outstripping the cost to produce the electricity. For comparison, a new coal power plant produces electricity alone for a minimum of 6.5¢ per kilowatt-hour, while wind power (with none of the health and environmental damage) produces power for 4-8¢ per kilowatt-hour.

In other words, the full cost of energy from a coal power plant far outstrips the value of its electricity. In accounting speak, a power plant that produces more costs than benefits could be characterized as a “liability.”

Uncovering Old Liabilities

Utilities defend these liabilities with arguments that millions (maybe billions) of dollars were spent to build and upgrade these power plant to be marginally more efficient and marginally less polluting. And recovering those costs requires running that coal plant until the end of its scheduled life (40, 50, 60 years or more). Debts were incurred, suggest utility executives, and today’s electric customer is bound to pay them or risk stranding these power plant “assets”.infographic-image4[3]

Of course, utilities don’t pay most of the costs mentioned above, so in their narrow view a coal plant can be considered an asset even as it remains a major liability to the average electric customer.

Furthermore, the assumption that electric customers should be on the hook for these legacy costs assumes that they were rational at the time. But there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that investments made in coal power plants, even decades ago, were bad bets. The evidence includes:

Decisions to invest more customer dollars in these power plants in the past 20 years were irresponsible in light of the available alternatives.

In other words, legacy fossil fuel power plants are not assets, but liabilities, and electric customers are better off if utilities close them down and replace them with inexpensive, less polluting energy sources.

The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign[7] has been very successful by getting utilities to admit that their old coal fired power plants are liabilities that should be shuttered.

Building New Fossil Fuel Liabilities

Unfortunately, in the past fifteen years, utilities have largely replaced this coal-fired power with natural gas[8].

us new power plant capacity 2003-15 ILSR[9]

While marginally cleaner to burn than coal, these new power plants are at risk of becoming liabilities just as their coal-fired predecessors, in 4 ways.

For one, the total carbon footprint of natural gas power plants may be the same, because methane leakage during extraction may eliminate the relatively lower carbon emissions during combustion. New laws restricting carbon emissions will result in compliance costs that power plant owners will pass on to electric customers.

Second, the cost of renewable energy resources has been falling rapidly (wind by 61%, solar by 82% since 2009[10]) and wind is already less costly than new baseload natural gas power. If utilities have to sell this power in competitive markets, their power plants will be unable to compete. If not, they are being poor stewards of their captive customers’ resources when they have less expensive generation options.

Third, new gas power plants put the risk of fuel price volatility onto electric customers, who have these costs passed through directly onto their bills. Natural gas prices are at historic lows, but there’s little guarantee that will last the 40-year life of the power plant.

natural gas prices for electricity generation ilsr[11]

Finally, as the world moves toward meaningful action to combat climate change, the 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 will cut off the useful economic life of new fossil fuel power plants. After 2050, it will be nearly impossible to meet emissions targets and still be operating any fossil fuel electricity generation. A natural gas plant approved in 2016 might come online in 2017 at the earliest. The 33 years between then and 2050 are already seven years less than utilities typically plan for a “useful economic life.” In other words, a new proposed fossil fuel power plant is already a stranded asset if the utility has not shortened the useful economic life (a calculation that would likely make the power plant uneconomic).

This issue is coming up all across the country as monopoly utilities file their 15-year resource plans. A perfect example is Xcel Energy in Minnesota, seeking to replace much of the generating capacity from two old coal plants[12] with new natural gas plants[13]. (We’ve already sent their president an open letter[14] asking them to identify a better replacement option).

For existing power plants, “stranding” assets may make the utility balance sheet look worse, but it can be the best thing for the health and welfare of the public. For financiers of new power plants, it’s unlikely to be economical to finance a new fossil fuel power plant ever again.

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

Photo credit: Ross Catrow via Flickr[18] (CC BY-SA 2.0 license), text added.

  1. [Image]:
  2. the environmental and health burden adds 18¢ per kilowatt-hour of power:
  3. [Image]:
  4. less expensive expensive power from energy efficiency:
  5. price competitive with fossil fuel generation since the late 1990s:
  6. Economically competitive large and small scale renewable power generation:
  7. Beyond Coal campaign:
  8. largely replaced this coal-fired power with natural gas:
  9. [Image]:
  10. wind by 61%, solar by 82% since 2009:
  11. [Image]:
  12. generating capacity from two old coal plants:
  13. new natural gas plants:
  14. letter:
  16. Twitter:
  17. Democratic Energy weekly:
  18. via Flickr:

Source URL:

David Morris Interviewed on KFAI’s Truth To Tell Radio Show

by Nick Stumo-Langer | January 21, 2016 12:47 pm

In 2014, on ILSR’s 40th anniversary co-founder David Morris sat down with Siobhan Kierans and Tom O’Connell, co-hosts of TruthToTell[1], a weekly public affairs program on KFAI radio in Minneapolis to talk about our history, our approach and our decentralist perspective.


TruthToTell Description:

AIRING MONDAYS @ 9:00 a.m., TruthToTell is produced by CivicMedia/Minnesota as part of KFAI’s public affairs programming schedule.  TruthToTell delves into issues often not covered in depth by other regional news and public affairs outlets and too often not with the goal of engaging citizens in resolving the critical state, local, and regional issues they face day-to-day. Stream KFAI Live here[2].


  1. TruthToTell:
  2. here:

Source URL:

Just How Democratic are Rural Electric Cooperatives?

by Matt Grimley | January 13, 2016 2:30 pm

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[1] 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.

It was unprecedented for Wilson in 2009 to challenge a sitting board member. Never in the cooperative’s 71-year history had a board member run opposed.

“The conversation needed to be had,” says Wilson, a folk musician, educator and first-time politician. His picture turned up on the front page of the newspaper. His voice reverberated on the local radio show. He spoke to his platform of financing energy efficiency improvements on the electricity bill (known in energy policy circles as on-bill financing), and moving the local economy past its dependency on coal to alternative energy sources like solar.

Wilson notes that he had a challenge getting his message to resonate with the cooperative’s membership.

“People didn’t say anything about, ‘We gotta save our coal miners,’” he says. “They never said that, nor did they say anything about the environment. Not neither of those was on their mind. The only thing on their mind was that damned electric bill.”

The cooperative’s annual meeting, where the election for board of directors was held, was more of a festival[2], so as to encourage participation. Cooperative member-owners dished up plates of food. A band played gospel music. Teenagers accepted scholarships for college. Co-op staff passed out energy-efficient light bulbs. An antique car show revved up with almost a hundred participants. A skydiver jumped out overhead with one of the world’s largest American flags trailing behind him. Civil war re-creators fired off cannons[3].

firing cannons[4]

At the end, Wilson wasn’t surprised that he lost the election 740 votes to 151. Less than two percent of members turned out to vote. But the use of “proxy” votes made a huge impression on him. Mostly used at corporate shareholder meetings, proxy votes allow one member to delegate his or her voting ability to another member. In the case of Wilson and Jackson Energy, the electric cooperative had collected hundreds of proxy votes from its members, then handed them to other members present at the meeting, telling them to vote as they saw fit (meaning, for the incumbent).

There’s no blame in Wilson’s voice, only laughter. He knows the cooperative’s board of directors was scared.

“It was all new to them,” says Wilson about the election. “Nobody had really spoken. It had all been cut and dry before.”

The Roots of Democracy

Incumbents running unopposed, questionable election procedures, low turnout: for many cooperatives, Wilson’s story is not unusual.

It wasn’t always this way. Conceived during the violent winds of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, electric cooperatives — like many other rural cooperatives — were a way for rural people to band together and better their lives. Formed from five-dollar contributions from prospective members, electric cooperatives went where investor-owned utilities wouldn’t, stringing wires into the rural and rustic corners of America. With cooperatives, profits don’t go to distant shareholders. They go to local members, who own the very business that sells them electricity.

Today, there are some 900 electric cooperatives serving 13 percent of the population, and span about three-quarters of the nation’s land.

With democratic control, cooperatives have the potential to be very responsive to member interests. Roanoke Electric Cooperative (REC) in North Carolina recently undertook an on-bill financing program to help their low-income members save energy and money[5] while paying for energy efficiency measures on their monthly bills (what Randy Wilson was proposing for his cooperative). Farmer’s Electric Cooperative (FEC) in Iowa employs more solar energy per capita than other utility in the nation[6]. The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) in Hawai’i guided the cooperative to attain close to 40 percent of its energy from renewable resources[7] while stabilizing sky-high electric rates.

But even for these progressive cooperatives, voter turnout ranges from not-so-good to not-good-at-all, according to voting data acquired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. From 2006 to 2011:

In all, according to research from ILSR, more than 70 percent of cooperatives have voter turnouts of less than 10 percent (including Wilson’s Jackson Energy Cooperative, which averages just under 3 percent turnout).

low turnout for rural electric cooperative board elections ILSR[8]

Low member turnouts come at a harrowing time for electric cooperatives and the energy industry. Electric sales are stagnating[9]. Distributed energy such as rooftop solar is becoming cheaper[10] and more pervasive. Electric cooperatives, mostly dependent on coal for power, will face higher costs[11] from the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan if they attempt to hew to the status quo.

Assuming Ignorance (or Apathy)

The low turnout for cooperative elections could be lumped with historically lower turnout in federal election turnouts[12]. Municipal election turnouts are even worse, according to a University of Wisconsin study[13]. But compared to both of these, electric cooperative voting rates are still low.

lower turnout for rural electric cooperative board elections than many other elections ILSR[14]

Rory McIlmoil, a Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation member-owner and energy policy director at Appalachian Voices[15], says cooperative members usually don’t play an active role in utility affairs. He suspects it’s “mostly due to the fact the co-op members don’t quite understand what their rights and responsibilities are as member-owners of the utility.”

Typically, jobs and families come before bill savings and energy policy. Co-op members really only get involved when it hits them at home, and hits them hard.

Jan TenBruggencate, the board chair of the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative[16], says that interest and turnout spikes when electricity prices are too high, or there’s a contentious issue. The utility’s turnouts—almost the highest among cooperatives—run from the low 20s to 43 percent, but KIUC’s own surveys suggest that more co-op members claim to have voted than actually do.

“As board members, it would be convenient to believe that turnout is low because people believe we’re doing a good job,” he wrote in an email. “Another option is that turnout is low because folks are frustrated and don’t feel they can make a difference. Or that they simply don’t understand the mechanics of the utility business and don’t feel competent to select a candidate. Or perhaps candidates don’t do enough to distinguish themselves. Lots of possibilities.”

Geography further worsens the matter of cooperative-member connection. Small, remote cooperatives such as KIUC or those in Alaska typically have higher voter turnout, in the 20 to 30 percent range, while those focused around populated metropolitan areas tend to have lower turnouts, often lower than five percent.

larger electric cooperatives have lower election turnout ILSR[17]

Many electric cooperatives, started to serve rural areas, now serve growing, spread-out swaths of suburbs. Many members don’t even know they are members. One cooperative organizer (preferring to be anonymous) suggests that voting rates aren’t that much different from other credit unions and other cooperatives[18], such as REI or Land O’Lakes.

“The trend seems to be,” the organizer continued in an email, “the less important co-ops make themselves [relevant] to their constituents’ understandings of their lives and their interests, the less likely those members will vote or engage with the co-op outside of the commodity transactions.”

In all, according to research from the Filene Research Institute[19] and others, only one to five percent of worldwide cooperative members participate by voting in their cooperative elections.

An Alternative Explanation: Malicious Intent

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, several electric cooperatives in the South suppressed voter turnout, gouged members with high electric rates, and abused their power. The Co-op Democracy Project[20] organized against them, helping to empower a mostly black membership to gain seats on mostly white boards of directors. The group had some success, but the anchors of local incumbency, burdened with difficult-to-access meetings, elections, and voting requirements, were often too heavy for members to lift. From the link above:

“[Electric cooperative] boards perpetuated their rule by manipulating election bylaws and by using co-op resources to gather proxy votes and ballots for themselves sometimes offering green stamps or even cash prizes in return for proxies. No one, not even [Rural Utilities Service, the federal funder of electric cooperatives] officials in Washington, appeared willing to stop them. Unchallenged, with co-op members purportedly uninterested in operations, these men simply reappointed themselves year after year.”

Since then, the political process at most electric cooperatives remains unchanged. Nominating committees made of board-nominated members still act as arbiters for candidates to run for the board. Proxy voting is still used among some electric cooperatives (though, according to anecdotes, not in food cooperatives or credit unions). These detours add to a sometimes tortuous nomination and election process, full of obscure waiting times and petition requirements, that allow the utility and its board to swing votes toward incumbents. The graphic below explains the process, also shown in the text underneath the graphic.

Rural Electric Cooperative Voting Graphic[21]

So you want to run for your electric cooperative’s board of directors? Following these steps might not be so easy.

The use of proxies may explain Missouri’s Citizen’s Electric Corporation, which had turnout regularly above 90 percent in our data, more than double the next highest. Its cooperative policy[28] brings a clue. If a member has ever used a proxy voter ballot (to allow a board member to vote on their behalf), but didn’t return a ballot in the current election, a board committee is empowered to cast a vote in their name. The member, therefore, may have her vote cast without her express permission.

When carried to extremes, these policies have resulted in the worst cases of electric cooperative abuse. Un-democratic cooperative boards have allowed paid managers to run effectively unchecked. At Choctaw Electric Cooperative in Oklahoma, the board of trustees raised member bills by as much as $150 per year[29], gave the CEO a gift of $2.1 million and allowed him to use cooperative heavy equipment for personal use. With a highly compensated board, the former CEO of the Cobb Electric Membership Cooperative in Georgia defrauded his cooperative out of millions of dollars[30] to fund his own side-businesses and a proposed coal plant. Since 2009, at least 14 lawsuits[31] have been brought against 12 other electric cooperatives that have failed to refund capital credits to their members.

But more than the prevention of the occasional, heinous scandal, electric cooperatives are simply in need of new blood to bring the cooperative up-to-date with current energy industry trends. Board members are usually old, white, and male, with incumbencies that stretch back years if not decades. Their jobs are usually less than half-time but pay anywhere from a few thousand dollars to more than $50,000[32] per year. That money is often a huge difference for rural places often without much other opportunity. Some folks simply want the job for pay and prestige of running an institution that serves as a cornerstone of the local community.

“Most electric co-ops are boys’ clubs that re-elect the same people, that develop policies that favor their children or their buddies,” says Tom “Smitty” Smith of the consumer rights advocacy nonprofit Public Citizen. Most states, Smitty adds, still believe in the myth of member-led rule and don’t regulate electric cooperatives at all (the following map illustrates state electric cooperative regulation as of 2008).

state oversight of electric cooperatives 2008 ILSR[33]

The electric cooperative has become increasingly obscure, and members, without realizing it, are losing control of the organization they own.

Democracy Reclaimed?

About a decade ago, says Smitty, the Pedernales Electric Cooperative was in trouble.

It started when a Pedernales member wanted information on how to upgrade his home with rooftop solar. Finding that the cooperative had no such program, he wanted to talk to the board, but he couldn’t get board member names. Everything, he soon found, was off limits to him, from board meetings to utility records. (FYI, it seems this anonymous member detailed everything in a pretty good documentary.)

Scandal ensued when a group of members and local newspapers dug deeper. It turned out that the Pedernales manager was stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars[34], and the board was deeply complicit and richly compensated[35].

Through bad press, pressure from legislators, and lawsuits, the board and management were forced out. Reform candidates were elected. A member bill of rights was passed, opening up the elections, nominations, and giving members full access to records and meetings for the first time.

The new board members formalized goals for 30 percent renewable energy[36] in power capacity by 2020 and new energy efficiency savings. On the other hand, more conservative board members also passed through a fixed charge on the members and blocked rebate programs for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Other cooperatives across the nation continue to expand voting and open records policies. Georgia Watch, a consumer protection advocacy group, even made a helpful study and checklist[37] to determine if an electric cooperative is truly democratic.

Other cooperatives expanded voting and open records policies. At Kauai’s cooperative, in particular, the assurance for the democratic process has been extensive.

“We promote all candidates with campaign videos posted on our website,” board chairperson TenBruggencate says. “We publish an election guide. We have supported community candidate forums in some years. We have purchased advertising about the election. And we have made voting as easy as possible. We allow voting by phone, via internet, by mail and people can drop off ballots at our offices. The election is run and ballots are counted by an independent outside agency.”

Increased engagement at KIUC has helped soothe the strain of high electric bills, integrate record levels of rooftop solar, and bring innovative new projects in line with the members’ will, including a potential pumped hydro plant[38] and the nation’s first utility-scale solar-plus-storage plant[39].

“Electric cooperatives need to stay in touch with their members,” TenBruggencate says. “Higher voter turnout gives directors indication of which platforms are resonating with those members. It can be used to provide strategic direction for the cooperative. An engaged membership will recognize threats to the cooperative, and help bring resources to bear to solve problems.”

Back in Kentucky at Jackson Energy Cooperative, Randy Wilson’s landslide loss wasn’t for naught. Proxy votes were outlawed[40] shortly after the election. On-bill financing was instituted at the cooperative in 2010 as part of a pilot program with MACED[41]. In 2013, an incumbent board member was defeated by a newcomer.

Change can happen at electric cooperatives. Wilson knows this. He remembers from the day of his election attempt, when he informed an election official that people were cutting in line to use their proxy votes.

“He said, ‘I guarantee this will not happen again,’” says Wilson. “I was warmed by his respect. I kind of hugged him… I didn’t feel any competitiveness.”

For more information, see ILSR’s other posts on rural electric cooperatives:

This article originally posted at[45]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[46] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[47] update.

  1. Kentuckians for the Commonwealth:
  2. more of a festival:
  3. fired off cannons:
  4. [Image]:
  5. an on-bill financing program to help their low-income members save energy and money:
  6. more solar energy per capita than other utility in the nation:
  7. close to 40 percent of its energy from renewable resources:
  8. [Image]:
  9. stagnating:
  10. rooftop solar is becoming cheaper:
  11. higher costs:
  12. federal election turnouts:
  13. University of Wisconsin study:
  14. [Image]:
  15. Appalachian Voices:
  16. Kauai Island Utility Cooperative:
  17. [Image]:
  18. other cooperatives:
  19. Filene Research Institute:
  20. Co-op Democracy Project:
  21. [Image]:
  22. St. Croix Electric Cooperative:
  23. Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative:
  24. Randy Wilson’s election run:
  25. by mail:
  26. a variety of voting methods:
  27. proxy vote:
  28. cooperative policy:
  29. the board of trustees raised member bills by as much as $150 per year:
  30. defrauded his cooperative out of millions of dollars:
  31. 14 lawsuits:
  32. more than $50,000:
  33. [Image]:
  34. stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars:
  35. deeply complicit and richly compensated:
  36. 30 percent renewable energy:
  37. a helpful study and checklist:
  38. pumped hydro plant:
  39. solar-plus-storage plant:
  40. Proxy votes were outlawed:
  41. MACED:
  42. Did FERC Just Smash the Biggest Roadblock to Clean, Local Power for Electric Co-ops?:
  43. Why Aren’t Rural Electric Cooperatives Champions of Local Clean Power?:
  44. A $6 Billion Opportunity for the Rural Energy Economy:
  46. Twitter:
  47. Democratic Energy weekly:

Source URL:

New Studies Reveal 5 Reasons Policymakers Should Prioritize Local Business in 2016

by Olivia LaVecchia | January 12, 2016 10:01 am

It’s the season of resolutions, and creating a better environment for locally owned businesses to succeed ought to be near the top of every elected official’s list of priorities.

That’s the suggestion of a raft of recent research from prominent economists, sociologists, and other researchers, which finds that small, local businesses are critical to overcoming many of our biggest challenges, from reducing economic inequality to building resilient communities.

Here’s a roundup of the new studies that give five compelling reasons for policymakers to focus on local business in 2016.


1. Fewer new businesses are starting, and that’s bad news for long-term job creation.

Employment is finally on the rebound, but high rates of underemployment and minimal wage growth suggest all is not well in the U.S. job market.  One disturbing trend may be to blame: the creation of new businesses has fallen sharply.

While startups accounted for 16 percent of all businesses in the late 1970s, that share has fallen by half, to 8 percent, explains a new brief[1] from the Kauffman Foundation. The brief also explains why that’s so troubling. The authors round up the recent research on firm age and job creation, and find that young firms are the major contributor of new jobs to the U.S. economy.

“New businesses account for nearly all net new job creation and almost 20 percent of gross job creation,” they write, adding, “companies less than one year old have created an average of 1.5 million jobs per year over the past three decades.”

While no one is certain what’s caused the drop in new businesses, the same policies and conditions that have made it harder for small, local businesses to succeed may well be impeding new entrepreneurs.

2. Places with a high density of locally owned businesses experience higher income and employment growth, and less poverty.

Counties in which locally owned businesses account for a larger share of economic activity are more prosperous, according to a new study[2] [PDF] by an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

Using data on every U.S. county in the period between 2000 and 2008, the author, Anil Rupasingha, finds that local entrepreneurship has a positive effect on three critical indicators of economic performance: It increases county per capita income growth, increases county employment growth, and decreases county poverty rates. Rupasingha finds that this effect of local ownership is most pronounced when businesses are also small, defined as having fewer than 100 employees.

3. Small businesses make communities more resilient during hard times.


  1. a new brief:
  2. new study:
  3. (more…):

Source URL:

Albuquerque Extends a Helping Hand to the Homeless

by David Morris | January 6, 2016 4:43 pm

While other cities try to regulate or ban panhandlers, Albuquerque, N.M., offers them an income and social services for the day. Twice a week, a city van rolls through downtown Albuquerque, N.M., stopping at popular panhandling locations, Governing[1] magazine reports. The driver asks panhandlers if they want a day job. Work pays $9 an hour, higher than the state’s $7.50 minimum wage. In May, the city started posting signs at intersections with a 311 phone number and a website. Panhandlers can call to connect with services. Motorists can visit the website [2] to donate to a local shelter, food bank or an employment fund to pay panhandlers’ wages.

At the end of the day the van drops the day laborers off at St. Martin’s Hospitality Center, a nonprofit that connects people with housing, employment and mental health services.

Albuquerque calls its initiative A Better Way. I agree.



  1. Governing:
  2. the website :

Source URL:

Michigan Denies Free Speech to Public Officials

by David Morris | January 6, 2016 4:12 pm

On December 28th at 10:52PM, a few minutes before the New Year holiday recess, without public notice or hearings, the Michigan legislature, on a straight party line vote passed[1] a law prohibiting any public official from using “Public funds or resources for a communication” about a local ballot question within 60 days of the election.

The muzzling of the public sector does not extend to the private sector. Corporations and large political donors can still spend unlimited sums telling their side of the story. Indeed, adding insult to injury the same law allows campaigns to wait until after the elections to report their financial contributions.

So when Michigan’s citizens make up their minds how to vote on key ballot initiatives regarding issues like fracking or school bonding or municipal broadband their public officials will not be able to communicate with them.






  1. passed:

Source URL:

Congress Gets Renewable Tax Credit Extension Right

by John Farrell | January 5, 2016 3:09 pm

placeholder[1]In case you missed it over the holiday, Congress passed a new federal budget, notably extending tax credits for solar, wind, and other renewable energy technologies[2]. The extension differs from previous ones in two ways: it extends the credits for multiple years but also (as ILSR has been discussing[3] since[4] 2012) phases them out over time.

In other words, while the expiration of the solar tax credit wasn’t doomsday[5] (and even had a few silver linings[6]), Congress came up with a reasonable compromise to maintain incentive parity between clean energy and fossil fuels and provide the energy market with several years of predictable policy.

Extensions with a Phase Out

Here’s what it looks like. The production tax credit (a per kilowatt-hour incentive paid over 10 years) has been extended to projects that begin construction before 2020. However, for projects that begin construction after 2016, the incentive amount paid over the 10 years will be reduced. The following chart illustrates.


The solar tax credit was similarly extended, but with no decrease through 2019, and a phase out beginning in 2020. The language of the credit also shifted the deadline from “in service” to “commencing construction,” giving projects more time to access the full credit. The following chart illustrates the tax credit decrease after 2019, from 30% down to 10% (or 0% for solar projects on residential property owned by the resident).

federal solar tax credit phase out ILSR 2015[8]

For those who like combination charts, here’s both tax credits in one:

federal-wind-and-solar-tax-credit-phase-out-ILSR-2015 v3[9]

Still Not the Optimal Policy

The upside of the tax credit extension is obvious: continuing to make the cost renewable energy favorable relative to the cost of fossil fuel power generation. The downside is that the tax credit remains a lousy way to incentivize renewable energy[10] in an equitable manner, favoring Wall Street participation over Main Street. And promising tools[11] for reducing the cost of financing clean energy may have to wait while the tax credit crowd continues their dominance over clean energy financing. Finally, while the phase out is smart policy design, it also raises the specter of parity: will fossil fuel subsidies be similarly reduced as clean energy incentives are reduced?

At the end of the day, discounts for clean energy are a good thing, and this extension is worth cheering. But we hope that as the market matures, Congress will look for ways to give more ordinary Americans a way to buy into our clean energy future, whether they have tax liability or not.

This article originally posted at[12]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[13] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[14] update.

  1. [Image]:
  2. extending tax credits for solar, wind, and other renewable energy technologies:
  3. discussing:
  4. since:
  5. wasn’t doomsday:
  6. a few silver linings:
  7. [Image]:
  8. [Image]:
  9. [Image]:
  10. a lousy way to incentivize renewable energy:
  11. promising tools:
  13. Twitter:
  14. Democratic Energy weekly:

Source URL:

Obama’s Two Mistakes That Lost the Country

by David Morris | December 29, 2015 10:44 am

Early this year President Obama spoke before the Cleveland Club. After the speech 7th grader Alura Winfrey inquired, “If you could go back to the first day of your first term what advice would you give yourself?” Obama reflected for a moment and then blithely explained he would have worked harder to sell his economic policies.

Ms. Winfrey asked the right question but might have elicited a more revealing response if the question was given more context and phrased more insistently. Something like this: “Given that under your watch your party lost the country, in retrospect what would you have done differently?”

The data clearly would have supported her. When Barack Obama took office Democrats controlled the White House, both houses of Congress and had outright control (both houses of the state legislature and the governorship) of 27 states. Republicans controlled 17. In 2010 Democrats lost the House and the number of Democrat to Republican-controlled states almost exactly reversed. In 2014 Republicans won the Senate and the score regarding state control now stands at an astonishing 32 to 7 in favor of Republicans. And Republicans could complete the federal trifecta in 2016.

Nothing Obama could have done would have avoided the tsunami of vicious racist and xenophobic hatred that washed over him and the country, aided and abetted by the savagely partisan and vitriolic FOX news. Nothing would have stopped obscenely rich and intensely self-interested individuals like the Koch brothers from pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into campaigns to discredit and defile the President and the government in general.

But Obama might well have stunted the emergence of a rightwing populist movement if he had pursued an aggressive populist strategy of his own, one that demonstrated government could effectively challenge giant corporations and unbridled private greed on behalf of small business and the average family.

Obama certainly had the opportunity. The economy was in free fall. Millions faced the prospect of losing their homes. Millions more were losing their jobs. After freeing itself of most government restrictions and oversight the financial sector had become dysfunctional. Even stalwart defenders of laissez faire capitalism were confessing the error of their deregulatory ways. “Do you feel that your ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made?” Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) asked[1] Ayn Rand acolyte Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Federal Reserve in October 2008. “Yes, I’ve found a flaw,” Greenspan reluctantly conceded, and added, “I’ve been very distressed by that fact.”

The crisis in the health care sector was less visible but the sector’s inefficiencies and callousness were manifest. At a cost 30-100 percent higher than other nations were paying for universal health care, the America health care “system” left over 40 million uninsured. As many as 45,000[2] people died each year because they lacked health insurance. Medical expenses caused[3] 60 percent of all personal bankruptcies and had been rising by twice the inflation rate for several decades. Shrinking numbers of companies were offering employees adequate health care insurance and those that did were requiring more of the premium to be paid out of the workers’ paychecks even while insurance companies increased the level of deductibles.

To his credit Obama did try to make systemic changes in both the financial and health care sector. To his everlasting discredit he tried to make these changes without actually structurally changing the system. Instead of confronting power he bribed the powerful: $700 billion in direct support and trillions in low cost money for the banks, $500 billion for the health insurance companies. He enlisted the support of giant pharmaceutical companies, among the most profitable of all manufacturing firms, by refusing to cap drug prices. He enlisted the support of giant insurance companies by embracing an individual mandate he had opposed during the campaign, thus guaranteeing the companies millions of new mostly healthy younger customers, whose premiums would be heavily subsidized by the government. (more…)[4]

  1. asked:
  2. 45,000:
  3. caused:
  4. (more…):

Source URL:

Wilson Moves to Expand Greenlight Network to Neighboring Town

by ILSR | December 18, 2015 10:45 am

Thanks to a new interlocal agreement, the City of Wilson, North Carolina will soon expand[1] its Greenlight community broadand network[2] to the nearby Town of Pinetops. Officials expect to complete the expansion of the gigabit fiber network by April 2016. Pinetops, a town of 1,300, is less than 20 miles from Wilson, population 50,000.

We’re Waiting…

For Brenda Harrell, Pinetops Interim Town Manager, the agreement has been a long time coming after years of frustration over their limited broadband access options.

“Current providers haven’t made significant upgrades to our broadband service through the years,” “They haven’t found us worth the investment. Through this partnership with Greenlight and our neighbors in Wilson, we are able to meet a critical need for our residents.”

As far back as 2010, city leaders in Wilson were in negotiations with Pinetops officials on a proposal to expand the Greenlight network to reach Pinetops, a town of about 1,300. But those negotiations reached an impasse in 2011 when the State of North Carolina passed H129. Since then, officials in Wilson and in surrounding communities have been waiting for a time when Wilson could extend their the Greenlight network footprint.

The new agreement became possible in the wake of the FCC decision in February to overturn North Carolina’s anti-muni HB 129, allowing North Carolina communities to start considering the option to build their own broadband networks or expand on existing networks. While the state has appealed that decision in hopes of preserving the law, this agreement indicates Wilson officials are looking confidently ahead with the expectation that the state’s appeal will fail.

Looking Back, and to the Future

Last November, when the New York Times wrote about the fight[3] in communities around the nation for the right to build and expand community broadband networks, they talked to Gregory Bethea, the now retired town manager of Pinetops, North Carolina:

“If you want to have economic development in a town like this, you’ve got to have fiber,” Bethea told them.

And that’s what this agreement is about: giving Pinetops the local authority necessary to create their own economic opportunities.

In that article the Times also quoted Will Aycock, the General Manager of Wilson’s Greenlight network. At the time, Aycock was already looking beyond the state’s anti-muni law to future expansion:

“We would probably be building tomorrow if the law changed today,” Mr. Aycock said. “We’re not saying that we’re going to build out all of eastern Carolina or even all of our service territory tomorrow. But there are areas where we’d like to go now.”

With this new agreement in place, Aycock is now able to see those plans for expansion come to fruition. Upon reaching the agreement, he said:

“Our commitment to improving the delivery of City services through our smart grid initiatives has made broadband service to Pinetops possible, as the same fiber that supports the smart grid system will be leveraged to deliver next generation broadband.”

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[4]

  1. soon expand:
  2. Greenlight community broadand network:
  3. wrote about the fight:
  4. here:

Source URL:

Watch: Don’t Take the Bait – Exelon’s Feeding Frenzy Won’t Stop with Pepco

by John Farrell | December 17, 2015 6:55 am

[1]Exelon, a monopoly electric utility and the nation’s largest nuclear power generator, made a $6.8 billion offer[2] to purchase Pepco, Washington D.C.’s electric utility in April of 2014. Since then, they have swarmed across Pepco’s service area, getting the approval of federal regulators, state utility commissions, and shareholders. Washington D.C.’s Public Service Commission has, however, halted Exelon in its tracks by deeming the merger “not in the public interest.”

Not to be thwarted, Exelon donated D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser with a $25 million “land use contribution” just a few days before she became an Exelon-Pepco merger champion. Share our video below and learn how to help stop the Exelon-Pepco merger.

Take action by:

  1. [Image]:
  2. $6.8 billion offer:
  3. Submitting comments:
  4. Facebook:
  5. Twitter:
  6. Crain’s Chicago Business:
  7. Midwest Energy News:
  8. our website:

Source URL:

Watch: Can Energy Democracy Energize the “Good Life” in Nebraska?

by John Farrell | December 15, 2015 12:00 pm

placeholder[1]The following presentation was given by ILSR’s Director of Democratic Energy John Farrell, this year’s keynote speaker at the Sierra Club of Nebraska’s Annual Event on November 21st, 2015.  The presentation illustrates the march towards energy democracy by highlighting the spread of affordable distributed energy resources (such as wind and solar) and the intense pressure it puts on the 20th century business model for electric utilities.

John outlined how Nebraska is particularly well-suited to capitalize on added distributed solar capacity. With an active citizenry and publicly-owned utilities, Nebraska can ensure that their energy future is a clean one.

Click through the slides[2] or watch the video below.

This article originally posted at[3]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[4] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[5] update
  1. [Image]:
  2. Click through the slides: //
  4. Twitter:
  5. Democratic Energy weekly:

Source URL:

ILSR’s Distributed Solar Capacity Quarterly Update

by John Farrell | December 14, 2015 11:23 am

Renewable energy continues to dominate new power plant capacity and distributed generation has contributed an increasingly large share. We’ve been tracking this phenomenon since April of 2014, and, finally, the Energy Information Administration has recognized the prevalence of distributed solar and is going to report estimates of this added capacity[1] in their monthly updates. This is a big victory for tracking an individually-small but collectively-large power resource!

See previous updates: 2015 Q2[2], 2015 Q1[3], 2014 Q4[4], 2014 Q3[5], 2014 Q2[6]

Renewables Dominate New Annual Capacity

It’s been nearly 10 years since fossil fuel power plants represented more than 60% of new power plant capacity (2006), and it looks like three years running where distributed solar will represent at least 10% of new power capacity. Below is the annual data since 2003.

us new power plant capacity 2003-2015 annual ILSR[7]

Despite some fluctuation, when added capacity is broken down by quarter the growth of distributed solar has been consistently 10% or more of new power plant capacity. This has been aided by steeply falling prices and victories against utilities in the war on solar and other distributed power[8].
us new power plant capacity 2014-2015 quarterly ILSR[9]

The growth in distributed solar continues to expand the opportunity for electric customers to own a slice of their energy future[10], an economic windfall that could cumulatively shift as much as $48 billion[11] from electric utilities to their customers in the next 10 years.

This article originally posted at[12]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[13] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[14] update.

Photo credit: Andrew _ B via Flickr[15] (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license)


  1. is going to report estimates of this added capacity:
  2. 2015 Q2:
  3. 2015 Q1:
  4. 2014 Q4:
  5. 2014 Q3:
  6. 2014 Q2:
  7. [Image]:
  8. war on solar and other distributed power:
  9. [Image]:
  10. own a slice of their energy future:
  11. $48 billion:
  13. Twitter:
  14. Democratic Energy weekly:
  15. via Flickr:

Source URL:

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

by Olivia LaVecchia | November 23, 2015 10:43 am

In the middle of October, after months of courtship, Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller struck a $104.2 billion deal to merge. The global beer conglomerates behind Budweiser, Miller, and a stable of other beer brands will, if approved by regulators, become a single company with control over nearly 70 percent of the U.S. beer market, and 30 percent of the market across the globe.

Two weeks later, Walgreens and Rite Aid announced an agreement to combine into the country’s largest pharmacy company, on the heels of rival giant CVS buying Target’s pharmacies in June. Meanwhile, Staples is moving ahead with its $6.3 billion acquisition of Office Depot (which itself acquired OfficeMax in 2013), Bass Pro Shops is exploring a bid for the hunting and fishing chain Cabela’s, and last week, in a transaction that will create the country’s largest hotel chain, Marriott announced its acquisition of Starwood Hotels.

Even as craft breweries, farmers markets, and other small-scale, locally owned enterprises experience renewed vitality, at the other side of the economic spectrum, there’s more consolidation than ever. Mergers and acquisitions are expected to hit a record $4.58 trillion this year, the American Prospect recently reported[1]. And nearly a third of industries qualify as “highly concentrated” under current federal antitrust standards, found a recent Wall Street Journal analysis[2], up from about a quarter of industries a decade ago.

Much of this concentration is invisible to consumers. When AB InBev bought Chicago’s Goose Island Brewery for $38 million, for instance, it kept the well-loved craft brewer’s recipes and label, a pattern that it’s continued with its other craft acquisitions. Bar patrons still see a variety of beers on tap, and might not realize that their dollars now flow to AB InBev when they choose any number of them. Or take milk. Grocery shoppers choosing between 31 milk brands around the country rarely know that they’re all owned by one milk processor, Dean Foods, which controls 36 percent of the U.S. market for milk. (more…)[3]

  1. reported:
  2. analysis:
  3. (more…):

Source URL:

It’s not Doomsday, but Neither is Ending the Solar Tax Credit Good Policy

by John Farrell | November 19, 2015 2:47 pm

I took the “no” side in a point/counterpoint in the Wall Street Journal this week on the topic: Will Solar Energy Plummet if the Investment Tax Credit Fades Away[1]? It’s been a great conversation-starter, but also an opportunity to clarify ILSR’s position on the tax credit extension.

In short, while allowing the 30% tax credit to expire is not doomsday for solar, it’s bad policy. Congress should maintain support for a zero-fuel, zero-carbon energy resource that can decentralize the economic benefits of the power system.

The biggest problem with killing the tax credit is that, as a blunt instrument, the tax credit doesn’t equally affect all communities. A solar array in Missouri or Minnesota, for example, produces 30% less (or more) electricity per year than one in California or Arizona. While the cost of solar electricity will be at parity with (or better than) electricity prices in the Southwest and some Northeast states by 2017, it will take several more years to reach parity elsewhere. Letting the tax credit expire will mire these markets at a crucial opportunity to get them launched. The following screenshot from ILSR’s interactive solar parity map[2] shows the regional disparity in cost-competitive solar with no incentives in 2017.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 12.07.33 PM[3]

There’s also little point in reducing incentives for clean energy when we continue to subsidize dirty energy. In the last 70 years, the federal Department of Energy has spent twice as much money on fossil energy development as on renewables. And renewable energy has received only 14% of the tax break largess[4] showered on fossil fuels through the last century, and less than half on an annual basis. That’s despite the fact that while solar has no meaningful environmental or health impact from generating electricity, fossil fuel sources like coal continue to socialize their costs.

tax-breaks-630 cropped[5]

The high health cost of coal[6]

Credit: EDF

Finally, solar energy gives most electric customers, for the first time, the power to choose their energy source, often as an alternative to an increasingly expensive product from a monopoly power company. These companies would like nothing better than to cripple competition for their increasingly costly electricity.

While it’s true that there may be some silver lining to the solar tax credit expiration cloud[7], it would create more harm than good to give coal and natural gas (and electric monopolies) a free pass while roadblocking solar by cutting the Investment Tax Credit.

Opportunities to Improve

Policy-making is rarely perfect, however, so I can’t resist suggesting a few ways Congress could make the solar incentive better rather than killing it.

1. Make it a cash payment. Cities, counties, schools, and other non-profit organizations can’t use tax credits at all, and many Americans lack the tax liability to use it even as new financing tools are allowing more of them to go solar. The result is the rise of middlemen[8] that suck up much of the tax credit’s value.

2. Adjust it to the solar resource. Awarding the same $4,500 to identical 5-kilowatt solar arrays in Minnesota and California makes the former just competitive with retail electricity prices and the latter a windfall investment. In coastal Oregon, the same tax incentives may not be enough to provide any payback at all. Adapting the incentive to the solar resource would focus its power on the regions that need it most to get the solar market running.

3. Pay for performance. How do we make sure solar arrays are installed properly to maximize electricity production? If we pay for output, rather than simply discount the price up front.

4. Phase out, don’t do lights out. If we truly care about allowing the solar industry to adjust to an incentive-free market, then copy one of the best solar programs out there—the California Solar Initiative. Incentive payments were tied to existing market capacity, stepping down as the market grew. The federal incentive could also be phased out on a predetermined schedule, reducing by 5% per year until it zeroed out in 2022.


The solar tax credit was a blunt instrument for energizing the solar market and it worked. It may be less efficient and less nuanced than it could be, but killing the tax credit isn’t the solution. Instead, ending the credit amounts to unilateral disarmament of solar energy in the face of fossil fuel competition, at an unacceptable cost to the environment, consumer choice, and the coming of energy democracy.

For further reading:
The Federal Solar Tax Credit Extension: Can We Win if We Lose?[10]
Will Solar Energy Plummet if the Investment Tax Credit Fades Away[1]?

This article originally posted at[11]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[12] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[13] update.

Photo credit: 1upLego via Flickr[14] (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license)

  1. Will Solar Energy Plummet if the Investment Tax Credit Fades Away:
  2. ILSR’s interactive solar parity map:
  3. [Image]:
  4. 14% of the tax break largess:
  5. [Image]:
  6. [Image]:
  7. some silver lining to the solar tax credit expiration cloud:
  8. the rise of middlemen:
  9. [Image]:
  10. The Federal Solar Tax Credit Extension: Can We Win if We Lose?:
  12. Twitter:
  13. Democratic Energy weekly:
  14. via Flickr:

Source URL:

Hillary Clinton: Stop State Laws that Restrict Local Choice

by ILSR | November 14, 2015 8:04 am

In a position piece[1] released in October, Hillary Clinton voiced strong support for local authority:

“Three-quarters of US households have at most one option for purchasing the Internet service families now depend on for shopping, streaming, and doing homework. When alternatives do emerge, however, as they have in places like Kansas City, prices go down and speeds go up……Closing these loopholes and protecting other standards of free and fair competition—like enforcing strong net neutrality rules and preempting state laws that unfairly protect incumbent businesses—will keep more money in consumers’ wallets, enable startups to challenge the status quo, and allow small businesses to thrive.”

The effort to stop state laws that limit local choice on broadband initiatives requires more political leaders to take a stand like the one Mrs. Clinton takes here against local monopoly power in favor of fair competition. Voters must become better informed about the insidious impact of centralized corporate power on their local freedom and demand that elected officials embrace policies to decentralize power.

As the Federal Communications Commission has made clear, broadband access is crucial to addressing quality of life issues including economic development[2], government performance[3], education[4], medical care[5], public safety[6], energy & environmental innovation[7], and civic engagement[8]. Regardless of party affiliation, candidate platforms must acknowledge that fast, affordable, reliable Internet access for all is one of the biggest challenges facing communities around the nation.

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

  1. position piece:
  2. economic development:
  3. government performance:
  4. education:
  5. medical care:
  6. public safety:
  7. energy & environmental innovation:
  8. civic engagement:
  9. here:

Source URL:

The People United

by David Morris | November 9, 2015 8:10 am

New York makes it hard for citizens to influence policy.  They cannot put an issue on the state ballot no matter how many signatures they gather. And although the state Constitution has a home rule provision, cities and counties lack authority to undertake some of the most basic initiatives. Even mighty New York City, with over 8 million people, must go hat in hand to Albany to request permission to reduce city speed limits, install red light cameras, open their courts at night, or raise taxes other than those imposed on property.

Which makes it even more impressive that in the past few years initiatives from the bottom up have won two and a half significant victories in the face of vigorous opposition from giant corporations and ongoing hostility from state government. (I explain below why I list a partial victory.)

Minimum Wage

In 2012 New York’s minimum wage was identical to that of the federal government: $7.25 an hour.

That November workers at Wendy’s, McDonald’s and Burger King in Manhattan walked off the job to protest low pay and poor working conditions. With the assistance of the Service Employees International Union the Fight for $15 campaign was born and later spread across the nation.

In 2013 Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature did agree to slowly raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour by December 2015. But there they drew the line. In January 2014, in his first State of the City address New York Mayor Bill de Blasio urged the legislature to let cities set their own minimum wage. Cuomo quickly rejected the proposal. Doing so, he explained[1], could lead to a “chaotic situation.”

In June 2014 two events occurred that moved the Fight for $15 to another level. Seattle became the first city to embrace that wage and Cuomo did what the New York Times called[2] an “about-face on raising the minimum wage” by supporting a higher minimum wage for high cost cities like New York than lower cost cities in upstate New York.

The about-face, the Times noted, was an outcome of negotiations with New York’s Working Families Party (WFP).   A little background might be helpful here. New York is one of the very few states with a fusion system of voting. In the vast majority of states an independent party must not only win a certain number of votes to get a line on the ballot but must nominate its own candidate. That often leads them to play a spoiler role: taking votes from a candidate the party’s members would have liked to endorse. Fusion states like New York allow a new political party to endorse another party’s candidate. Which in turn allows third (and fourth and fifth) parties to quantifiably demonstrate their clout and that affords them real political leverage.

In 2014 Governor Andrew Cuomo was seeking a lopsided victory in the upcoming election to boost his presidential ambitions. To achieve this he needed the endorsement and votes of the WFP. But most WFP members opposed Cuomo’s indifference to the power of big money on politics and the worsening plight of workers. They were ready to nominate Zephyr Teachout, a law professor who in 2004 had been on-line coordinator of Howard Dean’s Presidential campaign.

On the last day of May, the day before the WFP convention convened Cuomo finally agreed to support WFP’s program and by a close vote he gained its endorsement. That agreement included supporting a higher statewide minimum wage for NYC of $13.13 an hour.

To no one’s surprise Cuomo did not fully live up to his promises but in January 2015 he did ask the legislature to raise the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour in New York City and $10.50 an hour in the rest of the state. “We applaud Governor Cuomo’s proposed increase…”, Bill Lipton, the state director of the WFP said[3]. “But $11.50 is almost $2 less than what he endorsed last spring.” The legislature rejected Cuomo’s proposal.

In May Cuomo convened the New York Wage Board, an agency established in 1933 with the power to raise wages for specific groups of workers without legislative approval, and asked it to recommend a minimum wage for the state’s 180,000 fast food workers. In July, after hearing testimony from scores of workers the Board recommended a wage of $15 an hour.

In September Cuomo signed the recommendation into law and announced his support for a statewide $15 minimum wage. “Cuomo Pivots Again as He Seeks a $15 Minimum Wage,” the Times reported[4]. “Just six months ago he said $15 an hour, the minimum that fast-food workers demanded, was ‘too high’ and proposed $10.50 as an alternative.”


In the late 1990s horizontal drilling combined with hydraulic fracking opened up vast new energy sources from shale. One of the richest deposits is in the Marcellus Shale formation underlying all of West Virginia, much of Pennsylvania and southwestern New York.

Between 2005 and 2010 the country’s shale-gas industry grew[5] by 45 percent a year. As drilling sites proliferated people discovered their mostly rural communities were being turned into industrial free fire zones. In 2009, 13 water wells in Dimock, a Pennsylvania town near the New York border were contaminated with methane. One exploded. The incident received national publicity.

People living on the other side of the border took note and launched a huge, decentralized, region-wide teach-in. Discussion groups met in basements and living rooms and city halls. And as they learned, they expanded their educational network. In Dryden, Judy Pierpont recalls[6], “We started out with about eight of us but then friends, and friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends joined.” Kelly Branigan, an activist in Middlefield told[7] Ellen Cantarow, “In Middlefield, we’re nothing special. We’re just regular people who got together and learned, and reached in our pockets to go to work on this. It’s inspiring, it’s awesome and it’s America—its own little revolution.”

Within two years the little revolution had become a big revolution. To Jack Ossont, a former helicopter pilot fracking had become[8] “the tsunami issue of New York. It washes across the entire landscape.” Sandra Steingraber, a biologist at Ithaca College described[9] the movement as “the biggest since abolition and women’s rights in New York.”

To be successful activists had to overcome a key obstacle. A 1981 state law encouraged drilling and specifically declared, “The provisions of this article shall supersede all local laws or ordinances relating to the regulation of the oil, gas, and solution mining industries; but shall not supersede local government jurisdiction over local roads or the rights of local governments under the real property tax law.”

Enter Helen and David Slottje, two corporate lawyers who had moved from Boston to Ithaca a few years before. Helen remembers attending a forum in 2009 and being “horrified” by what she saw. She and her husband looked for a solution. “With a corporate law background, you don’t ever tell a client that they can’t do what they want to do. You find any number of ingenious ways to get it done,” she said[10].

And find a way they did. The Slottjes concluded that the state law preempted cities’ right to regulate gas and oil drilling but not their right to impose an outright ban. “While you couldn’t regulate the industry, you could just say no.” she said[10]. They later counseled more than 50 municipalities around the state pro bono. In 2014 Ms. Slottje received the Goldman Environmental Prize for her work.

In late 2009 the state Department of Conservation (DEC) issued fracking guidelines. After blistering public criticism they were withdrawn and Governor David Paterson imposed a moratorium pending DEC revisions. That moratorium gave activists some breathing room to organize.

Relying on the Slottjes’ activists began organizing to convince their local governments to ban fracking.  In Ulysses people went door to door, ultimately persuading 1500 of the town’s 3000 registered voters to sign petitions against fracking. Ulysses imposed a ban as did Dryden, a city 20 miles east of Ulysses, and Middlefield, 120 miles east of Ulysses.

Almost immediately both Middlefield and Dryden were sued by energy corporations that argued bans violated the law and their property rights.

In November 2011 scores of anti-fracking candidates displaced pro gas incumbents as town councilors town supervisors and county legislators. By January 2012 about 80 towns and counties had outlawed fracking.

At the end of 2011 the DEC issued new guidelines. By that time the anti-fracking movement was in full roar. In early 2012 a DEC spokesperson told[11] reporters she expected total comments “to be more than 40,000” No other issue had ever received even 1000 comments. The guidelines were again withdrawn. The moratorium continued.

In February activists received a huge boost when 2012 two court decisions validated the Slottje’s legal strategy by upholding Dryden and Middlefield’s bans.

Governor Andrew Cuomo took office in January 2011. He supported fracking but continued the moratorium pending still more new studies. In early 2013 he proposed a pilot program. A few dozen “test” wells would be drilled and large portions of the state would be off-limits. James Smith, a spokesman for the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York told[12] the Times, “We view it as a positive step.” In February 2013 Cuomo bowed to environmentalist pressure and the growing number of towns who were banning fracking and withdrew his proposal until the completion of another study.

The Washington Post summed[13] up Cuomo’s stance in June 2014, “Cuomo, widely believed to have national political ambitions, has avoided taking sides…”

In December 2014 New York’s Court of Appeals by a 5-2 vote upheld the lower court decisions regarding bans imposed by Dryden and Middlefield. By then over 170 communities had enacted bans.

Right after the court decision Cuomo finally imposed a permanent moratorium. The New York Times observed[14], “For Mr. Cuomo, the decision on fracking seemed likely to help repair his ties to his party’s left wing. It came after a surprisingly contentious re-election campaign in which Zephyr Teachout, a primary challenger who opposed fracking, won about a third of the vote.”

School Testing

The 2003 No Child Left Behind Law dramatically increased the emphasis on school testing but it was President Obama’s 2009 Race to the Top that made testing the centerpiece for education reform.

To be eligible for a share of the $4.35 billion in grants, states had to adopt rigorous Common Core standards for math and English and use the test results not only to evaluate students but teachers and schools. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia signed on even though only a score or so actually received any money.

Opposition to testing finally erupted in Seattle in January 2013 when teachers refused to administer standardized tests. With the introduction of state mandated Common Core tests opposition intensified. In April 2013 New York became the second state to administer tests aligned to Common Core State Standards (Kentucky was the first). In New York some 10,000 students refused to take the tests. Mark Naison, a professor at Fordham University in New York City called[15] it, “the largest test revolt in modern American history,”

In June 2013 an estimated 10,000-plus educators and parents from all over New York converged at the state capitol in Albany to demonstrate their opposition to high stakes testing.

Opt outs worried state officials but the results of the tests shocked them. The proficiency rate for English dropped[16] from 55.1 percent to 31.1 percent from 2012 to 2013 while in math it plunged from 64.8 percent to 31 percent.

In 2014 state legislators partially responded to growing protests by prohibiting districts from making promotion or placement decisions “solely or primarily on student performance” on standardized test.

Nevertheless that year between 55,000 and 60,000 students opted out.

In late March 2015 Governor Cuomo and the legislature raised the stakes still higher by requiring that student test scores comprise 50 percent of teacher and principal evaluations. Any teacher rated ineffective two years in a row could be fired. Depending on how long a school has been struggling, local districts would have one or two years to make “demonstrable improvement”. If a school failed to improve, it would be placed in receivership.

Carol Burris, New York’s 2013 High School Principal of the Year worried[17] about the impact of high stakes testing on students. “(W)hat will be the likely effects on students when their performance on tests determines half of their teacher’s evaluation?…every high-school teacher will be incentivized to push weaker students out of challenging classes like Advanced Algebra, Physics and Chemistry….Narrow teaching to the 3-8 Common Core tests and test prep will be further incentivized

In 2015 some 20 percent of all students, over 200,000 opted out. “The governor and legislature spoke on April 1 with their plan for our children’s education,” said[18] Lisa Rudley, a parent with children in the Ossining Union Free School District. “Parents are responding in force, ‘We do not consent!’

A group called The Concerned Teachers of New York State wrote an open letter to Governor Cuomo asserting, “We are hard-pressed to find any reference literature that supports staking such a large portion of a teacher’s overall evaluation rating on how his/her students perform on a standardized exam.” They noted that most studies found that teachers account for only 1-14 percent of the variability in test scores,

Cuomo still backed standardized tests but in the face of massive opposition he conceded[19], “We must have standards for New York’s students, but those standards will only work if people — especially parents — have faith in them and in their ability to educate our children. The current Common Core program does not do that. It must.” He convened a task force to review the state’s Common Core program.

The state also delayed by two years the date that the results of the Common Core exams will be counted in student assessments. It did not delay the implementation of test scores to evaluate teachers and schools. Nevertheless a majority of the more than 700 school districts in New York will probably be exempted[20] from implementing the new system at least until March 2016. In late October the Board of Regents convened a panel[21] to “consider improvements” to the teacher evaluation system.

All three examples prove that where there’s a will—and good steady organizing—there’s a way. Fast food workers took to the streets and, combined with strong support by organized labor and an increasingly influential independent political party, gained a victory. Opponents to fracking discovered a novel legal theory that allowed cities to ban fracking and then convinced hundreds of cities to do so.

Here’s where the half victory comes in. Whether ultra high stakes testing will continue is still undecided. But in the last two years grassroots opposition by parents and teachers and widespread civil disobedience by students clearly has changed the conversation and the dynamic.






  1. explained:
  2. called:
  3. said:
  4. reported:
  5. grew:
  6. recalls:
  7. told:
  8. become:,_an_environmental_occupy_fracks_corporate_america/
  9. described:,_an_environmental_occupy_fracks_corporate_america/
  10. said:
  11. told:,_an_environmental_occupy_fracks_corporate_america/
  12. told:
  13. summed:
  14. observed:
  15. called:
  16. dropped:
  17. worried:
  18. said:
  19. conceded:
  20. exempted:
  21. panel:

Source URL:

ILSR Sponsors the Third National Cultivating Community Composting Forum

by Brenda Platt | November 5, 2015 2:30 am

In 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] in Jacksonville, Florida:

Best Practices in Community Composting Workshop –
January 25, 2016


Cultivating Community Composting Forum 2016-
January 26, 2016

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 2016 is the third national forum sponsored by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and BioCycle.


Scholarships are available to community composters!
Click here[3] to apply.
Application deadline: November 13th


Best Practices in Community Composting Workshop
1 to 4:30 pm, Monday, January 25th, 2016

In this half-day workshop for community composters, we will walk through practices that work. Topics include: creative financing, operator training, engaging community and recruiting participants, food scrap collection, equipment and small-scale systems, site planning, complying with regulations, outreach and communications, cooperative structures, technology platforms, marketing compost, measuring impact, managing the compost process, and overcoming roadblocks. We will address how to take your community-scale composting to the next level. Walk away knowing how to adapt the efforts and achievements of other programs for your community. Open to community-scale composters who are composting on-site at schools, community gardens and farms or otherwise keeping the process as local and small-scale as possible while engaging the community through participation and education. Pedal-powered collectors welcome.

Practitioners: A diverse team of community composters will lead this workshop. If you’re interested in participating, please email Joshua Etim at[4].
Facilitators/hosts: Brenda Platt, Institute for Local Self-Reliance; Nora Goldstein, BioCycle

Workshop Cost: USCC Member Price: $175 / Non-Member Price: $225

Register on the USCC web site, here[5].

Scholarships available to community composters! Apply here[6] by November 13th. After that, email Joshua Etim at[4].

Cultivating Community Composting Forum
2:30 to 6:00 pm, Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

This Forum will take place as a track on the first day of the US Composting Council’s International Conference and Trade Show (January 25th-28th). (more…)[7]

  1. BioCycle:
  2. USCC’s International Conference and Trade Show:
  3. here:
  5. here:
  6. here:
  7. (more…):

Source URL:

Updated: States Supporting Virtual Net Metering

by John Farrell | November 4, 2015 3:30 pm

Net metering[1] is a common distributed renewable energy policy in the United States, allowing individuals to “turn back” their meter (and reduce their electric bill) by generating on-site electricity. But utility accounting systems typically prevent people from sharing the output from a single, common solar or wind project.

The Many Categories of Net Metering[2]

Virtual (or group or neighborhood) net metering (now also called “shared renewables”) allows utility customers to share the electricity output from a single power project, typically in proportion to their ownership of the shared system. The following map illustrates which states (as of October 2015) support virtual net metering. See previous maps here: February 2014[3], October 2013[4], August 2012[5].

virtual net metering 2015 ilsr 00001[6]




California Multi-tenant properties, local governments
Connecticut Municipal, state, or ag. customers only
Dist. of Columbia All customers
Maine All customers
Maryland Allowed for agricultural customers, non-profit organizations, and municipal governments or their affiliates
Massachusetts All customers
New Hampshire All customers
Pennsylvania All customers, within 2 miles
Rhode Island Local and state governments
Vermont All customers


Colorado IOU customers; solar only
Delaware All customers; solar only
Minnesota Xcel Energy customers only
New York Launched October 2015
Wisconsin NSP customers only


Illinois Utility choice to offer

This article originally posted at[7]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[8] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[9] update.


  1. Net metering:
  2. [Image]:
  3. February 2014:
  4. October 2013:
  5. August 2012:
  6. [Image]:
  8. Twitter:
  9. Democratic Energy weekly:

Source URL:

Voters Quiet the Drums At the Polls in Colorado

by ILSR | November 3, 2015 4:53 pm

The “constant drumbeat” of complaints about poor connectivity pounding from Colorado communities ended with a climactic crash at the polls on Tuesday. Referenda in 43 communities[1] – 26 cities and towns; 17 counties – all passed overwhelmingly to reclaim local telecommunications authority.

Staggering Approval

The landslide victory was no surprise. Last year, nine communities asked voters the same issue of whether or not they wanted the ability to make local telecommunications decisions. That right was taken away 10 years ago by SB 152. Two other communities took up the question earlier this year with 75 percent[2] and 92 percent[3] of voters supporting local telecommunications authority.

A few larger communities, such as Boulder[4], Montrose[5], and Centennial[6], presented the issue to the voters and reclaimed local authority in prior years. This year, most of the voting took place in smaller, rural communities where incumbents have little incentive to invest in network upgrades.

This year, results were similar as the majority of voters supported local measures with over 70 percentage of ballots cast. In Durango, over 90 percent of voters chose to opt out of restrictive SB 152; Telluride voters affirmed their commitment to local authority when over 93 percent of votes supported measure 2B. Many communities showed support in the mid- and upper- 80th percentile.

Schools Win, Too

In addition to economic development, Colorado communities are looking to the future by planning for students and tomorrow’s workforce. Ballot questions in a number locations asked voters to allow school districts to have the option of investing in telecommunications if necessary. They don’t have faith that incumbents will keep up with their growing needs.

Colorado Mountain College[7], also unsure of the future, asked voters in six different communities for permission to provide their own Internet, if necessary. Voters in all locations said “yes.”


Out From Under The “Dark Cloud”

Virgil Turner, Director of Innovation from the City of Montrose, describes[8] what it is like when a community opts out of SB 152:

“We didn’t know exactly what we’d do,” Turner said. “But we no longer are under this dark cloud of not being able to be innovative.”

SB 152 first passed through the state legislature in 2005 after heavy lobbying from Comcast and CenturyLink. Legislators and lobbyists backing the law argued its intent was taxpayer protection but the past 10 years have proved otherwise. The real motivation behind the bill was to protect incumbent de facto monopolies and prevent potential competition by municipal networks.

The law hurts taxpayers by discouraging private investment. It prevents local governments from working with private sector ISP partners who may want to use publicly owned fiber infrastructure. It stalls economic development because employers can’t get the connectivity they need. It stifles growth in the small communities that need growth the most.

These communities have waited patiently for incumbents to invest in better infrastructure but communities will no longer wait and watch while places like Longmont[9], Rio Blanco[10], and Estes Park[11] leave them behind.

Until the State Legislature decides to strike SB 152 and the expensive hoops communities must jump through to opt out of it, places like Fort Collins, Steamboat Springs, and Pitkin County will be forced to spend precious public dollars on this type of referenda.

The Time to Act is Now

Ken Fellman, general counsel with the Colorado Communications and Utility Alliance told the Denver Post[12]:

It’s not that we want to compete with the private sector — it’s that the private sector isn’t providing the level of service the community needs.

Now that these communities have recovered the right to determine their broadband destiny, they have a choice. They can rest in the comfort of knowing they comply with the law or explore endless possibilities now open to them. They can stop pounding drums and start innovating.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[13]

  1. Referenda in 43 communities:
  2. 75 percent:
  3. 92 percent:
  4. Boulder:
  5. Montrose:
  6. Centennial:
  7. Colorado Mountain College:
  8. describes:
  9. Longmont:
  10. Rio Blanco:
  11. Estes Park:
  12. the Denver Post:
  13. here:

Source URL:

A Plan B for Every Monopoly Electric Utility?

by John Farrell | October 28, 2015 12:29 pm

Electric companies seemingly face a business “death spiral[1]” because the 20th century rules for the electric grid make it a challenge to address stagnant energy demand and competition from energy-producing customers. The result is a utility-funded war on solar and other distributed power[2], and retrenchment on last century’s business model as many utilities try to gain certainty by taxing solar[3] or requiring customers to pay more regardless of how much energy they use[4]. But one investor-owned utility—Green Mountain Power[5]—is bucking the trend and embracing a 21st century electricity system that’s driven from the ground-up by distributed renewable energy, storage, and smart grids.

A Different History

Green Mountain Power has distinguished itself from its peers for nearly a decade. In 2008, this utility serving 75% of Vermont’s electric customers testified to the state’s Public Service Board that it wanted to expand net metering[6] by increasing project sizes, the capacity cap on projects, and pay a premium of 6 cents per kilowatt-hour—in addition to the retail energy rate—to solar producers because of the value of offsetting dirty, peak energy production.

In 2011, the utility completed its campaign to install 10,000 solar panels in 1,000 days[7], beating its goal by installing 26,000 panels.

In 2013, the utility was the first in the nation to rent cold-climate heat pumps[8] to assist with residential heating and cooling.

In 2014, unlike many of its utility peers, Green Mountain Power supported[9] quadrupling the capacity cap on net metering[10] from 4% to 15%. The law also allowed projects under 15 kilowatt to be registered within 10 business days. The utility followed up on its support for expanding solar by breaking ground on a microgrid for Rutland, VT[11], combining 2.5 megawatts of solar with 4 megawatts of battery storage. The project provides resilient power in the event of a larger grid outage, and contributes to the utility’s goal of making Rutland the “solar capital of New England.”

Also in 2014, the utility announced a partnership with NRG to “remake the Vermont grid[12]” by offering “community solar, energy management systems, micropower, personal power, electric vehicle charging and similar distributed energy offerings.” More broadly, the partnership is intended to “transform the distribution grid ‘to a market-based platform designed to create efficiencies and distributed energy solutions.'”

In 2015, the utility launched a program for customers to “share solar[13],” allowing customers with sunny roofs to host solar arrays at no cost. The customer would receive a portion of the energy, reducing their energy costs, and the remaining production would be available for purchase by other electric customers.

A Different Orientation

While Vermont’s largest utility has sided with its customers, other utilities continue to battle against them, in fights covering more than two-thirds of U.S. states (Vermont is notably absent from the list).distributed-generation-under-fire-map-ILSR-2015-1028[14]

The difference?

Green Mountain Power is the only electric utility in America organized as a Benefit (or “B”) Corporation[15]. B Corps are for-profit companies, but include “positive impact on society and the environment in addition to profit[16]” as their legally defined goals. It’s like the “fair trade” label for coffee or the LEED standard for buildings, a way to differentiate between companies whose only goal is profit maximization and those that want the legal flexibility to think more broadly.

The utility has a vision for using the energy system[17] to the greater benefit of all its customers:

GMP is at the forefront of a new energy system for Vermont that can improve lives, reduce costs, and be produced in a more environmentally and economically sustainable way. They are leading the transition from the traditional grid of the past, to one that is more resilient and reliable, and that uses a series of microgrids through renewable and clean energy generation and innovative energy storage solutions. This work will empower their customers like never before and increase their comfort in all Vermont seasons while fostering healthier, stronger communities.

Why Not All Monopoly Utilities?

The fundamental rule of the 20th electric utility system is granting government-sanctioned monopolies to most for-profit utility companies, to avoid costly duplication of electrical infrastructure and capture economies of scale for power generation. But the grid is built, and the scale economies for fossil fuels are undermined by the socialized health and environmental costs as well as competition from cost-effective distributed renewable power. The utility’s monopoly is increasingly un-natural[18].

One solution is to follow New York into the brave new world of regulated de-monopoly[19], changing the distribution system from just one piece of a utility behemoth into an open, competitive platform for delivering energy services. It’s removing the conflict of interest for utilities that own power plants that compete with customer-driven solar, energy storage, and energy management.

But an alternative to cracking open archaic monopolies would be to incorporate the public benefit into their corporate charter.*  Instead of requiring utility commissioners and legislators to endlessly battle well-funded utility companies over incremental shifts toward a cleaner and more equitable energy system, bake it into their legal structure. Make every utility monopoly company a B corporation.

Most utility companies aren’t prepared to embrace the transformative opportunity to democratize the electricity system, whether due to inertia, conservative culture, or perceived conflicts with their profit-maximizing mission. They can’t envision a system in which the customer is king, and not the utility. And the tools we have to move utilities require enormous time, energy, and money to overcome the power of their economic and political incumbency.

Maybe it’s time for Plan B.

This article originally posted at[20]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[21] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[22] update.

Photo credit: Martin Ringlein via Flickr[23] (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license)

*Note: this wouldn’t change anything for government-owned municipal utilities or rural electric cooperatives, that operate under the auspice of democratic control.

  1. death spiral:
  2. utility-funded war on solar and other distributed power:
  3. taxing solar:
  4. requiring customers to pay more regardless of how much energy they use:
  5. Green Mountain Power:
  6. it wanted to expand net metering:
  7. 10,000 solar panels in 1,000 days:
  8. rent cold-climate heat pumps:
  9. supported:
  10. quadrupling the capacity cap on net metering:
  11. microgrid for Rutland, VT:
  12. remake the Vermont grid:
  13. share solar:
  14. [Image]:
  15. Benefit (or “B”) Corporation:
  16. positive impact on society and the environment in addition to profit:
  17. a vision for using the energy system:
  18. utility’s monopoly is increasingly un-natural:
  19. the brave new world of regulated de-monopoly:
  21. Twitter:
  22. Democratic Energy weekly:
  23. via Flickr:

Source URL:

Top 10 Reasons to Support Community Power

by John Farrell | October 26, 2015 9:00 am


Building local equity is the key to campaigns for 100% renewable energy, giving everyone a chance to own a piece of their energy future.

What does control of our electric grid look like? Check out these images to help illustrate the importance of clean, local energy.

Click through to discover the top 10 reasons to support Community Solar:

10. Savings

Every 1-kilowatt share of a community solar project can cut your electricity bill by 13%.

9. Clean Energy

With a 25-year warranty, solar means you get free, clean energy from the sun for decades.

8. Access to All

Over half of U.S. households don’t have a sunny rooftop, but everyone can be part of community solar.

7. Ownership

Community solar means owning a share of your energy future, and it might come from a library or school rooftop near you!

6. Local Dollars

Spending a dollar on community solar electricity means you don’t pay for mines or fracking or pollution.

5. Jobs

Every megawatt of solar creates up to 20 jobs in the local economy.

4. Control

Your electric utility can’t raise rates on energy that you own.

3. Competition

Most utilities are monopolies, but community solar gives you a choice.

2. Equity

Community solar means you can own solar without being rich or having a good credit score.

1. Community Power

Owning a share of community solar is the first step toward taking charge of your – and your community’s – energy future.

Give your support today to celebrate 10 reasons for community solar[2] and ILSR’s work to expand community power!

  1. [Image]:
  2. 10 reasons for community solar:

Source URL:

New Analysis: Amazon Warehouses Impose Hidden Costs on Communities

by Stacy Mitchell | October 22, 2015 9:41 am

Amazon is on a building spree, and many local officials are eager to bring one of its giant fulfillment centers to their own backyard.  But a new analysis from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) indicates that communities are losing more than they gain in these projects.

Contact: Stacy Mitchell, 207-232-3681
Co-Director, Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR)

Cities are so eager to lure Amazon that many have resorted to offering the company lavish tax breaks and other public assistance.  Between 2012 and 2014, public records show, Amazon picked up $431 million in local tax incentives to finance its warehouse expansion.

Yet, Amazon fulfillment centers impose so many hidden costs on local economies, ILSR contends, that cities ought to reconsider welcoming them at all, much less greasing the way with public funds.

According to 5 Things Local Officials Need to Know Before Welcoming an Amazon Warehouse[1], a factsheet released today by ILSR:

“Community leaders have barely begun to grapple with the implications of Amazon’s growth,” said Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher and co-director at ILSR.  “Amazon is upending the age-old relationship between commerce and place, and with this shift comes significant costs for local economies.  Our analysis puts hard numbers to some of these costs.  It should spur cities that are courting Amazon warehouses to reconsider.”
The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is a 41-year-old nonprofit research and educational organization based in Minneapolis, MN, Portland, ME, and Washington, DC. ILSR’s mission is to provide innovative strategies, working models, and timely research to support strong communities and local economies.More at[2]

  1. 5 Things Local Officials Need to Know Before Welcoming an Amazon Warehouse:

Source URL:

5 Things Local Officials Need to Know About Amazon

by Stacy Mitchell | October 22, 2015 8:01 am

placeholderImage: Amazon Factsheet[1]Amazon is on a building spree, and many local officials are eager to bring one of its giant fulfillment centers to their own backyard. They are so eager, in fact, that some have resorted to offering the company lavish tax breaks and other public assistance. Between 2012 and 2014, Amazon picked up $431 million in local tax incentives to finance its warehouse expansion.

Yet, as our analysis shows, Amazon fulfillment centers impose so many hidden costs on local economies that cities ought to reconsider welcoming them at all, much less greasing the way with public funds.

Download the Factsheet[2]

Here are five things local officials need to know before welcoming an Amazon warehouse:

  1. Amazon Has a Track Record of Dodging Taxes and Demanding Subsidies It Doesnt Need

Amazon is a master at getting money from taxpayers. From 2012 to 2014, it extracted $431 million in tax incentives and other subsidies from local and state governments.[i][3] Amazon hardly needs taxpayers to finance its expansion. In 2014, it invested over $5 billion in acquisitions and capital expenditures, and reported an additional $2 billion in free cash flow.[ii][4]

As much as Amazon asks from taxpayers, it also has a long history of sidestepping its own tax obligations. For 20 years, the company has worked hard[iii][5] to avoid collecting sales tax, even going so far as to conceal its physical presence in some states.[iv][6] Today, Amazon still does not collect sales taxes in 19 states.[v][7]

  1. Amazon Warehouses Place a Heavy Burden on Services

Amazon is infrastructure-intensive. It makes heavy use of the roads surrounding its warehouses, causing traffic, safety, and pavement wear impacts. Instead of offsetting these costs, Amazon expects local governments to pick up the tab and often even asks them to extend and upgrade services.

In Shakopee, Minn., for instance, the company convinced the city to spend about $8 million on road improvements and other infrastructure fixes around the site of a planned warehouse.[vi][8]

  1. Amazon Wont Bring Many Jobs

In fact, Amazon actually destroys more jobs than it creates. While local brick-and-mortar retailers employ 47 people for every $10 million in sales, Amazon employs just 19 people per $10 million in revenue.[vii][9] This means that as Amazon grows and crowds out other businesses, the result is a net decrease in jobs.

Over time, the number of jobs that Amazon creates will drop even lower. The company’s new generation of warehouses is equipped with robots that do much of the sorting, stacking, and moving of products. “It’s obvious that humans are going to lose these jobs,” an analyst recently told the Los Angeles Times.[viii][10] (more…)[11]

  1. [Image]:
  2. Download the Factsheet:
  3. [i]: #_edn1
  4. [ii]: #_edn2
  5. [iii]: #_edn3
  6. [iv]: #_edn4
  7. [v]: #_edn5
  8. [vi]: #_edn6
  9. [vii]: #_edn7
  10. [viii]: #_edn8
  11. (more…):

Source URL:

Sweden Experiments With A 6-Hour Work Day

by David Morris | October 21, 2015 1:42 pm

Swedish experiments with a 6-hour day find it costs a little more but workers are less stressed, more energetic, happier and more productive. Plus it is a terrific job generator for the nation as a whole. One’s reaction to these findings depends on one’s ideology. When the left governs cities the experiments blossom but when penny-wise, pound-foolish Conservatives are in power the experiments end.@TheGuardian

Source URL:

Distributed Renewable Energy Under Fire

by John Farrell | October 21, 2015 11:45 am

placeholderThis subject has been updated, please read our newest piece: Distributed Generation (Still) Under Fire[1], published May 2016.

placeholder[2]Need evidence that utilities are fighting back against their customer’s desire to generate their own power? This map shows where policies like net metering are undermining the ability of utility customers to exercise their desire for self-reliance.

I developed this map as a side project while I was working on explaining the value of solar[3] and its potential role in addressing conflicts between utilities and customers over distributed renewable energy like solar. I’ve received several updates since it was originally published[4].


Sources and links available from this Google spreadsheet[6].

For some context on the contention about the costs and benefits of distributed renewable energy, see this compilation report from the Rocky Mountain Institute.

This article originally posted at[7]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[8] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[9] update.

  1. Distributed Generation (Still) Under Fire:
  2. [Image]:
  3. explaining the value of solar:
  4. originally published:
  5. [Image]:
  6. this Google spreadsheet:
  8. Twitter:
  9. Democratic Energy weekly:

Source URL:

States Shower Big Companies with Economic Development Incentives, at Small Businesses’ Expense

by Olivia LaVecchia | October 21, 2015 11:18 am

Over the last decade, Kerry Olvera and her co-owners have expanded Supermercado Mexico near Grand Rapids, Mich., to three grocery stores and a commercial bakery. They’ve quadrupled the staff from 12 full-time equivalent employees to 50.

To finance all of this growth, they relied entirely on their own scraped-together capital and hard-won bank loans.

“We’re 100 percent invested in this, our houses, everything,” says Olvera.

While local entrepreneurs like Olvera finance their own growth, they’re largely cut off from a plentiful stream of public capital available to their larger competitors, according to a study released Tuesday by the research group Good Jobs First. The group looked at state economic development programs that purport to be open to businesses of any size, and found that they overwhelmingly favor large companies.

The study, titled Shortchanging Small Business[1], analyzes 4,200 economic development incentives awarded through programs in 14 states, and finds that 90 percent of a $3.2 billion total pot went to large firms, defined as those with 100 or more employees or 10 or more locations. In some states, that figure climbed as high as 96 percent.

“It’s really surprising, and it’s frustrating, and it’s angering,” says Olvera of the study’s findings. “We’re really working hard to make ends meet.”


  1. Shortchanging Small Business:
  2. (more…):

Source URL:

Mississippi Schools Would Save $107 Million By Using Public Employees, Not Private Contractors

by David Morris | October 20, 2015 2:41 pm

A recent report[1] by the Mississippi State Auditor finds that K-12 schools would have an additional $107 million to spend on classrooms if they stopped contracting out services and instead provided them in-house with their own public employees.

  1. report:

Source URL:

Cities Taking Back Their Water Systems

by David Morris | October 20, 2015 2:33 pm

Wall Street continues to promote the privatization of municipal water systems here and abroad.  But cities are fighting back. In the past 15 years 180 cities in 35 countries have returned control of their water supply to municipalities. The remunicipalization[1] movement is alive and well.@truthout


  1. remunicipalization:

Source URL:

EPB Turns Up The Speed To 10 Gigs

by ILSR | October 15, 2015 2:22 pm

Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber Optics now offers 10 gigabit Internet access to all households and businesses in its service area. The ultra-fast service is available for $299 per month with free installation, no contracts, and no cancellation fees, announced community leaders at a press conference on October 15th.

In addition to 10 gig service, EPB is also offering “Professional” products available in 3 gig, 5 gig, and 10 gig for large businesses. Smaller businesses have the option of choosing 5 gig or 10 gig Internet products. According to the press release, prices on all the new products vary.

Since the network was launched in 2010, Chattanooga has transformed from one of the “dirtiest cities in America” to a haven for the entrepreneurial culture[1]. Chattanooga experienced explosive economic development leading to thousands of new jobs, substantial public savings[2] due to the network’s smart grid capabilities, and new educational opportunities[3] for students and workforce development.

From the press release:

Chattanooga’s fiber optic network has produced tangible results. A study recently released by University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Finance professor Bento Lobo shows “the Gig Network” helped the Chattanooga area generate at least 2,800 new jobs and at least $865.3 million in economic and social benefits. The study also found the EPB smart grid, which is the cornerstone application of the utility’s community-wide fiber optic network, has allowed customers to avoid an estimated 124.7 million minutes of electric service interruptions by automatically re-routing power (often in less than a second) to prevent an outage or dramatically reduce outage durations.[read the study here[4]]

The city created a standard other communities strive to achieve; we often see communities aiming for the $70 gigabit price point offered by EPB. As a leader for other municipalities, it is only fitting that Chattanooga has taken this next step forward.

Also from the press release:

“Chattanooga’s 10 Gig fiber optic network is a world-class platform for innovation,” [Harold DePriest, president and CEO of EPB] said. “In recent years, the need for faster Internet speeds has increased rapidly. Chattanooga is the perfect place for companies to enhance their productivity today and test the applications everyone in the country will want tomorrow.”

Read more about Chattanooga’s journey to become a gigabit community in our 2012 report, Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks[5].

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

  1. haven for the entrepreneurial culture:
  2. substantial public savings:
  3. new educational opportunities:
  4. read the study here:
  5. Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks:
  6. here:

Source URL:

The Government Is About To Give Prisoners a Fair Deal When They Call Home

by David Morris | October 10, 2015 3:45 pm

Most jail and prisons phones are owned by profit making corporations that charge unconscionable[1] (dare I say criminal) rates as high as $1 per minute for phone calls.  The federal government is about to change the rules. Later in October the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to slash[2] the average telephone rate by as much as 90 percent. And the businesses will still make a profit!

  1. unconscionable:
  2. slash:

Source URL:

Norway Owns Its Oil. Canada Doesn’t. And That Has Made All The Difference

by David Morris | October 9, 2015 8:58 am

Canada and Norway produce[1] about the same amount of oil and gas. Through a combination of public ownership and taxes Norway captures about 85 percent of the net revenue from sales. As a result its 25 year old Sovereign Fund has $1.1 trillion in assets that has been used to make Norway one of the most prosperous and least unequal countries on earth. Canada’s oil and gas system is 100 percent privately owned. Alberta, the heartland of Canadian oil, and Canada only captures about 20 percent of the revenue from sales.  As a result their Heritage Savings Fund, created 14 years before Norway’s, boasts just $17 billion in assets.

  1. produce:

Source URL:

Four Strategies For Reducing Ridiculously Inflated Drug Prices

by David Morris | October 9, 2015 8:42 am

American consumers pay hundreds of billion of dollars in inflated pharmaceutical prices because drug companies are legal monopolies, a result of current patent laws. Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research evaluates[1] 4 separate strategies for slashing the cost of drugs and seeing drugs as a common good.

  1. evaluates:

Source URL:

A Tool to Find Banks that Invest in the Local Economy

by Olivia LaVecchia | October 8, 2015 3:14 pm

The reasons to choose a community bank or credit union[1] range from getting the same services at a lower cost to supporting productive investment instead of speculative trading. But while it’s one thing to think about the qualities that are important in our banks, it’s another to find particular local banks that are enacting them.

A new tool, called Bank Local[2], aims to make that process easier.

Bank Local maps every banking institution in the U.S., and uses data from three federal agencies, plus its own algorithm, to assign them a Local Impact Rating. Users can type their address into a bar on the site’s homepage, and find a map and list of how nearby financial institutions compare.

The project was created by Bob Marino and Nick Plante, who initially schemed it up as a tool for their own area. Both are board members of Seacoast Local[3], a local economies non-profit that works in eastern New Hampshire and southern Maine. They wanted to come up with something to help people move their money to a local bank or credit union, and take what they describe in an early post on their website as a “small, pragmatic action” against “the problem of Bigness in banking.”

“We thought that one of the venues for change would be to put that information out there for consumers who care about these issues,” Marino says.

Working with experts, including Stacy Mitchell here at ILSR and the economist Olga Bruslavski with the National Credit Union Administration, they came up with criteria to quantify a bank’s local impact. They decided on seven[4]: Small business lending, location of headquarters, branch concentration, bank ownership, bank size, small farm lending, and speculative trading.

Take small business lending, the factor that Bank Local weighs most heavily. Small businesses, which create the majority of new jobs, depend heavily on small, local banks for financing. In 2014, even though community-based financial institutions controlled just 24 percent of all banking assets, they made 60 percent of all[5] small business loans. As the banking sector has become increasingly concentrated[6], small businesses have had a harder time[7] accessing the capital that they need to grow.

In Bank Local’s algorithm, if a bank dedicates 20 percent or more of its total assets to small business lending, it earns three points toward its total score and is marked as “outstanding” in that category. The lowest tier is for banks that devote less than 5 percent of their total assets, which receive a score of zero and a rank of “insignificant.” In Oakland, Calif., for instance, Mission National Bank uses 24 percent of its assets for lending to small businesses, and none for speculative trading, which helps it earn a high overall score for local impact. Citibank, meanwhile, deploys just 1 percent of its assets for small business loans and 9 percent for speculative lending.

Once Marino and Plante had come up with the criteria and the algorithm for scoring, they were able to expand their new tool to cover the rest of the country. They pulled all of the data they needed, and then used a service that geolocated every financial institution. (more…)[8]

  1. choose a community bank or credit union:
  2. Bank Local:
  3. Seacoast Local:
  4. seven:
  5. 60 percent of all:
  6. increasingly concentrated:
  7. harder time:
  8. (more…):

Source URL:

Op-Ed: Community Broadband Networks Drive NC Economy

by Christopher | October 1, 2015 10:27 am

logo-roanoke-daily-herald[1]The Roanoke Daily Herald published this op-ed about local government action for broadband networks on September 25, 2015. We were responding to an earlier Op-Ed, available here[2]. Christopher Mitchell wrote the following op-ed.

It is stunning any legislator can look at the constituents they serve in rural North Carolina and think, “‘These people don’t need the same high quality Internet access now being delivered in Charlotte and the Triangle. They should be happy with whatever cable and telephone companies offer.”

But that’s just what I think Representatives Jason Saine and Michael Wray are implying in their recent opinion piece on community broadband networks.

By supporting U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis’ legislation to remove local authority for building broadband networks, the two lawmakers are siding with big cable and telephone firms over their own communities.

It is hardly a secret that Time Warner Cable, AT&T, CenturyLink and others are investing too little in rural communities. The majority of residents and local businesses in North Carolina have no real choice today and can expect their bills to go up tomorrow.

Areas served by coops or locally-rooted companies are more likely to see upgrades because they are accountable to the community in ways that national firms are not. Local firms are more willing to invest in better networks and keep prices low because they live in the community.

North Carolina communities stuck with no broadband or slow DSL and cable at best are disadvantaged in economic development and property values. This is why hundreds of local governments have already invested in fiber optic networks — with remarkable success.

Wilson is one example, where the city built the first gigabit fiber optic network in the state. The network has paid all its bills on time and the largest employers in the area all subscribe to it. One local business, which was a vocal opponent of the idea at first, now credits the municipal fiber network with helping her business to expand and reach new clients. The General Manager of Central Computer, Tina Mooring, argues that restrictions on municipal networks hurt the private sector, noting that her clients in areas near Wilson strongly desire access to the high capacity services they cannot get from cable and DSL networks.

Just across the Virginia state line is another approach, where Danville has built a fiber network that is available to private ISPs to offer services. The network has led to new investment and high tech jobs as well as helping existing businesses to expand. Not only have they paid all their bills on time, they make enough net income to contribute $300,000 per year to the general fund.

The fastest citywide network in the nation, offering 10 Gbps was just announced in Salisbury, north of Charlotte. Again, city owned.

This strategy is rarely a partisan issue at the local level. Some 75 percent of the communities that have a citywide municipal network voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. From Maine to Louisiana to California, municipal broadband is a pragmatic question of whether it will improve quality of life and spur economic development.

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis’ legislation to challenge the FCC is not a win for local autonomy. It is an example of distant officials micro-managing local issues.

It is unfathomable the state Attorney General, whose job it is to protect residents and local businesses, has sided with Time Warner Cable and AT&T rather than champion the cause of fast and affordable Internet access for North Carolinians. The state is literally using taxpayer dollars to protect the monopolies of big telecom firms that prevent communities from having a real choice in providers. This is yet another decision that should be made locally, not in Raleigh or D.C.

Christopher Mitchell is the director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis and is @communitynets on Twitter. He writes regularly on


  1. [Image]:
  2. available here:

Source URL:

We Now Have A Private Judicial System Just for Corporations

by David Morris | September 28, 2015 5:32 pm

In the last 20 years the Supreme Court has created a parallel judicial system to resolve disputes involving corporations that is effectively run by the very corporations whose behavior is under investigation.

Here is how that judicial coup against an independent judiciary occurred.

In 1925 Congress passed a simple 4-page law, the Federal Arbitration Act[1] (FAA). Businesses that preferred a simpler and faster arbitration process in business-to-business transactions to costly and protracted court battles urged Congress to act because federal courts often refused to enforce many arbitration clauses.

A one court explained[2], “… nothing would be easier than for the more astute party to oust the courts of their jurisdiction. By first making the contract and then declaring who should construe it, the strong could oppress the weak, and in effect so nullify the law as to secure enforcement of contracts usurious, illegal, immoral, and contrary to public policy.”

The FAA was a legislative attempt to satisfy businesses’ desire for speedy and affordable dispute resolution while also satisfying the judges’ desire for justice.

The result was a law very narrowly focused on commercial contracts voluntarily entered into by businesses of relatively equal strength. In a House floor debate Representative George Scott Graham (R-PA) summed[3] up his colleagues’ intent, “[t]his bill simply provides for one thing, and that is to give an opportunity to enforce an agreement in commercial contracts and admiralty contracts—an agreement to arbitrate, when voluntarily placed in the document by the parties to it.”

For the next 60 years the law worked as intended. Courts consistently upheld arbitration awards between businesses but also consistently held that the FAA was procedural not substantive. Arbitration did not trump federal and state laws. The FAA did not apply to employment or consumer contracts.

A New Conservative Supreme Court Steps In

And then the composition of the Supreme Court dramatically changed. Richard Nixon came to office declaring[4] his intention “to nominate to the Supreme Court individuals who shared my judicial philosophy, which is basically a conservative philosophy” and during his first term promptly put four Justices on the Court. In his two terms Ronald Reagan also put four Justices on the Court.

In 1984 the Supreme Court flexed its new conservative muscles. In a case[5] involving the right of Southland’s 7-11 franchisees to sue under the California Franchise Law the Court reinterpreted the 1925 law as a Congressional declaration of a “national policy favoring arbitration”. It further ruled that this national policy applied not only to federal courts but to state courts and was substantive as well as procedural. No matter how one-sided the balance of bargaining power once a business signed a contract with an arbitration clause it was forced to abide by the decision of arbiters even if they ignored relevant state and federal laws and even if the decision-making processed was biased against the complainant.

Dissenting Justices vainly pleaded with their colleagues not to ignore the clear will of Congress and derail more than a half-century of uncontroversial implementation of the FAA. As Sandra Day O’Connor observed, “One rarely finds a legislative history as unambiguous as the FAA’s.”

In 2001 the Court, by a 5-4 vote, extended[6] the FAA to cover employment contracts. The four dissenters beseeched their brethren not only to look at the original intent of the law but to its actual text. Section 1 of the law states, “nothing herein contained shall apply to contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” The clause was inserted at the bequest of the International Seamen’s Union and the more broadly based American Federation of Labor. “History amply supports the proposition that it was an uncontroversial provision that merely confirmed the fact that no one interested in the enactment of the FAA ever intended or expected (it) would apply to employment contracts,” noted the dissenters. (more…)[7]

  1. Federal Arbitration Act:
  2. explained:
  3. summed:
  4. declaring:
  5. case:
  6. extended:
  7. (more…):

Source URL:

Call to Action! Sign People’s Brief Supporting Network Neutrality

by ILSR | September 21, 2015 9:27 am

To try to stop the Network Neutrality rules established earlier this year, big cable has filed suit against the FCC in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Advocates have drafted a brief to let the court know that the people are not willing to give up Network Neutrality. In a matter of days, that brief will be filed with the court.

We urge you to read the brief[1] and sign on to show your support[2]. Then spread the word on social media, email, and word of mouth, so we can present the brief with as many signatures as possible.

From the Net Neutrality Brief website:

Without Net Neutrality, the big cable companies would control the Internet, and make it harder for us to access information that doesn’t align with what’s best for the companies’ bottom lines or that disagrees with their political leanings. If Net Neutrality weren’t the norm, we might even have been blocked from engaging in the online activism that helped secure the Net Neutrality rules that we’re now working to defend!

Read the brief. Sign the brief. Spread the word.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[3]

  1. read the brief:
  2. sign on to show your support:
  3. here:

Source URL:

Paul Connett’s Zero Waste and Anti Incineration Presentation

by Neil Seldman | September 16, 2015 11:53 am

Paul Connett is a zero waste super star.  A trained chemist, Paul threw himself into the anti garbage incineration movement while teaching as a chemistry professor at Lawrence University in Canton, NY.  Now retired he travels constantly to garbage trouble spots, teaching, inspiring, singing and entertaining audiences around the globe.

He is author of, “The Zero Waste Solution: Untrashing the Planet One Community At A Time,” produced the video, “Pieces of Zero,” and is featured in the film “Trashed” by Jeremy Irons. Connett takes no fees for his work. ILSR and Dr. Connett have been working partners for the past 25 years.

Watch and enjoy Paul’s presentation below and fight against garbage incineration and for zero waste, recycling and economic development strategies in your community.


Dr. Paul Connett speaks against proposed Crowsnest/Pincher Creek landfill incinerator

See comments and slides here.[1]

  1. See comments and slides here.:

Source URL:

Salisbury Fibrant Launches 10 Gbps Citywide – Community Broadband Bits Podcast 168

by ILSR | September 15, 2015 11:38 am

Salisbury’s municipal FTTH network, Fibrant[1] is the first citywide 10 Gbps network in the nation. Located in North Carolina, Salisbury is also one of very few municipal citywide fiber networks that was built by a city without a municipal electric plant. This week, Salisbury Director of Broadband and Infrastructure, Kent Winrich, joins us for Episode 168 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

We talk about why Salisbury opted to build its own fiber network and then supercharge it with enough upgrades to be able to offer 10 Gbps capacity throughout the community. We discuss economic development opportunities and how those outside of Salisbury would like to see it expand.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show – please e-mail us[2] or leave a comment below.

This show is 22 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes[3] or via the tool of your choice using this feed[4].

Listen to other episodes here[5] or view all episodes in our index[6]. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here[7].

Thanks to bkfm-b-side[8] for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is “Raise Your Hands.”

audio/mpeg iconCommunity Broadband Bits Episode 168 – Kent Winrich, Director of Broadband and Infrastructure, Salisbury, North Carolina[9]

This article is apart of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[10]

  1. municipal FTTH network, Fibrant:
  2. e-mail us:
  3. via iTunes:
  4. this feed:
  5. other episodes here:
  6. view all episodes in our index:
  7. download this Mp3 file directly from here:
  8. bkfm-b-side:
  9. Community Broadband Bits Episode 168 – Kent Winrich, Director of Broadband and Infrastructure, Salisbury, North Carolina:
  10. here:

Source URL:

How One State Escaped Wall Street’s Rule and Created a Banking System That’s 83% Locally Owned

by Stacy Mitchell | September 1, 2015 4:52 pm

placeholder[1]Across the country, people are suffering the consequences of a banking system that’s dominated by a handful of giant banks. Local businesses can’t get[2] the credit[3] they need to grow. College graduates are stumbling under the weight of student debt with sky-high interest rates. Neighborhoods are being stripped of their assets through predatory mortgages and consumer loans. And taxpayers are on the hook for municipal finance schemes[4] peddled by Wall Street and loaded with hidden costs.

Banking has become untethered from communities, and indeed, from the very economy it is supposed to serve. The nation’s biggest banks have managed to invert the natural order of things, so that their profitability is no longer predicated on the health of the broader economy. Instead, as much recent scholarship[5] has shown, the growth of these giant conglomerates is actually harming the rest of the economy.

Remarkably, one state has largely escaped this predicament: North Dakota.

In North Dakota, the banking sector bears little resemblance to that of the rest of the country. North Dakotans do not depend on Wall Street banks to decide the fate of their livelihoods and the future of their communities, and rely instead on locally owned banks and credit unions. With 89 small and mid-sized community banks and 38 credit unions, North Dakota has six times as many locally owned financial institutions per person as the rest of the nation. And these local banks and credit unions control a resounding 83 percent of deposits in the state — more than twice the 30 percent market share that small and mid-sized financial institutions have nationally.

Map: Number of banks by state.[6] (more…)[7]

  1. [Image]:
  2. can’t get:
  3. credit:
  4. municipal finance schemes:
  5. recent scholarship:
  6. [Image]:
  7. (more…):

Source URL:

Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders in Action

by Linda Bilsens | August 31, 2015 3:00 pm

Why Size Matters in Community Composting

ILSR has long touted the many benefits of composting[1] and amending soil with compost, such as: recovering food waste, enhancing soil fertility and structure, reducing soil erosion and stormwater runoff, cutting landfill methane emissions, and sequestering carbon in soils. Yet few jurisdictions are embracing a diversified composting infrastructure that encompasses, let alone prioritizes developing locally-based capacity over centralized, far-away composting sites. Far-away facilities make it harder to return finished compost back to the community for use. Fortunately, one of the many beauties of composting is that it can be small-scale, large-scale and everything in between. Residents can compost in their backyards. Schools can teach students how to compost and use it for school gardens. Colleges and other institutions can install in-vessel enclosed systems to handle their food wastes. Community gardens and urban farms can connect composting to healthy soil needed for local food production.

If implemented, a decentralized approach that combines home and community-scale composting with on-farm and medium-sized operations would create jobs[2], reduce private and public sector costs for managing waste, and better tie compost to healthy soils and local food production, thereby reinforcing a community culture of sustainability and engaged environmental stewardship. But, even at the small-scale, composting sites required trained operators. It is for this kind of well-managed, diversified resource recovery approach that ILSR’s Composting for Community Project advocates.


The Evolution of the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Composter Training Program

In 2014, the Composting for Community Project researched, identified and surveyed existing master composter training programs operating around the country. The intention of this outreach was to connect these programs with one another, as well as to glean best practices to develop and launch a model Advanced and Master Composter train-the-trainer program in and around the nation’s capital. This initiative is now called the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders (NSR) Composter Training Program[3]. The NSR Composter Training Program, a collaboration with ECO City Farms[4], aims to increase and improve community-based composting throughout the country by enhancing and expanding Master Composter training programs in metropolitan DC and in select cities nationwide.

To date, we have held a fall 2014 and a spring 2015 Advanced Composter course, have trained a total of 28 individuals and have supported the implementation of community composting projects throughout the DC metro area. Upon completion of the Advanced Composter course, participants are required to develop a “capstone” project—a project that advances community composting in their neighborhoods—as part of the NSR Advanced Composter program. The different types of capstone projects range from: building and/or operating a two- or three-bin composting system at a community garden to serve as a local organics drop-off composting hub and educational demonstration site in collaboration with ECO City Farms or the DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) Community Compost Cooperative Network[5]; initiating a residential backyard composting program by installing single-bin composting systems at local private residences; developing a condominium vermicomposting system by installing worm bins with fellow apartment dwellers; implementing school composting programs to teach youth composting as well as other core curriculum subjects like math and science, and conducting community events to install composting systems with students, parents, school staff, and environmental clubs; and working with churches and youth-led entrepreneurship to use composting as a “green” job training skill and activity for at-risk youth in crime-ridden, impoverished urban environments.

While participants from the spring 2015 course actively delve into their capstone projects and continuous NSR programming will grow the number of project locations, to date, these projects are being implemented at as many as 22 backyard and community level composting sites in the DC Metropolitan Area. All capstone projects involve teamwork as NSR participants champion the development of community composting by recruiting support from neighborhood citizens, school faculty and staff, business owners, government officials, church clergy and parishioners, and others. These capstone projects consist of teams led by a single NSR as well as NSRs that are partnering to co-lead a project. In sum, the fall 2014 Advanced Composter class has conducted approximately 123 community engagement activities thus far, reaching a total of 1,562 community members. Through hands-on composting activities and bin builds, capstone project development, and community-composting education and advocacy, NSRs completed approximately 635 hours of community service benefiting the National Capital Region.


Take a tour of some NSr Capstone Projects:

2015 NSR Capstone Project Site Tour[6] from lbilsens[7]
A hearty thanks to the Ittleson Foundation, the City Fund, the Town Creek Foundation, the Marisla Foundation, the New York Community Trust, the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation, the 11th Hour Project, and the Mead Foundation for their generous support of the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilder composter training program!
  1. many benefits of composting:
  2. create jobs:
  3. Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders (NSR) Composter Training Program:
  4. ECO City Farms:
  5. DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) Community Compost Cooperative Network:
  6. 2015 NSR Capstone Project Site Tour:
  7. lbilsens:

Source URL:

New Municipal Broadband Feasibility Study Underway in Firestone, CO

by ILSR | August 31, 2015 10:41 am

The Board of Trustees for the city of Firestone, CO is evaluating the feasibility of a new municipal broadband service for this growing town of about 10,000 people that sits just 30 miles north of Denver. This according to a recent report[1] in the Times-Call newspaper in Longmont, Colorado.  The feasibility study will compare Firestone’s existing telecommunications infrastructure with those in nearby communities such as Longmont[2] and Boulder[3] that already have municipal networks. It will also assess the potential for growth of the service in Firestone to a nearby 3,500-home community development project.

It would be travesty to build a 3,500 home development without having a plan for high quality Internet access. Even if CenturyLink or Comcast were to deploy fiber optics there, the community should ensure there are plans for conduit or an open network to allow multiple service providers to provide a real choice.

A 2005 Colorado state law barring municipalities from providing internet service to their citizens has been an obstacle for Longmont and Boulder in their pursuit of their own city-run broadband services.  Telecommunications companies in the Longmont area spent $200,000 on a campaign that helped defeat the referendum in 2009 and $400,000 more in 2011[4].  But citizens in Longmont successfully voted in the 2011 referendum to exempt their town from the law and build their own community broadband network. As we wrote in May[5], Longmont’s NextLight fiber-based municipal broadband service, which started just 2 years ago, is now among the fastest internet services in the United States.

In Boulder, 84% of citizens voted in a 2014 referendum to restore the local government’s rights to restore local telecommunications authority. The city now provides free municipal Wi-Fi throughout the downtown civic area[6] and additional fiber-optic infrastructure servicing city facilities with plans for further expansion.

As the Longmont Times-Call wrote in December[7], Longmont’s struggles and eventual success in starting their own fiber-based municipal network helped to pave the way for Boulder.  The success of those efforts also provide favorable local precedents for Firestone officials and other local advocates to demonstrate how well fiber-based municipal networks can benefit a community. According to Firestone spokeswoman Kristi Ridder, the possibility of Firestone eventually getting its own municipal broadband service is still a ways off, with no ballot question planned yet on Colorado State Bill 152.  But she acknowledged that inquiries from residents have prompted town boards to discuss the possibility of a community broadband service over the past several years.

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

  1. recent report:
  2. Longmont:
  3. Boulder:
  4. spent $200,000 on a campaign that helped defeat the referendum in 2009 and $400,000 more in 2011:
  5. As we wrote in May:
  6. provides free municipal Wi-Fi throughout the downtown civic area:
  7. the Longmont Times-Call wrote in December:
  8. here:

Source URL:

Procurement Can Be a Powerful Tool for Local Economies, but Takes More Than a Policy Change to Work

by Olivia LaVecchia | August 27, 2015 11:00 am

When Bill de Blasio took office as New York City’s mayor in 2014, his administration began to tackle a less-than-flashy issue: How to change who was winning city contracts.

De Blasio had swept the election with a campaign promise of reducing income inequality, and re-directing NYC’s vast purchasing power was one of the wonky cornerstones of his plan to do it. So his administration started looking for ways to strengthen the city’s Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise program, designed to help businesses owned by people of color and women bid on, and win, city contracts. It appointed committed staff, integrated the program into housing policies and Hurricane Sandy recovery projects, and launched new online tools for business owners.

The program became “a core part of the mayor’s strategy on inequality,” one of de Blasio’s top aides said[1], and the administration identified it as a “top priority[2].”

It worked. That year, New York City awarded $690 million in contracts to businesses majority-owned by minorities or women, a 57 percent increase from the year before — though still only about 4 percent of the city’s overall $17.7 billion in spending. Since then, de Blasio’s administration hasn’t let up. It’s commissioned an in-depth study of the program, sought changes to state laws that would strengthen it, and set a goal of increasing city awards to minority- and women-owned firms by $16 billion over 10 years.

New York City’s new emphasis on who it does business with is just one of the recent events that’s bringing the often-overlooked power of procurement into the spotlight.

The decision of which firm will get the food service contract at the City Hall cafeteria doesn’t always make it into the news, but local governments spend a lot of money. In towns, counties, and states everywhere, there are roads to be paved, lawyers to be hired, and office supplies to be purchased, and the rules set up to govern those contracts—procurement policies—can be important mechanisms for advancing other public aims.

At least 45 states, plus the District of Columbia, have procurement policies designed to give a preference to businesses that meet certain characteristics, such as those that are owned by veterans, pay certain wages, use environmentally sustainable practices, or manufacture within the state. Of these, about half have adopted an explicit preference for businesses that are small and/or local. These policies vary considerably. Some apply only in narrow circumstances; others are broader. In addition, more than thirty states have policies aimed at steering purchasing to minority- and women-owned businesses. Looking beyond state governments, large numbers of counties, cities, and towns have procurement policies of their own.

In these policies lies the potential for governments to grow their local economies. When dollars are spent at locally owned firms, those firms in turn rely on local supply chains, creating an “economic multiplier” effect. Numerous economic impact studies[3] have quantified this effect on dollars, jobs, and wages. A 2009 study from California State University at Sacramento, for example, found that the State of California generated approximately $4.2 billion in additional economic activity and 26,000 new jobs between 2006 and 2007 by contracting with disabled veteran-owned businesses and local small businesses instead of larger companies.

But while many states and cities have local procurement policies on the books, in a far smaller number of them are these policies delivering on their potential. (more…)[4]

  1. top aides said:
  2. top priority:
  3. Numerous economic impact studies:
  4. (more…):

Source URL:

Buy America? Of Course. But You Can Do Even Better

by David Morris | August 24, 2015 8:01 am

“Every person ought to have the awareness that purchasing is always a moral – and not simply an economic – act,” Pope Francis announced[1] early this year. How can we spend our money as if our values matter?

In some sectors and for some values this is fairly easy. Food is an obvious example. Those who want to protect the environment and human and animal health will find abundant labels guiding them to the appropriate product: USDA Organic, free range, hormone free, grass fed. For those who want to strengthen community, shrink the distance between producer and consumer and support family farmers a growing number of grocery stores label locally grown or raised.

For those who want to support farmworkers as well as farmers, however, little guidance is available. The recently launched Equitable Food Initiative[2] and Food Justice Certified[3] labels hope to fill this gap. The former identifies food that has been harvested by workers paid a fair wage and laboring under safe and fair conditions. The latter offers three tiers of certification covering farm, processor and vendor/retailer. Only farms have been certified.

As for grocery stores, we can easily identify those cooperatively or locally owned. Going one step further along the supply chain we can use the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC)’s Diners Guide to Ethical Eating[4] downloadable app to identify restaurants that treat their workers well. Extra credit is given to non-chain businesses. To earn a favorable rating the restaurant must pay its non-tipped workers at least $10 an hour and tipped staff at least $7 an hour, grant all employees paid sick days and enable internal promotion.

The ethical consumer who wants to patronize a locally owned retail store in general can visit Independent We Stand[5] and download its mobile app. Or go to AMIBA[6] and BALLE[7] to find a list of independent business alliances in over 100 cities many of which have hundreds and even thousands of individual member businesses.

There are few guides to locally and rooted manufacturers. But 3-year-old San Francisco Made[8] offers an excellent model, interconnecting and nurturing its 325 member manufacturers located in that city.

The vast majority of products we purchase will come from regional and national firms. One can easily check to see if the company is American and sometimes that will be necessary even when we think we know from the product’s name what nationality the company is. As Roger Simmermaker, author[9] of How Americans Can Buy American and My Country ‘Tis of Thee points out, “Swiss Miss is American (based in Menomonie, Wisconsin) and Carnation is owned by the Swiss.” (more…)[10]

  1. announced:
  2. Equitable Food Initiative:
  3. Food Justice Certified:
  4. Diners Guide to Ethical Eating:
  5. Independent We Stand:
  6. AMIBA:
  7. BALLE:
  8. San Francisco Made:
  9. author:
  10. (more…):

Source URL:

Conservatives Have Hijacked Our Language

by David Morris | August 23, 2015 12:11 pm

placeholder[1]“Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never harm me.” A fine sentiment, but any child subjected to cyber bullying knows that words do indeed matter.

Words mixed upLanguage evolves. Sometimes a word that once was negative becomes positive, like “terrific” which originally meant terrifying. Sometimes a word that was once positive becomes negative, as when “awful” changes from awe inspiring to very bad.

In politics too words matter, and in politics too language evolves. In the last 50 years we have witnessed a politically motivated sea change in the meaning of old words and the introduction of new words, all intended to undermine our sense of compassion.


The prime example is how we’ve changed the meaning of the word “liberal”. For almost 700 years the word meant generous, selfless, noble, tolerant. When the word began to describe a political philosophy it mostly retained its original meaning.  According[2] to the Oxford English Dictionary, aside from being “broadminded” a liberal is someone “favoring political reform tending toward democracy and personal freedom for the individual.”

And then the 1960s happened. The Great Society, and civil rights legislation, spawned a change in the definition of liberal. We began to hear the phrase “bleeding heart liberal” to describe someone excessively softhearted.

The miracle of Google’s ngram allows us to trace the popularity of words and phrases in million of books. As we can see, “bleeding heart liberal” comes of age in the 1960s.

Bleeding heart liberal[3]

Within 20 years the word “liberal” had been demonized. Long time Chicago based columnist Mike Royko wondered why the term had become so negative if the major criticism of it was that a liberal was too compassionate. He thought the reason was racism. “So I learned that in Chicago, as in many parts of the South and other big cities, the word liberal has one basic, simple definition. It’s just another word for ‘nigger lover’”, Royko concluded[4]. (more…)[5]

  1. [Image]:
  2. According:
  3. [Image]:
  4. concluded:
  5. (more…):

Source URL:

WEBINAR: The State of the Art of Extended Producer Responsibility

by Rebecca Toews | August 17, 2015 4:06 pm

The nature of US discussions on EPR in general and for packaging have changed significantly in the past year. The California Product Stewardship determined to focus on EPR for toxic and hard to recycle materials. The Berkeley City Council and  the Global Recycling Council of the California Resource Recovery Association passed resolutions calling for public control rather than corporate control over EPR programs. The implementation of corporate controlled EPR in British Columbia and other Canadian provinces have provide revealing experiences for analysis.  During this period major US consumer goods corporations formed the Closed Loop Recycling Fund and the Recycling Partnership – new voluntary initiatives to provide loans and grants to communities for recycling.

What exactly is the role of EPR in the U S recycling movement?

On Wednesday, August 12, six experts came together to discuss the future of EPR in the US. This is a recording of that discussion.

Part 1: Presentations: Matt Prindiville and Neil Seldman[1]

Part 2: Panelist Discussion: Dan Knapp, Mary Lou Van Deventer, Dick Lilly[2]

Part 3: Panelist Q&A: Moderated by Maurice Sampson[3]

The Webinar discusses the transition of thinking and practice of EPR for packaging. Neil Seldman, ILSR and Matt Prindiville, from UPSTREAM presents. Maurice Sampson, Niche Recycling and board member of Clean Water Action, moderates.

In addition to those presentations, the Webinar featured responses to the presentations by key participants in the national EPR dialogue: Dan Knapp and Mary Lou Van Deventer, Urban Ore, and Dick Lilly, former Seattle Metropolitan Solid Waste Authority.

  1. Part 1: Presentations: Matt Prindiville and Neil Seldman:
  2. Part 2: Panelist Discussion: Dan Knapp, Mary Lou Van Deventer, Dick Lilly:
  3. Part 3: Panelist Q&A: Moderated by Maurice Sampson:

Source URL:

Who Has Citywide Gigabit Internet Access for $100 or Less?

by ILSR | August 10, 2015 3:56 pm

As Westminster begins serving customers with its new FTTH network and partner Ting[1], we were curious how many communities are there where a residential subscriber can obtain affordable gigabit access? We estimate the number of networks, large or small, where a majority of residents in a community can obtain gigabit service for $100 or less to be 12. Westminster will be there in a few years.

Municipal citywide, sub $100 gigabit providers:


Private Companies:

We included municipal networks, cooperatives, and privately owned companies. When considering networks that cover multiple jurisdictions in a single area, we counted it as one (thus Google counts as 1 in KC, Chattanooga is 1 in TN). And we were looking for gigabit networks – not just gigabit download. While we prefer to see symmetrical connections, we accepted 500 Mbps up for our threshold.

We could not identify any cities served by AT&T, CenturyLink, Verizon, Comcast, Cox, or any other similar company where the majority of the community has access to a gig. Those providers tend to cherry pick and even then, their prices are over $100 typically. For example, CenturyLink advertises a gig at $80 but then requires other services and hidden fees that make the monthly bill closer to $150.

We found affordable residential gigabit service from networks in urban, suburban, or rural communities from 12 networks (some of which cover multiple communities). Trying to determine how much of the community has access to a service is challenging, so please contact us[2] with any corrections. In a few years, munis like Longmont and private companies like Ting will join the list.

While the number of providers are few, many of them do serve multiple communities. The coops, including Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative[3] in Alabama and Missouri’s Co-Mo Cooperative[4], provide the service to a long list of smaller communities within their service areas. There is also the open access network UTOPIA, with at least 7 providers[5] that offer gigabit FTTH below our price point in nine communities currently served by the network (to various degrees, some cities have little coverage whereas others are almost entirely built out).

Prices range from $0 to $99.95 per month with the highest concentration at $70 or higher. In North Kansas City[6], residents pay $300 for installation and receive gigabit Internet access for $0 per month for the next 10 years. This incredible offer is available due to the presence of LiNKCity, a network deployed by the city and now managed and operated by a private partner.

AT&T has launched its $70 GigaPower in parts of 12 different metro areas[7], although the price requires users to submit to a special web based advertising program. Even when these big firms finally invest in high capacity connections, they find new ways to exploit their subscribers – a reminder that who deploys a technology can be as important as what that technology is.

Now that the gig barrier has been blasted away (primarily by municipal networks and smaller ISPs) we expect to see more networks and providers offering affordable gig service to residents.

Gigabit Cat photo courtesy of Michael Himbeault[8] and shared through a Creative Commons license.

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

  1. and partner Ting:
  2. contact us:
  3. Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative:
  4. Missouri’s Co-Mo Cooperative:
  5. at least 7 providers:
  6. North Kansas City:
  7. 12 different metro areas:
  8. courtesy of Michael Himbeault:
  9. here:

Source URL:

Two Decades of Solar Pioneers in Sacramento – Episode 27 of Local Energy Rules Podcast

by John Farrell | August 7, 2015 12:00 pm

The publicly-owned Sacramento Municipal Utility District, or SMUD, had already installed the first utility-scale PV array in the nation back in 1984. By the early 1990s, the utility saw a potential for rooftop solar and launched its PV Pioneer program, placing dozens of solar arrays on their customer’s rooftops, for a fee. The standardized rollout meant dramatic declines in the cost of solar, long before the industry had launched anywhere else.

In June, ILSR’s Director of Democratic Energy John Farrell spoke with Brent Sloan, the “solar dude” at SMUD, to talk about these ahead-of-the-curve PV Pioneer programs[1] and how his utility was created a viable rooftop solar market 20 years before other utility’s have “waved the white flag.”


From the Ground Up

In the 1980s and ‘90s, the electric utility industry was all about Big: big mergers, building bigger power plants, selling big amounts of energy. But the Sacramento Municipal Utility District in California decided to go another direction.

Unlike investor-owned utilities, beholden to shareholders, SMUD was and is owned by the local government. It had a history of being responsive to its customers, such as when it closed the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant[8] just 14 years after it began operations. The closure, in 1989, was one of the catalysts for the utility’s search for energy alternatives like solar.

The PV Pioneer program launched in 1993, with the intention of rapidly driving down the cost of solar. The “secret sauce” was the utility’s buying-down power and providing a standardized solar panel package to its ratepayers, and  standard permit application to local governments. “You can have any solar system you want in Sacramento as long as it’s a black Model T,” Sloan says about the 2 kilowatt solar system then offered to all SMUD customers. The popular program asked customers to pay a $4 per month premium to host a SMUD-owned solar array on their rooftop.

By the late 1990s, the utility felt that cost reductions made customer ownership of solar more feasible, and its Pioneer II program offered subsidized, utility installed solar arrays to customers. In 2001, the total cost of a 2 kW solar array purchased under the program was $9,000 ($4.50 per Watt[9]) with the customer’s share at just $6,000. That installed cost was nearly 10 years ahead of its time: $4.50 per Watt was the weighted average installed cost of all solar PV tracked by the Solar Energy Industries Association in 2011.

Sloan couldn’t vouch for the linked study where we got our numbers from, but he said the price drop from PV wasn’t magic. Before most others, SMUD workers were learning best solar installation practices, and potential solar contractors and building officials were then trained by the utility. Sloan and his team were crawling through attics, determining how many pounds of solar equipment could fit on the roof, long before industry-approved numbers became the norm.

Softening the Costs

Alongside the PV Pioneer program, SMUD created a standardized permit package[10] for its several jurisdictions. That meant solar contractors could get a permit within 24 hours of submission and, for some time, all involved cities waived rooftop solar application fees for SMUD customers. The ultimate goal was to drive down the installed cost of solar far enough that SMUD and subsidies would not be necessary.

SMUD’s efforts were superseded—to some extent—by the statewide California Solar Initiative program, which dramatically diversified the solar market (to the potential disadvantage for cost reductions). Although solar installations have continued steadily for some time, SMUD customers have less financial incentive due to their low electricity prices (around 9 cents per kilowatt-hour).

“The biggest comment we get from contractors is, ‘When are you going to raise your rates?’” he laughs.

But that may be changing. Less than six months ago the municipal utility had 70 interconnections a month. Now it’s up to 300 a month.

On his own home, Sloan has 9 kilowatts of solar, getting him as close to 100% sun-power as possible (on a net annual basis). Though he benefits from net metering[11], he believes it’s a compensation arrangement that will have to change, and time-of-use rates will need to be used[12], along with policies that get at the true value of solar energy to an electrical grid.

Following SMUD’s Lead, or Pursuing Something Else?

Some investor-owned utilities such as Tucson Electric Power and Georgia Power are now creating programs to own solar on their customers’ homes (look for an ILSR article on this next week). Sloan doesn’t see that as necessarily a positive sign, but more of a “white flag” that these electric utilities didn’t do enough to create a viable private marketplace for solar power.

As he and SMUD could attest, that solar value is there, even if you have to make a PV Pioneer program or two to make a sustainable marketplace for it to shine.

If you liked the short version, you call also listen to the full 40-minute interview[13].

This is the 27th edition of Local Energy Rules[14], an ILSR podcast with Director of Democratic Energy John Farrell that shares powerful stories of successful local renewable energy and exposes the policy and practical barriers to its expansion. Other than his immediate family, the audience is primarily researchers, grassroots organizers, and grasstops policy wonks who want vivid examples of how local renewable energy can power local economies.

It is published intermittently on, but you can Click to subscribe to the podcast: iTunes[15] or RSS/XML[16]

This article originally posted at[17]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[18] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[19] update.

Photo credit: Tim Fuller via Flickr[20] (CC BY 2.0 license)

  1. PV Pioneer programs:
  2. [Image]:
  3. Play in new window:
  4. Download:
  5. iTunes:
  6. Android:
  7. RSS:
  8. Rancho Seco nuclear power plant:
  9. $4.50 per Watt:
  10. SMUD created a standardized permit package:
  11. net metering:
  12. time-of-use rates will need to be used:
  13. full 40-minute interview:
  14. Local Energy Rules:
  15. iTunes:
  16. RSS/XML:
  18. Twitter:
  19. Democratic Energy weekly:
  20. via Flickr:

Source URL:

Environmental Justice Victory in DC, as Mayor Pulls Incinerator Contract

by Neil Seldman | August 6, 2015 3:47 pm

Recycling advocates had stopped any ideas of building a garbage incinerator in the District of Columbia. Now, we are trying to stop the city from sending its garbage to Fairfax County for incineration. Mike Ewall of Energy Justice Network, coordinator of this latter effort, describes the recent victory as the city has tabled a proposal to sign a 5-11 year contract with the Fairfax County incinerator.

Energy Justice Network and ILSR will continue to insist that DC’s garbage does not become a feedstock for incineration; as we continue to press the city to double its current recycling rate, 25%, in the next few years.

Read the full story here[1] from Energy Justice Network, July 27, 2015

  1. Read the full story here:

Source URL:

Sanding Down the Rough Edges of Capitalism Is Not Enough

by David Morris | August 6, 2015 9:48 am

The catalyst for a recent column[1] by David Brooks was a speech delivered by his New York Times colleague Anand Giridharadas at the Aspen Action Forum. (Giridharadas writes the Letter from America[2] column for the Global Edition of the Times) Giridharadas questioned[3] the “Aspen Consensus” that the wealthy and powerful, the benefactors of the Aspen Institute, could be asked to “do more good” but not to “do less harm”. He challenged his well-to-do, well-intentioned audience not to settle for making “an unjust and unpalatable system a little more digestible” and confront the “underlying system” that has created massive inequality and injustice. In short, he bluntly urged his audience to be “traitors to our class.”

Giridharadas received a standing ovation.

Brooks was collegially horrified, particularly by what he saw as Giridharadas’ inevitable embrace of government being “more heavily involved.”

“The coming debate about capitalism will be between those who want to restructure the underlying system and those who want to help people take advantage of its rough intensity,” Brooks insists. “It will be between people who think you need strong government to defeat oligarchy and those who think you need open competition.”

I prefer the word “savagery” to “rough intensity” but congratulate Brooks for conceding that we do have an oligarchy. And I prefer to use the verb governing rather than the noun government. Brooks description of government conjures up a stifling, bumbling bureaucracy whose interventions usually do far more harm than good. But the debate is not about how to grow a bureaucracy but how to exercise collective authority to change rules that enable and encourage a system that, in Giridharadas’ words, generates “extreme winners and extreme losers.”

Brooks’ refusal to support government as a key tool in restraining and eventually eliminating an oligarchy is disingenuous. For he knows that government has been the key tool enabling and encouraging the massive concentration of wealth and power.

The modern corporation, for example, may be the most enduring and extensive of all government interventions. In the 17th century, governments created a fictitious creature: the limited liability corporation. Investors could amass unlimited personal wealth but if the business failed or was engaged in criminal acts the investors were liable for no more than the amount they had invested. In the 19th century governments endowed corporations with unlimited life and charters so broad they could engage in all forms of commerce. In the 20th century courts bestowed on corporations personhood and in the 21st century allowed these artificial persons to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections.

To my knowledge David Brooks has yet to rail against this most enduring and heavy-handed of all interventions by government. (more…)[4]

  1. column:
  2. Letter from America:
  3. questioned:
  4. (more…):

Source URL:

To Lease or To Own: Simplified Solar Calculator

by Matt Grimley | August 4, 2015 12:23 pm

Now simplified, the new solar lease calculator is here.

Just enter in your zip code, electric utility, and solar array size. Then set the terms of your loan or lease to see how solar ownership stacks up against third-party options.

Purchase (cash): Customer owns the PV system from day one, pays upfront with cash
Purchase (loan): Customer owns the PV sysytem starting Day 1. It is purchased with a loan, sometimes with a down-payment and paid back at a fixed interest rate
Lease, 15-year buyout: Install company or developer owns the PV System. Customer pays a fixed monthly payment that is adjusted for inflation. At 15 years, the customer elects to purchase the system and assumes full ownership.
Lease, extension: Same as “Lease, 15-year buyout” except that in Year 15 the customer elects to extend the lease with the leasing company

We assumed a $4 cost per watt, along with the 30% federal ITC. Note that utility data is based on residential rates from EIA-861 forms[1], so some electric utilities’ rates might be out of date. Also note that insolation rates by zip code were gleaned from U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory data[2].

Have fun! And be prepared for our complex solar lease calculator — meant for more data mushing — due out out soon.

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

  1. EIA-861 forms:
  2. U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory data:
  4. Twitter:
  5. Democratic Energy weekly:

Source URL:

Clean Power Plan: 50 Ways to Get More Clean, Local Energy

by John Farrell | August 3, 2015 11:26 am

The Obama administration released the Clean Power Plan[1] today requiring substantial greenhouse gas emissions reductions from the electricity sector. The plan sets targets from the top down, but largely leaves the details to states, providing a significant opportunity to craft rules that encourage energy development and ownership from the bottom up.

These 50 state plans have huge stakes.

Collectively, U.S. electric customers spend over $360 billion each year buying power. Most of that is generated from fossil fuels, frequently extracted outside their own state. In other words, most of that money leaves their community to pay for dirty energy. But the electricity system is undergoing enormous transformation.

Driven by improvements in energy efficiency, electricity consumption peaked in 2007 and has been stagnant ever since. Distributed solar, like that found on home rooftops, has provided more than 5% of newly added power plant capacity since 2011. In 2013, nearly one-third of all new power plant capacity was from solar energy. The profusion of smartphones is giving customers innovative ways to control energy use, from web-connected thermostats to light bulbs. Consulting firm Accenture estimates that these disruptive and economical technologies could save electric customers up to $48 billion over the next 10 years[2].

Electric utilities are aware of the threat. Already, they’ve mounted serious fights against rooftop solar[3] in over two dozen states, despite ample proof that it’s of benefit to electric customers and the grid[4]. Once they’ve exhausted their legal challenges to the Clean Power Plan, utilities will be interested in compliance strategies that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and threats to their business model. That’s likely to mean big infrastructure investments—utilities have traditionally made their profit by earning a return on new power lines and power plants—and utility control or ownership of cleaner power generation.

But electric customers shouldn’t settle for last century’s centralized control and ownership of a grid dominated by this century’s decentralized technology.

For example, several cities[5] and counties[6] in California are forming community alternatives to incumbent electric utilities, delivering cleaner (often local) power at a comparable or lower cost. Grassroots action in Minneapolis, MN, has driven its utilities into a novel clean energy partnership[7] with the city.  Community solar[8] programs are expanding rapidly, allowing electric customers to reduce their energy bills, even when they lack ownership of or sunshine on their rooftop. And community energy projects[9] are allowing Americans to pool their resources and own a share in the clean energy transformation.

The Clean Power Plan is a breath of fresh air from the federal government too often known for climate inaction, but it shouldn’t reinforce an increasingly un-natural electric company monopoly[10] over the electric system. Instead, use each states’s implementation of the Plan as a catalyst for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for individuals and communities to take charge.

This article originally posted at[11]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[12] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[13] update.

  1. Clean Power Plan:
  2. $48 billion over the next 10 years:
  3. serious fights against rooftop solar:
  4. benefit to electric customers and the grid:
  5. several cities:
  6. counties:
  7. novel clean energy partnership:
  8. Community solar:
  9. projects:
  10. increasingly un-natural electric company monopoly:
  12. Twitter:
  13. Democratic Energy weekly:

Source URL:

AT&T, Comcast, Lies Hurt Homeowners

by ILSR | August 1, 2015 10:27 am

As of this January[1], the FCC defines broadband as 25 Mbps[2] downstream[3] and 3 Mbps upstream[4], but in some rural areas in the United States, people are still struggling to access DSL[5] speeds of 768 kbps[6]. In a few extreme cases, individuals who rely on the Internet for their jobs and livelihoods have been denied access completely.

The sad state of affairs for many Americans who subscribe to the major Internet service providers like AT&T and CenturyLink was recently chronicled in an article on Ars Technica[7] that examined AT&T’s stunning combination of poor customer service, insufficient infrastructure, and empty promises to subscribers. It tells the unfortunately common story of the little guy being systematically overlooked by a massive corporation focused solely on short-term profit maximization.

Mark Lewis of Winterville, Georgia, and Matthew Abernathy of Smyrna, Tennessee, are two examples of AT&T subscribers who, upon moving into new homes, found that not only were they unable to access basic DSL speeds, but that they had no Internet access whatsoever. Alternatively citing a lack of DSL ports and insufficient bandwidth[8], AT&T failed to provide Lewis Internet access over the course of nearly two years. As for Abernathy, the corporation strung him along for 9 months without providing DSL, forcing him and his wife to rely on a much more expensive Verizon cellular network to go online.

The struggle that Lewis and Abernathy, as well as others cited in the article, face speaks to the larger problem of individuals relying on large, absentee corporations for their Internet access. Though AT&T has claimed that it intends to expand broadband access to rural and underserved communities[9], it hasn’t lived up to that promise. Ars Technica estimates that even if AT&T’s merger with DirecTV is approved[10], which the company says would facilitate the construction of new copper lines in underserved regions, 17 million subscribers would be stuck with slow DSL connections or no Internet at all.

This isn’t the first time that a company like AT&T has been called out for promising broadband service and failing to deliver it. Ars Technica reported on a similar story in April[11] of this year. And tales of Comcast’s incompetence[12] are also easy to find.

For residents of rural communities who rely on the Internet for work, the paucity of broadband options can even be a legitimate reason for individuals to sell their houses and move, which — spoiler alert — is what Lewis eventually did:

With no wireline Internet available, Lewis and his wife have relied on Verizon Wireless service. This has limited Lewis’ ability to work at home. Luckily, they won’t be there much longer — Lewis, his wife, and their kids are putting their house on the market and moving to Massachusetts, where he’s secured a new job at a technology company.

The new job is “the main reason we’re moving,” he said. “But in the back of my mind this whole time, I’m saying we can’t continue to live here.”

And while things turned out OK for Lewis and his family, limited broadband access in rural communities remains an obstacle for many. Individuals and communities should continue to demand accountability from their ISPs, who have for too long reneged on their not-so-ambitious broadband promises.

  1. As of this January:
  2. Mbps:
  3. downstream:
  4. upstream:
  5. DSL:
  6. kbps:
  7. chronicled in an article on Ars Technica:
  8. bandwidth:
  9. AT&T has claimed that it intends to expand broadband access to rural and underserved communities:
  10. AT&T’s merger with DirecTV is approved:
  11. reported on a similar story in April:
  12. tales of Comcast’s incompetence:

Source URL:

Brenda Platt: State of Composting Presentation – Maryland 2015

by Brenda Platt | July 24, 2015 12:39 pm

ILSR co-director, Brenda Platt, gave a presentation at the Maryland Recycling Network’s 2015 Annual Conference.  Her talk, State of Composting in the US: What, Why, Where & How, provided and update and overview of ILSR’s report[1] that documents what is currently happening in organics management across the U.S.

View or download Brenda’s presentation[2] to the Maryland Recycling Network – June 26, 2015

  1. ILSR’s report:
  2. View or download Brenda’s presentation:

Source URL:

Comcast’s Big Gig Rip-Off

by Rebecca Toews | July 22, 2015 10:21 am

For some five years now, many have been talking about gigabit Internet access speeds. After arguing for years that no one needed higher capacity connections, Comcast has finally unveiled its new fiber optic option. And as Tech Dirt notes[1], it is marketed as being twice as fast but costs 4x as much (even more in the first year!).

We decided to compare the Comcast offering to muni fiber gigabit options.


  1. Tech Dirt notes:
  2. (more…):

Source URL:

Watch: Is Socialism What’s Stopping a Fair Value for Solar?

by John Farrell | July 21, 2015 2:16 pm

Complete nonsense. The most socialistic thing I’ve ever heard. That’s just two quotes from a value of solar conversation between ILSR’s John Farrell and Karl Rábago of the Pace Energy and Climate Center that took place online on July 8, 2015.

More and more people are installing solar, significantly reducing their purchase of electricity from utility companies. In response, many utilities are proposing changes to fees and compensation to reduce the incentive to go solar. In 2013, Minnesota lawmakers tried to identify a compromise, called the value of solar[1], to have utilities accurately calculate the value of electricity from customer-owned solar arrays. While the policy has helped add to the mountain of evidence[2] that solar energy has significant value, no utility has adopted it.

The following summary is of a webinar conversation to uncover what solar is worth, and how legislators and energy regulators can implement policies to support that value. The webinar was largely based on this post: We Have Value of Solar, But Should We Use It?[3]. Note: the video below cuts out 10 minutes early but has some useful annotations. Click here for the un-annotated full video[4].

John began with a 10-minute overview of the value of solar policy, and then he began with some “sponsored questions” from solar luminaries for Karl to answer.

Not Buy-All Sell-All

Karl opened by clarifying a further point about the value of solar policy: it’s not a feed-in tariff where customers buy all their power from the utility and sell their solar production to the utility. Rather, it’s a twist on the bill credit concept of net metering, but changes the value of the bill credit from kilowatt-hours to a calculated value of solar energy. The transaction remains behind the meter.

How Can Customers Make an Informed Investment?

Rick Gilliam of Vote Solar asked, how can customers anticipate their investment with value of solar instead of net metering? Karl notes that net metering allows customers to understand how their consumption will be reduced, and to assume that if electric rate rise, so will their savings. As designed in Minnesota, customers would lock in a known price for their solar energy, and if they can count on their solar array to produce as much as they expect, they could accurately know better what their expected revenue would be over time.

In other places, however, the value of solar price isn’t locked in. In that case, it would be more like net metering where the future of electric rates is not known.

Can Utilities Implement New Policies?

electric meter - flickr Joe[5]Jigar Shah notes that net metering is a legacy of antiquated utility billing systems, where the mechanical utility meter could only tell the utility how much energy was consumed since the last time it was read. The rotating disk could go forward or backward, and if a customer had solar, show the net use. New technology enables new policies, such as pricing based on time of consumption.

If a utility has only the original mechanical meters, it won’t be able to implement anything more sophisticated. For example, Xcel Energy in Minnesota may not be able to implement the state’s value of solar tariff without upgrading their mechanical meters.

How Will the Value of Solar Change?

In the most sophisticated system, a utility with minute-by-minute knowledge of the cost of power delivery would be able to price the value of solar all the time. It would be the polar opposite of long-term, fixed price power purchase contracting, the more typical practice.

interest rates - flickr Mike Mozart[6]The level of stability is a policy choice, and Karl suggests that customers should be able to choose. Those who want a long-term, fixed price could accept a modestly lower price for solar generation. Those who are willing to accept the risk of fluctuation could get a higher rate (the reverse of home mortgages, where adjustable rate mortgages are cheaper—initially—than 30-year fixed mortgages).

Net metering, based on retail electric rates, is a mix. Rate cases don’t necessarily happen every year, but rates can go up or down, changing the compensation for solar producers (in the past decade, rates have gone up steadily). Karl notes that “I’ve only done a few hundred of them…but in [no rate case] that I’ve seen has the solar industry appeared to say, when you set this retail rate remember that this is going to be the substitute rate for solar.” In other words, utilities don’t consider the retail rate to be a substitute for the value of solar, and a rate case considers many more factors than solar value. They’ve often been the vehicle for utilities to insert unfavorable charges against solar customers.

Demand and Fixed Charges

Charges based on peak energy use or fixed fees are policy tools utilities can (and have) used to reduce the economic value of conservation or solar energy. They are costly and also economically irrational, says Karl.

“How easily a utility could go to a customer…and use some demand response or solar or some storage and find a far less expensive way to reduce their peak [energy use] than just to charge them for it and to build the system for it…This is a rate that says ‘please, make us overbuild the system…starbucks logo w cover - flickr Barbara Piancastelli and JFF[7]make us find the most expensive solution to customer behavior that’s out there. Make us ignore all the other alternatives.'”

Such charges are also unjust.

No utility should be allowed…to impose charges on customers that customers have no tools to manage against.” It incentivizes overbuilding the electricity system in a way that is profitable for shareholder owned utilities to the detriment of electric customers.

Karl skewers another utility company sacred cow: that fixed fees are necessary to recover fixed costs. It’s “Complete nonsense…just a way of securing monopoly rents.” He illustrates with Starbucks. It’s a “high fixed cost business. But they are very competitive with a variable pricing scheme. They would not survive if they had a $10 cover charge.”

Average Rates are the Bigger Issue

Utilities lump customers into very large classes—e.g. commercial, residential, industrial—that create unreasonable expectations. Karl notes, “Most of the utility argument today about the problem of solar is that customers with solar are using less electricity than the utility hoped they would.” Utilities “calculate an average rate for an entire customer class (whether it’s a low income household with fridge and box fan or a rich suburbanite with 10-ton air conditioner). They complain that when you go spend some of your hard-earned money…to reduce your electric bills, that they have to be able to charge you back because you’re not using average in your class. It’s the most socialistic thing I’ve ever heard.”

another duck chart[8]The Impact of Solar on Demand (the Duck Chart)

Some utilities are crying “fowl” with a “duck chart[9]” that illustrates how solar’s impact on mid-day electricity demand could—with no other action—cause a rapid ramp in energy demand as the sun sets. Karl suggests that his duck chart (right) is just as useful for understanding the issue, and notes that Jim Lazar from RAP (and many others) have shown a host of resources we can use.

The Big Picture

Perhaps no comment was as illustrative of the battle over value of solar than Karl’s anecdote from a question he asked of a utility executive. In that conversation, Karl said, “How do you value behind the meter generation?” The utility person replied, “Because we neither own nor control it, we assign it no value at all.”

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

 Photo credits:


  1. value of solar:
  2. mountain of evidence:
  3. We Have Value of Solar, But Should We Use It?:
  4. un-annotated full video:
  5. [Image]:
  6. [Image]:
  7. [Image]:
  8. [Image]:
  9. duck chart:
  11. Twitter:
  12. Democratic Energy weekly:
  13. Joe via Flickr:
  14. Mike Mozart via Flickr:
  15. Barbara Piancastelli via Flickr:
  16. Gary David Bouton:

Source URL:

Greece, The Troika and Maggie Thatcher

by David Morris | July 18, 2015 12:47 pm

In its policies toward Greece, the “Troika” — a new shorthand for the combined will of the European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund — has actively and enthusiastically embraced Maggie Thatcher’s social and political philosophy, memorably captured in her chilling assertion, “There is no such thing as society.”

That philosophy has found its fullest and most concrete exposition in a 2014 “competition assessment[1]” of Greece made by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  The OECD analyzed 555 Greek regulatory restrictions and made 329 specific recommendations the Troika expects Greece to enact with dispatch. Again and again the report views as virtually criminal regulations that favor small business, local ownership, and a reliance on local and domestic suppliers.

The OECD, for example, points an accusing finger at a Greek regulation requiring milk labeled “fresh” to have a maximum shelf life of 5 days. The regulation makes Greek “fresh” milk, on average, more expensive than in other EU countries. Why? “The high retail price of milk in Greece is a direct consequence of the high prices paid to Greek producers, since the five-day regulation makes imports next to impossible.” To the economists at the OECD and the Troika price is all. But the majority of Greeks, and I daresay many of the rest of us, might well support an agriculture policy that asks us to pay a few more cents for a bottle of milk to sustain and nurture an ecosystem of small, domestic dairy farmers.

The OECD demands Greece abolish any laws restricting the days or hours a business can operate (e.g., Sunday closing laws) — despite the fact that several European countries have enacted such policies to protect workers and small businesses. Germany has some of the most restrictive rules on opening hours of all.

The OECD insists, “The current retail price regulation of books should be abolished…” Why? “(N)ew retail channels such as the Internet will be developed.” The market demands that small publishers and bookstores make way for Amazon.

The OECD bids Greece abolish ownership provisions to “allow the development of retail pharmacy chains not owned or run by pharmacists.” The country’s pharmacy care should be opened to giant drugstore chains.

Each of these examples reveals a full-throated assault on Greek society by the Troika. Let’s examine the OECD and the Troika’s bid to overturn Greece’s pharmacy laws more closely. These require, as noted, that pharmacies be owned and operated by a licensed pharmacist, prohibit a pharmacist from owning more than one store, require that over-the-counter drugs be sold only in pharmacies, and cap the price of these medicines. The OECD’s demands galvanized a 24-hour strike by pharmacists in mid June. (more…)[2]

  1. competition assessment:
  2. (more…):

Source URL:

Why Glass-Steagall Should Be a Key Issue During the 2016 Campaign

by Olivia LaVecchia | July 17, 2015 9:34 am

On Monday, Hillary Clinton gave the first big economic policy speech of her 2016 campaign. Toward the end of it, an audience member interrupted her, asking, “Senator Clinton, will you restore Glass-Steagall?”

In a campaign season already dominated by candidates’ pursuit of Wall Street donations, how to regulate the banking sector remains one of the most pressing issues facing the country. Seven years after the financial crisis of 2008, the “too big to fail” banks are bigger than ever[1], while the community banks that make the lion’s share of loans[2] to local entrepreneurs and meet other productive needs are disappearing[3].

The question that Clinton got on Monday cuts to the center of the debate. In the ongoing push to make our financial system one with less risk, and one that works for more Americans, there’s one policy that we know is effective. It’s the Glass-Steagall Act, a banking reform law passed in 1933, as lawmakers were grappling with the destructive banking activities that caused the Great Depression.

Unlike rules about trading derivatives or risk-weighted capital ratios—rules that, in their complexity, create loopholes for big banks’ fleets of lawyers to exploit—Glass-Steagall, in the course of a mere 37 pages, laid out a series of common-sense reforms[4]. The most central of these was a requirement that investment banks, those that trade securities, be separate from commercial banks, those that accept deposits. In other words, banks swapping subprime mortgage loans couldn’t fund those swaps with a person’s federally-insured life’s savings.

  1. bigger than ever:
  2. lion’s share of loans:
  3. disappearing:
  4. common-sense reforms:
  5. (more…):

Source URL:

Introducing… MuniNetworks Economic Development Page

by Rebecca Toews | July 16, 2015 3:11 pm

Access to high-speed, broadband Internet facilitates economic development. Over the years, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has documented economic successes brought about by community broadband networks. We chose some of the most compelling examples, organized them by topic, and put them in one place for easy reference.

Check out our new economic development page[1]. The benefits of municipal networks are separated into various categories – ranging from job creation to advances in healthcare – with concrete examples from community broadband networks across the country.

Unfortunately, in some communities, a lack of broadband Internet continues to stunt economic growth – and has even forced businesses to relocate or shut down. In many cases, incumbent Internet service providers like AT&T and CenturyLink are not willing to provide business customers or local residents with next-generation fiber networks.

To boost economic development, local communities create their own fiber networks. Municipal fiber networks typically provide faster, more reliable, more affordable Internet access than incumbent networks because municipalities have a vested interest in seeing their community succeed.

Stories and examples of economic development resulting both directly and indirectly from community broadband networks abound, but until now these anecdotes and statistics were not consolidated into one place.

Take a look.[2]

  1. new economic development page:
  2. Take a look.:

Source URL:

Neil Seldman: Letter in Response to Washington Post Recycling Article

by Neil Seldman | July 4, 2015 9:04 am

Neil Seldman – Letter to Editor

Dear Editor,

The Washington Post’s feature “American recycling is stalling[1]” (June 20), correctly points to problems caused by large single-stream recycling bins. But clarifications are needed.

Avoided costs: Cities do not make money from recycling. They reduce their overall costs of solid waste management because recycling costs less than managing garbage. Materials markets always fluctuate, but disposal costs only go up. DC did not make a profit from recycling. They received money from sales of materials, but these did not cover the cost of collection and transfer of materials. Garbage disposal and recycling both cost money. Recycling costs less when avoided costs are added to revenue.

Poor design: Cities also do not take full advantage of recycling. DC succumbed to the single-stream recycling and a well-run dual stream system, operated by a local company with over 20 workers, was put out of business. As a result the city is now spending about $1 million annually in hauling costs alone to truck recyclables to Elkridge, MD. Dual stream (keeping paper separate from mixed plastic, glass and metal) would also help the city get better participation because it is more instructive than single-stream recycling. A bottle bill would go a long way to recovering high quality glass to feed to regional glass manufacturers in Virginia while reducing contamination of recovered paper.

WMI complaints about the markets: This ignores the low quality of the product they produce by oversized machines run at over capacity. High garbage disposal costs are assured by concentrated ownership of processing plants, landfills and incinerators. Remember, WMI is in the business of collection and disposal and reluctantly added recycling due to citizen pressure but has never really been supportive of it. The company makes much more money landfilling than recycling.

US recycling has not stalled: The US recycling rate is closer to 48% than 34% when construction and demolition waste is counted. In addition to rapidly increasing recycling of C & D materials, electronic scrap and food waste are rapidly growing sectors. Many cities are increasing recycling levels to 50%-70% with plans to go higher.

Any city or county can reach high levels of recycling by using proven methods: monetary incentives, smart collection, use of the education system and developing local markets instead of looking to China. More than 50% of the waste stream can be recycled and marketed locally (construction & demolition, food discards, yard and storm debris). Lawrence, KS, and Austin, TX, have arranged for small scaled high-grade paper and cotton recycling mills to be built and create local markets as well as hundreds of good jobs.


Neil Seldman

  1. American recycling is stalling:

Source URL:

Trade and Sovereignty

by David Morris | June 21, 2015 1:06 pm

On May 8th at Nike’s headquarters, President Obama denounced[1] opponents of the hotly contested Trans-Pacific Partnership as ill informed. “(C)ritics warn that parts of this deal would undermine American regulation….They’re making this stuff up. This is just not true. No trade agreement is going to force us to change our laws.”

On May 18th the World Trade Organization (WTO) issued a final ruling in favor of Canada and Mexico in a case involving a US law requiring country-of-origin labels on packages of beef, pork, chicken and other kinds of meat. The WTO three judge panel estimated economic damages of more than $3 billion. These will be meted out by Canada and Mexico as retaliatory tariffs on a potentially wide array of U.S. industries, from “California wines to Minnesota mattresses,” as Gerry Ritz, Canada’s Minister of Agriculture predicted[2].

“The only way for the United States to avoid billions in immediate retaliation is to repeal COOL,” Ritz announced[3].

Congress hastened to comply. The day the WTO issued its ruling Rep. Michael Conway (R-TX) introduced legislation to overturn the COOL law. On June 10th the House overwhelmingly passed[4] the bill, 300-131.

The COOL decision and its almost immediate legislative impact demonstrated in real time the inaccuracy of President Obama’s comments. Encompassing 12 Pacific Rim countries with 40 percent of the world’s economy the Trans-Pacific Partnership would be the largest trade agreement since the WTO was formed in 1995. But to call it a trade agreement is both accurate and misleading for it conjures up images of agreements that largely target tariffs. That is no longer the case. Of TPP’s 29 draft chapters, only[5] five deal with traditional trade issues.

Modern trade agreements have less to do with trade than with sovereignty. The primary focus of modern trade agreements is the elimination of existing national and subnational laws that regulate commerce.

The decision about whether a country can force the livestock industry to reveal where their animals were reared and slaughtered is behind us. Currently under consideration by the WTO is whether a country can force businesses that sell a lethal product to make the packaging of that product unattractive.

The product is tobacco. Before the 1990s the US government actively assisted American tobacco in opening up markets in Asia by threatening trade fights with countries like Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and South Korea that refused to overturn domestic laws impeding companies from using sophisticated marketing techniques.

In the 1970s and 1980s, as evidence of the malignant effects of tobacco accumulated states and cities began to enact anti-smoking initiatives. In the 1990’s lawsuits by states resulted in a $200 billion settlement with tobacco companies and the discovery of concrete evidence that they had willfully kept from the American public the evidence that smoking can and in many cases does cripple or kill.

The increasingly schizophrenic nature of US tobacco policies led the GAO to issue a report[6] aptly titled: Dichotomy Between U.S. Tobacco Export Policy and Antismoking Initiatives. The GAO asked lawmakers to clarify which values would guide their decision-making. “If the Congress believes that trade concerns should predominate, then it should do nothing to alter the current trade policy process. The U.S. government can simultaneously continue to actively help U.S. cigarette exporters overcome foreign trade barriers and promote awareness of the dangers of smoking and further restrict the circumstances in which smoking may take place,” it advised. “If Congress believes that health considerations should have primacy, the Congress could grant the Department of Health and Human Services the responsibility to decide whether to pursue trade initiatives involving products with substantial adverse health consequences.” (more…)[7]

  1. denounced:
  2. predicted:
  3. announced:
  4. passed:
  5. only:
  6. report:
  7. (more…):

Source URL:

For Cities, Big-Box Stores Are Becoming Even More of a Terrible Deal

by Olivia LaVecchia | June 16, 2015 4:41 pm

Big-box retailers’ new tactic to slash their taxes is the latest example of why cities are better off saying no to the boxes and cultivating Main Streets instead.


In February, the library in Marquette, Mich., announced that it was cutting its hours.

It wasn’t that its Sunday programming was any less popular, or that it had gotten the short end of the stick in next year’s budget planning. Instead, thanks to a new method that big-box stores are using to game the tax system, Marquette Township owed a $755,828.71 tax refund to the home improvement chain Lowe’s. Essential services like the library, the school district, and the fire department were on the hook to pay for it.

The Peter White Public Library would now be closed on Sundays.

Marquette has been hit hard by a tactic that the country’s biggest retailers are using to slash their property taxes. Known as the “dark store” method, it exemplifies the systematic way that these chains extract money from local governments. It’s also the latest example of the way that, even as local governments across the country continue to bend over backwards to attract and accommodate big-box development, these stores are consistently a terrible deal for the towns and cities where they locate.

Marquette is one of the countless places that has bought into big-box economic development. Over the years, the township in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan spent millions extending water mains, law enforcement, and other infrastructure and services to its big-box commercial corridor along U.S. 41. When the Lowe’s opened there in 2008, local officials including the mayor turned out for a “board-cutting” ceremony—the home improvement center version of a ribbon-cutting.

Then, less than two years later, Lowe’s flipped the script. The mega-retailer, which reports annual net sales of about $50 billion, went to tax court to appeal its property tax assessment. Marquette had pegged the taxable value of the store, which had just been built for $10 million, at $5.2 million. In front of the Michigan Tax Tribunal, an administrative court whose members are appointed by the state governor, Lowe’s won assessments that were, instead, $2.4 million in 2010, $2 million in 2011, and $1.5 million in 2012.

“We honestly thought there had been a mistake,” says Dulcee Atherton, the assessor for Marquette Township. “We had the building permits that said it was worth $10 million. We couldn’t believe the audacity, really.”

What was worse was the methodology that Lowe’s, and the tax tribunal, had used to arrive at the lower figures. (more…)[1]

  1. (more…):

Source URL:

Treaties, Trade Agreements and Government by the People

by David Morris | June 15, 2015 3:49 pm

For much of our history, trade agreements were considered treaties. According to the Constitution they had to be ratified by a two-thirds vote of the Senate. The House does not participate in ratification of treaties (Article II, Section 2).

By the late 19th century Congress realized it was far too cumbersome to require a Congressional vote to change individual tariffs, so they delegated to the President the authority to use tariffs as a flexible tool in the exercise of foreign policy.

In the 1970s trade agreements stopped focusing on tariffs and began addressing an increasingly broad group of rules (e.g. procurement, copyrights and patents, product standards, subsidies, environmental standards) called non-tariff trade barriers. Modern multi-faceted trade pacts have more to do with pre-empting national, state and local rules that could favor communities or regional economies or domestic businesses or the environment than with lowering tariffs.

Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution gives Congress a little wiggle room by making a distinction between “treaties” and “agreements”. Congress can change the ratification process for agreements. But it is highly probable that the Constitution’s Framers would have expected Congress to do so only with respect to agreements of limited importance.

In 1974 Congress made clear it thought otherwise. That year Congress acquiesced to a dramatic reduction in its and by extension the citizenry’s authority over trade rules. Under the new procedure the President was allowed to unilaterally negotiate the final terms of a trade agreement. He would then present the final agreement to Congress, which would be unable to change it in any way and would have a limited time for debate. Instead of requiring ratification by a two-thirds vote of the Senate, trade pacts would require only a simple majority from both chambers.

In 1993 Congress ratified the far-reaching North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) under the new fast track provisions. NAFTA not only limited national and state sovereignty over a variety of issues but it also established for the first time what has come be known as investor state dispute settlement procedures. Corporations, rather than only governments would have the right to sue. And they could sue for loss of potential profits. And they would do so via a new extra-territorial judicial system that favors commerce over community and corporations over governments.

The NAFTA vote was close: 234-200. Three-quarters of Democrats voting against while 80 percent of Republicans voted in favor. The ratification process of NAFTA was challenged in federal courts, but the courts rejected[1] the challenge, ruling in essence that Congress can at its discretion decide when a treaty is not a treaty and can make the process for ratification as undemocratic as it sees fit.

The authority to pursue fast track expired in 2007. But in December 2009, the United States Trade Representative (USTR), on behalf of the President, notified[2] the country that the President intended to enter into negotiations for a regional, Asia-Pacific trade agreement as if that authority continued to apply.  

Today the President is asking Congress to ratify his illegal use of the fast track.

Last week, after the House overwhelmingly rejected a trade assistance act that was formally tied to the approval of fast track authority it passed a standalone fast track bill by a tiny majority of 219-211. Eighty-five percent of Democrats voted against while 78 percent of Republicans voted in favor.

As Paul Ryan (R-WI) has noted[3], “We’re not talking about passing a trade agreement right now. TPP is still being negotiated. It doesn’t exist yet as an agreement. We’re talking about whether we can even consider a trade agreement…” Representative Ryan is correct that Congress is not voting on TPP. But he’s wrong that if fast track fails Congress will be unable to “even consider a trade agreement”. Of course it can. The question before Congress right now is about how transparent and democratic that consideration will be.

We the people would like it to be as transparent and democratic as possible. Public opinion[4] consistently favors trade but just as consistently solidly opposes fast track. We oppose the remarkable, indeed unprecedented secrecy in which the trade pact has been drafted and the inability of the average citizen, unlike giant corporations, to play a part in that drafting. We condemn the prohibition against changing the document in any way after submission.

And perhaps most of all we are furious about fast track’s foreclosure of extensive and intensive debate on a complex document of far reaching consequence.

If fast track fails the President can still submit a trade bill. And we can then launch a much needed and long overdue national conversation about the benefits and limitations of trade and the dangers of ceding sovereignty to a new international constitution whose goal is to limit democracy and expand corpocracy.







  1. rejected:
  2. notified:
  3. noted:
  4. opinion:

Source URL:

Watch: Dear Hawaii – Read Your Mail Before Your Utility Sells Out

by John Farrell | June 12, 2015 2:50 pm

placeholder[1]If your electricity—generated from imported oil—is the most expensive in the country and your solar resource is terrific, you’d expect your electric company to be making great strides toward renewable energy. On Hawai’i, the progress toward clean energy is in limbo, because island’s largest electric utility—largely owned by islanders—is likely to be acquired by mainland utility conglomerate NextEra, parent company of another regulated utility, Florida Power and Light.

Should Hawaiians accede to the wishes of NextEra and sell their largest electric utility to off-islanders?

These postcards from Florida (inspired by a campaign by Vote Solar[2]) shine a little light on what Hawaiians can expect from their proposed utility overlord.

For more on the takeover, check out ILSR’s Director of Democratic Energy commentary[3] during the Maui Energy Conference, ILSR’s 2012 report—Hawaiian Sunblock[4]—on the unexpected barriers to low-cost solar on the islands, Vote Solar’s Postcards from Florida campaign[5], and the continuing coverage[6] of the utility acquisition on Utility Dive.

This article originally posted at[7]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[8] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[9] update.

  1. [Image]:
  2. a campaign by Vote Solar:
  3. commentary:
  4. Hawaiian Sunblock:
  5. Postcards from Florida campaign:
  6. continuing coverage:
  8. Twitter:
  9. Democratic Energy weekly:

Source URL:

Expert thwarts progress of pro-incineration bill in Philippines

by Neil Seldman | June 11, 2015 11:51 am

The Philippines is the only country that has banned garbage incineration. Constant vigilance is required to keep it that way. The following press release from the Ecowaste Coalition[1] explains the role of Dr. Jorge Emmanuel in presenting to the Philippines’ Congress.

An environmental scientist told pro-incineration representatives during a committee meeting that burning wastes is bad, foiling a pro-incineration bill’s passage by the body.   “There is no such thing as clean incineration. They all produce pollutants,” Dr. Jorge Emmanuel said on Tuesday, during Philippines House of Representative’s Committee on Ecology meeting on House Bill No. 3161, authored by Caloocan City Representative Edgar Erice.

The Erice bill, which was hoping to move up to the plenary level, was instead sent back to the technical working group on incineration for further discussion. (more…)[2]

  1. Ecowaste Coalition:
  2. (more…):

Source URL:

LD 1185 Advances in Maine With Overwhelming Support

by Lisa Gonzalez | June 9, 2015 11:57 pm

On June 5th, the Main House of Representatives voted 143 – 0 in favor of LD 1185[1], the Maine bill to provide state planning and implementation grants for local municipal networks. Representative Norm Higgins, the sponsor of the bill, contacted us to let us know about the incredible support for the bill.

LD 1185 proposes to provide $6 million this year for local communities seeking to establish networks that want to take advantage of the state’s middle-mile network, the Three Ring Binder. The House amended the bill to include general goals for the fund and its purpose in bringing better connectivity to Maine.

The amendment also creates specifications between planning and implementation grants and establishes caps on awards. Planning grants cannot exceed $25,000 and implementation grants cannot exceed $200,000. Implementation grants require a 25 percent match from the requesting municipality; planning grants require a one-to-one match. The amendment is available online[2].

Now that the House has put their stamp of approval on the bill, it is up to the Maine Senate to  approve the measure and send it on to the Governor. According to Higgins, it appears to have strong bipartisan support; funding is the only area of uncertainty. He anticipates it will be before the Appropriations Committee within the next two weeks.

This article is apart of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[3]

  1. LD 1185:
  2. available online:
  3. here:

Source URL:

ALEC in Savannah: Local News Video Exposes the Corrupt Process of Lawmaking

by Lisa Gonzalez | June 5, 2015 3:38 pm

We have reported on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the past and stories about ALEC sponsored legislative retreats pop up in the news on a regulary basis. Most recently, NBC Channel 11 from Atlanta reported on[1] the shadowy world of big corporate influence in Georgia.

None of this will be new to anyone familiar with ALEC’s shadowy way of doing business, but having it on video makes it more compelling.

Brendan Keefe visited Savannah and tried to observe one of these meetings between ALEC corporate members and state legislators. Even though Keefe and his crew had an official press pass, they were blocked from entering the meeting.

Keefe spoke with a Georgia State Senator Nan Orrock, who once belonged to ALEC. She told him about the meetings, paid for with ALEC funds or “legislator scholarships,” and pointed out the true nature of the closed door gatherings:

It’s really a corporate bill mill…the truth be told, they write the bills.

Even though Keefe was not able to attend one of the meetings, he did encounter a legislator and several lobbyists in the bar the night before. They didn’t mind describing what they were doing in Savannah and who paid the bill. Watch the brief expose below.

We also include a 2013 Real News video with Branden Fischer from the Center for Media and Democracy. He goes more indepth on ALEC’s modus operandi and its membership.

See video[2]
See video[3]

This article is apart of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[4]

  1. reported on:
  2. [Image]:
  3. [Image]:
  4. here:

Source URL:

Report: Public Rooftop Revolution

by John Farrell | June 1, 2015 4:31 am

[1]5 gigs municipal solar[2]There are a lot of stories on residential rooftop solar but few if any on what cities are doing to make themselves energy self-reliant by using their own buildings and lands to generate power.

In Public Rooftop Revolution, ILSR estimates that mid-sized cities could install as much as 5,000 megawatts of solar—as much as one-quarter of all solar installed in the U.S. to date—on municipal property, with little to no upfront cash. It would allow cities to redirect millions in saved energy costs to other public purposes.

Download the full report[3]

Read the Executive Summary[4]

Read Part 1 of the report[5]

Read Part 2 of the report[6]

Read Part 3 of the report[7]

Read Part 4 of the report[8]

Read the full report in (poorly formatted) ePub[9] or Kindle[10] format

Podcast Conversations:

Lancaster, CA city manager Jason Caudle, listen to the podcast, read the interview summary[11].

Raleigh, NC renewable energy coordinator Robert Hinson, listen to the podcast, read the interview summary[12].

Kansas City project manager Charles Harris, listen to the podcast, read the interview summary[13].

Executive Summary

In 2012, ILSR published a pair of reports[14] that projected, by 2021,10% of electricity in the U.S. could come from solar and at a lower price—without subsidies—than utility-provided electricity. In 2014 and 2015, Environment America’s Shining Cities reports examined how cities were catalysts for solar development.

However, there has been a missing piece in the examination of how cities can support solar energy: what city leaders have done and can do to use solar on their own buildings.

ILSR estimates that over 5,000 megawatts (MW) of solar could be inexpensively installed almost immediately on municipal property—more than a quarter of the nationwide total solar capacity through September 2014. This includes just the municipal buildings of the approximately 200 cities with 100,000 or greater population. But it requires city officials to overcome a few, surmountable barriers.

The Public Rooftop Solar Opportunity

The opportunity of municipal solar spans financial savings, pollution reductions, and job creation:

Energy Savings: New Bedford, MA, is saving $6 to $7 million per year on electricity through its 16 MW of solar installations on municipal properties, which is 2.5% of the entire city budget.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions: Maximizing New York City’s solar potential with 410 MW of solar would reduce emissions by 1.78 million metric tons, 3.7% of the city’s total emissions.

Significant Economic Impact: Maximizing Kansas City’s municipal solar potential of 70 MW could create 1400 jobs and add $175 million to the local economy.

Overcoming the Economic Barrier with 3rd Parties

The primary incentive for solar is the 30% federal tax credit, a deal that doesn’t apply to local governments[15]. The federal government also provides accelerated depreciation for solar projects, resulting in a tax write-off worth nearly another 30% of a project’s value. The following charts illustrates how the limitations of federal incentives make the economics more challenging for municipally-owned solar. 

Although cities face a number of challenges, economic and otherwise, to installing solar, the third party ownership option—if available—ought to trump most of them. For suitable sites that won’t need a near-term roof replacement, third party ownership removes virtually all of the financial barriers to solar, and covers maintenance and operations. While some barriers (like lack of aggregate or virtual net metering) remain, most cities have a substantial solar opportunity.


  1. [Image]:
  2. [Image]:
  3. the full report:
  4. Executive Summary: #exec
  5. Part 1 of the report: #intro
  6. Part 2 of the report: #pubsolarecon
  7. Part 3 of the report: #thirdpartytrump
  8. Part 4 of the report: #spillovereffects
  9. ePub:
  10. Kindle:
  11. listen to the podcast, read the interview summary:
  12. listen to the podcast, read the interview summary:
  13. listen to the podcast, read the interview summary:
  14. a pair of reports:
  15. doesn’t apply to local governments:
  16. (more…):

Source URL:

Adam Smith vs. Ayn Rand

by David Morris | May 29, 2015 3:44 pm

In a 2011 CNN/Tea Party Express Republican Debate moderator Wolf Blitzer famously asked[1] prominent libertarian Representative Ron Paul a “hypothetical question” about the soon-to-be-operational Obamacare: What should be done when a 30-year old man decides not to buy health insurance and then requires significant medical intervention that he cannot afford? Paul predictably responded. He should “assume responsibility for himself…That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks…”

Blitzer followed up by asking Paul if he meant, “society should just let him die?” Members of the audience yelled, “Yeah”. It was a Tea Party meeting after all. Paul waffled. He conceded intervention might be necessary but insisted the cost should be borne voluntarily by “(o)ur neighbors, our friends, our churches.”

Now Obamacare is in place. The hypothetical has become real. In the last few weeks we’ve learned of at least two Republicans who refused to buy health insurance and then launched GoFundMe initiatives when they encountered medical difficulties.

In November 2014 self-employed Richard Mack’s wife was hospitalized and then in early January he himself suffered a heart attack. His son launched a GoFundMe[2] campaign. “It is difficult and humbling to say that we need your help but we do.” He’s raised $45,000 so far toward a $60,000 goal from a little over 1,000 donors.

Mack’s opposition to Obamacare is political. A former sheriff of Graham County, Arizona he is the founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, a group he described[3] as “the army to set our nation free”. He serves on the board of Oath Keepers, a right-wing group made up of police and military veterans. He’s been an outspoken opponent not only of the American Care Act (ACA) but of all federal authority. “The States do not have to take or support or pay for Obamacare or anything else from Washington, DC,” says[4] Mack. “The States are not subject to federal direction.”

More widely reported is the case of Luis Lang, a 49-year-old self-employed resident of Fort Mill, South Carolina who always prided himself on paying his own medical expenses. He suffered a series of mini strokes earlier this year and ended up with bleeding in the eyes, a partially detached retina and a need for very expensive medical care to save his eyesight. He’s been out of work since December. His GoFundMe[5] campaign has raised $26,000 toward a $30,000 goal from over 1300 donors.

Ron Paul might view Richard Mack’s situation as a perfect example of his libertarian philosophy. He chose not to buy insurance. He now needs financial assistance. His family and friends have rallied to his support, largely because of his political activities. One donor wrote, “Thank you for your sacrifice in the fight for our freedom.” Another said, “Keep up the fight and with the full armour (sic) of God we will prevail. Thanks be to God for your stand for freedom and for not giving in to the Obama care demands.” Another commented, “May God continue to watch over you and bless all that you do for this nation under siege.” And another declared, “Thanks for never surrendering to federal tyranny.”

To me, however, Lang’s case is more instructive. Lang is not a public figure. He’s not a political rallying point. Moreover, his is a case study in personal irresponsibility. He is a long time smoker who has been lax in controlling his diabetes. He knew that his eyes needed serious medical attention for some time.

When the Charlotte Observer first wrote[6] about Lang he was angry at Obamacare. When confronted with significant medical expenses he tried to sign up but discovered enrollment had closed a month earlier. He is now poor enough to qualify for Medicaid but South Carolina’s Republican controlled legislature has refused to expand Medicaid. Nevertheless, his wife Mary said, “(My husband) should be at the front of the line, because he doesn’t work and because he has medical issues.”

Lang was asking for help primarily from strangers who didn’t know who he was. Revealingly, a significant majority of those who gave were self-described liberals[7], according to Charles Gaba. One donor wrote, “The party of personal responsibility (has) left you hanging on your own consequences. Progressives like me think that’s just cruel.” Another disclosed, “From a first generation immigrant Communist. Good luck brother.” Another reflected, “From a godless liberal feminist but my 89 y/o dad has macular degeneration and so my heart goes out to anyone who’s having vision trouble.” Still another pointed out, “Sir, I know if the shoe was on the other food you would expect me to ‘pull myself up by my own boot straps” and wouldn’t contribute. But I’m compassionate and think we all owe something to each other.” Another commented, “I want to say something clever and sassy about your right wing stupidity, but all I can feel is compassion. I hope you get the medical care you need.” And still another observed, “I too am a bleeping liberal who thinks no one should suffer due to bad choices, bad luck, or bad policies of conservative dogma.”

After reviewing the comments, Lang reflected on his GoFundMe page, “I have to give a big thumbs up to the liberal side. Even though you have crucified me in your comments but you spoke with your heart with donations…As far as the conservative side I wish they would step up to the plate and do there (sic) part.”

Which brings us to the crux of the debate about Obamacare or any government sponsored health insurance. Conservatives, circa 2015 do not believe it is their obligation to help. Lang made his choice and he must live with the consequences. The modern day conservative’s guru is Ayn Rand, who viewed compassion as inherently dehumanizing, an emotion that, if acted upon, diminishes the self. “Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others…” she declared[8]. “The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction….” (more…)[9]

  1. asked:
  2. GoFundMe:
  3. described:
  4. says:
  5. GoFundMe:
  6. wrote:
  7. liberals:
  8. declared:
  9. (more…):

Source URL:

North Carolina Files Petition Opposing FCC Ruling to End Anti-Muni Laws

by Lisa Gonzalez | May 22, 2015 10:34 am

It took a while, but the State of North Carolina finally decided to take its turn at the throat of the FCC. Attorneys filed a Petition for Review in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals similar to the one filed by the State of Tennessee[1] in March. The Petition is available for download[2] below.

Our official comment:

“Attorney General Cooper must not realize the irony of using state taxpayer dollars to ensure less money is invested in rural broadband, but we certainly do,” says Christopher Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “State leaders should stand up for their citizens’ interests and demand good broadband for them, rather than fighting alongside paid lobbyists to take away those opportunities.”

Like Tennessee, North Carolina makes an attempt to stop the FCC’s well-considered Opinion and Order by arguing that the FCC overstepped its authority in violation of the Consitution. The FCC addressed this argument in its Opinion and Order along with a myriad of other potential arguments. For detailed coverage of the FCC’s well-considered decision, we provided information on highlights[3]of the decision back in March.

According to WRAL[4], Wilson is taking the new development in stride:

The City of Wilson was not surprised that North Carolina sued.

“We are aware of the suit,” said Will Aycock, who manages the Greenlight network. “We knew that this would be an ongoing process.”

The Attorney general’s has not contacted Wilson about the suit, he added.

We have to wonder if North Carolina is a bit[5] embarrassed in arguing that rural areas should not be allowed to build their own networks even as the metro regions in Charlotte and the Triangle are seeing gigabit investment. State elected officials in North Carolina seem committed to two-tier Internet access: fast for the metro and stiflingly slow in rural regions.

“Wilson filed this petition [last year to restore local authority] not with immediate plans to expand into its rural neighboring communities, but to facilitate the future advancement of its critical Gigabit fiber-optic[6] infrastructure over the long term.”…Wilson does not expect to incur any legal costs related to the North Carolina suit, Aycock said. “We told our story,” he explained.

Unfortunately, this is another example of big telecom dollars asserting influence over  state leaders. Wilson’s Greenlight has proven itself over and over again to be an economic development tool[7], a way for the municipality to save precious public dollars, and an agent to encourage better connectivity for citizens[8].

  1. filed by the State of Tennessee:
  2. download:
  3. provided information on highlights:
  4. According to WRAL:
  5. bit:
  6. fiber-optic:
  7. economic development tool:
  8. better connectivity for citizens:

Source URL:

ILSR Seeks Recycling and Economic Development Specialist

by Neil Seldman | May 18, 2015 3:32 pm

The Waste to Wealth Initiative of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is looking to fill a full time, associate-level position. The job involves developing recycling, composting and reuse enterprises throughout the US.

The associate will be responsible for assisting local governments, small businesses and community develop organizations develop viable value added enterprises and policies that nurture such enterprises.  The job involves being responsible for representing ILSR’s Waste to Wealth Initiative within regional, national and international networks.

Full job description and information on how to apply here[1].

  1. Full job description and information on how to apply here:

Source URL:

Obama’s Advance Team Should Be Fired

by David Morris | May 18, 2015 11:08 am

The Obamas are proving singularly inept at choosing appropriate venues to highlight their initiatives.

In June 2011 Michelle invited giant retailers, including Walmart to the White House to launch her effort to persuade the country’s largest retailers to move into inner city “food deserts.” She later visited a Walmart in Springfield, Illinois to applaud its corporate expansion into urban areas. My colleague at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance Stacy Mitchell chided[1] Ms. Obama, “If you were to rank the factors that have contributed to the disappearance of neighborhood grocery stores over the last two decades, Walmart would be a pretty formidable contender for the top spot.”

Walmart has captured[2] 25 percent of the nation’s grocery market and in 29 metropolitan areas commands a 50 percent share. It has almost saturated rural and suburban America and now wants to massively move into urban areas. That is not sitting well with many of its targeted neighborhoods. Ms. Obama’s advance team should have been aware that a vigorous, sustained protest against Walmart moving into a historic downtown neighborhood was ongoing in Springfield.   Only a few days before Ms. Obama’s visit the City Council ultimately approved the Walmart by a vote of 5-4. The outcome may have been less an endorsement of Walmart than an effort to avoid embarrassing Michelle.

Mitchell noted that 1400 small and independent food stores had opened between 2002 and 2011, many of them serving inner city neighborhoods. “Independent grocers should have been at the center of this announcement,” she insisted[3]. “After all, independent food retailers, including co-ops and farmers markets, have been instrumental in the success of the only program so far to make a real dent in the problem (affordable, nutritious food in inner cities) the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing initiative. Of the 93 stores created or expanded by the initiative to date, almost all are independently or cooperatively owned.”

Ironically, 8 months after Ms. Obama praised Walmart for bringing affordable food to Springfield, a Walmart in Ohio was discovered collecting food donations for its own employees. Walmart workers survive in large part because their inadequate pay is supplemented by public benefits (e.g. food stamps, welfare, Medicaid). A May 2013 report by the Democrat staff of the U.S. House Committee on Education and Workforce estimated[4] these benefits cost taxpayers $3015 per worker, or about $1.50 an hour for a full time employee.

Under extreme public pressure and to ward off unionization, Walmart recently announced it is boosting wages by about $1 per hour for about a third of its US workforce. In 2013 Stephen Gandel of Fortune magazine calculated[5] Walmart could have increased salaries by more than $5 per hour without negatively affecting its stock price.

Walmart not only pays its own workers little; it drives down domestic wages overall or forces domestic suppliers to relocate abroad by compelling them to match prices offered by low wage foreign suppliers.

While the workers suffer, the Walton family, owners of 50 percent of Walmart stock have become the poster children of inequality. In 2014 the family received[6] dividends of about $3 billion, three times the cost of Walmart’s recent modest wage increase. Since 2007 the six heirs to Walmart’s cofounders Sam and Bud Walton have seen their wealth[7] more than double to $148.8 billion. They now earn as much as 42 percent of American families combined!

In mid 2013 President Obama flew to an Amazon warehouse in Chattanooga, Tennessee to celebrate that company’s creation of middle class jobs. It was a bizarre choice. His advance team must have known of the increasingly public infamy of Amazon warehouses. In 2011 reporter Spencer Soper in the Allentown newspaper the Morning Call, described[8] the brutal working conditions at Amazon’s Allentown, Pennsylvania warehouse during the early summer of 2011. Fifteen workers had collapsed from heat exhaustion. “Calls to the local ambulance service became so frequent that for five hot days in June and July, ambulances and paramedics were stationed all day at the depot.” Amazon apparently found it cheaper to pay for ambulances than to install air conditioning. A 2012 story in the Seattle Times described[9] a similar Dickensian situation at Amazon’s Campbellsville, Kentucky warehouse.

Amazon and its owner Jeff Bezos not only believe they owe nothing to their workers; they insist they owe nothing to the country. In an interview[10] with Fast Company, Bezos confessed he had “investigated whether we could set up on an Indian reservation near San Francisco.”  The idea was to get “access to talent without all the tax consequences.”  He ended up setting up shop in Seattle, a state with no sales tax. And for almost 20 years he took advantage of a loophole in the law that allowed him to avoid paying sales tax for online purchases, giving Amazon a 6-8 percent price advantage over Main Street stores right out of the gate. As for paying corporate taxes Jim Hightower comments[11], “Through a convoluted system of inter-corporate payments, a major portion of Amazon’s global revenue is funneled into the tiny Grand Duchy of Luxembourg[12]. There, its tax rate is shriveled to barely five percent!”

A few weeks ago President Obama hit the trifecta for maladroit event planning when he made a speech promoting an expansion of unregulated trade at Nike’s headquarters in Oregon.

Nike is infamous for having pioneered the massive corporate outsourcing of middle class jobs to low wage countries. Only 1 percent of its workforce resides in the United States while almost a million workers are in low wage countries. Nike continues to hemorrhage domestic jobs. Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich reports that in 2014 a third of Nike’s remaining 13,922 Americans production workers were laid off.

When wages rose in China Nike switched most of its production to Vietnam, where wages[13] are a third what they are in China. In April, after Vietnam approved a modest 15 percent wage hike, foreign and local companies reportedly warned[14] that any further wage hikes should be considered “very carefully” in order not to undermine the competitiveness of the Vietnamese economy.

About the same time that Obama was standing in Nike’s headquarters the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, issued a report[15] condemning Nike’s labor practices. The report’s author Charles Kernaghan observes[16], “Let’s be honest. For years, Nike has been exploiting the 330,000 Vietnamese workers, mostly young women, who are poorly paid and denied their most fundamental rights.” He likens Nike to “the canary in the coal mine…pointing us to what unfettered ‘free trade’ looks like, and what the world will look like under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).”

Kernaghan told[17] the Huffington Post, “The fact that President Obama would … be at the side of Nike just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”

No it doesn’t. Nor does it make sense that the President and the First Lady would commend Amazon for creating middle class jobs or Walmart for bringing groceries to urban neighborhoods. Not if workers and communities matter to them as much as they do to those who won the White House for them.

  1. chided:
  2. captured:
  3. insisted:
  4. estimated:
  5. calculated:
  6. received:
  7. wealth:
  8. described:
  9. described:
  10. an interview:
  12. Grand Duchy of Luxembourg:
  13. wages:
  14. warned:
  15. report:
  16. observes:
  17. told:

Source URL:

Video Available: Connecticut Gigabit State Event

by Lisa Gonzalez | May 10, 2015 10:38 am

On May 5th, Christopher participated in a panel conversation presented by the City of New Haven and the Connecticut Office of Consumer Counsel. Video of the event,Moving Towards A Gigabit State: Planning & Financing Municipal Ultra-High-Speed Internet Fiber Networks Through Public-Private Partnerships, is now available.

You can watch it from the Connecticut Network website[1]. The final panel has, in order of appearance, Bill Vallee, Joanne Hovis, Christopher, Monica Webb, and Jim Baller. It begins around 3:18 and Christopher begins his presentation at 3:36. The entire video is approximately 4 hours, 30 minutes.

The event included a number of experts from the industry. From the event announcement:

A conversation on the “Nuts and Bolts” of Internet Fiber Networks targeting municipal officials and other public officials to provide information for municipalities interested in creating ultra-high-speed networks. The networks would be created via public-private partnerships through Connecticut to enable innovations in areas such as health care, education, business development and jobs creation, and public safety.

  1. the Connecticut Network website:

Source URL:

How Washington Punishes Small Business

by Stacy Mitchell | May 8, 2015 10:09 am

This article, by Stacy Mitchell and Fred Clements, was first published as an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal[1].

Small business looms large in American political rhetoric. From the campaign trail to the floor of the U.S. House and Senate, members of Congress love to evoke the diner and dry cleaner, the neighborhood grocer and local hardware store. Ensuring the well-being of Main Street, we might easily assume, is one of their central policy aims.

The legislative track record tells another story. It is one in which the interests of big corporations are dominant, and many laws and regulations seem designed to bend the marketplace in their favor and put small, independent businesses at a competitive disadvantage.

Since the late 1990s, the overall market share of firms with fewer than 100 employees has fallen from 33% to 28%, according to U.S. Census data. There are nearly 80,000 fewer small retailers today than in 1999. Starting a new business also appears to have become harder. Despite their prominence in our tech-fueled imagination, the number of startups created annually fell by about 20% between the 1970s and the 2000s, Census data shows.

Dismissing these trends as merely the product of market forces misses the powerful way that government policy has tilted the playing field.

A report last month by the research organization Good Jobs First, for example, found that two-thirds of the $68 billion in business grants and special tax credits awarded by the federal government over the past 15 years went to big corporations. State and local economic development incentives are similarly skewed. While the members of our business associations—mostly independent retailers—must finance their own growth, one of their biggest competitors, Amazon, has received $330 million in tax breaks and other subsidies to fund its new warehouses. Indiana, for example, gave the company a $5 million tax credit to open a distribution center in 2009.

Multinational companies also benefit from a host of tax loopholes. A local pharmacy or bike shop cannot stash profits in a Bermuda shell company or undertake a foreign “inversion.” The result is that small businesses pay an effective federal tax rate that is several points higher on average than that paid by big companies, according to a Small Business Administration study from 2009.

At a time when price competition is fierce and margins razor thin, these cost differences have a real impact on the ability of small businesses to survive. Yet efforts to reform corporate subsidies and close tax loopholes have gone nowhere.

Congress’s tacit support for further consolidation in the banking system is also undermining small independent businesses. From our perspective, local community banks are the most important part of the financial system, because they supply the lion’s share of small business loans. Yet Congress hasn’t lifted a finger as more than 500 have collapsed since 2008, according to federal data, swept away by the aftermath of a financial crisis they didn’t create. (more…)[2]

  1. Wall Street Journal:
  2. (more…):

Source URL:

One in Four Local Banks Has Vanished since 2008. Here’s What’s Causing the Decline and Why We Should Treat It as a National Crisis.

by Stacy Mitchell | May 5, 2015 3:43 pm

Here’s a statistic that ought to alarm anyone interested in rebuilding local economies and redirecting the flow of capital away from Wall Street and toward more productive ends: Over the last seven years, one of every four community banks has disappeared. We have 1,971 fewer of these small, local financial institutions today than at the beginning of 2008. Some 500 failed outright, with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) stepping in to pay their depositors. Most of the rest were acquired and absorbed into bigger banks.

To illustrate this disturbing trend and highlight a few of the reasons we should treat it as a national crisis, we’ve published a trove of new graphs[1]. These provide a startling look at the pace of change and its implications. In 1995, megabanks — giant banks with more than $100 billion in assets (in 2010 dollars) — controlled 17 percent of all banking assets. By 2005, their share had reached 41 percent. Today, it is a staggering 59 percent[2]. Meanwhile, the share of the market held by community banks and credit unions — local institutions with less than $1 billion in assets — plummeted from 27 percent to 11 percent. You can watch this transformation unfold in our 90-second video[3], which shows how four massive banks — Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo — have come to dominate the sector, each growing larger than all of the nation’s community banks put together.

“If we continue to go down this path, we’ll kill this concept of relationship banking,” contends Rebeca Romera Rainey, the third-generation CEO of Centinel Bank[4] in Taos, New Mexico. Like other community banks, Centinel makes lending decisions based on its relationships with its customers and deep knowledge of the local market. It underwrites a wide range of business loans and home mortgages to local families. Many of these borrowers would likely not qualify for big-bank financing because they do not fit neatly into the standardized formulas megabanks use to evaluate their risk of default. (more…)[5]

  1. trove of new graphs:
  2. staggering 59 percent:
  3. video:
  4. Centinel Bank:
  5. (more…):

Source URL:

Charles Benton, Champion of the Public Interest in Telecom, Passes

by Lisa Gonzalez | May 1, 2015 10:58 am

The world of media education, communication policy, and philanthropy is mourning the loss of Charles Benton who passed away on April 29. He lived a long life encouraging and empowering individuals and communities to use technology to improve their quality of life. But beyond that, specifically working to remove barriers that discourage historically marginalized communities from benefiting from communications technologies.

In addition to serving on the National Museum and Library Services Board for the Obama Administration, Charles advised President Bill Clinton as a member of the Parental Advisory Committee on the Public Interest Obligation of Digital Television Broadcasters.

He also served his country as Chairman of the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science (NCLIS) and as Chairman of the First White House Conference on Library and Information Services, held in November of 1979. He continued to serve on the NCLIS for another five years, during which time he was unanimously elected Chairman Emeritus.

He and his wife, Marjorie, established the Benton Foundation in honor of his father, William, a public servant and U.S. Senator.

These are only a few of his many accomplishments. Throughout his life, Charles Benton shined the spotlight on the link between communications, media, education, and democracy. To learn more about his life and his achievements, read his obituary[1] on the Benton Foundation website.

This from Chris:

We are deeply saddened at Charles’ passing but incredibly inspired by his life. Every time we interacted with Charles, we came away with fresh energy to work in this space. I cannot think of a time when he wasn’t smiling during our conversations — his passion and optimism will carry on.

Charles Benton, and support from the Benton Foundation, were instrumental in our ability to publish Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks[2]. The report is an in-depth look at the municipal fiber optic networks in Chattanooga, TN, Lafayette, LA, and Bristol, VA.

We miss you, Charles.

Photo of Charles Benton from the Benton Foundation

  1. read his obituary:
  2. Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks:

Source URL:

Public Officials Must Say No to Amazon’s Request for Tax Breaks

by Olivia LaVecchia | April 30, 2015 10:48 am

This piece was written by ILSR’s Olivia LaVecchia, and first ran as an op-ed[1] in the Star Tribune.

The news that Amazon wants to expand its footprint in Minnesota — but only if it wins significant public subsidies — should put both taxpayers and public officials on high alert.

Amazon is seeking about $5 million in tax breaks to build a new distribution center in Shakopee, not including the costs of significant upgrades to infrastructure and roads. In announcing the project, Shakopee Mayor Brad Tabke heralded the news as “economic development.”

If economic development means quality new jobs and a stronger economy, then the research suggests that subsidizing Amazon’s warehouse would result in just the opposite.

Amazon is a master at getting money out of local governments. A December 2014 report from Good Jobs First, a nonprofit research group that tracks public subsidies, found that Amazon has won $419 million in subsidies from local and state governments. Amazon is big enough that it doesn’t actually need tax breaks to finance its expansion, which means that these subsidies serve mainly to increase its profit and enlarge private wealth, like the $30.5 billion fortune of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

  1. first ran as an op-ed:
  2. (more…):

Source URL:

The benefits of public solid waste services: Lessons for Toronto

by Neil Seldman | April 29, 2015 10:46 am

Public municipal solid waste services are fundamental to the quality of life in our communities. How we collect and dispose of our garbage and recycling is essential to our health, our environmental future and the appearance of our cities and towns.

Landfills are reaching the end of their lifespan, and carry a high financial and environmental price. Extended producer responsibility legislation and a decline in the market price of recyclables add to the pressure on municipalities struggling to deliver high-quality, affordable public services.

In order to meet these challenges, it is vital that municipalities retain accountability, flexibility and control when it comes to their solid waste services. Publicly-delivered services are efficient, committed to service and environmental sustainability, and accountable to the public.

Read the full story here[1] from the Canadian Union of Public Employees, March 27, 2015

  1. Read the full story here:

Source URL:

Update on Digital Rights

by Neil Seldman | April 21, 2015 6:06 pm

Do citizens and businesses have a right to repair their computers and related products? ILSR asked Sophia MacDonald to describe the efforts of Digital Right to Repair Coalition[1] (DRTR) to secure these rights for consumers.    See ILSR’s story, Repair & re-sell: Do you have the right to fix your own gadgets? [2]

New York State’s pro-repair legislation is under consideration (S3998 and A6068) . It can be a game changer by influencing other states to undertake similar legislation which reduces costs, increases repair and reuse of machines and reduces the environmental footprint of the electronics sector. Repair and non-profit enterprises also helps bridge the digital divide in the US by making powerful machines available to low income schools, organizations, families and individuals.

New Yorker’s Can Take Action: Tell Your State Legislators to Support S 3998 and A6068[3]

Digital Right to Repair Coalition focuses on all products which include digital electronic parts. Kyle Wiens penned this piece[4] not only to promote DMCA Exemption requests filed in support of tractor repair, but also to promote Fair Repair Bills (NY and MN) and several new bills presented in Congress.  This is all part of the Coalition’s strategy.

Another story from Wired Magazine –  We Can’t Let John Deere Destroy the Very Idea of Ownership [5]

  1. Digital Right to Repair Coalition: http:/
  2. Repair & re-sell: Do you have the right to fix your own gadgets? :
  3. Tell Your State Legislators to Support S 3998 and A6068:
  4. penned this piece:
  5. We Can’t Let John Deere Destroy the Very Idea of Ownership :

Source URL:

Small Business Lending by Size of Institution, 2014

by Olivia LaVecchia | April 20, 2015 12:39 pm

placeholder[1]In 2014, community-based financial institutions made 60 percent of all small business loans, even though they controlled only 24 percent of banking assets. For more detail on why small banks do so much more small business lending, see our article, “Banks and Small Business Lending[2].”

Chart: Share of Loans Made to Small Businesses, 2014.[3]

Chart: Bank market share, 2014.[4]

  1. [Image]:
  2. Banks and Small Business Lending:
  3. [Image]:
  4. [Image]:

Source URL:

Just How Concentrated Is Our Banking Sector? [Video]

by Olivia LaVecchia | April 20, 2015 12:07 pm


As a result of changes in regulations and public policy, over the past 20 years, giant banks have devoured the banking sector. This 90-second video shows just how concentrated the banking industry has become.


  1. [Image]:

Source URL:

Testimony to Congress: Overhaul Federal Policy to Support Strong Local Economies

by Stacy Mitchell | April 16, 2015 4:55 pm

This week, I had the opportunity to share ILSR’s research with members of Congress at a hearing[1] organized by the Congressional Progressive Caucus.  The forum, chaired by Representatives Keith Ellison and Raúl Grijalva, focused on how federal contracting and other forms of financial support for business should be overhauled to reflect American values and build the kind of economy we need.  The hearing featured perspectives from both low-wage workers and independent businesses.

As I noted in my testimony, much of federal policy now works to bend the marketplace in favor of big corporations, putting both workers and small businesses at a competitive disadvantage. Federal subsidies,  tax credits, loan guarantees, and other public benefits skew heavily in favor of large, low-wage corporations over responsible small businesses.

I highlighted one opportunity in particular for reform: loan guarantees provided by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).  Over the last ten years, the SBA has backed loans to over 30,000 retail and fast food franchises, like Quiznos and Subway.  Not only do these outlets often pay rock-bottom wages, but the local entrepreneurs who ostensibly own these businesses generally have very little control over them and forfeit much of the revenue to the franchise parent company.   Worse, more than one in four of these businesses failed, leaving both the local owner and the SBA on the hook, while the franchise parent company made off with sizable profits and no liability for the default.

The eligibility criteria for SBA loan guarantees, ILSR believes, should be revised to eliminate support for low-wage franchises and instead expand lending for independent businesses that contribute to the well-being of their communities.

Watch a video with excerpts from this testimony here[2].

Testimony of Stacy Mitchell
Co-Director, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Ad Hoc Hearing of the Congressional Progressive Caucus
April 15, 2015

Good afternoon, Congressman Grijalva, Congressman Ellison, and other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Thank you for the opportunity to testify here today. (more…)[3]

  1. hearing:
  2. here:
  3. (more…):

Source URL:

Can Other Cities Match Georgetown’s Low-Cost Switch to 100% Wind and Sun?

by John Farrell | April 14, 2015 2:02 pm

This is probably not the first place you’ve read about Georgetown, TX, the town of 55,000 that will be getting the equivalent of 100% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2017. But few articles hit upon the two key reasons Georgetown was able to make this move when so many other cities with abundant renewable resources (e.g. Tucson, AZ[1]) are stuck with a majority-coal-fired electricity supply.

If cities had these keys, many could obtain 100% renewable energy at a surprisingly low cost.

Key #1: Local Ownership

Just 1 in 7 Americans gets their electricity from one of about 2,000 municipal utilities, but these locally controlled utilities allow a community to chart its own electric future. It’s the key behind Palo Alto’s surge toward carbon neutral electricity[2], toward Austin’s 35% renewable by 2020 goal[3], and Sacramento’s ability to pursue a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from electricity by 2050[4].

Unfortunately, this local self-determination isn’t enough, because there are many other municipal utilities with only a pittance of renewable energy on their grid system. And that leads to…

Key #2: No Contracts

The Georgetown municipal utility closed its last power plant in 1945, and has contracted with third parties to provide electricity ever since. With the expiration of its major supply contract in 2012[5], it was free to sign new contracts. This freedom is what has allowed other utilities like tiny Farmers Electric Cooperative in Iowa to become the number one solar utility in the country[6].

Georgetown didn’t pursue renewable energy for environmental reasons, but simply because it was the best investment for their customers. The 150 megawatts of solar PV and 145 megawatts of wind power will supply as much as double the town’s annual electricity use, ensuring sufficient supply year round even with fluctuations in sunshine and wind, and allow the town to sell the excess into Texas electricity markets. As attractive as the price—which was lower than the town’s current wholesale electricity costs[7]—the solar and wind contracts have zero volatility because they have zero fuel cost, insulating Georgetown electric customers from rising fossil fuel prices.

Self-Reliance not Self-Sufficiency

It’s worth noting that the solar and wind contracts don’t mean that Georgetown will be completely reliant on the sun and wind. Their grid remains interconnected to the rest of the Texas electricity system, so in periods of zero wind and zero sun, the town can still tap into the ERCOT spot market for power. However, the wind and solar resource tend to balance one another. As the city’s press release[8] notes, “This means that wind power can most often fill power demand when the sun isn’t shining.”

A Low Cost Copy?

Could other cities follow suit? If they had the two keys that Georgetown did, almost certainly. ILSR’s analysis suggests that path to 100% renewable energy is surprisingly inexpensive.

Our approach was to analyze the path to 100% renewable energy via wind and solar power alone, for the largest municipal electric utility in each state (i.e. cities with Key #1, and hopefully a timeline to obtain Key #2). The following map shows that 15 of the largest city-owned electric companies (mostly in the Midwest) could contract for 100% renewable energy at 7.5¢ per kilowatt-hour (kWh) or less. Another 18 could do so for less than 9¢ per kWh. The final 14 could contract for 100% wind and solar for 10.3¢ per kWh or less. Detailed assumptions and calculations are shown at the bottom of this post.

everyone a georgetown 100pct renewable energy municipal ILSR[9]

The map is pretty clear: Georgetown may be the first municipal utility to procure 100% renewable energy (and not just renewable energy credits), but it won’t be the last. As costs continue to fall for renewable energy, many more cities can make the rapid shift to 100% wind and sun.

Photo credit: Jim Nix[10] via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license)

This article originally posted at[11]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[12] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[13] update.



The cost of solar and solar resource potential was calculated using the National Renewable Energy Laboratory System Advisor Model, with an installed cost of $2.55/Watt, $20 per kilowatt annual maintenance costs, use of both federal accelerated depreciation and 30% tax credit, financing 100% of the system cost at 8% interest on a 10 year loan, a 5% real discount rate over 25 years, and a 2¢ per kWh margin for the developer.

The cost of wind power was calculated by ILSR assuming an installed cost of $1.63/Watt (source[14]), $49 per kilowatt annual maintenance costs, use of federal accelerated depreciation but no tax credits, financing 100% of the system cost at 8% interest on a 10 year loan, a 6% real discount rate over 20 years, and a 1¢ per kWh margin for the developer. The wind resource was based on a weighted average of Wind Action’s 2011-13 capacity factor analysis where available, LBNL’s Wind Technologies Market Report or an ILSR estimate of 20% capacity factor (used for all states in the Southeast with no current wind power installed).

The reported cost on the map is the weighted average price of power, based on the mix of wind and solar resources.

Renewable Energy Mix

Cities (the largest municipal utility in each state) were assumed to get a minimum of sufficient wind and solar capacity to meet their annual peak energy use, from each technology (e.g. a city with a 150 MW peak use would acquire a minimum of 150 MW of solar and 150 MW of wind power). The capacity of the less expensive technology was then doubled to ensure sufficient annual output to meet the city’s energy needs (based on 2013 retail sales data from the Energy Information Administration). In 6 cities, this figure (for solar) had to be increased further to make sure that 100% of annual energy sales could be met with wind and solar energy production.

For example, Rochester, MN, has a peak energy demand of 279 MW and was assumed to purchase 279 MW of solar PV and 558 MW of wind power capacity, producing 367,000 and 1,600,000 megawatt-hours per year, respectively. The cost of purchased solar (9.3¢) was averaged with the cost of purchased wind power (6.6¢) to get a blended cost of 100% wind and sun of 7.1¢ per kWh.

  1. Tucson, AZ:
  2. Palo Alto’s surge toward carbon neutral electricity:
  3. Austin’s 35% renewable by 2020 goal:
  4. 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from electricity by 2050:
  5. expiration of its major supply contract in 2012:
  6. Farmers Electric Cooperative in Iowa to become the number one solar utility in the country:
  7. lower than the town’s current wholesale electricity costs:
  8. press release:
  9. [Image]:
  10. Jim Nix:
  12. Twitter:
  13. Democratic Energy weekly:
  14. source:

Source URL:

Tale of Comcast Woe

by Lisa Gonzalez | April 9, 2015 12:06 pm

Ideally, working from home allows one to choose the environment where he or she can be most productive. In the case of Seth that was Kitsap County in Washington State. Unfortunately, incompetence on the part of Comcast, CenturyLink, and official broadband maps led Seth down a road of frustration that will ultimately require him to sell his house in order to work from home.

The Consumerist recently reported on Seth’s story, the details of which ring true to many readers who have ever dealt with the cable behemoth. This incident is another example of how the cable giant has managed to retain its spotless record as one of the most hated companies in America.

Seth, a software developer, provides a detailed timeline of his experience[1] on his blog. In his intro:

Late last year we bought a house in Kitsap County, Washington — the first house I’ve ever owned, actually. I work remotely full time as a software developer, so my core concern was having good, solid, fast broadband available. In Kitsap County, that’s pretty much limited to Comcast, so finding a place with Comcast already installed was number one on our priority list.

We found just such a place. It met all of our criteria, and more. It had a lovely secluded view of trees, a nice kitchen, and a great home office with a separate entrance. After we called (twice!) to verify that Comcast was available, we made an offer.

The Consumerist correctly describes the next three months as “Kafkaesque.” Comcast Technicians appear with no notice, do not appear for scheduled appointments, and file mysteriously misplaced “tickets” and “requests.” When technicians did appear as scheduled, they are always surprised by what they saw: no connection to the house, no Comcast box on the dwelling, a home too far away from Comcast infrastructure to be hooked up. Every technician sent to work on the problem appeared with no notes or no prior knowledge of the situation.

It was the typical endless hamster wheel with cruel emotional torture thrown in for sport. At times customer service representatives Seth managed to reach over the phone would build up his hopes, telling him that his requests were in order, progress was being made behind the scenes, that it was only a matter of time before his Internet access was up and running. Then after a period of silence, Seth would call, and he would be told that whatever request he was waiting for was nonexistent, “timed out,” or in one instance had actually been completed.

Seth usually had to be the one to make the call to Comcast for follow up. There was one notable exception, however on February 26th:

Oh, this is fun. I got a call from a generic Comcast call center this morning asking me why I cancelled my latest installation appointment. Insult to injury, they started to up-sell me on all the great things I’d be missing out on if I didn’t reschedule! I just hung up.

In mid-March, Comcast discussed the possibility of building out its network to Seth’s house but he would have to pay for at least a portion of the costs; he was interested. Pre-survey estimates were up to $60,000. A week later, Comcast contacted Seth and told him that they would not do the extension even if Seth paid for the entire thing.

Comcast was not the only provider Seth contacted. When he first learned that Comcast did not connect his home, he contacted CenturyLink. He was told by a customer service tech he would be hooked up right away but the company called him the next day to tell him that CenturyLink would not be serving his needs. They were not adding new customers in his area.

Nevertheless, he was charged more than $100 for service he never could have received. Seth had to jump through hoops to get his “account” zeroed out. CenturyLink’s website showed that they DID serve Seth’s address, reports the Consumerist and, even though they have claimed to have updated the problem, the error remained as of March 23rd.

Official maps created by the state based on data supplied by providers, are grossly incorrect. As a result, Seth’s zip code is supposedly served by a number of providers. While that may be true on paper, it doesn’t do Seth much good. A number of those providers, including Comcast and CenturyLink (as Seth is painfully aware) do not serve his home. Satellite does not cannot the VPN connection he needs due to latency inherent in satellite Internet connections. He is using cellular wireless as a last resort now, but only as a short term solution because it is limited and expensive.

Ironically, Seth’s new home is not far from the Kitsap Public Utility District fiber network. Because state barriers require the Kitsap PUD to operate the network as a wholesale only model, however, Seth cannot hook up for high-speed Internet. He would only be able to connect if a provider chose to use the infrastructure to offer services to him.

Here we have the perfect storm of harmful state barriers, corporate gigantism, and “incumbetence.” From his blog:

I’m devastated. This means we have to sell the house. The house that I bought in December, and have lived in for only two months.

I don’t know where we go from here. I don’t know if there’s any kind of recourse. I do know that throughout this process, Comcast has lied. I don’t throw that word around lightly or flippantly, I mean it sincerely. They’ve fed me false information from the start, and it’s hurt me very badly.

This whole thing would have been avoided if only Comcast had said, right at the start, that they didn’t serve this address. Just that one thing would have made me strike this house off the list.

I don’t know exactly how much money I’m going to lose when I sell, but it’s going to be substantial. Three months of equity in a house isn’t a lot of money compared to sellers fees, excise taxes, and other moving expenses.

So, good bye dream house. You were the first house I ever owned, I’ll miss you.

But putting all the blame on Comcast ignores the failed public policy that allows Comcast to act like this. Providers like Comcast lobbied legislators and DC to ensure no map could be created that would be useful. The carriers have refused to turn over data at a granular level that would prevent these mistakes from happening. And whether it is the states, the NTIA, or the FCC, they have wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on maps that do little more than allow carriers to falsely claim there is no broadband problem in this country.

And we have utterly failed to hold our elected leaders to account for this corrupt system. Something needs to change – but it won’t until people stand up and demand an end to these stories.


  1. detailed timeline of his experience:

Source URL:

Update on One-Bin Systems in Medina, OH, and Houston, TX

by Neil Seldman | April 8, 2015 5:31 pm

Texas Campaign for the Environment (TCE) and the Zero Waste Houston coalition have been organizing for two years against a misguided proposal to replace an increasingly successful single-stream recycling program with a dirty MRF, referred to as a ‘one-bin’ system. A stream of support from many groups has aided our efforts across the country that have weighed in on a decision that would likely impact other cities’ recycling and composting goals not just in Texas.

See One Bin posts by Neil Seldman, ILSR[1].

The news account below of the Envision Waste dirty MRF in Medina, Ohio is the latest report on the poor performance of this technology. The system reached a recycling rate of less than 4%.

Local governments should commit to the education and other investment necessary to increase sorting of discards and compost at the source. Communities can rethink, reduce, reuse, compost and recycle as we have seen in scores of cities and counties in the U.S. that have gone beyond 50%, some reaching over 60% by traditional recycling methods. Fast track alternative like dirty MRFs and incinerators merely perpetuate the mindless cycle of wasteful product and toxic byproduct. They also present taxpayers with financial boondoggles.

Most recently, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle found that bidders on the City of Houston’s “One Bin for All” program have raised serious questions about the feasibility and costs of the project even if it would not include expensive incineration technologies such as gasification.

See City’s One Bin proposals raise financial, technology concerns[2] – Houston Chronicle, March 29, 2015

See Ohio county hits mixed-waste processing crossroads[3] – Resource Recycling, April 7, 2015

Mayor Annise Parker, however, says that her administration has not come to a conclusion about whether or not to move forward with a remaining bidder, and she will make that conclusion at some point before she leaves office in November. For now, Zero Waste advocates in the City are celebrating that all neighborhoods are finally enrolled in the existing single-stream recycling program, and they are encouraging Mayor Parker to pass a Zero Waste Plan that would expand composting programs and apartments recycling as part of a strategy to reduce 90% or more of waste from landfills in the next few decades. Austin has a zero waste goal and San Antonio and Dallas also have long-term plans to reach over 60% and 80% diversion respectively in the next few decades.

Note: Information for this article from Melanie Scruggs, Texas Campaign for the Environment[4].

  1. See One Bin posts by Neil Seldman, ILSR:
  2. City’s One Bin proposals raise financial, technology concerns:
  3. Ohio county hits mixed-waste processing crossroads:
  4. Texas Campaign for the Environment:

Source URL:

How to Maximize the Economic, Environmental and Social Value of E-Scrap: Does EPR Make A Difference?

by Neil Seldman | April 7, 2015 12:52 pm

There are two highly successful non-profit, community based e scrap enterprises operating in Oregon. They have stellar records of efficiency and integrity. They are rivers of wealth for the two cities in which they thrive.

The NextStep[1] in Eugene, OR is a repair and distribution center founded in Lorraine Kerwood’s garage as MacRenewal. By 2002 NextStep was a formal non-profit corporation with many awards and accolades to follow. It now has 37 workers plus 12 volunteers/mentors comprised of regular folks as well as highly skilled technicians and trainers. The organization has trained over 15,000 participants with computer and social skills required for fulfilling jobs and careers.

The key to the operation is access to old but powerful machines generated by local government agencies, businesses, households and institutions and donated to the non-profit. “NextStep works with CEOs and janitors to keep up the flow of repairable inventory,” remarks Kerwood.  “It is these relationships that are the mainstay of our program.”

Since its start up, NextStep has handled over 3.5 million pounds of e scrap.  Repaired products are both sold and donated to low-income individuals, schools and community organizations, creating a closed loop of generators and customers.

Starting in 2000, Kerwood served as the Macintosh refurbisher for FreeGeek in Portland, traveling up the coast once each week to collect Macs, as FreeGeek’s initial focus was LINUX OS installs.  When Mac hardware became available friendly enough to LINUX installs, FreeGeek took on Macs.

FreeGeek[2] operates a similar non-profit entity from a city-block sized facility in Portland. Since 2000, FreeGeek also functions as a community based social enterprise. Donations of computers and related electronic products are dropped off at the main facility or satellite sites. In 2014, FreeGeek handled an estimated 700,000 pounds of e scrap. A staff of 38 workers and an average of 500 volunteers per month process the incoming products. Repaired products are made available for free through grant applications from non-profit organizations. Other repaired products are sold at the main thrift store and on line through EBay. The bulk of sales revenue derive from computers, printers, cables, audiovisual equipment, power strips and monitors. Steel and non-ferrous metals are sold to local scrap dealers. Free Geek must pay to dispose of plastics.

Free Geek, like NextStep, relies on word of mouth and on going relationships with local e scrap generators. Both NextStep and FreeGeek rarely get products through the state’s licensed processors/consolidators. These enterprises shred e scrap for recycling.

The OR e scrap law created in 2006 is a highly regulated e scrap Extended Producer Responsibility Program.  Registered companies collect and process e scrap in association with Original Equipment Manufacturers. Since the EPR law has lead to the centralization of collection with limited access to repairable products, NextStep and FreeGeek probably would not exist if they had not emerged prior to the Oregon EPR law. They had years to develop their network of donor relationships with schools, government agencies, businesses and individuals; as well as a constituency/market for their end products.

Is there a lesson here for states contemplating e scrap EPR programs or states that have them and want to improve efficiency and value added to the local economy? There are excellent models of non-EPR e scrap programs that stimulate local enterprise development and localize value added. California’s advanced deposit system allows for redistribution of funds to collectors and processors, thus building the infrastructure for long term economic growth. (The California container deposit system also builds infrastructure for recycling and supports excellent training programs for young workers.)

What is needed is for EPR and take-back advocates to incorporate local reuse in their policies and programs. A debate on these issues is sorely needed as the shredding of valuable machines for the convenience of Brand Name OEM companies is too high a price to pay when we know what local reuse can accomplish in jobs, skill, environmental, social and economic pay back.

In my home town, Washington, DC, the value added opportunities can provide decent jobs, new small companies and help bring relief to the city’s underclass separated from the American dream by a deep digital divide. Yet, new legislation on e scrap gives control of this socially and economically invaluable resource to the Brand Name computer industry with no concern for keeping this resource local. What DC and all jurisdictions need is some quality control on EPR: How to use the fastest growing part of the waste stream to solve endemic social and economic problems. Recycling of e scrap is not enough! We need policy research to identify a fix for existing EPR e scrap laws and a model for maximum value from e scrap discards. EPR has a role surely. But what is it exactly?

  1. The NextStep:
  2. FreeGeek:

Source URL:

Freedom to Connect – Long Term Muni Strategies

by Rebecca Toews | April 2, 2015 4:35 pm

If you were not able to attend Freedom to Connect in New York on March 2 – 3[1], you can now view archived video of presentations from Chris and others.

Now that the FCC has made a determination that may change the landscape of Internet access, it is time to consider the future of municipal networks. In this discussion, Chris discusses passive infrastructure, including dark fiber and open access[2]models as a way to encourage competition on the local level. Chris also looks at financing municipal networks in a fashion that takes into account public benefits created by fiber. He suggests steps elected officials can take now that will contribute to long term ubiquitous access in their communities.

You can also watch videos from other presenters including Joanne Hovis, Hannah Sassaman, and Jim Baller at the F2C: Freedom to Connect 2015 Livestream page[3].

Chris’s presentation is posted here and runs just over 20 minutes:


  1. Freedom to Connect in New York on March 2 – 3:
  2. open access:
  3. F2C: Freedom to Connect 2015 Livestream page:

Source URL:

Why Utilities Are Hating on Their Solar-Producing Customers

by John Farrell | April 1, 2015 9:50 am

I have the privilege of talking to a lot of reporters about rooftop solar energy, and particularly about why utilities seem hell bent on stopping their customers from using their own money to add clean, renewable energy to the electric grid. If this seems confusing to you, too, here’s a quick primer with some key resources.

Utilities Don’t View Customer-Owned Solar Power as a Resource

mn value of solar v cost[1]Read a utility integrated resource plan (their 15-year plan for the electric grid), and you can see an electric utility wax eloquent about a shiny new 100 megawatt power plant that could provide energy during peak energy periods with zero fuel cost. But if instead of a big utility-built power plant we’re talking about 10,000 individual solar arrays on customer rooftops, utilities lose all perspective.

Most utilities see a solar array on a customer rooftop the same as they see an energy efficient refrigerator. It means the customer buys less electricity. In some states, policies called “decoupling” tend to hold utilities harmless to these sales losses in order to encourage more investment in cost-effective energy efficiency. But with solar, utilities tend to ignore the benefits that this energy provides to the electricity system unless someone tells them to account for it.

In Minnesota, for example, the state legislature passed a “value of solar[2]” program that requires the state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, to calculate how much solar energy is worth to its grid. In 2014 and 2015, the utility has reported that the value of solar energy is higher than the cost to the utility in buying it from customers via net metering. Other studies have shown similar results, including one in Maine[3], in Missouri[4], and in many other states[5].

Faced with compelling evidence of the value of customer-produced solar power, why haven’t utilities come around?

The Utility Business Model Seems Broken

For most investor-owned (for profit) utilities in particular, this new data can’t be squared with their old business model. In a study by the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, researchers found that the ratepayer impact of lots of customer-owned solar is quite small[6], but the larger impact falls on utility shareholders. Solar may mean modest revenue reductions for electric utilities, but by offsetting the need for new, large-scale power plants, solar’s real threat is in choking off the for-profit utility’s source of shareholder returns. The following graphic from the report shows the impact of distributed solar on two hypothetical utilities’ shareholders—return on equity (ROE) and earnings—and also on retail electric rates—ordinary ratepayers.

solar impact on utility ROE earnings rates[7]

In short, a utility that’s spent the past several decades making money by selling more electricity and building new infrastructure doesn’t look favorably on a competitor.

Municipal utilities and rural electric cooperatives don’t have this dissonance between shareholders and customers, but the notion of customer-provided power as a resource is often just as shocking.

It Seems Easier to Fight Than Innovate

In a competitive business it would seem mad to fight your own customers, but most utilities aren’t in competition (even in states where there is competition in selling electricity to ultimate customers, the ownership of the distribution grid remains a monopoly). That means there are only a few prominent examples of utilities—such as Green Mountain Power[8] and Farmers Electric Cooperative[9]—working to change yesterday’s business model to accommodate today’s technology.

For the rest of electric utilities, they’ve largely chosen to fight their customers rather than accommodate the rise of distributed, customer-owned renewable energy. But that choice is because while they see distributed renewable energy as an opportunity, most have no idea how to make a business around it[10].

In Wisconsin, electric utilities have shifted more of the monthly bill onto fixed charges, reducing the incentive for their customers to save energy with solar (or any other manner). In Arizona, utilities are slapping fees on solar energy producers, to recoup their lost revenue. In over half of U.S. states (shown below in red), utilities have introduced legislative or regulatory proceedings to fight their customers over solar energy[11].

freedom to generate under fire ILSR 2015-0325[12]

The state-by-state battles are part of a coordinated effort by utility executives to address what they see as “a serious, long-term threat to the survival of traditional electricity providers[13].”

So far, utilities have lost more than they’ve won, but even in winning individual battles utilities may still lose the war because their “victories” in containing customer generated solar power are temporary props to an electricity system that is increasingly archaic.

The Electricity System is Fundamentally Changing

It’s easy to pick on electric companies for overlooking the value of their customer’s energy (and for lashing out with retrograde policies), but it’s not entirely their fault. The 100-year-old rules of the electricity system—written by legislatures and governed by public regulatory commissions—granted most electric companies a monopoly over their area of the electric grid. Even as some states introduced competition in selling power to ultimate customers, utilities maintain over the distribution poles and wires that bring power to homes and businesses (and thus much of the power). This monopoly made sense in the 20th century to raise capital for large-scale, low-cost power generation. It worked, giving us reliable and affordable electricity (at any environmental price). It gave utilities comfortable, reliable returns on their investments from regulators at Public Utilities Commissions.

In an era of incremental change where stability was prized over innovation, this monopoly was largely in the public interest.

No more[14].

Consider the difference between a 20th century and 21st century electricity system. In the 20th century, power was generated in large-scale power plants at a distance from population centers, sent by large transmission lines to cities, and managed in a centralized, top-down fashion by a monopoly electric company. There was no viable alternative to this model.

Today, we can generate power on rooftops or farm fields, manage it in real-time with smart thermostats or appliances, and control it remotely with smartphone apps and automation software. In this environment, do we need a traditional, top-down electric utility?

Most utilities won’t change by themselves, however. The inertia and cultural stagnation of monopoly make them much better at playing defense than offense. That has regulators in at least one state, New York, saying “no.”

The Reforming the Energy Vision[15] process just released its first orders, and among them the New York regulators are telling utilities that they will no longer own and operate distributed renewable energy resources. It’s the first step toward flattening the electricity system, from a one-way, top-down grid to a massively networked and democratized[16] energy delivery marketplace. Similar processes are underway in Washington, Minnesota[17], and other states.

Electric Utilities Use Enormous Power to Resist

Imagine how typewriter companies felt upon the introduction of personal computers, how landline phone companies felt a decade ago. Electric utility executives are in a similar position, locked in an outdated paradigm and without a strategy for reaching a different future.

The key difference is that electric companies wield enormous market and political power over their system. They have publicly-sanctioned monopolies, and huge streams of monopoly-shielded revenue they use to hire lobbyists and lawyers to dominate state legislatures and utility commissions. Open Secrets tracks electric utility lobbying at the federal level and reports that utilities collectively spent $121 million on lobbying Congress in 2014[18], and an additional $16.5 million in contributions to legislators. Lobbying is even more intense at the state level, where most regulation takes place. For example, Florida’s four largest utilities collectively employ one lobbyist for every two legislators[19] in that state.

In nearly every fight to align the electricity system with the technological and economic opportunity—energy efficiency, renewable energy, net metering—utilities have pitted their resources squarely against progress.

Get to the Root Cause

The best analogy for today’s battle for the electricity system might be the AT&T telephone monopoly. In the early years, users couldn’t even connect third party devices to the telephone network and AT&T could wield its monopoly power to quash market or political competition. In the end, the government rightly recognized that breaking up the monopoly and introducing competition (for long distance service, at least) was the only way to reduce AT&T’s economic and political power.

Electric utilities are right that distributed renewable energy like rooftop solar threatens their business model. But that model is increasingly out of step with the interests of the modern electricity customer, from energy efficiency to clean energy to energy management. States have papered over the inconsistencies with policies mandating renewable energy and energy efficiency—the utility leaders in renewable energy and energy efficiency almost all hail from states with the best policies[20]—but only at great political cost and over the strident objection of utility companies.

The root cause of the battle between utilities and their (captive) customers is the utility monopoly. And the best hope for a democratic energy system is to smash it.


Photo credit: Mike Fleming[21] via Flickr (CC BY 2.0 license)

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

  1. [Image]:
  2. value of solar:
  3. Maine:
  4. Missouri:
  5. many other states:
  6. the ratepayer impact of lots of customer-owned solar is quite small:
  7. [Image]:
  8. Green Mountain Power:
  9. Farmers Electric Cooperative:
  10. no idea how to make a business around it:
  11. fight their customers over solar energy:
  12. [Image]:
  13. a serious, long-term threat to the survival of traditional electricity providers:
  14. No more:
  15. Reforming the Energy Vision:
  16. massively networked and democratized:
  17. Washington, Minnesota:
  18. utilities collectively spent $121 million on lobbying Congress in 2014:
  19. one lobbyist for every two legislators:
  20. states with the best policies:
  21. Mike Fleming:
  23. Twitter:
  24. Democratic Energy weekly:

Source URL:

The Politics of the NCAA Sweet Sixteen

by David Morris | March 25, 2015 10:48 am

When television cameras zoomed in on Kansas Governor Sam Brownback in the middle of the Kansas-Wichita State NCAA basketball game a thunderous chorus of boos broke out. Viewers gained a rare glimpse of the politics behind March Madness. The announcers pointedly ignored the boos.

Viewers might have been better served if the announcers had offered some context for the crowd’s hostility. Both the University of Kansas and Wichita State are public universities. Brownback and the Republican dominated legislature have savaged state university budgets, resulting in rising tuition and more burdensome student debt.

In fact, twelve of the Sweet Sixteen teams are state universities. (Three are Catholic schools. Duke is the only non-religious private school.) Eleven play in states totally controlled by Republicans. (UCLA is the only team in a totally blue state.) In virtually all of these state spending on state universities has been slashed. Between 2008 and 2014 per capita state spending for state universities, adjusted for inflation, has shrunk[1] by more than 40 percent in Arizona, almost 30 percent in Michigan, about 25 percent in Utah and Wisconsin. And in 2015, even though their state economies have significantly improved, many red states are seeking to further punish their state universities. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, for example, has just proposed[2] a budget that would decrease spending on public universities by $300 million over the next two years, the steepest reduction in state history.

The largely student crowds at NCAA games may also be upset that their states justify cutting spending on state universities in order to reduce state deficits when the deficits have been caused almost entirely by tax reductions that overwhelmingly favor the wealthy. Since taking office in 2011, Walker has steered[3] over $2 billion in tax cuts through the Republican-dominated Wisconsin legislature. By one estimate[4] the state of Kansas lost $803 million in 2014 because of 2012 tax cuts and the cumulative revenue loss will exceed $5 billion by 2019.

While the vast majority of NCAA teams in the Sweet Sixteen play in red states, almost all play in blue cities: Chapel Hill, Durham, Lexington, Louisville, Madison, Tucson, Lansing, Wichita, South Bend, Norman. And many of them are blue in large part because of how their students and recent graduates vote. Responding to the needs of their constituents, blue city councils have tried to lift their income, sometimes by increasing the local minimum wage. But when they try, red state legislatures often step in and strip them of their authority to do so.

In 2007, when Madison, home to the University of Wisconsin raised the local minimum wage, the legislature passed a bill to preempt its right to do so but the effort failed when Democratic Governor Jim Doyle vetoed the bill. In 2011, however, Republican Governor Walker signed a bill abolishing any Wisconsin city from enacting a local minimum wage higher than the state’s. That bill became a template used by more than a dozen other red states, most recently Oklahoma, to enact their own preemption statutes.

For the next week, we can concentrate on basketball and marvel at the remarkable athletes playing their hearts out and set politics aside. But perhaps, maybe during the commercials, we can reflect on the fact that the vast majority of these games are being played by teams from public universities in states whose governments are hostile to public universities and whose policies increase the already considerable financial burden on the students at these universities.









  1. shrunk:
  2. proposed:
  3. steered:
  4. estimate:

Source URL:

Listen: Can an Old Utility (dog) Learn New Tricks?

by John Farrell | March 16, 2015 10:29 am

Arnie Arnesen interviewed ILSR’s Director of Democratic Energy John Farrell[1] on WNHN’s The Attitude last week, seeking an answer to this question: can we expect electric utilities to embrace the energy sources of the future, like solar?

Electric Utilities Play by the (Old) Rules

Arnie and John discussed the hesitance of utilities to embrace innovation and new, clean technology. In many states, utilities are fighting back against clean, local energy[2] by fighting rules like net metering and proposing taxes and fees on solar producers.

As Arnie says, “Whenever you talk solar, for some reason you find John Farrell”


John suggested that we can’t expect better if the rules of the system remain mired in the 20th century.

Utilities have been given monopolies and the charge of delivering reliable, affordable power. They’ve done that job effectively, to the exclusion of anything else, and the decades of inertia make it hard for utilities to change.

John shared an anecdote from his recent trip to Tucson, where a utility employee noted that their conservative institution doesn’t innovate, doesn’t do “beta tests.” The utility in question gets 80% of its electricity from coal, despite being in the sunniest climate in the United States.

The utilities are reluctant to change because the old rules meant they made money from the old habits: selling more energy and building more (dirty) power plants. But what many utilities don’t realize is that change isn’t optional, because the old way can’t be profitable anymore.

What’s the New System?

Electric utilities are used to having centralized control over the grid system, but it’s a monopoly that no longer makes sense[4]. We no longer need to concentrate capital to build power plants because they can be built on rooftops and parking lots and open fields wherever there’s sun and wind. But we do need a facilitator to make sure that the grid infrastructure—the valuable network connecting all of these energy producers—can allow electric customers to transact with each other (instead of the utility).

It’s sometimes called “energy democracy[5].”

How do we Change the Rules?

Utilities will have to operate under new rules to move from centralized utility control to energy democracy. These rules will get them out of the business of selling electricity or building power plants and into the business of operating a public network for electricity system participants to transact with each other: a market.

Several states are already piloting these concepts, from Maine to California to New York. The basic premise is that the utility monopoly must be broken up, but primarily its monopoly over the distribution system—the network of poles and wires serving our neighborhoods. It’s on this network that innovation will be unleashed by customers with rooftop solar, electric vehicles, energy efficiency, and energy storage. But only if the electric utility is out of the way.

This article originally posted at[6]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[7] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[8] update.

  1. Arnie Arnesen interviewed ILSR’s Director of Democratic Energy John Farrell:
  2. utilities are fighting back against clean, local energy:
  4. it’s a monopoly that no longer makes sense:
  5. energy democracy:
  7. Twitter:
  8. Democratic Energy weekly:

Source URL:

Key Passages and Arguments From The FCC Decision to Remove Barriers to Municipal Networks in TN and NC

by Rebecca Toews | March 13, 2015 3:16 pm


CONTACT: Rebecca Toews,[1],



Key Passages and Arguments From The FCC Decision to Remove Barriers to Municipal Networks in TN and NC

The Federal Communications Commission has released the order that allows Chattanooga and Wilson, as well as many other cities in North Carolina and Tennessee, to build, expand, and partner for improved Internet access.

This decision is not the end of the fight. We expect appeals and petitions from other cities to be filed, which follow Chattanooga and Wilson’s lead. Because of this, we isolated some of the key arguments and passages in a tip sheet below.

While the ruling extends only to communities in Tennessee and North Carolina, it stands to benefit communities all over the nation that want to reap the benefits of high-quality Internet connections at lower costs by overturning laws that create barriers to Internet networks. In fact, the order offers many clues as to how this precedent may impact restrictions in other states.

“The FCC’s order is a tremendous step forward to enabling better Internet access in North Carolina, Tennessee, and ultimately the whole country,” said Chris Mitchell, director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “As an organization that cares deeply about a proper balance of power, we believe this decision represents an appropriate tradeoff between local, state, and federal authority.”


Summarizing the Decision

The FCC has found that it has the authority to remove aspects of Tennessee and North Carolina law that limit local authority to build or expand Internet networks. In short, states retain the authority to restrict municipalities from offering service at all. However, if states allow local governments to offer services, then the FCC has the power to determine whether any limitations on how they do it are a barrier to the deployment of advanced telecommunications services per its authority in section 706 of the Telecommunications Act.

The FCC has removed a restriction in Tennessee law that prevented municipalities with fiber networks from expanding to serve their neighbors, per a petition from Chattanooga.

In North Carolina, the FCC has removed multiple aspects of a 2011 law, HB 129, that effectively outlawed municipal networks by presenting local governments with a thicket of red tape, including territorial restrictions on existing networks. The city of Wilson had petitioned the FCC for this intervention.


Key Points in the FCC Decision to Remove Barriers to Local Choice (each bullet starts with the paragraph number from the order):

Read Full FCC Decision Here[2]


  2. Read Full FCC Decision Here:
  3. (more…):

Source URL:

Can a Single Union Save the Post Office?

by David Morris | March 12, 2015 3:50 pm

Let’s begin with the bad news. The U.S. Post Office, the oldest, most respected and ubiquitous of all public institutions is fast disappearing. In recent years management has shuttered half the nation’s mail processing plants and put 10 percent of all local post offices up for sale. A third of all post offices, most of them in rural areas, have had their hours slashed. Hundreds of full time, highly experienced postmasters knowledgeable about the people and the communities they serve have been dumped unceremoniously, often replaced by part timers. Ever larger portions of traditional post office operations— trucking, mail processing and mail handling– have been privatized. Close to 200,000 middle class jobs have disappeared.

Since 2012 the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has lowered service standards three times, most recently in January when in preparation for closing an additional 82 mail processing plants it announced the end of one day delivery of local first class mail and an additional 1-2 days for all mail. Subscribers to Netflix’s DVD delivery service may soon discover the cost effectiveness of a monthly subscription has been cut in half because the number of DVD’s they receive in a month has been cut in half.

The Postal Service, we are told, has fallen so deeply into debt (more on this in a moment) that it has exhausted its borrowing capacity. There’s no cash left. It’s been challenging to invest in capital projects. Post offices are in disrepair. Trucks are out of date.

Now for the good news. On November 12, 2013 a slate of insurgents won seven of nine national offices at the American Postal Workers Union (APWU). What? Can the election of new officers in a single union, even one with over 200,000 members possibly save the post office? Certainly not if they try to do it singlehandedly but there’s a chance, just a chance they could turn the tide if they build an effective national movement. And that’s what they’re trying to do.

The APWU Strategy

The APWU’s new officers are unusually experienced and talented organizers. After leading the Greater Greensboro Area Local for 12 years and co-founding the Greensboro Chapter of Jobs with Justice, President Mark Dimondstein was appointed APWU’s National Lead Field Organizer in 2000 in a new campaign to organize workers in privatized mail trucking and processing operations. That afforded him important experience in the rough and tumble world of the private sector where workers have the legal right to strike (post office workers can’t) and corporations have the legal right to do almost anything they want to thwart union organizers. The campaign had many susccesses but prolonged strikes against several companies eventually exhausted the union’s strike fund and its national leadership refused repeated requests by Dimondstein and others to replenish it,

Other new officers include Political Director John Marcotte who organized a local coalition that stopped the consolidation of his Michigan plant and Executive Vice President Debby Szeredy who led her Mid-Hudson local in fighting their plant closure. Both she and the new Clerk Craft Director Clint Burelson also participated in a hunger strike in 2012.

The activist stance of these new leaders is evident in the tactics they embrace. Dimondstein insists[1], “We’re not afraid of the streets. We’re not in the streets enough. We need to picket, march, sit-in–not leave it to lobbying or one-on-one negotiations.” He often pointedly praises the actions of postal workers who 55 years ago this March took their future into their own hands by defying union leaders and staging an illegal strike against low pay and benefits and poor working conditions. (more…)[2]

  1. insists:,12,3200,--The-American-Postal-Workers-Union-Elects-a-New-Leadership-.htm
  2. (more…):

Source URL:

Model Recycling Communities: Lane County, OR, Pop. 350,000

by Neil Seldman | March 9, 2015 4:22 pm

There is no one best way for communities to recycle. San Francisco has a highly successful program under an exclusive franchise system. Across the Bay, Berkeley has an equally successful program under a highly decentralized system based on for-profit, non-profit and government agency operations. One of the main reason why recycling grew so fast from the 1970s on, was that cities and counties learned from each other as they implemented their own unique systems. So today we have a wide variety of local recycling models.

Lane County, OR, is an interesting model for a number of reasons. Lane County is one of the only counties in Oregon that does not franchise, license or otherwise regulate garbage collection. Yet the community reached an impressive recovery rate of 61.5% in 2012. The state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) confirms that recycling and composting achieved 55.5% recovery, while the County’s backyard compost-at-home, repair and reuse and source reduction programs each earned 2% toward the total recovery rate. The rate declined to 56.9% in 2013 (see note below); recycling and composting achieved 50.9% and Lane County’s backyard composting, repair and reuse and waste prevention programs each earned 2% more as a DEQ credit toward the total recovery rate.

Residents and businesses in the County may choose among one or more private haulers each of which must provide recycling services only inside the urban growth boundaries of any city of over 4,000 and additional services in cities over 10,000. The system is overseen by city and county governments per state statutes and rules.  The Lane County Department of Public Works, Division of Waste Management operates 16 rural transfer stations to fill in the gaps in lieu of a franchise, license or other regulatory program. Lane County’s comprehensive education and outreach includes a Master Recycler Program (much like popular Master Gardener programs). This as well as their website,[1] presents a very rich and layered approach directing residents and businesses to reuse and repair shops to self-haul and transfer station recycling, with many stops in between.

The information can help cities and counties that are early in their recycling program development as well as experienced recycling jurisdictions looking for novel approaches to common challenges and opportunities.

Here are key websites for more about Lane County, OR’s broad range of programs: [2][1]

For additional information contact: Sarah Grimm, Lane County Recycling Coordinator at (541) 682-4339.

NOTE:  There is no clear reason for the decline from 2012 to 2013. Most likely factors are: continued market insecurities due to China’s Green Fence, fewer buyers of wood waste (low cost and low emissions of natural gas causing the market to fall out), voluntary reporting by scrap metal industry, accounting for contamination in co-mingled collections, and adjustment of local data to state-wide data.

  2. :

Source URL:

March 11th Waste to Wealth Event: Bringing Recycling and Composting Jobs to Baltimore

by Neil Seldman | March 6, 2015 5:26 am

The Waste to Wealth = Green Jobs event (free to attend) is being held to present the potential for developing small minority-owned companies in the reuse, recycling and composting sectors in the Baltimore area. ILSR is co-sponsoring this event.

Wed, March 11, 2015; 7pm–9pm
Baltimore City Community College
2901 Liberty Heights Ave, Baltimore, MD 21215 (map[1])

Expert Panel Includes:

* Adrienne Houel – Executive Director, Park City Green, operator of a mattress recycling plant in Bridgeport, CT
* Shabaaz Jackson – Principal, Greenway, composting designer and operator, Poughkeepsie, NY
* Mark Foster – Director, Second Chance, building deconstruction, resale, Baltimore, MD
* Sidney Wilson, Jr. – President, DoxicomGlobal, recycling hard to recycle materials, Jackson, TN
* Justen Garrity, Founder, Veteran Compost, Aberdeen, MD

The Waste to Wealth event is being held to present residents and city leaders to the potential for developing small minority-owned companies in the reuse, recycling and composting sectors. Businesses such as these are popping up all over the U.S., including many owned and operated by minority business people and community development companies.

Some of these businesses are already operating in and around Baltimore. Others would like to create joint ventures with local community development corporations and social service agencies.

Other mid-sized manufacturing firms want to locate in Baltimore, taking advantage of acres of idle industrially zoned land. One such company is Greys Paper Company of Edmonton, Canada. This company produces 100% recycled high grade paper stationery, copy paper, envelopes on a five acre site that needs 120 workers. The company has asked the Institute for Local Self-Reliance to suggest sites for several plants to be built in the U.S. in the next few years. Baltimore is an ideal site given the availability of land and location near Washington, DC – the high grade paper capital of the world. City officials in charge of economic development should attend this event to find out more.

The combination of small companies and mid-sized manufacturing based on materials and used products that can be recovered from the Baltimore waste stream can lead to over 1,000 new jobs in the city, each paying a minimum of $14/hour, some with health insurance benefits.

Information about these companies will be presented by their operators and representatives at this Baltimore Zero Waste panel and networking event.

For more information, contact Robin at 301-836-1405 or email[2].

More info here:[3]

  1. map:

Source URL:

The Other FCC Decision

by David Morris | March 5, 2015 10:05 am

On February 26th the Federal Communications Commission issued two decisions. One concerned net neutrality, the other municipal broadband. The first garnered by far the most attention, as it should. Net neutrality affects everyone and locks down a fundamental principle for Internet access.

But as another presidential campaign looms the FCC decision on municipally owned broadband may offer more fertile ground for a vigorous political debate on the role of government and the scale of governance.

The decision arose from a petition to the FCC by Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina asking it to overturn state laws that prevent them from extending their highly successful publicly owned networks to surrounding communities eager to connect. The FCC’s decision affects just those two states’ laws but will undoubtedly become a precedent to evaluate most of the other 17 states’ restrictions on municipal broadband.

Republicans grumbled at the net neutrality decision but they positively shrieked their dismay when the FCC ruled in favor of local authority. Within hours of the vote Republicans introduced a bill stripping the FCC of its authority to do so. A year ago Republicans tacked on an amendment to another bill that would have prevented the FCC from even taking up the issue. That amendment passed the House. Republicans voted[1] 221-4 in favor. It died in the Senate.

The Economic Argument: Protecting Shareholders and Taxpayers

Republicans marshal both economic and political arguments in their case against public networks. The economic argument is simply put: By pre-empting local authority Republicans are protecting shareholders from unfair competition and taxpayers from unwise investments by local governments.

That municipal telecommunications networks have unfair advantages is a well-worn trope of telecom giants and Republicans. On the face of it, the proposition is preposterous. Does anyone truly believe that Salisbury, North Carolina whose public network at the time North Carolina passed its law had only 1,000 customers and whose municipal budget was only $34 million could have a competitive advantage over Time Warner, with 14 million customers and annual revenues of $18 billion?  The compensation Time Warner paid[2] its CEO Jeffrey Bewkes for 2013 exceeded the cost[3] of Salisbury building its entire network.


  1. voted:
  2. paid:
  3. cost:
  4. (more…):

Source URL:

Blackburn and Tillis Introduce Bill Aimed to Undo FCC Decision to Restore Local Authority

by Lisa Gonzalez | March 2, 2015 10:53 am

Last week, the FCC made history[1] when it chose to restore local telecommunications authority by nullifying state barriers in Tennessee and North Carolina. Waiting in the wings were Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Senator Thom Tillis from Tennessee and North Carolina respectively, with their legislation to cut off the FCC at the knees. [A PDF of the draft legislation[2] is available online.]

Readers will remember Blackburn from last year[3]. She introduced a similar measure in the form of an amendment to an appropriations bill. Blackburn has repeatedly attributed her attempts to block local authority to her mission to preserve the rights of states. A Broadcasting and Cable article quoted her[4]:



“The FCC’s decision to grant the petitions of Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina is a troubling power grab,” Blackburn said. “States are sovereign entities that have Constitutional rights, which should be respected rather than trampled upon. They know best how to manage their limited taxpayer dollars and financial ventures.”

Thom Tillis, the other half of this Dystopian Duo, released a statement[5] just hours after the FCC decision:

“Representative Blackburn and I recognize the need for Congress to step in and take action to keep unelected bureaucrats from acting contrary to the expressed will of the American people through their state legislatures.”

Considering that networks in Chattanooga and Wilson are incredibly popular [6]and an increasing number of communities across the country are approving municipal network initatives through the ballot[7], it is obvious that Tillis is rather confused about the expressed will of the American people. He needs to sign up for our once weekly newsletter![8]

No doubt the decision will be tied up in court proceedings for some time to come as state lawmakers attempt to control what municipalities do with their own connectivity decisions.

In keeping with the drama of the recent days, I have to say, The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” If Blackburn and Tillis are so convinced the FCC is overstepping, why not let the matter be decided in the courts? They know the law is not on their side, that’s why.

We encourage you to contact your elected officials[9], and let them know that you think about the Blackburn/Tillis bill: “that dog won’t hunt,” in the words of Chairman Wheeler[10]. The victory of February 26th was a significant first step in a long road to ensuring fast, affordable, reliable Internet for every one. Let’s keep the momentum rolling.

Jim Baller is the Senior Principal of Baller Herbst Stokes & Lide, the lead counsel to Wilson and the Chattanooga EPB. You can read Jim’s full statement at the firm’s website[11]:

“This is an important moment for communities in North Carolina, Tennessee, and other states that have barriers to local investments in advanced communications networks,” said Jim Baller, senior principal of Baller Herbst Stokes & Lide. “Not only has the Commission confirmed that it has authority to remove such barriers, but it has also compiled a massive record documenting the critical role that local Internet choice can play in fostering strong, vibrant communities and in ensuring that the United States will remain a leading nation in the emerging knowledge-based global economy.”

  1. FCC made history:
  2. PDF of the draft legislation:
  3. Blackburn from last year:
  4. Broadcasting and Cable article quoted her:
  5. released a statement:
  6. incredibly popular :
  7. through the ballot:
  8. once weekly newsletter!:
  9. contact your elected officials:
  10. “that dog won’t hunt,” in the words of Chairman Wheeler:
  11. full statement at the firm’s website:

Source URL:

Who Decides?

by David Morris | February 26, 2015 4:38 pm

Who decides? Conservative Republicans in Texas are split on the issue. Darren Hodges, a Tea Party councilman in the West Texas city of Fort Stockton, fiercely defends his town’s recent decision to ban plastic bags. City officials have a “God-given right” to make that decision he tells[1] the New York Times.

James Quintero of the conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation disagrees, “What we’re arguing is that liberty, not local control, is the overriding principle that state and local policy makers should be using.” He apparently would strip communities of the right of local control, at least to regulate commercial behavior. Quintero is Director of TPPF’s Center for Local Governance. Perhaps they should change the “for” to “against.”

The new Republican Governor of Texas Greg Abbott stands with Quintero. In a speech last month to the TPPF he condemned how democracy run amok threatens Texas with becoming “California-ized.” “Large cities that represent about 75 percent of the population in this state are doing this to us,” he declared. Huh? Who does Abbott think are “us?” Might not 75 percent of the population more accurately be described as “we the people?”

Despite the Governor’s comments the debate about local authority in Texas appears vigorous.   The demise of local democracy is by no means foreordained. About a dozen Texas cities already banned plastic bags before Fort Stockton. The Times reports that many Texas cities restrict texting while driving. Twenty Texas cities approved identical ordinances that curb the interest payday lenders can charge.

In other Republican states the debate has been far less robust and public. In state after state a clear pattern has emerged. Cities legislatively address a local problem. Big business complains. State legislatures clamp down. And as Republicans become more conservative and gain control of more state governments the pace and intensity of those clamp downs have increased.

Nineteen states currently preempt[2] local minimum wage laws: Half of these laws were enacted in the last 5 years. Nineteen states restrict or abolish the right of communities to build municipally owned broadband networks. At least five states have preempted local regulation of e-cigarettes.

These efforts to circumscribe local authority often have been led and coordinated by the non-profit conservative organization, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC insists it does no lobbying but if it walks like a duck…

Consider ALEC’s role[3] in fostering state preemptions of municipal ordinances demanding that private businesses offer employees sick leave. A few months after Scott Walker shepherded a bill through the Wisconsin legislature in 2011 repealing a Milwaukee sick leave law approved by a 2008 ballot initiative supported by 69 percent of the voters, ALEC passed out copies of the bill at its Annual Meeting. Legislators were handed a target list and map of state and local paid sick leave policies[4]. In the next three years 10 more states had replicated the Wisconsin law. (In the next few weeks Missouri may become the 11th.) (more…)[5]

  1. tells:
  2. preempt:
  3. role:
  4. map of state and local paid sick leave policies:
  5. (more…):

Source URL:

The Do-It-Yourselves Downtown

by Olivia LaVecchia | February 23, 2015 3:55 pm

A new investment co-op model lets communities own and develop their commercial spaces. Though new, this model holds potential for the many neighborhoods whose business districts are decaying, controlled by distant landlords or faraway retail chains.

This article was co-published with Yes! Magazine[1].

The intersection of Central and Lowry Avenues in northeast Minneapolis is bustling. On the northwest corner is a trifecta of local businesses: A bike shop, a cooperative brewery, and a bakery, in buildings with eye-catching exteriors of rough-hewn wood and silvery porcelain bricks. The neighborhood grocery coop is one block up the street.

This commercial stretch didn’t always look like this. In 2011, where these three businesses sit, there were two vacant buildings. The empty space was not uncommon along Central Avenue, a long corridor that was created to be the Main Street of the neighborhood, but that had suffered from decades of disinvestment. While a few businesses dotted the avenue, many other storefronts were neglected.

“A lot of people looked at it as too big to tackle,” explains Leslie Watson, who lives nearby.

In 2011, a group of dedicated neighbors came together to change that. In November of that year, five of them, including Watson, became the founding board of the Northeast Investment Cooperative[2], a first-of-its-kind in the U.S. cooperative engaged in buying and developing real estate. NEIC created a structure where any Minnesota resident could join the coop for $1,000, and invest more through the purchase of different classes of non-voting stock. The group began spreading the word to prospective members, and started looking for a building to buy.

One year later, NEIC had enough members to buy the two buildings on Central Avenue for cash. The coop quickly sold one of the buildings to project partner Recovery Bike Shop, and after a gut renovation, which it funded with a 2 percent loan from the city and a loan from local Northeast Bank, it leased the other building to two young businesses that had struggled to find workable space elsewhere, Fair State Brewing Cooperative and Aki’s BreadHaus. Today, NEIC’s impact spreads beyond the intersection of Central and Lowry. It’s catalyzed the creation of new jobs, engaged its more than 200 members in reimagining their neighborhood, and given residents a way to put their capital to work in their local economy.

“Collectively, that wealth will stay in our community,” says Watson. “If you want to take the long view, that’s the goal.”

While NEIC is unique in the U.S., similar investment cooperatives are sprouting up in Canada, where they’re aided by programs designed to help them grow, as well as favorable policies. Though the model is new, and small, it holds outsize potential for the many communities struggling with northeast Minneapolis’s familiar set of problems, from business districts languishing half-vacant, to essential commercial spaces being controlled by far-away landlords or big retail chains with no regard for neighborhood needs. In the vacuum left by both traditional economic development and Wall Street’s approach to finance[3], community real estate investment cooperatives offer a glimpse of a better way to channel capital, with benefits that include new jobs in the neighborhood, strong incentives for people to shop locally, local sources for key goods, closer ties with neighbors[4], and a return on investment.

And it represents a way for these communities to do it themselves. (more…)[5]

  1. Yes! Magazine:
  2. Northeast Investment Cooperative:
  3. Wall Street’s approach to finance:
  4. closer ties with neighbors:
  5. (more…):

Source URL:

Zero Waste Community Enterprises in Atlanta

by Neil Seldman | February 18, 2015 1:58 pm

In 2009 Atlanta declared four neighborhoods within the city as zero waste zones. The effort’s goals include helping local businesses find ways to reduce trash, create jobs, save money and educate others about the advantages of zero waste.

In addition to reducing consumption, raising recycling rates, and establishing new resources for composting, Atlanta businesses and individuals must focus heavily on increasing reuse to meet their ambitious goals. They are lucky to have four growing reuse organizations that are assisting with this effort by diverting items from landfills and changing public opinion about waste. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which provides resources and information to support environmentally sound and equitable community development; and the Cascade Alliance, which helps nonprofits across the country turn discarded goods into stable revenue streams and high-quality jobs, are assisting this process.

Lifecycle Building Center

Lifecycle Building Center is one of a handful of Atlanta nonprofits recovering valuable building materials from the waste stream. Adam Deck, a longtime employee at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Raleigh, NC, wrote Lifecycle Building Center’s original business plan because he wanted to bring a building materials reuse organization to his hometown of Atlanta. Architect Shannon Goodman, who serves as the organization’s executive director, joined him after struggling to find a home for high-quality goods coming out of a demolition project she was involved in.

“It was really obvious that there was a huge opportunity to reuse commercial building materials,” she says. “There was so much great material but there was not an effective system in place to make it available to people.” Together, she and Deck set up Lifecycle Building Center and started accepting donations from private businesses, government entities, educational institutions and individual homeowners. Goods go into a 70,000-square-foot warehouse, where they are sold to the general public or donated to local nonprofits.

“Our higher goal is to engage with homeowners and provide them access to resources to help make their homes function more efficiently,” Goodman says. Most low- to moderate-income homeowners can’t afford to pay for assessments that identify energy efficiency upgrades. Even if they can, they can’t pay a contractor to make the changes. Lifecycle Building Center offers classes that teach people about the basics of home performance and provide tips for solving common problems. For example, she says, in the first class they discuss how to examine ductwork to make sure it’s properly sealed and how to fix it if it’s not. If the homeowner needs supplies to make those repairs, they can likely find them at the center.

In three short years Lifecycle Building Center has diverted 760,000 pounds of material from the waste stream, donated goods to about 35 nonprofits and schools, and created eight jobs. They recently set some aggressive goals to do even more. One major part of their future work plan is moving into the field of deconstruction. Trained professionals would go into buildings and take them apart piece by piece. This process leads to much higher rates of salvage than typical demolition projects and would yield more donations for the program.

Goodman admits that “it’s been hard to get people to understand how important it is to address these issues around waste. If it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind.”    Still, she says, there is much cause for optimism. “It’s been so obvious there are people in this city who have been doing reuse on their own before we ever existed. There’s this whole network of people who have just been waiting for this. All we really are is the manifestation of that desire to do what makes sense. Because in the end that’s all we’re doing: preventing people from throwing away reusable materials.”

Furniture Bank of Metro Atlanta

Founded in 1988, the Furniture Bank of Metro Atlanta started with a mission of getting furniture to families in need. For years they’ve operated a pick-up service to collect donated household goods from local residents. Those items were then distributed to families who couldn’t afford to purchase them. Right now the Furniture Bank serves about 1,300 households every year.

The need for more staff, as well as an expanded view of how they could meet their mission, is leading the Furniture Bank down a path toward doing more with reuse and recycling. Investing in waste-based business will allow the organization to earn more of its own revenue and provide job-training opportunities for low-income residents.

Reed Irvine, facilities and logistics manager for the Furniture Bank, says they started their foray into social enterprise by up cycling headboards and footboards into stylish benches. They plan to start taking appliances for the scrap metal value, and are now recycling non-reusable plastic and wood products rather than throwing them away.

Irvine is also planning to start a mattress recycling program. Following the model of other successful nonprofit mattress recyclers around the country, the Furniture Bank would gather mattresses and assess them for reuse or recycling. Some of the mattresses would be good enough to share with the low-income families they serve. Others could be rebuilt using a sanitary process. The rest would be deconstructed by hand. Commodities such as steel and polyurethane foam would be recycled.

Right now, Irvine says, the Furniture Bank receives about 15,000 mattresses annually. The goal is to get to 40,000 mattresses during the first year of the recycling program. That would represent a big increase in the 1,500 tons of furniture they divert from the waste stream every year.

“There are unbelievable benefits to recycling mattresses and keeping them out of the landfill,” Irvine says. “No one can deny that it’s a healthy choice to make, and on top of that it’s creating jobs and helping communities. The health of the community is directly integrated with people who are jobless and relying on services. By giving jobs to difficult-to-place individuals we’re taking the strain off local governments.”

Support for the mattress recycling program and many of the Furniture Bank’s other initiatives comes from the Cascade Alliance, a new organization that helps nonprofits start successfully waste-based businesses. The Alliance is led by St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County, which has over 50 years of experience turning second-hand goods into jobs and profits to support its charitable mission. The Furniture Bank is one of ten organizations receiving free consulting, sample business plans, best practices in reuse and recycling, and networking opportunities with similar social enterprises nationwide.

“The Cascade Alliance has been an amazing resource for us,” Irvine says. “It makes stepping into this oasis a little bit easier for our board and the executive director because it seems like a scary world. It’s not what we’ve been doing. We have to evolve with the time, though, and the way the government is reducing funding for agencies like ours. It’s important for us to find ways to create capital on our own.”

The Furniture Bank employs six people, but Irvine envisions growing that number to between 15 and 20 in the coming years. Many of those employees would come from the low-income south Atlanta neighborhood where the Furniture Bank is located. Other potential staffers could come from the Veteran Employment Program, a United Way-sponsored program that provides job training to veterans. The Furniture Bank currently has about a dozen veterans on their site at any given time. During the eight to 12 week program, these temporary employees help organize the warehouse, pick up donations, build the up cycled benches, and do other tasks. They receive job skills such as driving a forklift, and the agency gets help serving people in the community.

Irvine has high hopes Atlanta’s zero waste effort will prove successful. “I think the southeast is a very wasteful region of the country, but Atlanta is a progressive hub. It’s really important for our future, our children’s future, the future of the world to be aware of the consequences of how much we waste and how much we throw away. Atlanta adopting zero waste will be a good influence on the region. I think we can influence some laws and some practices that can hopefully trickle down into the other states around us.”

City of Refuge

IMG_3429 The City of Refuge (COR) was founded in 1970 to provide hope and assistance to residents of challenged neighborhoods in the middle of Atlanta. COR serves over 10,000 people annually from its eight-acre campus, including short-term transitional housing for up to 320 women and children. COR also hosts a 6th to 12th grade academy for students from at-risk communities, day care, library, sports and recreation activities and kitchen facilities. In cooperation with Mercy Care Services, COR offers a full complement of medical, dental and mental health services.

In 2012 COR and Bioponica, a local aquaponic design-build company, worked together to install onsite a first-of-its-kind sustainable farming system. The grow unit was funded by Kaiser Health Foundation of Georgia, is a 20’ x 36’ square foot greenhouse, with two to three grow beds and fish tanks to raise organic vegetables simultaneously, utilizing “bioponics” a process of nutrient cycling that Bioponica have pioneered. David Epstein, D.O. and Kenneth Lowell, P.E. founded Biponica in 2010 with the goal “to make farming, gardening and the harvest of organic food, simple and sustainable.” The system became operational in June 2013.
Bioponica installed its first operating units at the Atlanta City Park Outdoor Activity Center (Department of Parks and Recreation) in July of 2011, as demonstration. Bioponica has refined their process of recycling nutrients to create fertilizer and fish with no cost and little labor, while recycling loads of pre-consumer food discards and lawn clippings.

TIMG_3814he COR-Bioponica project of waste recycling to support organic plants and fish gives COR great flexibility in achieving self-reliance in high quality and cost effective food production while residents can be trained in greenhouse management and horticulture. In addition to supplementing food imports to prepare 20,000 meals per month, the produce, including herbs, tilapia, crawfish and a garden variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, reaches the surrounding community via COR’s food truck service.

The greenhouse and Biogarden grow beds are owned by City of Refuge and operated by Bioponica. Bioponica provides ongoing technical assistance, service and upgrade technology and management and worker training.

Charitable Connections/Reclaim It Atlanta

Charitable Connections, which runs the new building materials, reuse organization Reclaim It Atlanta, got into the business by accident. Charitable Connections is a community foundation that focuses on leadership development. They were working on a neighborhood revitalization project and started receiving a lot of donated construction materials they couldn’t use in the homes they were remodeling, explains Reclaim It Atlanta co-founder Michelle Uchiyama. Employees and friends stored the items, but eventually they had far more than they could keep in people’s basements and garages. They were able to secure some donated warehouse space, and someone suggested they post the materials they couldn’t use on Craigslist to raise money.

“People started overwhelming us with interest in what we were doing,” Uchiyama says. In partnership with the Fuller Center for Housing of Greater Atlanta, Charitable Connections decided to open the warehouse to the public a couple days a week so people could come and shop. Within 18 months they had formalized the program as Reclaim It Atlanta and moved to a 14,000 square feet warehouse. They also started opening the resale shop every day of the week.

Opportunities to offer more services in Atlanta continue to present themselves. In January 2014 Reclaim It Atlanta deconstructed 280 hotel rooms that were being turned into apartments. The process took six weeks and yielded tons of good quality building materials, carpet, furniture, even curtains. “We blessed about 40 different homeless organizations with materials they wouldn’t have been able to buy,” Uchiyama says.
That experience “started us on a whole different track of doing deconstruction.” Reclaim It Atlanta believes it’s important to create jobs for people rather than using volunteers, so they hire contract labor to do the deconstruction. Up to 20 people are employed when they have work available. They join a shoestring permanent staff of three part-time employees.

The staff may be small, but it’s mighty. They’ve diverted over 100 truckloads of material in the last year. “We began to do some home shows and trade shows to raise awareness with consumers about the importance of recycling when remodeling,” Uchiyama says. “We’ve built really strong relationships with people who are interested in recycling but didn’t know how to recycle building materials.”

The program doesn’t show signs of slowing down anytime soon. Their most recent venture is the Elf Shop, with the motto: “Find the elf in yourself: Where Christmas is all year-round.” The store will provide reusable goods to local artists. “We believe the market for up cycled art materials is greater than the need for building materials right now,” Uchiyama says. It also compliments the work of a new program called the Green Shape Foundation, which provides a combination of art therapy and wraparound services for residents living in local subsidized housing complexes. In addition to helping people make nice things for their homes, the program aims to inspire people to make products for resale and earn money for their families.

Uchiyama is a two-time cancer survivor, and she sees strong links between environmental issues and health. “There are a lot of bad things in the environment that cause health problems. There’s also a lot of environmental disparity in the city. We need to change policies to decrease pollution in low-income areas. If we don’t implement zero waste philosophies in what we do every day, people will keep getting sick. Medical expenses will continue to be high, and we won’t be better off in terms of quality of life. The more people that take on the zero waste concept, the more awareness and movement we can make toward getting there.”


This article was written by Sophia McDonald Bennett for ILSR’s Waste to Wealth Initiative.  Ms. Bennett is an environmental writer based in Eugene, OR. She is a reuse expert and worked for many years at one of the nation’s premier reuse enterprise development agency, St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County.  ILSR prepared a Zero Waste Plan for the City of Atlanta, Office of Sustainability in 2010-11.

Source URL:

Open Letter to Carroll County Citizens – from Neil Seldman

by Neil Seldman | February 18, 2015 1:45 pm

Dear Neighbors,

Carroll County citizens now join tens of thousands of their peers across the nation who have stood up to the silly and dangerous plans to build incinerators. Since the 1970s over 300 such efforts have succeeded. In 2014 alone 14 planned garbage incinerators were defeated by coalitions of organized citizens, small businesspeople and progressive officials. In January 2015 the first victory for these coalitions has been on the Big Island in Hawaii. In February, a plasma arc garbage facility in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada was cancelled, as the investment community deemed the financing too risky.

Like the many others before it, a combination of local citizens and national technical assistance organizations, that serve the grass roots, proved to be the undoing of a proposal for Carroll (and Frederick) County that had no social, environmental or economic redeeming qualities. In the process local citizens became experts in their own right, and are now helping other communities fight off their garbage incineration deals.

Further, Carroll County citizens by preparing their own alternatives report led to the formation of a formal County Citizens Solid Waste Advisory Council to continue research and advise Carroll County officials on solid waste and recycling matters. The chairman of the Council is Don West, a leading activist against the proposed incinerator. This pattern follows exactly the pattern of citizens defeating a bad idea and interposing the right idea such as in Los Angeles, Austin, King County, WA, and Alachua County, FL, among other locales.

Finally, your efforts prove once again that garbage incineration and recycling alternatives are neither a liberal nor conservative position. In Carroll County, for example, the folks involved in stopping the planned incinerator, are Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Tea Party and independent minded voters. The anti incineration movement and pro recycling movement is, if anything, an anti incumbent movement focusing its attention on officials in office who refuse to listen to environmental and economic reason.

So, a big thank you to the folks who made this happen in Carroll County and spill over to Frederick County as well. You made your elected officials see the light that helps all of us. The wind makes neighbors of us all.


Neil Seldman
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Washington, DC

Source URL:

Baltimore’s Curtis Bay Community Says No to “Clean” Incinerator Electricity

by Neil Seldman | February 18, 2015 1:39 pm

Curtis Bay is an industrial area located at the southern tip of Baltimore, MD. Residents have been subject to heavy doses of industrial pollution for decades. When a 4,000-ton per day garbage incinerator was proposed, students and alumni of Benjamin Franklin High School reacted with a sophisticated organizing campaign to stop the plant that has been supported by the city’s establishment. The student organization Free Your Voice, with support from the Environmental Integrity Project and United Workers-Baltimore, lead a city wide community organizing campaign featuring a home made video of student and resident concerns for reducing, not adding to the community’s pollution, and for environmentally sound jobs. Energy Justice Network and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance have supported these efforts.

Last week the effort had a breakthrough. The Baltimore and Annapolis school systems, downtown Baltimore museums and other local institution had agreed to purchase “clean electricity” from the proposed incinerator. These institutions became a target for anti incineration organizing by Free Your Voice.

Last week the Baltimore Regional Cooperative Purchasing Committee (BRCPC), announced that its members would not purchase electricity from the garbage incinerator. Greg Sawtell, United Workers, stated that the planned incinerator “lost a major portion of their energy buyers while already struggling to secure financing” to proceed with the plant’s construction. At the same time the community is seeking a positive outcome from their efforts; solar energy farm and an eco-industrial park to host recycling, reuse and composting companies.

See Baltimore City Paper[1], February 16, 2015

Here are additional comments from Curtis Bay:

“Fighting this incinerator had me, personally, thinking into what are the basic human rights. I realized that with my experience with asthma and growing up close to Curtis Bay, that the people living there don’t deserve an incinerator. There’s already a lot of pollution and Curtis Bay has been treated like a dumping ground for far too long. Breathing clean air is a basic human right. This milestone shows that public entities are acknowledging that this incinerator isn’t a good idea and that there are humans whose lives could be affected if it were to be built. The residents of Curtis Bay are human just like the people running these big polluting businesses.”

-Joshua Acevedo (Free Your Voice)

Just stopping the incinerator isn’t enough. We understand that the population of Baltimore needs electricity; we understand that the incinerator was to create jobs and stimulate the local economy. However, we believe there are other alternatives to the proposed incinerator, alternatives that will not involve poisoning the already-toxic environment within and around the Curtis Bay community. One of those alternatives gaining popular community support is a solar facility, a solar farm, on the tract of land currently owned by FMC Corporation.

-Amanda Maminski Curtis Bay Resident

More Media Coverage

City Paper story[2]
Baltimore Sun story[3]
  1. See Baltimore City Paper:,0,4850918.story
  2. City Paper story:,0,4850918.story
  3. Baltimore Sun story:

Source URL:

Heads Up from Zero Wasters in Wales, and the Zero Waste International Trust, Plasnewydd, Wales, UK

by Neil Seldman | February 11, 2015 11:07 am

Mal Williams, director of the Zero Waste International Trust, alerts us to some good news from the UK by forwarding the recent government report on just how much potential there is in the Zero Waste world for wealth creation and sustainable jobs, “Resource Management: A Catalyst for Growth and Productivity[1],” UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. February 2015.

Does this mean that the wave of enthusiasm for garbage incinerators in the UK is over? Mal says, “The slumbering giant that is our Westminster government is waking up to our messages.” Maybe, Mal muses, it’s because now it is their idea.

Mary Lou Van Deventer, Urban Ore, reminds us of another government report that moved Zero Waste and total recycling forward.

Once upon a time, when Dan Knapp and I were talking about total recycling and being scorned for it even among some recyclers, Dan went to Canberra, Australia, and came back to the US with a government-stamped report called “No Waste By 2010.”  It was a draft at the time but was later adopted by Parliament in 1996.  Since it had a governmental stamp, it was credible.  The Zero Waste concept swept across the continent like a wildfire, and total recycling was no longer to be scorned.  Bill Sheehan, Grass Roots Recycling Network (GRRN), put the report on the internet and worked with a Georgia legislator, who proposed the first Zero Waste state-level legislation.

Today the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government in Canberra still retains the name “No Waste” for its agency and garbage trucks, although it failed to implement the ideas.  It even shut down the then-successful Australian reuse group Revolve, which came up with the ideas the ACT developed and adopted.  Gerry Gillespie worked for the ACT government when the idea emerged, then sat on the board of Revolve.  He was at the heart of the resistance for agonizing years as the government changed its direction and killed off the organization that once inspired it.

But the idea, once revealed in public, cannot be shut down everywhere.  Not only won’t this genie go back into the bottle, it will work a lot of magic when it is given a chance.

  1. Resource Management: A Catalyst for Growth and Productivity:

Source URL:

The Labor and Small Business Alliance Behind San Francisco’s Landmark Retail Workers Bill of Rights

by Stacy Mitchell | February 5, 2015 10:44 am

by Stacy Mitchell and Walter Wuthmann

As San Francisco labor groups campaigned late last year for a landmark law that protects workers at retail and restaurant chains from the tyrannies of computerized scheduling systems, they were backed by a rather unusual ally.  The San Francisco Locally Owned Merchants Alliance (SFLOMA), which represents hundreds of independent retailers, came out in support of the bill, testifying at hearings and contacting members of the city’s Board of Supervisors.

“A couple of [the supervisors] were really surprised to have heard from me and surprised at our stance on this,” said Rick Karp, a board member of SFLOMA and second-generation owner of Cole Hardware, a local, independent chain of five hardware stores.

The political interests of labor and small business are often seen as pitted against each other — a perception corporate lobbyists work hard to perpetuate[1]. But the two groups actually share broad common cause these days.  Both stand to gain from building a more humane economy in which ruthless efficiency does not trump all else.  “If you are an independent business and you feel like your business is part of the community and you want your employees to last, you are doing all of this stuff for your employees already,” Karp explained.  “It’s reprehensible for Target and Walmart to have these scheduling systems that rip apart peoples’ lives.”

If you worked at a retail or restaurant chain ten years ago, or if you work at almost any small, locally owned business today, a real person put together the work schedule and posted it in advance.  Because repeating the previous schedule was the simplest approach, your shifts tended not to move much week-to-week, and last-minute scheduling changes were as much a hassle to management as to workers.

Then, in 2007, Walmart pioneered a new way to cut costs by subjecting the daily lives of its workers to the same kinds of computer algorithms it was using to precisely predict the inventory needs of each of its stores.  Now ubiquitous among large retail and service sector companies, “just-in-time” scheduling software alters workers’ hours, often on the day of a scheduled shift, based on real-time weather, sales, and store traffic data.  While these scheduling systems save companies money, they do so only at great cost to workers and their communities.  According to a University of Chicago study[2]  unpredictable scheduling, which impacts about one-quarter of the U.S. workforce, destroys workers’ ability to “arrange caregiving, pursue education, secure a second job, and earn an adequate income.”  Rather than truly eliminating costs, these scheduling systems simply externalize them.

San Francisco’s Retail Workers Bill of Rights was designed to change that.  Enacted by a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors in December, the bill will help an estimated 40,000 workers by requiring chains (defined as businesses with 20 or more outlets and 20 or more employees in the city) to post schedules with at least two weeks notice.  If a store changes an employee’s hours within one week of a scheduled shift, the employer must compensate the employee by paying them for one to four hours’ worth of work, depending on the shift and how late the change was made.  The law also protects part-time workers by requiring employers to offer them additional hours before hiring more part-timers.

Unanimous votes are rare at the Board of Supervisors.  This one may be owed to the coalition that Jobs With Justice San Francisco (JwJSF), which spearheaded the bill, put together to pass it.  (more…)[3]

  1. perpetuate:
  2. study:
  3. (more…):

Source URL:

ILSR Joins Independent Business Groups in Pushing for Disclosure of Corporate Subsidies

by Stacy Mitchell | February 4, 2015 10:24 am

ILSR joined other members of the Advocates for Independent Business[1] coalition in submitting a joint public comment letter [2]in support of an important proposal to change the accounting rules that local and state governments follow. The change would require governments to disclose the tax breaks and incentives they provide companies for economic development purposes.

The proposed rule change[3] comes from the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB), a professional association that establishes standards of accounting and financial reporting for state and local governments. (Although GASB has no legal authority, the vast majority of states and localities follow its rules, in part because doing so is necessary in order to sell bonds.)

Local and state governments spend an estimated $70 billion a year providing subsidies to companies in the name of job creation and economic development. Most of this spending is in the form of foregone revenue (i.e., tax breaks) rather than direct outlays.  Under current GASB rules, governments are not required to disclose these expenditures in their financial reporting, as they must for spending on things like roads and schools.  This lack of transparancy makes it difficult for citizens to monitor, evaluate, and challenge these corporate giveaways.

In its letter, the coalition, which is coordinated by ILSR and includes 14 national organizations representing about 150,000 independent businesses, noted that the vast majority of tax incentives go to large companies, including retailers like Walmart and Amazon, that compete with locally owned businesses and often do not produce an increase in jobs:

We have a deep interest in this proposed policy, because the tax expenditures that local and state governments make for economic development directly affect the competitive landscape in which our members operate.

Many cities, for example, have provided tax abatements to new big-box retail projects that compete directly with the Main Street businesses that we represent, sometimes leading to business closures and job losses. There is evidence that the public may not be getting their money’s worth from some of these expenditures. For example, a 2011 study produced for the East-West Gateway Council of Governments found that cities and counties in the St. Louis metro area had diverted more than $5.8 billion in public tax dollars to finance private development, with more than 80 percent of these funds supporting retail projects. Yet the region saw virtually no economic growth. “The number of retail jobs has increased only slightly and, in real dollars, retail sales per capita have not increased,” the study found. According to the study, more than 600 small retailers closed in the St. Louis metro area during the period, producing job losses that apparently offset the new jobs created by the subsidized development.

While expressing strong support for the disclosure required by the rule, AIB urged the board to modify two aspects of its draft. It asked GASB to ensure that its definition of “tax abatement” covered tax increment financing, a common way cities subsidize chain retail development.

It also urged the board to specify that state and local governments must not only report the total value of tax incentives, but also disclose details on each individual tax break, including the name of the company that received the subsidy. “This information is essential if citizens and policymakers are to be able to evaluate the costs and benefits of these expenditures, which vary widely from deal to deal. In retailing, for example, this information would reveal whether a new abatement recipient is a known competitor of existing employers,” the coalition wrote.

  1. Advocates for Independent Business:
  2. public comment letter :
  3. proposed rule change:

Source URL:

Another Contraction in the Garbage Incineration Industry

by Neil Seldman | January 26, 2015 8:17 am

The Big Island of Hawaii has just pulled back from a garbage incinerator planned for the town of Hilo. The Hawaii County mayor withdrew a Request for Proposal (RFP) in response to widespread and intense organizing against the proposal. “We had an educated public and no way were we going to be steamrolled into a 25-year contract,” stated Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille, a leading opponent of the incinerator. See story inWest Hawaii Today, January 24, 2015.

No Burn Hawaii, among other groups, will now work for a county/island-wide incineration ban or a local air pollution law that restricts incineration.

The announcement marks the first garbage incinerator defeated in 2015. According to Energy Justice Network, 14 incinerators were cancelled in 2014. In addition, in December 2014 an existing plant in Broward County, FL, announced it will shut down because it could not get enough garbage after it lost its 20-year monopoly control over the waste stream. See more on that story here[1].

In 2009, ILSR worked with Richard Anthony Associates and Recycle Hawai’i under contract with the County Department of the Environment. We prepared a zero waste plan for the Big Island’s Department.

Download the report:  Zero Waste Implementation Plan for County of Hawai’i[2].

  1. See more on that story here:
  2. Zero Waste Implementation Plan for County of Hawai’i:

Source URL:

Trash Incinerators: Don’t Call it a Comeback

by Neil Seldman | January 22, 2015 5:37 pm

Mike Ewall, director of Energy Justice Network (EJN), Washington, DC, responded to the recent article in The New York Times on garbage incineration. ILSR works closely with EJN assisting grassroots organizations to stop planned garbage incineration and move their communities to recycling, local economic development and zero waste.
Here is the link to his Letter to the Editor.[1]
  1. Here is the link to his Letter to the Editor.:

Source URL:

What Might Have Been

by David Morris | January 12, 2015 2:38 pm

Since its passage in 2009, ferocious opposition to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare)  had proven a devastatingly effective electoral strategy for Republicans. In 2010, they gained a net 63 seats and control of the House of Representatives. They gained control of 11 additional state governments, bringing their total to 25. When the ACA went into effect virtually all 25 were refusing to expand Medicaid, a decision they were permitted to make by a June 2012 Supreme Court ruling[1] overturning the mandatory expansion provision in the law.

In October 2013, in the midst of a Republican-led government shutdown designed to stop the implementation of the ACA, I invited[2] President Obama to embrace a bold strategy: Let the red states secede from Obamacare, under three conditions.

First, states must withdraw from all benefits. (e.g. children being able to be on parents insurance up to age 26, insurance companies no longer being allowed to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, etc.) They couldn’t pick and choose.

Second, Congress must move forward the date states would be given great latitude in designing their own system from 2017 to 2014, thus allowing blue states to experiment with insurance systems like single payer.

Third, and most importantly for the future of the ACA and the Democratic Party, state legislatures must ask their citizens to vote directly on Obamacare.

I argued then that the downside of letting the red states secede would be modest. The red states had already decided not to expand Medicaid, dramatically restricting the ACA’s direct benefits. In Kentucky, for example, a state often viewed as a model for aggressive and competent ACA implementation[3], 400,000 people, 9 percent of the entire population signed up under Medicaid expansion; only 80,000 signed up for health plans through Kynect, the state exchange.

A single issue election would have allowed an engaged and focused discussion impossible in a general election. Which would have allowed a considered response to some of the Republicans most effective 20-second sound bites. For example, their insistence that the ACA established government panels that will make life and death decisions. When Republicans called them “death panels” Democrats quickly scuttled the provision, lending credence to the Republican claim that that’s what they were. Indeed, according to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, some 41 percent of Americans continue to believe this.

In 2014 in Kentucky, as elsewhere, Obamacare was a key issue. The New York times reports[4] that Kentuckian Amanda Mayhew enrolled in Medicaid and had been to the dentist five times to begin salvaging her neglected teeth, had visited a dermatologist to remove a mole and had received medication for her depression, all free. “I am very, very thankful that Medicaid does cover what I need done right now,” Ms. Mayhew said but pointedly added, “I don’t love Obamacare….There are things in it that scare me and that I don’t agree with…would I gladly give up my insurance today if it meant that some of the things that are in the law were not in place? Yes, I would.” She was referring to death panels.

A single-issue election would have given Democrats the opportunity to go from defense to offense. They could have explained that the provision Republicans vigorously opposed actually offered money to doctors so they could spend time with terminally ill patients discussing end of life issues. And Democrats could have used the opportunity to educate the public about the widespread need for such discussions, and their value.

In his new book[5], Being Mortal, physician Atul Gawande describes the results of one large-scale study about the impact of such conversations.

Two thirds of the terminal cancer patients…reported having had no discussion with their doctors about their goals for end-of-life care, despite being, on average, just four months from death. But the third who did have discussions were far less likely to undergo cardiopulmonary resuscitation or be put on a ventilator or end up in an intensive care unit…They suffered less, were physically more capable, and were better able, for a longer period, to interact with others. In addition, six months after these patients died, their family members were markedly less likely to experience persistent major depression.   In other words, people who had substantive discussions with their doctors about their end-of–life preferences were far more likely to die at peace and in control of their situation and to spare their family anguish.

In a single-issue referendum Democrats could have engaged the Republican claim that the wave of cancellations of individual health policies in 2013 was a result of Obamacare. In October 2013 the Associated Press estimated[6] 4.8 million persons with individual coverage had their policies cancelled because of the ACA. The estimate was widely quoted. But any referendum on the ACA would have been held in mid to late 2014 by which time more realistic estimates had dramatically reduced the number of persons affected to 1.6-1.9 million persons. More importantly, they could have explained that in pre-Obamacare America most individual health policies were for one year and the normal churn rate is remarkably high. One study found that only 27 percent continued to have individual coverage after two years.

Democrats could also have responded to the almost weekly horror story issued by Republicans about dramatic price hikes in premiums under Obamacare (most of which proved untrue) by noting that health insurance companies had been hiking[7] premiums and deductibles for a long time. Insurance premiums rose by 50 percent between 2003 and 2010 and the average deductible had soared by 145 percent. In 2013 average insurance premiums represented 20 percent of median income in 37 states, up from 2 in 2003.

Democrats could have responded to the Republican’s horror stories about price hikes with their own far more numerous and heartrending stories about the bankruptcies, deaths, and sicknesses caused by insurance companies denying or rescinding coverage. Rather than Democrats having to defend Obamacare, Republicans would have had the unenviable task of defending giant health insurance companies’ treatment of often-helpless individuals.

Obama ignored my advice. And in the 2014 election most Democrats refused to defend Obamacare. In Kentucky for much of the campaign Alison Grimes ran neck and neck with Mitch McConnell but when the issue of Obamacare came up she ran for the hills. As did virtually all Kentucky Democrats. According[8] to Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, Republicans ran more than 10,000 broadcast television spots attacking the ACA in that state from January 2013 to November 2014. Kantar found only one positive television ad, from a Congressional Democratic candidate. Nationwide Senate Republican candidates ran[9] 36,000 anti-Obamacare ads just from October 6-26.

In November 2014 Republicans gained control of the U.S. Senate. The number of Republican governors swelled to 31. The Republican Party won control of 67 state chambers, five more than their previous record in the modern era. In 24 states they gained total control, winning both the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the state legislature (Nebraska’s unicameral legislature is technically nonpartisan, but in practice Republicans control the chamber by a wide margin).

Would the 2014 election outcome have been different if the red states had held health care referenda? No one can tell. Certainly the election demonstrated that when given the opportunity to vote on issues rather than candidates Americans are often quite liberal. For example, voters approved every initiative to raise the minimum wage, including in red states (Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, South Dakota).

Democrats would still have had to overcome the cognitive dissonance of people like Robin Evans, a warehouse worker earning $9 an hour who after signing up for Medicaid is being treated for high blood pressure and Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder, after years of being uninsured and rarely seeing doctors. “I’m tickled to death with it,” she told[10] the New York Times. “It’s helped me out a bunch.” But the Times adds, “Ms. Evans scowled at the mention of President Obama — ‘Nobody don’t care for nobody no more, and I think he’s got a lot to do with that,’ she explained — and said she would vote this fall for Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and minority leader, who is fond of saying the health care law should be “pulled out root and branch.”   To summarize: The Democrats helped Mr. Evans “a bunch”. But under the Democrats nobody cares for nobody. So he will vote for Republicans who have railed against Democrat sponsored measures that would help him.

OK, it would have been a challenge. But it would have presented a wonderful opportunity as well.

And then there is the distinct possibility that Republicans would have rejected an offer by President Obama to secede if they had to ask their voters to approve. They might have realized that a genuine public debate on the Affordable Care Act could make Americans wonder what else they were lying about.


  1. ruling:
  2. invited:
  3. implementation:
  4. reports:
  5. book:
  6. estimated:
  7. hiking:
  8. According:
  9. ran:
  10. told:

Source URL:

“The Secret Side of Global Trade” – David Morris, International Forum on Globalization

by Rebecca Toews | January 8, 2015 12:00 pm

David Morris spoke at Riverside Church for the International Forum on Globalization in 1995 about local self-reliance and global trade. His words still ring true today. You can listen to the audio from the speech below, download it in your podcast player, or watch it on our YouTube channel[1].

David Morris[2] is co-founder of the Institute and Director of the Defending the Public Good initiative. We encourage you to send us your feedback, suggest topics, and offer ideas. Contact us at


Self-Reliance Podcast Episode 2


Click to subscribe to the podcast via iTunes[6].


  1. watch it on our YouTube channel:
  2. David Morris:
  3. [Image]:
  4. Play in new window:
  5. Download:
  6. Click to subscribe to the podcast via iTunes:

Source URL:

Democratic Energy Media Roundup – January 5, 2015

by Rebecca Toews | January 7, 2015 10:47 am

This week in democratic energy, community solar projects are predicted to rule 2015 and net metering policies are opening the market for a brighter future.

Jeff St. John started us off [1]with why he thinks 2014 could be dubbed the year of the “smart grid.”

From building on the prior wave of investment in AMI networks [advanced metering infrastructure] and grid intelligence, to bridging the gaps between utilities and their customers, and laying the groundwork for a marriage of distributed energy and utility operations, 2014 saw some key developments that help indicate where the industry must go from here, if it’s to grow.

We’re with him, and would like to see it go much farther than “2.0.” Check our our Democratic Energy Report for the dawning of Utility 3.0![2]

The Motley Fool’s Justin Loiseau[3] made an interesting connection between NY Governor Cuomo’s move to ban fracking and his $1 billion solar commitment.

“The state made its decision based on public health threats outlined in a seminal 184-page Department of Health report, but it did so at the expense of around 141 trillion cubic feet of untapped natural gas — equivalent to 128 times the state’s current annual consumption.

New York has bid farewell to fracking, and its support for solar will shape its energy future for decades to come.”

CNBC’s Brad Quick [4]reports that New York City is embracing solar investments, and other New York communities are getting on board as well. Heather Leibowitz and Kevin Parker praised a public library solar installation[5] in Brentwood, and William Kremble with the Freeman Online reports that Woodstock’s town board and Kingston, nearby are both looking at solar energy options– Woodstock could start a municipal initiative[6] to buy solar panels, Kingston is looking at installing panels on the school roof[7].

Tonya Maxwell with Greenville News[8] in South Carolina reported this week on the double whammy that residential solar owners are seeing. They get to be environmentally conscious, but also they are saving about 80% on their power bill.

“It was the tree hugger in us that looked into solar. It was the economics that had us looking at what best ways would could recoup our costs,” said the mother of two. “It was a financial decision that made sense.”

Not to be outdone, Massachusetts is making a name for itself in the solar arena. Ann O’Connor thought of a nice way to visualize the solar boom[9]:

For every seat in Fenway Park, there are 47 solar panels in Massachusetts. There are also 346 solar companies employing 8,400 people throughout the state, doing everything from making parts to installing systems… Those shiny panels on rooftops are becoming commonplace.

And Stephanie Shor’s report on Kake, Alaska’s alternative energy investment[10] shows how a cooperative model can work for some communities:

Adam Davis, community and economic development specialist for the Organized Village of Kake, said the system on the government building has produced 11,985 kilowatts so far, with an estimated fuel savings of $7,550…

He [also] said the school had an $110,000 surplus in its budget last year, and he has plans to propose switching the school to LED lights. This would reduce the building’s electricity usage by 60 percent, and the savings would pay for another full-time teaching position.”

Back in the Midwest, another cooperative energized its newest solar project. LaReesa Sandretsky with the Lake County News Chronicle [11]covered the story:

“We are happy to have this solar project installed in our service territory,” said Steve Wattnem, CEO of Cooperative Light & Power. “Our members will benefit from the solar output as we, along with Great River Energy, learn about the performance of solar with this local project.”

In addition to the Two Harbor’s solar site, Great River Energy is working with 18 other member cooperatives throughout the state to construct similar solar arrays.

Still, some states are lagging behind in solar energy because of restrictive policies, and residents are taking notice. Nick Hylla kicked off 2015 with a plea to Wisconsin lawmakers, and others should take note as well: Stop Pushing Wisconsin’s Energy Policy Backward! [12]

“The public is frustrated with the coordinated, special-interest efforts to slow public and private investments in clean energy. The rate cases in Wisconsin demonstrate an especially alarming trend: the alignment of the manufacturing lobby behind the monopoly utilities’ rate “fairness” campaign.

The investors in these industries stand to garner significant returns as “pay for use” electricity markets are transformed into “pay for access” (like paying more to park in front of the gas pump than for the fuel itself). With increasing meter fees and decreasing use rates, utilities fix their profits and build financial incentives for increased energy use. Large energy users benefit as costs shift to the many meters attached to homes, businesses and municipalities.

The losers in this new regime are the thousands of homes and businesses that have made efficiency investments, taken conservation measures, and/or installed their own renewable energy system (not to mention all of the businesses that serve them). The new utility strategy will also cause significant collateral damage to those in low and fixed income households who simply can’t afford large increases in fixed energy costs.”

In Michigan, a torn-down coal plant may make way for green energy. Stephen Kloosterman with MichiganLive[13] highlighted the historic changes ahead[14] for utility companies and energy customers.

Three Mississippi Counties will be testing out the power of solar. Jeff Ayres with the Clarion-Ledger [15]reported this week that the state’s Public Service Commission is piloting a $4.3 million study to determine if solar is a viable option for electricity production.

Some Hawaii lawmakers are getting nervous about who bought their state’s largest utility. Florida Power & Light recently purchased Hawaiian Electric Industries.  Doreen Hemlock with the Sun Sentinal:

“Florida is not known for rooftop solar. It’s known for utility-scale projects,” Leslie Cole-Brooks, executive director of the Hawaii Solar Energy Association, told a Hawaii TV station. “And here in Hawaii, the Hawaii Solar Energy Association is all for maximizing all of our resources.”

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, has said she hopes FPL’s parent comes to her state with a “different attitude” on rooftop solar, adding that the purchase “deserves careful scrutiny.”

Ivan Penn with the Tampa Bay Times echoed that concern[16], and noted the difficulties Florida residents often have when trying to change energy policy.

As it stands, rooftop solar threatens the traditional utility business model. Homes and businesses would use less power from the utilities, decreasing their revenue — something the industry fears.

At a time when the utilities are expressing concern about the impact of solar, state regulators voted in November to gut energy-efficiency goals and to end solar rebates administered by the utilities, saying they are not “cost-effective.”

From the “for-once-and-for-all-can-this-debate-finally-be-resolved” file: John Moore with Sustainable FERC Project in Chicago writes:

Despite years of successful experience, dozens of studies, and increasing utility support for clean energy, urban myth holds that electricity from renewable energy is unreliable. Yet over 75,000 megawatts (MW) of wind and solar power have been integrated, reliably, into the nation’s electric grid to date. That’s enough electricity to supply 17.9 million homes.

Maybe this video will help? Even on the shortest day of the year, solar can power our cars and homes:

Happy 2014!

  1. Jeff St. John started us off :
  2. Democratic Energy Report for the dawning of Utility 3.0!:
  3. Motley Fool’s Justin Loiseau:
  4. CNBC’s Brad Quick :
  5. public library solar installation:
  6. Woodstock could start a municipal initiative:
  7. Kingston is looking at installing panels on the school roof:
  8. Tonya Maxwell with Greenville News:
  9. Ann O’Connor thought of a nice way to visualize the solar boom:
  10. Stephanie Shor’s report on Kake, Alaska’s alternative energy investment:
  11. LaReesa Sandretsky with the Lake County News Chronicle :
  12. Stop Pushing Wisconsin’s Energy Policy Backward! :
  13. Stephen Kloosterman with MichiganLive:
  14. historic changes ahead:
  15. Jeff Ayres with the Clarion-Ledger :
  16. Ivan Penn with the Tampa Bay Times echoed that concern:

Source URL:

The Three Biggest Solar Charts of 2014

by John Farrell | January 6, 2015 12:35 pm

  1. [Image]:
  2. democratizing of the electricity system:
  3. [Image]:
  4. [Image]:
  5. [Image]:
  6. flashpoint in state policy battles between electric companies and their customers:
  7. the future business model of the electricity system:
  8. a $48 billion opportunity:
  10. Twitter:
  11. Democratic Energy weekly:

Source URL:

Building Community, Strengthening Economies: ILSR’s 2014 Annual Report

by ILSR Admin | December 29, 2014 10:29 am


Image: Donate Button[2]As we confront the daunting challenges of a severely compromised climate, crippling inequality, and a failing federal government, ILSR’s forward-thinking, bottom-up solutions have never been more needed. 

We need your support today. Help us fight against the concentration of corporate power, the loss of control of our local economies and government, and the growing threats to our environment.

Please help us expand our impact in 2015 by making an online tax-deductible donation[3] to ILSR,


Image: ILSR 2014 Annual ReportILSR was founded 40 years ago out of a conviction that solving even our most complex problems begins with people exercising collective authority at the local level.  Since then, we have been at the forefront of helping communities take charge of their local resources and build an equitable, environmentally viable, and democratic future.

This year, working alongside a diverse range of allies, we made significant progress in realizing this vision.  We are thrilled to share the stories of change in our 2014 Annual Report: Building Community, Strengthening Economies.

As you’ll see when you read the report, this year we produced critical research and developed new tools and policies that have helped communities:

Transforming our economy entails not only building new enterprises and systems, but fighting the forces that stand in the way.  In the report, you can read about the leading role we played this year in a Minneapolis clean energy initiative that is a model for how citizens can leverage their authority over corporate utilities; see how we helped defeat a Walmart-led ballot initiative in North Dakota that would have overturned a state law that mandates that all pharmacies be locally owned; and learn more about our successful campaign in Kansas to kill a cable industry-inspired bill that would have blocked cities from building their own public broadband networks.

Image: Donate Button[2]As we confront the daunting challenges of a severely compromised climate, crippling inequality, and a failing federal government, ILSR’s forward-thinking, bottom-up solutions have never been more needed. 

We need your support today. Help us fight against the concentration of corporate power, the loss of control of our local economies and government, and the growing threats to our environment.

Please help us expand our impact in 2015 by making an online tax-deductible donation[3] to ILSR, or donating by mail or phone[4].

  1. [Image]:
  2. [Image]:
  3. making an online tax-deductible donation:
  4. donating by mail or phone:

Source URL:

Failure of the Wilmington Compost Facility Underscores Need for a Locally Based and Diverse Composting Infrastructure

by Neil Seldman | December 18, 2014 9:32 am

The rapid increase in community-scale composting in the Mid-Atlantic is sorely needed. The recent closing of the Wilmington Organics Recycling Center[1] in Delaware, due to the loss of its operating permit, has pushed the need for a distributed and diverse composting infrastructure to the fore. Source separated food discard programs from New York City to Washington, DC, are now scrambling to find alternative sites to tip their loads.

The Wilmington Organics Recycling Center was at the center of expanded food discard collections in the Mid-Atlantic region. Developed, sited, permitted, financed and built by The Peninsula Compost Group (TPCG), the facility was designed to receive 600 tons per day of source separated organic materials from government institutions, grocery chains, schools, food processors, sports venues, restaurants, and other large food waste generators. A separate company, named the Peninsula Compost Company (PCC), was set up to own the plant. Its original members included the EDiS Company and Greenhull Compost LLC (both of Wilmington, Delaware), as well as the developers, TPCG. The facility commenced operations in late 2009 composting around 200 tons per day. For the first two years, TPCG was the managing and operations partner. During that time there were no verified odor complaints or Notices of Violation from the State of Delaware and the compost produced met every Federal and State standard for unrestricted use. (more…)[2]

  1. Wilmington Organics Recycling Center:
  2. (more…):

Source URL:

The Comic Book that Started a Movement: The Lone Recycler

by Neil Seldman | December 16, 2014 10:16 am

Return with us now to the thrilling days of yesteryear, when the Lone Recycler, lead citizens in the SF Bay Area against the cruel intentions of the garbage incineration industry; which lead to a national movement that continues to this day.

From 1980 through 1982, five planned garbage incinerators in the SF Bay Area were defeated. In rapid succession the defeat of incinerators in the SF Bay Area resulted in the cancelation of 30 planned incinerators in California.

From 1980 through 1997 over 300 planned garbage incinerators were defeated by spontaneous action by organized citizens, small businesses and progressive officials.

Introduction – by Mary Lou Van Deventer, Urban Ore, Berkeley, CA

A new wave of approximately 100-150 garbage incinerators have been proposed since the mid 2000s. To date one has been built. A look back at the history of anti garbage incineration is well in order.

In the early 1980s the conventional wisdom was that recycling could recover only 35% of discards, and even some recyclers called incineration “resource recovery.”  But the recyclers in Berkeley, California, led by Dan Knapp and including Mary Lou Van Deventer and Mark and Nancy Gorrell, had a bigger dream of recycling everything.  The city council voted unanimously to begin the procurement process for a garbage incinerator.

The recyclers tried to convince the council that burning the resources would foreclose the recycling options and cause pollution.  At first the council members wouldn’t even meet with recyclers, and when they finally did, they wouldn’t change their plan.  The frustrated recyclers decided direct democracy was their only recourse, so they gathered signatures for a citizens’ initiative, and they put a five-year moratorium on incineration on the November 1982 ballot.  Their campaign slogan was “Give Recycling a Chance.”  They won more than 60% of the votes!  Afterward Dan and Mary Lou helped citizens in several other San Francisco Bay Area cities defeat incinerators too.  Seven incinerators were planned; none was built.  One joint powers authority even dissolved itself.

In 1984 Dan and Mary Lou swapped a lot of dinners, beer, and wine with their friends architect Mark Gorrell and illustrator Nancy Gorrell, and they laughed a lot as they wrote the saga of The Lone Recycler to envision a Zero Waste future.  Step by step Nancy took the developing bones of the story into her studio and fleshed out the group’s characters, wrote dialogue, invented incidental characters and games, and illustrated everything.  The San Francisco grass roots recycling group Richmond Environmental Action, provided funds for the publication.

The intention was to promote citizen activism and sustainable resource management instead of centralized control of waste and destruction.  In the end they transformed Slobberg into Wonderberg and even recycled the bad guys.

CAUTION TO PARENTS: Children tend to take this comic into a corner and spend a long time reading.  If you prefer that they play more with their electronics, don’t give them this comic.

Download the full issue of The Lone Recycler[1]

  1. Download the full issue of The Lone Recycler:

Source URL:

Will Pope Francis Put His Institution Where His Values Are?

by David Morris | December 16, 2014 10:09 am

On December 10th the Vatican released the text of still another vigorous message[1] by Pope Francis in support of oppressed workers. “(M)illions of people today – children, women and men of all ages – are deprived of freedom and are forced to live in conditions akin to slavery,” he asserts. “I think of the many men and women laborers, including minors, subjugated in different sectors, whether formally or informally, in domestic or agricultural workplaces, or in the manufacturing or mining industry; whether in countries where labor regulations fail to comply with international norms and minimum standards, or, equally illegally, in countries which lack legal protection for workers’ rights.”

The Pope’s statement is not a call to reflection but to action, “Every person ought to have the awareness that ‘purchasing is always a moral – and not simply an economic – act’.” Francis wants us to buy as if someone else’s life depended on it. And he wants us to act not only as individuals but collectively. “We ought to recognize that we are facing a global phenomenon which exceeds the competence of any one community or country. In order to eliminate it, we need a mobilization comparable in size to that of the phenomenon itself.”

When he personally delivers his message on January 1st I trust the Pope will point out that there is no other institution more capable of generating a “mobilization comparable in size to that of the phenomenon itself” than the one he himself leads.

The statistics[2] are very impressive. In 2014 there were over 220,000 Catholic parishes serving 1.23 billion Catholics worldwide. The Church directly employs 414,000 priests, 53,000 religious brothers and 705,000 religious sisters. There are 140,000 elementary and secondary Catholic schools. The Church has some 18,000 clinics, 16,000 homes for the elderly and those with special needs, and 5,500 hospitals. The Church’s Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers has estimated[3] the Catholic Church manages more than a quarter of the world’s health care facilities.

In 2012 the Economist concluded[4] the Catholic Church spent about $170 billion a year making it one of the world’s largest purchasers of goods and services. Catholic organizations already exist that aggregate the purchasing power of parishes and dioceses. The Catholic Purchasing Services, for example claims[5] to “consolidate the buying power of over 40,000 Catholic institutions in the purchase of a wide variety of equipment, furniture, supplies, and services.”   Currently CPS does so to obtain the highest quality at the lowest price. The Pope could order them to take into account the human dimensions of their purchases.

I say “order” not “suggest” because the Pope is the CEO, President and Chairman of the Board of the Catholic Church all rolled into one. He and the Vatican have never been reticent about telling Catholic institutions what to do. The clearest example is in the health area. Catholic hospitals are prohibited from buying or prescribing contraceptives or engaging in a number of procedures, such as sterilization or abortion. Those who want to make their own end of life decisions should avoid Catholic hospitals which are directed to ignore an individual’s advanced health directives.

If the Pope were to order his institution to heed his message he would find a ready network of government agencies and non-profit organizations that have already done the spadework. The Department of Labor regularly releases[6] a list of products made with forced labor.   The list is long and contains many products the Catholic Church would regularly purchase, including carpets, garments, cotton, rubber, coffee, rice, rubber.

Many non-profit organizations try to monitor factories suspected of treating their workers poorly. But their resources are small and their network thin. The track record of businesses monitoring their own contractors is very spotty[7]. The Catholic Church’s worldwide network of parishes and parishioners could become the eyes and ears on the ground to ensure these workers are treated decently.

The Pope demands action on a global scale to protect tens of millions of ill-treated workers. Will he order his own institution to take the lead?



  1. message:
  2. statistics:
  3. estimated:
  4. concluded:
  5. claims:
  6. releases:
  7. spotty:

Source URL:

Working Partner Update: Recycling Advances in Delaware

by Neil Seldman | December 16, 2014 9:40 am

Rick Anthony recalls a conversation he had in 2007 with officials from the Delaware Chamber of Commerce about recycling. An official stated that the only way to require recycling in Delaware was to show a considerable economic payoff. Anthony and Neil Seldman, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, under contract with the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), provided just that information in a report that laid out a plan for implementing comprehensive recycling and economic development.

The report identified $50 million market value that was then flowing to three state operated landfills annually in the form of recyclable and reusable materials. Further, the report found that this lode would support over 2000 new good jobs in the state.

See Resource Management in the State of Delaware[1], May, 2007.

In 2010 the state required source separation for homes, apartment houses, businesses and restaurants; all haulers must provide services for source separated materials. Other recycling incentives were introduced as well.

Last week Gov. Markell announced that the state reached a 42% recycling rate.  Since 2006 the state’s 900,000 people have doubled the recycling rate. Since recycling measurement began in 2006 the Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA), which manages the state’s landfills, reports that over 500,000 tons of single stream materials have been diverted from disposal.

See “Governor Highlights Progress in Recycling[2],” DNREC, November 30, 2014.

  1. Resource Management in the State of Delaware:
  2. Governor Highlights Progress in Recycling:

Source URL:

Training The Zero Waste Workforce

by Neil Seldman | December 15, 2014 10:10 am

Community Environmental Services, part of Portland State University, trains and employs students to offer zero waste management services to companies, institutions and public agencies. CES works in the private sector with clients such as supermarkets to establish a baseline for material flow and then deliver specific recommendations for reducing waste.

The movement for zero waste in the U.S. has literally exploded in the last few years in both theory and practice. Scores of communities have resolved to start on the pathway to zero — defined as reducing waste generated by 90 percent or more. Cities taking strong steps to achieve this goal within the next decade include Austin (Texas), San Francisco and Los Angeles. Elsewhere, Alachua County, Florida, Portland, Oregon and Seattle have implemented zero waste (ZW) programs without formally announcing a ZW goal. The learning curve for cities and counties that may follow has been made easier by new resources such as the Zero Waste Business Plan adopted by the Resource Recovery Department in Austin, and the statements on Extended Producer Responsibility issued by the Global Recycling Council of the California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) and the Zero Waste International Association. Paul Connett’s recently published book, The Zero Waste Solution, is the newest asset now available for zero waste planners and advocates.

Read the full article on CES[1] by ILSR’s Neil Seldman, appeared in the November 2014 issue of Biocycle.

  1. Read the full article on CES:

Source URL:

The New Rules for Retail Workers

by David Morris | December 14, 2014 9:19 am

Every month the federal government issues a new jobs report. The stock market gyrates, pundits pundify, politicians politic. Whether employment expands slowly or fast one central fact remains. The fastest growing occupations all pay low wages: retail salespersons, cashiers, food preparation and food service workers such as waiters and waitresses.

Since February 2010 industries whose jobs pay between $9.48 and $13.33 an hour have accounted[1] for 44 percent of job growth. The salary of many full time workers in these industries keeps them in poverty. And even this miserable situation is getting worse. The average retail worker earns about 12 percent less, adjusted for inflation, than a similar worker in 1979, according[2] to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

It gets worse. An increasing number of retail jobs are part time. “Over the past two decades, many major retailers went from a quotient of 70 to 80 percent full-time to at least 70 percent part-time across the industry,” Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of the Strategic Resource Group, a retail consulting firm told[3] the New York Times. Their hourly wages are almost 35 percent lower[4] than those of full-time employees. They often do not receive health benefits and are scheduled too few hours to earn a living.

Part-time jobs are no longer the domain of the young. Many are adults in their prime working years—25 to 54. Part ti employment used to be voluntary. Today involuntary part timers total 7.5 million, up from 4.4 million in 2007.

Retail employment, especially for part timers, is an uncertain situation. A University of Chicago study found[5] part time schedules fluctuated between 17 and 28 hours per week. Many employers schedule shifts as short as 2-3 hours. Some 47 percent of part timers received advance notice of only a week or less on their work schedules. Many are on call, finding out just hours ahead of time if they have to go for work.

From an employer’s perspective this is efficient. Computer algorithms successfully used to pare the need for inventory by matching the supply of products and parts to the demand are now used to allocate work hours. But as Marianne Levine at Politico writes[6], “Trouble is, getting moved around at the click of a mouse is more disruptive to human beings than it is to refrigerators and automobiles”.

The human cost in disrupted lives is enormous. Uncertain schedules undermine workers’ efforts to fulfill their caregiving responsibilities or maintain stable childcare or pursue education or training or juggle a second part time job.

The unfettered market brought us below poverty level wages, uncertain part time employment, and the disruption of tens of millions of lives. Clearly the market needs a little help. Congressional Republicans will have none of it, stalling several federal bills that would alleviate the hardship. So state and local Democrats and Republicans and Independents have stepped in.

After November’s elections in which four red states—Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota—passed minimum wage increases in 2015 a majority of states will have minimum wages higher than the federal rate.

In 2006 San Francisco was the first city to enact a paid sick leave requirement. Today 15 other cities and 3 states have such laws.

On November 26th San Francisco again led the way by passing a bill that will require retail stores with more than 20 locations globally to treat their workers more decently. Employers must give employees at least 2 weeks advance notice of work schedules changes. If notice is less than a week they must pay up to 4 hours at the worker’s regular hourly rate. If an employee is required to be on call and is not called the employer must provide 2-4 hours of pay. Employers must offer any extra work hours to current part timers before hiring new workers or subcontractors. Employers must provide equal treatment for part timers compared to full timers, including starting hourly wage, access to time off and eligibility for promotions. If the business is sold, the successor employer must retain for at least 90 days all employees who had worked there at least six months.

The San Francisco law will apply to 12 percent of all retailers that employ almost half of all retail workers in the city.

Retail laws do not apply to much beleaguered retail managers. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act did help supervisors by limiting the percentage of the day he or she could spend on non-managerial duties and still be exempt from overtime. Until 2004 that was understood to be no more than 50 percent. That year President Bush’s Department of Labor changed the threshold under which supervisors qualified for time and a half overtime pay. According to EPI[7], in 1975 65 percent of all salaried workers fell under the threshold and were thus entitled to overtime. By 2013, just 11 percent of salaried workers were automatically due overtime pay. Adding insult to injury, under the new rules people could be defined as managers exempt from overtime, for example, while doing grunt work and supervisory work simultaneously.

Overworked store managers often are evaluated based on whether they meet monthly (or weekly) targets for payroll as a percentage of sales. Managers don’t have much control over sales but they do control payroll. So when sales decrease, they immediately reduce staffing levels.

The Chamber of Commerce railed against the SF law as many business associations across the country have railed against municipal and state minimum wage or mandatory paid sick leave laws. They argue that retail is cut throat competitive with small margins and customers who demand the lowest price. But the evidence reveals that good management can make a business competitive and profitable even while treating workers humanely.

Treating workers poorly has its costs: lower morale, higher absenteeism and tardiness and turnover. Studies have found that hiring and training a replacement employee costs between $3300 and $6000. Untrained or poorly trained employees are less productive and make more errors. On-site management becomes even more difficult.

Zeynep Ton, associate professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management describes[8] a study she and Ananth Raman of the Harvard Business School conducted for Borders, a major bookstore chain. Analyzing data from 1999 through 2002 from more than 250 Borders stores, “We found that there was a huge variation in operational performance among stores that used the same information technology and offered the same incentives to employees. The performance of the best store was a whopping 43 times better than that of the worst store.”

Ton’s book, The Good Jobs Strategy[9] offers many examples of highly successful retail chains—such as Quik­Trip convenience stores, Trader Joe’s supermarkets, and Costco wholesale clubs—that complement higher investment in store employees with investments in operational practices. The combination makes work more efficient and more fulfilling while it lowers costs, boosts sale and profits and improves customer satisfaction.

Costco employees earn 40 percent more than those working at Sam’s Club and sales per employee are almost double those at Sam’s Club. Full-time employees at Trader Joe’s earn more than twice what competitors offer and sales per labor hour are more than 40 percent higher while sales per square foot are three times higher than those of an average U.S. supermarket. And turnover among full-time employees is less than 10 percent. QuikTrip’s wages and benefits are far higher than those of other comparable stores but its sales per labor hour are 50 percent higher. Its 13 percent turnover rate among full-time employees is remarkably lower than the 59 percent average rate in the top quartile of the convenience store industry.

Local and state government intervention is helping tens of millions of workers while forcing retail corporations to up their game. Those who continue to operate inefficiently will go out of business. Those who treat their workers (and customers) with respect will increase sales, reduce operating costs and increase profits. That’s a private public partnership I fully endorse.



  1. accounted:
  2. according:
  3. told:
  4. lower:
  5. found:
  6. writes:
  7. EPI:
  8. describes:
  9. The Good Jobs Strategy:

Source URL:

Alaska’s Enlightened Approach to Drugs and Privacy

by David Morris | December 4, 2014 10:11 am

Politicians left and right often use pet phrases to justify their positions:  states rights, individual liberty, personal responsibility.  Rarely are these consistently applied.  Even more rarely do politicians or political parties offer a coherent framework for deciding when a higher level of government should preempt a lower level of government or when individual liberty trumps state regulation.  Which makes what has happened in Alaska so refreshing and instructive.  The issue addressed was the right of individuals to use drugs when the state outlaws their use.

In August 1972, a little more than 13 years after Alaska became a state, its citizens voted overwhelmingly (86-14%) to add a two-sentence amendment to their state Constitution. “The right of the people to privacy is recognized and shall not be infringed. The legislature shall implement this section.”

In 1972 being caught in possession of marijuana got you the equivalent of a traffic ticket in Alaska. When attorney Irwin Ravin refused to sign his traffic ticket he was arrested.  The case went to the Alaska Supreme Court.  In 1975 the Court held that Alaska’s new Constitutional right to privacy protected an adult’s right to use marijuana in the home.

The Constitutional provision led the Court to set a high burden of proof for the state to justify its invasion of Ravin’s privacy. “Where there is a significant encroachment upon personal liberty, the State may prevail only upon showing a subordinating interest which is compelling.” The Court opined that the law must be shown “necessary, and not merely rationally related, to the accomplishment of a permissible state policy.”

The Court found the state had not met that standard.  It had not proven that the health and safety benefits to the community outweighed the right of individual privacy when it came to using marijuana. After extensively reviewing the evidence the Court determined, “the use of marijuana, as it is presently used in the United States today, does not constitute a public health problem of any significant dimensions. It is, for instance, far more innocuous in terms of physiological and social damage than alcohol or tobacco.”

Later, when Alaskans became infected with the same reefer madness as the rest of the country and imposed stiffer penalties the Alaska Supreme Court continued to rule that using marijuana in one’s home was Constitutionally protected.

In 1978 the Court again examined the balance between state authority to protect the health and safety and the right to personal use of drugs.  This time the drug involved was cocaine.  The Court again examined the evidence but this time found cocaine a far more dangerous drug than marijuana. For example, cocaine, unlike marijuana, can cause death. In its 1978 decision the Court reaffirmed the 1972 framework that would guide its decision making, declaring “the balance [of the individual’s interest in privacy and the government’s interest in health and safety] requires a heavier burden on the state to sustain the legislation in light of the (privacy) right involved.” But in this case it came down on the side of the state, finding a “sufficiently close and substantial relationship” between the prohibition and the legislative purpose of protecting the general health and welfare.

In 1984 the Court again explored the tension between the state’s right to protect the health and safety of its citizens and the right of the individual to be left alone.  This time the drug involved was alcohol.  In 1979 the Alaskan legislature had given communities the “local option” of the importation and sale of alcohol, although it they could not ban its use within the home. Hugh Harrison was convicted of importing alcohol into the village of the dry community of St. Mary’s. He challenged the constitutionality of the local option law, arguing, among other things that it violated his Constitutional right of privacy.  The Court disagreed, finding that alcohol was more like cocaine than marijuana, “The evidence presented at the omnibus hearing unmistakably established a correlation between alcohol consumption and poor health, death, family violence, child abuse, and crime…. Given this evidence, we conclude that the state has met its burden of justifying the local option law as a health and welfare measure.”

In 1986 the local option law was amended to allow communities to ban possession of alcohol.

In November 2014, Alaskan voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to legalize the possession and sale of marijuana, making the 1975 Court decision moot. But a number of Alaskan communities have asked the legislature to extend their local option to include marijuana as well as alcohol.  The legislature may well delegate to them the authority to ban the import, sale and public use of marijuana within their borders.  But the Court decision will prohibit communities from banning the possession or personal use of marijuana in one’s home.

One might disagree with the Court’s reasoning in any one of its decisions.  But I trust we can all support its transparent and accessible decision making framework and its reliance on scientific evidence to determine the balance between the right of the state to protect its citizens with the right of its citizens to be left alone.  The U.S. Congress and Supreme Court have much to learn from the next to last state to join the Union.






Source URL:

Maryland Counties Scrap Waste-to-Energy Project

by Neil Seldman | November 21, 2014 9:56 am

Organized citizens and small business owners in Carroll and Frederick Counties, MD just completed a 10-year battle to stop the implementation of a 1,500 ton per day mass burn garbage incinerator facility. The effort brought out the best in local activism: careful analysis of the contract and its financial implications, sophisticated use  of media, many small meetings with civic groups, public demonstrations, confronting elected officials and state authority on conflict of interest as well as failure to understand the contracts before them, and, above all, perseverance in pursuit of sound recycling and economic alternatives. The rest of the US will benefit from this outcome as several citizens who became involved in the local battle are now national experts and are helping other communities face similar challenges.

ILSR has been part of this effort since being invited to intervene at the request of a small business woman in 2004. The Frederick-Carroll incinerator was one of three that ILSR helped defeat in the last year. ILSR remains engaged in the effort to stop a planned 4,000 ton per day garbage incinerator in south Baltimore.

Read the story here[1] from the Frederick News Post, November 21, 2014

  1. Read the story here:

Source URL:

New Report: Walmart’s Dirty Energy Secret

by Stacy Mitchell | November 20, 2014 12:00 pm

placeholder[1]WalmartDirtyEnergyCoverImageWalmart talks a lot of talk about its renewable energy initiatives, but a new ILSR report finds that all that hype is just slick greenwashing hiding the company’s massive coal consumption.

In this first-of-its-kind analysis, ILSR calculated that Walmart is one of the nation’s largest users of coal-fired electricity.  Despite pledging nearly a decade ago to shift to 100 percent renewable energy, Walmart today derives only 3 percent of its U.S. electricity from its renewable energy projects — far less than many small businesses and competing chains.

Several national environmental leaders — including Michael Brune of Sierra Club[2], Bill McKibben of[3], and Jeremy Hays of Green For All[4] — joined ILSR in releasing the study and calling for change.

Read:  Executive Summary[5] | Press Release[6] | Full Report

How much climate pollution does Walmart generate by consuming coal in your state?  See the appendix of the report to find out!

Also see our Grist post, Walmart is a Huge Consumer of Dirty Coal Energy[7].

Executive Summary

In October, at an event broadcast live from Walmart’s Arkansas headquarters, the company’s top executives took the stage to extol its environmental leadership. The announcements they made that day would be covered widely by the press, including the Boston Globe, Guardian, and New York Times. The event opened with a video listing Walmart’s achievements over the preceding months: “We signed our largest multi-state solar power purchase agreement,” the narrator says, over a shot of workers installing new, glossy solar panels. “We were recognized by President Obama for announcing that we will double the number of on-site solar energy projects.” Then Walmart’s CEO, Doug McMillon, and its vice president of sustainability, Manuel Gomez, addressed the crowd. “You get one point for launching a goal,” said Gomez, “and nine points for execution… and what you saw in the video is exactly what we’re doing: executing against these goals.”

But off the stage and out in the real world, Walmart’s sustainability initiatives are heavy on admiration- inducing goals and astonishingly light on execution. Nearly a decade ago, the company pledged to shift to 100 percent renewable energy and acknowledged its responsibility to reduce its climate emissions as quickly as possible. Today, however, Walmart remains as deeply committed as ever to the dirtiest fuels, especially coal. It derives only 3 percent of its U.S. electricity from its renewable energy projects, down from 4 percent two years ago.

In this first-of-its-kind analysis, ILSR provides new information about Walmart’s energy mix and environmental footprint. We calculate the total electricity use, coal-fired power consumption, and resulting carbon emissions of every Walmart store and distribution center in the country in 2013. We also evaluate the company’s renewable energy projects, finding that they are too small and located in the wrong places to have much of an impact on Walmart’s coal use and climate emissions.

Our analysis finds that Walmart’s electricity consumption entails burning a staggering amount of coal: 4.2 million tons a year. That’s enough to give every kid in America a stocking filled with 126 pounds of the sooty stuff as a holiday present. Or, to measure it another way: If you dumped coal on a football field, you’d have to pile it 35 feet high, from end-zone to end-zone, just to power Walmart’s U.S. stores for one week. Walmart sources more of its electricity from coal (40 percent) than the U.S. as a whole (39 percent) — a remarkable fact for a company that has touted its environmental responsibility for years. Indeed, we find that Walmart alone consumes 0.5 percent of all the electricity produced from coal in U.S., a stunning figure given the size of the entire national economy and population. Walmart’s use of coal-fired electricity in the U.S. accounts for 37 percent of its total reported global greenhouse gas emissions, and 74 percent of its U.S. emissions from electricity. (more…)[8]

  1. [Image]:
  2. Sierra Club:
  4. Green For All:
  5. Executive Summary: #ExecSummary
  6. Press Release:
  7. Walmart is a Huge Consumer of Dirty Coal Energy:
  8. (more…):

Source URL:

The History and Hope for a First-in-the-Nation City-Utility Clean Energy Partnership

by John Farrell | November 17, 2014 11:05 am

In the past month, the city of Minneapolis and its two investor-owned utilities adopted the nation’s first clean energy partnership[1], with a wide range of goals including meeting the city’s ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. How did it happen and what can it accomplish? The following 8-minute video[2] from one of the “lead rabble rousers” on the Minneapolis Energy Options campaign, John Farrell, explains what got things started and where the partnership may lead.

Full video transcript[3]

The Beginning

One of the primary motivators of the Minneapolis Energy Options campaign was to say, “How much money do we spend collectively as a city on these energy services, and how much of that is actually leaving the city of Minneapolis.” The answer is $450 million each year, for electricity and gas services, with most of the profits leaving town. “A lot of it is money that can be recaptured within the local economy, especially…when you’re talking about a transformation taking place in the technology in the electricity sector allowing you to generate energy much closer to home than we ever have before.”

Organizers of the Minneapolis Energy Options campaign started around a conference table asking how this notion of the local energy dollar could be addressed, and immediately thought of the municipalization fight in Boulder, CO[4]. But “it seemed sort of silly to be saying, “let’s go out and form our own utility” [when] we haven’t even really talked to the ones that we’ve got about what we could do with working with them.” On the other hand, the city needed leverage in its negotiations with utilities since most of the power in utility regulation is at the state and federal level. So the campaign was meant to elevate the notion of the city’s energy options, up to and including the formation of a city-owned utility.

The campaign was hottest during municipal elections in 2013: “we had a lot of candidates talking about it, the mayoral candidates talking about it, city council candidates talking about the campaign. We had the specter of a ballot initiative around municipalization.”

The result of the campaign was that the utilities came to the table to negotiate.

A Novel Partnership

As of October 2014, “we have a first-in-the-nation partnership between a city and its utilities to explore not only the two-thirds of climate emissions that are the result of electricity and gas consumption that the city really didn’t have any opportunity to influence before. But also that 450 million dollars that’s being spent in the local economy and how that can be kept more local.”

As one testifier at city council said, ‘Our job now is to figure out how this doesn’t become the quarterly coffee clatch for the city folks and the utilities, and how do we make sure we actually have real substantive conversations about it.'”

“What are the possibilities?”

Three Big Opportunities

“There are three key things at stake. The first one is, what ideas can we generate that are innovative and ambitious and measurable and achievable within a short time frame? Because we’ve established for ourselves that this partnership can go on as long as ten years. We’ve got a check-in point of about five years. Which means we really have to start having stuff happen within two to three years if we want to know whether or not this is working.” All of the parties – Minneapolis Energy Options (Community Power), the city, and the utilities are going to come with great ideas.  “What can this city put on the table with its regulatory authority over local property? What can utilities bring to bear with the data that they have about our local grid and the knowledge that they have about installing local solar?”

“Number two is, can we…set ourselves real benchmarks for accomplishing these things? Can we say two years from now that we are going to make meaningful and substantial progress on energy efficiency by retro-fitting a certain number of homes? Can we do it in a way that focuses on communities that have been traditionally disadvantaged, where folks pay a disproportionate share of their monthly income on energy?  What can we accomplish with community solar over the next couple of years in Minneapolis? What are going to be the opportunities to get synergies between energy savings programs for electricity and gas?

Number three is, “how do we then let this be part of the bigger national conversation about how do we structure a utility business model (see forthcoming ILSR report, to be released 12/2/14) that serves the principles and goals not only of the city of Minneapolis, but – writ-large – all of the utility customers who care about things like clean energy?”

This article originally posted at[5]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[6] or get the Democratic Energy weekly[7] update.

Photo credit: Matthew Paulson[8]

  1. the nation’s first clean energy partnership:
  2. 8-minute video:
  3. Full video transcript:
  4. municipalization fight in Boulder, CO:
  6. Twitter:
  7. Democratic Energy weekly:
  8. Matthew Paulson:

Source URL:

Get the Facts on Shopping Local for the Holidays with this Infographic

by ILSR Admin | November 14, 2014 1:47 pm

placeholder[1]Independent businesses are poised to draw more people this holiday season.  To illustrate the ways that local businesses are growing in popularity, delivering stronger economic returns, and expanding in numbers, the Advocates for Independent Business[2], a coalition of 14 groups coordinated by ILSR, put together this infographic.


  1. [Image]:
  2. Advocates for Independent Business:
  3. [Image]:

Source URL:

ILSR Presenting on Food Waste Composting to Philadelphia City Council – Nov. 12th

by Brenda Platt | November 6, 2014 2:26 pm

ILSR’s Brenda Platt will be presenting on the benefits of food waste composting before the The Joint Committees on Streets and Services & The Environment of the Council of the City of Philadelphia on November 12th.   The public hearing will cover the feasibility of and benefits to the City of residential food waste recycling including its impact on environmental quality, hunger prevention, economic savings and job creation.

Local recycling advocates RecycleNow Philadelphia[1] are urging the public to turn out a strong presence at this first hearing to demonstrate that a citywide food waste recycling program is a priority for the residents of Philadelphia and to give residents an opportunity to be active participants in the discussion from start to finish.  More on their effort here[2].

Date: Wednesday, November 12, 2014, at 2:00 PM,
Location: Room 400, City Hall, Philadelphia, PA (more…)[3]

  1. RecycleNow Philadelphia:
  2. More on their effort here:
  3. (more…):

Source URL:

Democrat Candidates Lost. Democrat Issues Won

by David Morris | November 5, 2014 2:40 pm

On Tuesday Democrats lost big when they ran a candidate but won big when they ran an issue.

In 42 states about 150 initiatives were on the ballot. The vast majority did not address issues dividing the two parties (e.g. raising the mandatory retirement age for judges, salary increases for state legislators, bond issues supporting a range of projects). But scores of initiatives did involve hot button issues. And on these American voters proved astonishingly liberal.

Voters approved every initiative to legalize or significantly reduce the penalties for marijuana possession (Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington, Washington, D.C.) It is true that a Florida measure to legalize medical marijuana lost but 57 percent voted in favor (60 percent was required.)

Voters approved every initiative to raise the minimum wage (Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, South Dakota). Voters in San Francisco and Oakland approved initiatives to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018. The good citizens of Oakland and Massachusetts overwhelmingly approved more generous paid sick leave.

Both Colorado and North Dakota voters rejected measures that would have given the fertilized egg personhood under their criminal codes.

Washington state voters approved background checks for all gun sales and transfers, including private transactions.

By a wide margin Missourians rejected a constitutional amendment to require teachers to be evaluated based on test results and fired or demoted virtually at will.

By a 59-41 margin North Dakotans voted to keep their unique statute outlawing absentee owned pharmacies despite Walmart outspending independent pharmacist supporters at least ten to one.

The vote in Colorado offers a good example of the disparity between how Americans vote on candidates and how we vote on issues. A few years ago the Colorado legislature stripped cities and counties of the right to build their own telecommunications networks but it allowed them to reclaim that authority if they put it to a vote of their citizens. On Tuesday 8 cities and counties did just that. Residents in every community voted by a very wide margin to permit government owned networks even while they were voting by an equally wide margin for Republican candidates who vigorously oppose government ownership of anything.

Republicans did gain a number of important victories. Most of these dealt with taxes. For example, Georgia voters by a wide margin supported a constitutional amendment prohibiting the state legislature from raising the maximum state income tax rate. Massachusetts’ voters narrowly voted to overturn a law indexing the state gasoline tax to the consumer price increase.

What did Tuesday tell us? When given the choice between a Republican and a Democrat candidate the majority of voters chose the Republican. When given a choice between a Republican and a Democrat position on an issue they chose the Democrat. I’ll leave it up to others to debate the reasons behind this apparent contradiction. My own opinion is that ballot initiatives more accurately take the ideological pulse of the people because debates over issues must focus on issues, not personality, temperament or looks. Those on both sides of the issue can exaggerate, distort and just plain lie but they must do so in reference to the question on the ballot. No ballot initiative ever lost because one of its main backers attended a strip club 16 years earlier.




Source URL:

In Big Win for Local Ownership, North Dakota Votes to Keep State’s Pharmacy Law

by Olivia LaVecchia | November 5, 2014 2:23 pm

At North Dakota polls on Tuesday, local ownership was the winner.

The state voted overwhelmingly to keep its forward-thinking Pharmacy Ownership Law, defeating Measure 7, the Walmart-funded effort to overturn it. Final returns came in with 59 percent of the vote in favor of the law, the Fargo Forum reports[1].

As Governing magazine notes[2], “It wasn’t even close.”

North Dakota’s Pharmacy Ownership Law ensures that the state’s pharmacies are run by pharmacists, not by corporate chains.

In October, ILSR released a report[3] that provided new data and analysis of the law’s impact, and made a compelling case for keeping it.  The report found that, thanks to the state’s local ownership policy, North Dakotans receive pharmacy care that outperforms care in other states on every key measure, from cost to access to quality.  The findings were covered by both newspaper and radio outlets in North Dakota.

The opposition campaign, called North Dakotans for Lower Pharmacy Prices, was fueled by misinformation, and funded exclusively by Walmart, which sank more than $3 million into the group. That’s more money per North Dakota resident than either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney each spent during the 2012 presidential race.

Measure 7 marks the fourth time in the past five years that North Dakota has fielded off corporate-funded attempts to overturn the law. Now, it has survived challenges in court, in the state legislature, and at the polls.

As we wrote[4] earlier this week, “It’s more important than ever to ensure that everyone has convenient access to a high quality pharmacy, where decisions are made by local people whose first allegiance is to health care, not to the profits of a distant chain.”

In Tuesday’s vote, North Dakota again showed that it agrees.

For the full rundown on how North Dakota’s Pharmacy Ownership Law delivers superior care, read our report[5]. For more information on Pharmacy Ownership Laws as a policy tool in other places, check out our Rules Library[6].

Photo courtesy of Andrew Filer[7].

  1. the Fargo Forum reports:
  2. notes:
  3. report:
  4. we wrote:
  5. our report:
  6. Rules Library:
  7. Andrew Filer:

Source URL:

Why North Dakotans Should Vote to Keep the State’s Unique Pharmacy Law this Election Day

by Olivia LaVecchia | November 3, 2014 12:23 pm

This Tuesday, North Dakota voters will decide the fate of the state’s Pharmacy Ownership Law. Those working against the law—namely Walmart, which has sunk more than $3 million into a front group called North Dakotans for Lower Pharmacy Prices—contend that abandoning the long-standing policy would lead to an increase in the number of pharmacies serving North Dakota.

Our research suggests just the opposite. In a report released last week[1], we reviewed data from state pharmacy boards and the U.S. Census and found that without the Pharmacy Ownership Law, North Dakotans, particularly those in small towns, would have fewer pharmacies than they have today, forcing many to drive long distances or rely more heavily on mail order firms, which study after study find provide inferior care.

For an idea of what’s at stake for North Dakota with Measure 7, we can look across the border to South Dakota, where the pharmacy landscape is very different. In South Dakota, there are fewer pharmacies per person than there are in North Dakota. Those pharmacies that do exist are clustered around urban areas, leaving rural areas and small towns without this basic service. In fact, we found that North Dakota not only beats South Dakota, but has 20 percent more pharmacies per person than Minnesota, and 30 percent more than the national average.

The difference between North Dakota and South Dakota is even more striking when you look at rural areas and small towns. About one-third of the population of each state lives in these places, but North Dakota’s rural areas are 51 percent more likely to contain a pharmacy than similarly-populated areas of South Dakota. Even in urban areas, there’s much more pharmacy competition in North Dakota than in South Dakota. Residents of North Dakota’s two largest cities, Fargo and Bismarck, have 38 percent more competing pharmacies to choose from than residents of Sioux Falls and Rapid City do, because many of the pharmacies in these South Dakota cities are owned by the same chains.

This heightened competition may explain why, over the past five years, North Dakota has ranked 13th on average in lowest prescription prices among the states, beating both South Dakota and Minnesota, according to leading prescription price data from Symphony Health. (more…)[2]

  1. report released last week:
  2. (more…):

Source URL:

Job Opening: Director of Development

by ILSR Admin | October 30, 2014 4:34 pm

placeholder[1]The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is a 40-year-old national nonprofit organization that challenges concentrated corporate power and provides research and policy models to enable communities to take charge of their local economies and build a more equitable and environmentally sound future.  ILSR has a staff of 12 with offices in Minneapolis, MN; Portland, Maine; and Washington, DC.

ILSR is seeking a Director of Development, based in any of our three offices.

Reporting to ILSR’s Co-Directors, the Director of Development will be responsible for leading ILSR’s fund development strategy, setting and achieving fundraising benchmarks, engaging supporters, and establishing new relationships with prospective funders. The Director of Development will collaborate closely with ILSR’s Initiative (Program) Directors to jointly develop proposals and execute fundraising strategies.

Core Responsibilities:



Key Qualifications & Skills:


ILSR provides a competitive salary and compensation package including health insurance, paid vacation, and a retirement plan.

How to Apply: 

Please send a cover letter, résumé, and two writing samples reflecting your original work to[2].  The subject line should read “Director of Development Application.”  No phone calls, please.

  1. [Image]:

Source URL:

Second National Cultivating Community Composting Forum – October 25th

by Brenda Platt | October 13, 2014 5:18 pm

ILSR is pleased to announce — along with co-organizers BioCycle and Civic Works — the second national Cultivating Community Composting[1], a day-long forum (10:00 AM-4:30 PM) on October 25th, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland.

Like the first forum (held in Columbus, Ohio), this event will bring together composters to network, share best practices, and build support for community scale composting systems and enterprises.

The second national Cultivating Community Composting Forum is being held at the Rita Church Community Center in Baltimore, Maryland’s Clifton Park, where Civic Works’ Real Food Farm is located.

The forum will address a range of topics, including composting methods, permitting and financing, training, bike-powered collection, integrating composting into food production, and community engagement.

The fee to participate is $35 and includes lunch and a tour of the Real Food Farm’s on-site composting and farm.

More information and Online Registration.[2]

Community composting programs range from urban to rural and include demonstration/training sites, schools, universities, pedal-powered collection systems, worker-owned cooperatives, community gardens, and farms employing multiple composting techniques. Many but not all are non-profit mission driven enterprises.  Their distinguishing feature is keeping the process and product as local as possible while engaging the community through participation and education.

Click for more information on ILSR’s community composting work[3]

  1. Cultivating Community Composting:
  2. More information and Online Registration.:
  3. Click for more information on ILSR’s community composting work:

Source URL:

Scotland and Catalonia: Fraternal but not Twins

by David Morris | October 10, 2014 11:12 am

Scotland and Catalonia are brothers in arms. Independence movement leaders communicate regularly.  On September 18, when Scotland voted on uncoupling from the United Kingdom Catalans were there.  When Catalonia votes on independence, a vote originally scheduled for November 9th but delayed pending a court decision, Scots will certainly be in attendance.

Scotland and Catalonia have much in common: similar populations (Scotland 5.5 million, Catalonia 7.5 million), a similar fraction of their Mother Country’s population (Scotland 8.4 percent, Catalonia 16 percent), a similar historical moment when they lost their sovereignty (Scotland 1707, Catalonia 1714), a similar historical discrimination against their native languages (Gaelic and Catalan).

But in key ways the two are quite different. All of Scotland was never militarily conquered by England.   It voluntarily entered into what became the United Kingdom and retained many of its institutions, although not its Parliament. Catalonia, on the other hand, fell to the Bourbon King Felipe V after a brutal two-year siege of Barcelona.  In the aftermath Catalan institutions were wiped out and the use of the Catalan language severely constrained.  In the 1930s Catalonia was the center of resistance to Franco and fascism and when Franco, with the aid of Germany, won he deepened its cultural annihilation to the point where even reading in Catalan made one subject to arrest.

In Catalonia language is an essential point of dispute.  In Scotland it is not.  While both countries revived education in their ancient languages in the 1980s, Catalonia was much more aggressive.  Catalan is Catalonia’s official language.  Schools teach Spanish only as a foreign language.  Today less than 2 percent of Scotland speaks Gaelic while more than 45 percent of Catalonia speak Catalan.

One of the major factors spurring Scots to vote for independence is their opposition to what many Scots view as the mean spirited policies embraced by Whitehall.  When Scotland has the authority to make decisions, theirs are quite different than the Tories. Unlike in the rest of the United Kingdom, the costs of a university education, and care services for the elderly are free in Scotland. There are many other policy differences. Scots are much more favorable to continued membership in the European Union. Scotland wants to eliminate nuclear weapons.  In contrast, policy differences, except with regard to language and fiscal flows, do not appear to be a major factor in the drive for Catalonia’s independence.

If Scotland were to go independent, it would almost certainly endure fiscal hardship.  Catalonia, on the other hand, would handsomely benefit.

Scotland accounts for 8.4 percent of the UK population and 8.3 percent of the UK’s total output.  Under the current spending formula Scotland receives about £31000 ($5000) more per capita than England.  By one calculation[1] even if Scotland were to receive 90 percent of the North Sea oil revenue, something the UK would never allow, the subsidy would simply drop to £2100 ($3400).

Most of the people voting for Scottish independence seemed to understand this.  Economic betterment wasn’t a persuasive factor for the Yes voter.  Only 20 percent were guided[2] by the belief that “on balance, Scotland’s future looked brighter as an independent country.”  Some 70 percent embraced “the principle that all decisions about Scotland should be taken in Scotland.”

Catalonia has 16 percent of the Spanish population while comprising 20 percent of Spain’s economy. Although most wealthier regions of Spain and other European countries run fiscal deficits (they generate more tax revenue than they receive back) Catalonia’s deficit is comparatively[3] much greater. For example, southeast England is 17 percent wealthier than other English regions and has a fiscal deficit of a little over 6 percent.  Paris is 51 percent richer than other parts of France and runs a fiscal deceit of a little over 4 percent.  Catalonia is 22 percent richer than the average Spanish region but runs a fiscal deficit of 7-10 percent.  By one estimate Catalonian annual subsidies to the rest of Spain may be as much as £2600 ($4200) per capita.  Catalonia argues that the fiscal deficit is one of the reasons that its economic growth in recent years has been slower than other regions. (more…)[4]

  1. calculation:
  2. guided:
  3. comparatively:
  4. (more…):

Source URL:

Waste as a Boon for Economic Development with Neil Seldman – October 22nd

by Neil Seldman | October 8, 2014 12:35 pm

How can we create jobs from our recycling program? What are other communities and regions doing to reduce waste while supporting economic development? What type of impact can community composting programs have on job creation?

On October 22nd, from 10am-12 noon, the Town of DeWitt Sustainability Committee, the CNY Recycling Jobs Task Force, NYS Assemblyman Sam Roberts, and County Legislators Linda Ervin and Dave Knapp, in cooperation with other local partners will host Neil Seldman, ILSR, at DeWitt Town Hall (Onondaga County, NY) to address local elected official, local businesses and the public regarding potential benefits of recycling and related jobs.

Mr. Seldman will discuss programs like pay as you throw, deconstruction and resale of building materials, household food recovery programs, zero waste planning, municipal purchasing, and other initiative from communities throughout North America that have been successful in supporting the growth and development of local economies.

More information[1]

  1. More information:

Source URL:

A Localist Agenda: Policy and Politics for Building a Community-Scaled Economy (Video)

by Stacy Mitchell | October 1, 2014 12:51 pm


Chief among the barriers we face in trying to transform our economic system is a web of local, state, and federal policies that concentrate economic power, undermine community-scaled enterprises and systems, and strip citizens of their capacity and authority to determine their own economic future.

In this panel at the New Economy Coalition’s 2014 conference, ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell, together with Barry Lynn of the New America Foundation[2] and Aaron Bartley of PUSH Buffalo[3], talk about crafting a countervailing political narrative and shared policy framework for devolving economic power and building a community-scaled economy.

Lynn speaks first, reflecting on the anti-monopoly thinking that guided America’s political economy from the country’s founding until the 1980s and how it might be resurrected in today’s context.  Mitchell then presents an emerging policy agenda that outlines concrete municipal, state, and federal proposals for countering corporate power and rebuilding community-scaled enterprises.  Finally, Bartley discusses organizing strategies and how PUSH is building power in Buffalo.  The session is moderated by Lew Daly of Demos[4].


  1. [Image]:
  2. New America Foundation:
  3. PUSH Buffalo:
  4. Demos:

Source URL:

All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access

by Christopher | September 30, 2014 1:01 am

Minneapolis, MN —In 2010 the Minnesota legislature set a goal: universal access to high speed broadband throughout the state by 2015. As 2015 approaches we know that large parts of Greater Minnesota will not achieve that goal, even as technological advances make the original benchmarks increasingly obsolete.

But some Minnesota communities are significantly exceeding those goals. Why? The activism of local governments.

A new report by ILSR, widely recognized as one of the most knowledgeable organizations on municipal broadband networks, details the many ways Minnesota’s local governments have stepped up. “All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access”[1] includes case studies of 12 Minnesota cities and counties striving to bring their citizens 21st century telecommunications.

“When national cable and telephone companies have refused to modernize their communications systems, local governments have stepped up. And in the process saved money, attracted new businesses, and made it more likely that their youth will stick around,” says Chris Mitchell, Director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s (ILSR) Community Broadband Networks Initiative.

ILSR’s report is particularly timely because this week, the governor’s office began accepting applications for the state’s new $20 million initiative Border-to-Border program.  “We hope that before communities submit their applications they read this report to learn what others have done,” says Mitchell.


Cover All Hands Hifijpg[2]Click here to read and download the full report.[3]

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance presents this in-depth case study co-authored by Lisa Gonzalez and Christopher Mitchell.

Read ongoing stories about these networks at ILSR’s site devoted to Community Broadband Networks[4].  You can also subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks[5].


ABOUT Community Broadband Networks ([6]):

At, we provide resources for those joining the movement to build broadband networks that are directly accountable to the communities they serve.

As more community leaders realize the economic benefits of faster, more reliable Internet services, they are pursuing local control of connectivity through public ownership, cooperative models, and other nonprofit approaches.

The vast majority of community broadband networks, particularly fiber-to-the-home networks, have lowered prices and spurred job growth in their communities. We find out what works, and help other communities replicate these results. is a trusted voice for community networks, our team advises high-ranking broadband decision-makers, and speaks on radio and television programs in markets across the United States.



We believe we make better and more informed policies when those who design those policies are those who feel their impact.

ILSR works with citizens, activists, policymakers and entrepreneurs to provide them with innovative strategies and working models that support environmentally sound and equitable economic policies and community development. Since 1974, ILSR has championed local self-reliance, a strategy that underscores the need for humanly scaled institutions and economies and the widest possible distribution of ownership. 

  1. “All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access”:
  2. [Image]:
  3. Click here to read and download the full report.:
  4. Community Broadband Networks:
  5. subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks:

Source URL:

Demos and ILSR Co-Host a Convening on Building a Policy Movement for New Economy Transformation

by Stacy Mitchell | September 29, 2014 2:37 pm

Image: Convening Cover[1]In September, ILSR partnered with Dēmos[2] to co-host a convening on New Economy Transformation: Building a Policy Movement[3]. The event, held in New York City, brought together about 30 leading thinkers and organizers to begin forging a new phase of policy development and campaigning with the aim of fundamentally reorganizing economic power to be rooted in and serve communities.

ILSR and Dēmos collaborated with the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies[4] and its Local Economy Fellowship Program in designing meeting.  The fellows helped orient the discussion, in part, around the potentially significant role of local business leaders in achieving an equitable and sustainable future.

Over the course of two days, participants developed a shared vision for a new economy; discussed substantive challenges for growing this movement, particularly around worker justice, racial equity, and job creation at scale; assessed and prioritized high-impact policy ideas; and began identifying strategies for coordinated policy campaigns in multiple states and cities.

We hope and anticipate that the conversation begun at this convening will be the starting point for building a long-term movement to transform public policy.  Stay tuned for more details from the convening and next steps.

  1. [Image]:
  2. Dēmos:
  3. New Economy Transformation: Building a Policy Movement:
  4. Business Alliance for Local Living Economies:

Source URL:

Review: Zero Waste: “Nil to Landfill” Is Now a Practical Goal

by Neil Seldman | September 18, 2014 2:41 pm

A Review of a March 2014 social impact report from the Wharton School of Business, Philadelphia, PA, by Neil Seldman, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Washington, DC

Changes in solid waste management have indeed made a great social impact in the past few years. However, the Wharton School’s Social Impact March 2014 report, Zero Waste: “Nil to Landfill” Is Now a Practical Goal[1], gives only a glimpse of how new expectations have shifted attitudes, technologies and practices about what recycling can do for a local economy in the near future. Another flaw in the review is its lack of precision when using the terms “zero waste,” and “Extended Producer Responsibility” or “EPR.” As a result, while the report introduces interesting and innovative information on businesses and projects, it leaves the reader behind when it comes to appreciating the current state of the art.

The “nil to landfill” claim is a new approach by companies trying to win customer support for their green works. The reality is that, while claiming “zero waste to landfill,” these companies send their wastes to incinerators. All incinerators need landfills for ash and bypass wastes; these byproducts make up about 20% of the waste stream by volume. For decades, the counties in southern Florida counties have reached the “zero waste to landfill” goal. So when Florida declared a 75% goal to diversion, these counties were already covered. Alachua County has a goal of 75% without incineration. The current flirtation with garbage incineration in all its forms is, in fact, a repetition of 1980s and ’90s efforts to build more than 300 facilities. Only a few of those ended up being built. Today’s wave—an estimated 100 garbage incineration proposals—is meeting a similar demise at the hands of citizen and environmental activists and small businesses. Most recently, there has been a big shift in strategy. The industry is moving away from building new incinerators: rather, companies like WMI will focus on prepared or processed fuels from mixed garbage to be burned in relatively small facilities that are below the EPA threshold for pollution controls, with no community opposition.

Wharton’s report presents good information on real zero waste developments: for example, it includes a description of Paul Connett’s new book, The Zero Waste Solution (Chelsea Green, 2013). This book is the best source of up-to-date information from around the world. The report also cites achievements in Italy—in Capannori, for example—that  Connett documents in his book. There is a growing European movement against incineration: officials are backing away from the practice in favor of recycling and composting.

At the same time, European countries are moving away from the EPR system that gave industry a monopoly over recycling. This program is being demonopolized as recycling costs have soared without competition. As new companies are allowed to enter the sector, officials are seeing a 50% reduction in the costs of recycling. The report does not cover the dramatic changes in US EPR policies, which are eschewing brand-name corporation control of EPR in favor of individual company EPR that supports the local recycling industry instead of replacing it. Corporate control over EPR and recycling has been proposed by leading environmental and industry groups such as Recycle Reinvented and NRDC.

There has been strong recycling industry push back against the corporate dominated model. The city of Berkeley, Calif. originally adopted a corporate EPR ‘Framework’ espoused by the Product Packaging Institute, renamed Upstream. The Citizens Zero Waste Commission proposed an alternative approach to EPR that establishes local agency control, subject to citizen discussion and debate. The City Council approved the new EPR policy.  In British Columbia, monopolization, nexus with incineration, confusion and business resistance followed the introduction of the unpopular EPR System. These events reinforced the negative posture to this concentrated form of EPR. Sims, Inc., the largest metals recycling company in the world, closed its facilities in Ontario and British Columbia as a result of their EPR policies. The retrenchment from corporate EPR was a grassroots effort on the part of recycling practitioners and activists acting to protect a robust industry that has been nurtured for the past 40 years, and that has achieved one million jobs, 65,000 companies, and 10,000 local government programs. It regularly delivers 100 million tons of raw materials to US agriculture and industry.

The discussion of EPR also must distinguish between discarded materials that are not wanted in the community—e.g. toxic materials—and what materials are wanted in the community, e.g., materials and products to which you can add value through manufacturing and processing jobs and tax base. EPR works well on the former, not on the latter.

The report mentions the achievements of San Francisco’s recycling and composting systems, but overlooks perhaps a more interesting situation across the Bay. In Berkeley, the recycling rate is equal to that of San Francisco, but a community-based ecology of commerce has flourished. Six agencies—nonprofits, for-profits and city departments—accomplish what in San Francisco requires a unique city charter monopoly.

Alas, the report does not focus at all on composting, which is expanding rapidly to over 200 municipal collection programs and hundreds of new companies and community-based eco-farms. A new generation of equipment has been introduced to meet the needs of this new sector of the recycling industry. Similarly, the report fails to mention reuse enterprises, which are also expanding rapidly. These companies focus on the 5% of the waste stream that is repairable and reusable, and can add value that is equivalent to 50% of all other recovered recycled materials.

It is  true that the economy is on the path to zero waste, but not because of the factors enumerated in the Wharton Report. Rather, as has always been the case, the prime movers in recycling, reuse and composting are organized citizens and small businesses, focused at the local level of government. This is where decisions on recycling and waste are made. Yes, individual companies do at times introduce better products and packaging, but the engine of reform and change has come, and continues to come, from the ground up.

  1. Zero Waste: “Nil to Landfill” Is Now a Practical Goal:

Source URL:

Scotland, Sovereignty and Corporations

by David Morris | September 12, 2014 8:14 am

Since 1945 the number of nations has soared from about 60 to more than 180.  The first wave of new sovereign states came with the decolonization movement of the 1960s and 1970s; the second in the early 1990s with the break-up of the Soviet Union. Scotland’s independence movement is part of a third wave. Dozens of would-be nations are waiting in the wings:  Wales, Catalonia, Flanders, Brittany, the list is long.

In 1957 in his classic book The Breakdown of Nations economist and political scientist Leopold Kohr persuasively and rigorously argued that small nations are the natural order having been throughout history the engines for enlightenment, innovation, mutual aid and the arts.  The large nation state, he argued is not a reflection of improved efficiency but of superior force.

It is the great powers which lack the real basis of existence and are without autochthonous, self-sustaining sources of strength. It is they that are the artificial structures, holding together a medley of more or less unwilling little tribes. There is no Great British’ nation in Great Britain. What we find are the English, Scots, Irish, Cornish, Welsh, and the islanders of Man. In Italy, we find the Lombards, Tyroleans, Venetians, Sicilians, or Romans. In Germany we find Bavarians, Saxons, Hessians, Rhinelanders, or Brandenburgers. And in France, we find Normans, Catalans, Alsatians, Basques, or Burgundians. These little nations came into existence by themselves, while the great powers had to be created by force and a series of bloodily unifying wars. Not a single component part joined them voluntarily. They all had to be forced into them, and could be retained by them only by means of their division into counties, Gaue, or departments. . . .”

With a population of 5.2 million, a sovereign Scotland would rank just below the median size of the world’s nations.  It could rest assured that nations of its size can thrive.  Think Finland, Costa Rica, Ireland, Norway.  Small nations are easier to administer, more nimble in policy and their governments are more accountable to and reflective of their communities. Indeed, it is the divergence between the values of the Scottish culture and those of the Conservative government in Whitehall that has been a major impetus for independence.   That divergence is reflected in the fact that today only one Tory holds a seat from Scotland in the British Parliament.

Prime Minister Cameron’s Conservatives advocate welfare cuts, austerity and privatization.  They enthusiastically embrace what the Scots would call the mean values of the Conservatives heroine Maggie Thatcher who summed up her thinking with the famous phrase,  “There is no such thing as society.”

The Scots most definitely believe there is a thing called society. The Scottish National Party, which controls the Scottish government and supports independence, wants to get rid of nuclear weapons, raise the minimum wage in line with inflation and begin a sweeping extension of child care. It is also more favorable toward immigration and the European Union than the British government.

“There is more of a communitarian viewpoint in Scotland that sees the value of coming together to provide public services, to acknowledge the strength of community in Scotland,” Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s deputy first minister told[1] the New York Times.

But if Scotland does become sovereign it will quickly discover that that sovereignty has been severely restricted by new global rules promoted by increasingly dominant global corporations.   Nations may be getting smaller, but corporations are getting larger. Of the 100 largest economies in the world, more than half are global corporations. The Top 200 corporations’ combined sales represent over one quarter of the world’s GDP. (more…)[2]

  1. told:
  2. (more…):

Source URL:

Webinar September 16, 2014 – Community Composting: Lessons from NYC

by Brenda Platt | September 10, 2014 9:21 am

ILSR’s Brenda Platt presented at a free webinar, “Community Composting:  Lessons from New York City & Beyond,” on September 16, 2014.

Community composting presents a scalable food diversion option that is applicable in virtually any community, whether urban, suburban, or rural. Community compost programs can be established at community (neighborhood, urban, or tribal) gardens, farms, schools, or other locations. They can be operated by not-for-profit organizations, governments, private sector, schools, housing associations, cooperatives, or through other arrangements.

Operations can serve as demonstration or training sites and/or serve as an effective solution for initiating food scrap processing. Food scrap drop-off collection can take place at community compost sites, farmers markets, transit stations, or other locations. An essential role that community composting can play in the evolution of food scrap diversion is to educate and involve residents in learning about food scrap diversion, the benefits of composting, the uses for compost products, and how the resulting compost products can benefit the community.

New York City’s Compost Project is a community-scale composting network that works to increase capacity and participation in composting in NYC. The city has developed partnerships to provide collection and processing of residential food scraps through its community composting network, along with pilot food scrap collections at multi- family units and schools. In NYC, an estimated 200,000 people participate in the community food scrap collection.

Presenters and Topics

Community Composting—a Model for any Community – Brenda Platt, Co-Director, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Director, Composting Makes $en$e Project, & lead author of the new report Growing Local Fertility: Guide to Community Composting

Growing Organics Collections in NYC: The Evolution of the GrowNYC Food Scrap Collection Program & More – David Hurd, Director, Office of Recycling Outreach & Education, GrowNYC

Community Composting in Action – Christine Datz-Romero, Executive Director, Lower East Side Ecology Center

Sponsored by the Northeast Recycling Council • Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) • New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Source URL:

Debating the Role of Government in Somerset Kentucky

by David Morris | September 10, 2014 9:08 am

When two politicians debate the role of government, it is almost always Democrat vs. Republican.  Which is why it was so refreshing and instructive to read of the debate taking place among Republicans in a small city in southeastern Kentucky.

On July 19, after years of complaints about local gasoline prices being higher than those in surrounding communities, the City of Somerset decided to take matters into its own hands and began selling gasoline directly to the public.  Two term State Senator Chris Girdler immediately declared, “socialism is alive and well in Somerset.”  Two term Mayor Eddie Girdler, a distant cousin responded[1], “If government doesn’t do it to protect the public, then who does it?”

In an interview State Senator Girdler, paraphrasing Ronald Reagan’s famous dictum insisted,  “the government is not the answer – government’s the problem.”    Regrettably the interviewer did not remind the readers that government laid the very foundation of Somerset’s economy.  In 1950 the Army Corps of Engineers completed construction of one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. A little over 100 miles in length with an average depth of 85 feet, Lake Cumberland “transformed[2] Somerset from a sleepy rural community into one of the largest recreation centers in Kentucky, drawing more than 1.7 million visitors annually.”   It would have been instructive to discover whether Senator Girdler would describe Lake Cumberland as a “socialist enterprise.”

Girdler wants to protect us from big government. Senator Girdler approvingly cites[3] Ronald Reagan’s famous dictum, “You can’t be for big government, big taxes and big bureaucracy and still be for the little guy.” Mayor Girdler wants to protect us from the predations big giant corporation and he views government as a proper vehicle for doing so. “It’s the role of government to protect us from big business,” he maintains[4].

Somerset’s foray into retail gasoline sales is not the first time it has used its collective authority on behalf of the little guy. In 1951 the city established a municipally owned natural gas company. In the mid 1970s, regular natural gas shortages spurred this city of 11,000 to borrow $4.5 million from Farmers Home Administration to build a natural gas pipeline to previously landlocked producers in eastern Kentucky as well as a pipeline westward to a Texas Eastern Transmission terminal. Today Somerset owns and operates 155 miles of pipelines that connect to three major national natural gas transmission companies.  It purchases natural gas directly from more than a dozen producers while also transporting producers’ gas to more distant markets.

In 2011 Somerset opened a natural gas stripping plant to upgrade the quality and monetary value of the natural gas.  In 2012 it began converting its public vehicle fleets to compressed natural gas, a conversion that by now is almost complete and became the first in Kentucky to sell natural gas to privately owned vehicles.

In 2010 storage capacity for 100,000 gallons of gasoline and diesel became available at a bargain price. Entrepreneurial Somerset quickly snapped it up, gaining the ability to control costs by purchasing gasoline when prices are low.  Mayor Girdler estimates the city recouped its investment within two years and has been sharing the savings with 11 other public entities as well as Somerset’s independent schools.

The retail gasoline station comes after years of resident complaints about the high price of gasoline in Somerset compared to the surrounding area.  In 2011 the city extended an open invitation from city to local gasoline state business owners to explain why that is so.  All declined to attend.

In June, after two years of public debate, the city council voted 10-0 to authorize the city to sell gasoline. “We couldn’t get anywhere, and we decided that hey, we might as well take a stand in a small way of saying that we’re tired of it…and it is working”, says[5] Mayor Girdler.

Somerset’s new public gasoline fuel center is consciously designed not to drive local gas stations out of business.  It sells only regular gasoline, has no convenience store and doesn’t advertise.  Its goal from day one has been to make the local price of gasoline competitive with the regional price. In fact, the price of gasoline at the Somerset Fuel Center is set at the average regional gasoline price. So far the venture appears to be accomplishing its objective. The day the public gas station opened prices in Somerset dropped to or below those in surrounding communities.

Ultimately, Somerset is not targeting local gas stations but rather global Marathon Oil.  As Mayor Girdler explains[6], “We are one community that decided we’ve got backbone and we’re not going to allow the oil companies to dictate to us what we can and cannot do.”

Marathon’s acquisition of Ashland Oil in 1998 virtually eliminated the competitive gasoline market in much of Kentucky.  After an investigation of price gouging the Kentucky Attorney General’s office noted[7],  “It doesn’t matter if you’re at Chevron. It doesn’t matter if you’re at Thornton’s or Shell or Speedway. It is all Marathon Oil.”  Marathon sets the wholesale price and varies the price depending on how much it can get from the local market.

For decades Marathon had a wee bit of competition in the Somerset market from a small local refinery. But the Somerset Refinery declared bankruptcy in 2008.  In 2009 it reopened under new ownership.  The new owners should have found a ready supply of crude oil from local small oil producers eager to save $5-6 per barrel by transporting to Somerset rather than to Marathon’s more remote refinery. But Marathon began offering handsome incentives to trucker brokers who would go 172 miles northeast of Somerset to deliver to its refinery in Catlettsburg.

On December 15, 2009 the CEO of Somerset Energy Refining wrote[8] an open letter to Marathon pleading with its CEO to cease this anti-competitive practice.  Marathon refused. In early 2010 Somerset Refinery’s biggest supplier diverted to Marathon.  The company declared bankruptcy.  “We simply weren’t able to buy enough crude oil to process to keep our doors open,” said Ed Phelps, spokesman for the company.

In 2011 the local refinery reopened once again under new management, this time with a new name, Continental Refining Company (CRC).  CRC’s refinery is 2 percent the size of Marathon’s but the new owners have long experience in the oil and gasoline business and deeper pockets than the previous owners.  So far it seems to be faring well and has played a key role in allowing Somerset to set up a competing gas station.

Mayor Girdler is up for reelection this November.  Whatever happens, a tip of the hat to Somerset, Kentucky for making concrete the sometimes abstract and always ideological debate about the role of government and the value of collective action.


  1. responded:
  2. transformed:,_Kentucky.html
  3. cites:
  4. maintains:
  5. says:
  6. explains:
  7. noted:
  8. wrote:

Source URL:

Ultimate Solar Calculator “App” Helps You Choose: To Own or Lease?

by John Farrell | September 4, 2014 12:10 pm

Note: the “Ultimate Solar Calculator” has been updated and simplified[1]. Stay tuned for an updated complex version of this same calculator.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the comeback of solar ownership[2] relative to leasing, as the cost of rooftop solar PV continues to fall and new financing options make ownership easier than ever.

Is owning a solar panel right for you? Find out now!

The calculator below lets you compare (leasing) apples to (ownership) apples, and the chart below the calculator shows the value of your solar investment over 15, 25, and 30 years.

The default inputs are good estimates based on ILSR’s research, but you can customize the comparison extensively. The key elements in the ownership v. leasing comparison are in orange, but other options (like nearest city) will make the actual numbers accurate to your location.

Scroll below the calculator for explanations of the inputs[3].

Keep in mind that solar panels typically carry a 20-year warranty, but most panels are expected to continue producing electricity for 30 years or more.

The Ultimate Solar Calculator from ILSR

Embed this calculator on your website[4]

Calculator Terms

Solar project size, cost, and electricity production

Economic Assumptions

Financing Terms

Leasing Terms

Embed Code:
<iframe width="762" height="897" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" src=""></iframe>
Photo credit:  Derek Gavey[6]

  1. updated and simplified:
  2. the comeback of solar ownership:
  3. explanations of the inputs: #glossary
  4. Embed this calculator on your website: #embed
  5. some solar loans now include a maintenance-free contract:
  6. Derek Gavey:

Source URL:

UK Rail Privatization 20 years Later

by David Morris | September 2, 2014 4:26 pm

The United Kingdom privatized its national rail system in 1993. Some 20 years later the unsurprising consequences of transforming a public monopoly into a private monopoly are clear. Higher prices. Worse service. Even more public subsidies. Read the article.



Source URL:

This November We Can Regain Local Authority Over the Internet

by David Morris | September 2, 2014 3:53 pm

In July the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stirred up a hornets’ nest by announcing it might overturn state prohibitions on municipally owned broadband networks. Republicans protested that Washington should keep its grubby hands off state authority. Giant cable and phone companies contended that local governments are incapable of managing telecommunications networks and the resulting failure will burden taxpayers.

The national debate is both welcome and timely.  Welcome because it is grounded while addressing some of the most fundamental issues of our time: What is the role of government?  What is the value of competition?  What is the meaning of democracy?  Timely because we are entering the home stretch of an election year where most state legislators are up for re-election.  And because we confront the prospect of mergers between giants Comcast and Time Warner and AT&T and DIRECTTV that may operate under new rules that allow them greater ability to discriminate against other providers.

Some background to the FCC’s decision may be in order.  In the early 2000s, exasperated by poor service, high prices and the condescending refusal of cable and phone companies to upgrade their networks, cities began to build their own.   Today 150 cities have laid fiber or cable to every address in town. Another 250 offer Internet access to either businesses or residents. About 1,000 have created school or library networks. See map[1].

The vast majority of these networks have proven wildly successful.  The borough of Kutztown, Pennsylvania, for example, saved an estimated $2 million in just the first few years after constructing one of the nation’s first fiber networks, a result of lower rates by the muni network and price reductions by the incumbent cable company in response to competitive pressure. Bristol Virginia estimates its network has saved residents and businesses over $10 million. Lafayette, Louisiana estimates savings of over $90 million.  (The benefits of muni networks have been amply catalogued by the Community Broadband Initiative[2].

Competition by public networks has spurred cable and phone companies to upgrade. After Monticello, Minnesota moved ahead with its citywide fiber network TDS, its incumbent telco, began building its own despite having maintained for years that no additional investments were needed. After Lafayette began building its network, incumbent cable company Cox, having previously dismissed customer demands for better service as pure conjecture scrambled to upgrade.

It’s true that some public networks have had significant financial losses, although it is usually bondholders, not taxpayers who feel the pain.  But compared to the track record of private telecoms, public sector management looks like a paragon of financial probity.

In 2002, after disclosing $2.3 billion in off balance sheet debt and the indictment of five corporate officials for financial shenanigans Adelphia declared bankruptcy.  In 2009 Charter collapsed resulting in an $8 billion loss after four executives were indicted for improper financial reporting. In 2009 FairPoint Communications declared bankruptcy, resulting in a loss of more than $1 billion. WorldCom, TNCI, Cordia Communications, AstroTel, Norvergence.  The list of private telecommunications companies that have been mismanaged to the point of collapse is long.

We should bear in mind that investors will deduct the losses from their taxes.  Thus the cost to taxpayers of private corporate mismanagement arguably has been far greater than that caused by losses in public networks.

In any event, as FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler told[3] a House Communications Subcommittee in May, “I understand that the experience with community broadband is mixed, that there have been both successes and failures. But if municipal governments want to pursue it, they shouldn’t be inhibited by state laws that have been adopted at the behest of incumbent providers looking to limit competition.”

If forced to, private companies will compete, but they much prefer to spend tens of millions of dollars buying the votes of state legislators to enact laws that forestall competition rather than spend hundreds of millions to improve their networks.

Today 4 states have outright bans.  Fifteen others impose severe restrictions.  In Utah, for example, if a public network wants to offer retail services, a far more profitable endeavor than providing wholesale services, it must demonstrate that each service provided will have a positive cash flow the first year!

After five North Carolina cities proved that muni networks could be hugely successful, Time Warner lobbied the state legislature to prohibit any imitators. Dan Ballister, Time Warner’s Director of Communications insisted[4], “We’re all for competition, as long as people are on a level playing field.”

Level playing field? Time Warner has annual revenues of $18 billion, more than 500 times greater than Salisbury, North Carolina’s $34 million budget. It has 14 million customers while Salisbury’s Fibrant network has about 2500.

Level playing field? Incumbent telephone and cable companies long ago amortized the costs of building their network. When a new competitor enters the market, it must build an entirely new network, passing the costs onto subscribers or investors in the form of higher prices or reduced margins. Large incumbents have far more leverage when negotiating cable channel contracts. A new network serving a single community might pay 25- 50 percent more for its channels.

The law Time Warner wrote and persuaded the North Carolina legislature to pass slants the playing field even more in favor of the giant telecoms. Time Warner can build networks anywhere in North Carolina but the public sector is limited to its municipal boundaries.  A public network must price its communication services based on the cost of capital available to private providers even if it can access capital more cheaply.

The North Carolina law, as with many such state laws, prohibits public networks from using surpluses from one part of the city to finance the telecommunications system. But the law doesn’t prohibit private networks from doing so. Time Warner can tap into profits from its vast customer base (largely in uncompetitive areas) to subsidize predatory pricing against muni competition. When Scottsboro, Alabama built a city wide cable network Charter used profits from other markets to offer Scottsboro customers a video package with 150 channels for less than $20 per month, even while Charter was charging customers in nearby communities over $70 for the same package. In a proceeding at the FCC, experts estimated[5] Charter was losing at least $100-$200 year on these deals and even more when factoring in the cost of six major door-to-door marketing campaigns.

Existing North Carolina law already required a referendum before a city can issue bonds to finance a public network. The new law specifically exempts cities from having to obtain voter approval “prior to the sale or discontinuance of the city’s communications network”.

Terry Huval, Director of Lafayette’s LUS Fiber describes[6] still other ways state laws favor incumbents.  “While Cox Communications can make rate decisions in a private conference room several states away, Lafayette conducts its business in an open forum, as it should. While Cox can make repeated and periodic requests for documents under the Public Records Law, it is not subject to a corresponding… Louisiana law limits the ability of a governmental enterprise to advertise, but nothing prevents the incumbent providers from spending millions of dollars in advertising campaigns.”

The FCC’s current proceeding came in response to petitions from two cities: Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina.  Both have very successful world-class muni networks.  Surrounding communities are clamoring to interconnect.  The Chattanooga Times Free Press[7] recently described the frustration and anger of people living tantalizingly close to these public networks.


“When Joyce Coltrin looks outside the front door of her wholesale plant business, her gaze stops at a spot less than a half mile away.

All she can do is stare in disbelief at the spot in rural Bradley County where access to EPB’s fiber-optic service abruptly halts, as mandated under a Tennessee law that has frozen the expansion of the fastest Internet in the Western Hemisphere…the small business owner has no access to wired Internet of any type, despite years of pleas to the private companies that provide broadband in her community.

‘The way I see it, Comcast and Charter and AT&T have had 15 years to figure out how to get Internet to us, and they’ve decided it’s not cost-effective,’ Coltrin said. ‘We have not been able to get anything because of these state laws, and through no fault of our own, we are treated as second-class citizens. They’ve just sort of held us hostage.’”

On July 16, House Republicans voted 221-4 to freeze FCC funding if it attempts to overturn state prohibitions.  Sixty Republican House members sent a letter to Wheeler declaring, “Without any doubt, state governments across the country understand and are more attentive to the needs of the American people than unelected federal bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.”  Eleven Republican Senators agreed, “States are much closer to their citizens and can meet their needs better than an unelected bureaucracy in Washington, D.C… State political leaders are accountable to the voters who elect them…”

But if state legislatures are closer to and more accountable to the people than the FCC or Congress surely city councils and county commissions are even closer and more accountable.

Ultimately then, this is a fight about democracy. Corporations prefer to fight in 50 remote state capitols rather than 30,000 local communities. But genuine democracy depends on allowing, to the greatest extent possible, those who feel the impact of decisions to be a significant part in the decision making process. Harold DePriest, head of Chattanooga’s municipally owned broadband network (and electricity company) poses[8] the fundamental question this way, “(D)oes our community control our own fate, or does someone else control it?” Decisions about caps and rates and access, about the digital divide and net neutrality can be debated and made at the local level, not in some distant boardroom or having to rely on federal agencies to act and federal courts to support their actions.

If the FCC decides in favor of Chattanooga and Wilson the issue will be tied up in courts for years. But we shouldn’t need the federal government to come to our rescue. The elections this fall will revolve around many issues.  But given the centrality of high speed, affordable, reliable broadband and the looming prospect of even more corporate consolidation citizens this issue should be front and center. In 90 days, in 19 states that restrict municipal broadband, voters will be given the chance to overturn that decision by throwing out those who said no to local democracy.


  1. map:
  2. Community Broadband Initiative:
  3. told:
  4. insisted:
  5. estimated:
  6. describes:
  7. Chattanooga Times Free Press:
  8. poses:

Source URL:

David Brancaccio Lets Us Down

by David Morris | September 2, 2014 3:39 pm

David Brancaccio is a solid reporter.  Perhaps the cognitive dissonance of talking about public ownership on a program called Marketplace caused him to go astray.  Nevertheless a few days ago he did his listeners a disservice when he commented[1] on the city of Somerset, Kentucky’s new venture: Selling gasoline directly to city residents.

Somerset’s entrepreneurialism got him to explore other municipal enterprises,   “I looked around for some precedents and they are interesting.”

So far so good.  Tens of thousands of precedents exist public ownership and they are indeed interesting.  But a listener to Brancaccio could not be faulted for coming away with the impression that public enterprises are few and far between.

Brancaccio began by observing, “Some cities have long had municipal public utilities. The power company in San Francisco is owned by the city and county, for instance.”

That’s an oddly understated way to talk about municipal electric companies.  Yes San Francisco owns a power company.  But the Hetch Hetchy’s series of dams were built primarily to provide water and the electricity they generated is delivered only to the public sector.  No sales are made to residences or businesses.  That’s the province of an investor owned utility, PG&E.

Much more instructive would have been the revelation that more than 2000 cities boast full fledged electric power companies, including big cities like Los Angeles, San Antonio, Austin and Seattle.   Better yet, Brancaccio might have described one or two of the many titanic struggles between plundering private, unresponsive corporations and the people that preceded the creation of these government enterprises.

Despite abundant evidence to the contrary Brancaccio insists that public enterprises are the exception.  “More typically however, the response to high prices or other perceived market failures has not been ownership of the retail outlet by a municipality. Instead, the solution is more often local citizens banding together. Heating fuel co-ops are common, in which locals pool resources to get a better price on oil by buying in bulk.”

Actually heating fuel coops are not at all common.  Only a few dozen exist and many of them are buying clubs, not genuine cooperatives.  On the other hand, more than 100 cities own their own natural gas companies, including Somerset, Kentucky where sales of compressed natural gas for vehicles anticipated the sale of gasoline.

Brancaccio might have educated his listeners about the latest wave of public enterprises– municipal broadband networks. In the last decade over 150 cities laid fiber or cable to every address in town. Another 250 offer Internet access to either businesses or residents. About 1,000 created school or library networks.

These municipal networks offer some of the fastest speeds and lowest prices in the country.  And their service is incomparably better than that offered by Comcast and Time Warner, although admittedly that is a very low bar.

Brancaccio is correct that often citizens band together to create cooperatives when the private sector fails them. But rather than talk about heating fuel coops he could instead have told his listeners about the great resurgence of the nation’s credit unions–7200 with 100 million members, up by 10 million in just the last six years, and $1 trillion in assets.

As I said, perhaps Brancaccio felt inhibited in talking about the virtues of public and cooperative ownership under the auspices of the Marketplace. When Marketplace reporters talk about business listeners can almost always be assured they are referring to private business not public enterprise.  Nevertheless, I hope Brancaccio revisits the issue in future broadcasts and lets people know that cooperative and government enterprises are not on the periphery of the economy but are a successful and growing component of it.

  1. commented:

Source URL:

Stafford Incinerator in Virginia Not “Financially Beneficial”

by Neil Seldman | August 22, 2014 11:46 am

The Regional Solid Waste Management Board that oversees the County and City of Fredericksburg landfill will not pursue a garbage and industrial waste incineration-gasification facility. The County received no bid that it considered financially beneficial to the County and City and dropped the project.

Citizens who have been opposed to the project for several years were pleased with the decision and are now pressing the County to implement expanded recycling and composting. Despite having decades left of landfill capacity, the regional authority wanted an incinerator. Now Bill Johnson,[1] activist, wants to unite the government, business and citizens to plan and implement recycling and enterprises expansion under a zero waste policy initiative. The county and city have decades of landfill capacity available; a key reason, why there was no need to rush into an incinerator-based solution. “Now, is the time to expand recycling and composting so that the landfill will serve households and businesses for generations to come”, said Johnson.

Mike Ewall, director of Energy Justice Network[2], has been the prime source of technical assistance observes that this is the second politically and fiscally conservative county in the Mid Atlantic region to reject garbage incineration as an acceptable solid waste management approach. Carroll County, MD paid $1 million this year to get out of a contract for garbage incineration. In June, Energy Justice Network helped citizens in Lorton, VA get their Fairfax County, VA to reject a 50 year expansion of a construction and demolition landfill due to close in 2016.

ILSR and Urban Ore, Berkeley, CA supported the citizens in Stafford County and Lorton through workshops and guest articles in the local media.

  2. Energy Justice Network:

Source URL:

Federal Study Confirms “Too Big To Fail” Gives Megabanks a Hidden Funding Advantage

by Olivia LaVecchia | August 20, 2014 6:25 pm

When the country’s giant banks were teetering on the verge of collapse during 2008’s financial crisis, the U.S. government stepped in to bail them out. The banks were, in a phrase that has since become infamous, “Too Big To Fail.”

Would the government do it again? And does the expectation that it would step in give megabanks an unfair competitive advantage over local community banks?

Those are the questions at the heart of an eagerly awaited report[1] released at the end of July by the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan federal department. In a conclusion that highlights the need for more regulatory action to reduce concentration in the banking system, the G.A.O. found that the answers to both questions are “yes.”

Six years after the bailout, the country’s biggest banks have only grown bigger. Just four megabanks, each with more than $1.5 trillion in assets, control 45 percent of the country’s banking industry, up from 37 percent in 2007, according to FDIC data. The consequences for the economy — higher consumer fees, fewer small business loans, and more risky speculative trading — are substantial.

To Senators David Vitter, a Republican from Louisiana, and Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, these are among the signs that “Too Big To Fail” works as a kind of implicit insurance — and as such, a subsidy — for the megabanks. Because creditors and investors believe taxpayers will rescue the banks if anything goes awry, they are willing to finance big banks at much lower interest rates than they offer smaller institutions.

The Senators have introduced a bill, the “Terminating Bailouts for Taxpayer Fairness Act,” that aims to end this implicit government subsidy, and create a fairer playing field for community banks.

The Senators are also the ones who called for the G.A.O. report, in order to get a better sense of just how big the megabanks’ advantage is.

In the report, the G.A.O. looked at one particular benefit that the taxpayers’ guarantee nets the megabanks: whether they’re able to borrow money – issue debt – more cheaply than smaller financial institutions. Using 42 models, the G.A.O. found that though the benefit has tapered off in recent years, during the heart of the financial crisis, in 2008 and 2009, megabanks were able to borrow at significantly lower rates. (more…)[2]

  1. report:
  2. (more…):

Source URL:

Why Aren’t Rural Electric Cooperatives Champions of Local Clean Power?

by John Farrell | August 18, 2014 2:20 pm

When it comes to ownership, there are few better structures for keeping a community’s wealth local than a cooperative. So why is it that America’s rural electric cooperatives are tethered to dirty, old coal-fired power plants instead of local-wealth generating renewable power?

There are a lot of answers to this question, but it might start with this: electric cooperatives aren’t quite like other cooperatives.

The Seven Slipping Cooperative Principles

Cooperatives around the world adhere to the “Seven Cooperative Principles[1],” but electric cooperatives (at least in the United States) fail on several of these principles.

  1. Voluntary and open membership. Nope. If you want electric service in cooperative territory, you sign with the cooperative. While it’s no different than rules for other types of utilities in the 30 states that grant utilities a monopoly service territory, it violates the principles of cooperatives.
  2. Democratic control (one member, one vote). Not always. Some electric cooperatives award one vote per meter, and some customers (e.g. farmers, industry) have more than one meter. Furthermore, many cooperatives filter potential board candidates with “nominating committees.” And look, here’s a board election with no opposition[2]!There’s also a big gap between cooperative member support for (paying more for) renewable energy and cooperative behavior. This 2013 survey in Minnesota[3], for example, shows little separation between urban and rural areas (where cooperatives are dominant) in support for renewable energy, yet cooperatives opposed every bill[4] favoring clean energy in the 2013 legislative session.
  3. Members control the capital of the cooperative.
  4. Cooperatives maintain their autonomy and independence even if they enter into agreements with other entities. Questionable. Many cooperatives sign 40- or even 50-year purchase contracts with power suppliers to supply 95% of their entire sales, mostly from coal-fired power plants. Standard and Poor’s explains this in an evaluation of a Seminole Electric in Florida[5], a generation & transmission cooperative that sells to rural cooperatives. In their words, one of the utility’s credit strengths is, “A captive retail market and the ability to set rates through take-and-pay, all-requirements wholesale power agreements with nine of 10 members through 2045.”
  5. Cooperatives provide educational opportunities to their members and the public on the benefits of cooperatives. Questionable. If you read rural electric cooperative newsletters, you’ll hear a lot about climate change but you’ll often find the phrase in[6] quotes
  6. Cooperatives work best when cooperating with other cooperatives. Questionable, refer to #4. Some of these power suppliers are “co-ops of co-ops,” but these long-term contracts have tethered the economic fortunes of cooperative members to the vagaries of the coal market (see below). More than any other type of utility (public or investor-owned), rural electric cooperatives are reliant on coal[7] for their electricity fuel. The average U.S. utility is 38% coal-fired power.rural electric cooperatives reliant on coal - public citizen[8]coal prices 2000-11.001[9]
  7. Cooperatives work for sustainable development of their community. Not enough. Most cooperatives rely heavily on imported power purchased on long-term contracts with the goal of cheap power, but that ironically leave them at the mercy of unfettered price increases. They also have missed an enormous economic development opportunity from renewable energy. For example:Renewable energy provides significant economic impacts ($1 million per megawatt of wind, $250,000 per megawatt for solar) with multipliers for local (i.e. cooperative) ownership[10] (up to 3.5 times more local economic impact, and twice as many jobs). Wind and solar provide more jobs per megawatt of power capacity, as well.RE-fossil-jobs-per-MW[11]Finally, rural electric cooperatives have organized a 1 million comment campaign against EPA regulations of carbon pollution from power plants. Hardly a commitment to “sustainable development.”

How Can Cooperatives Change?

Restoring their 7 principles could do a lot. Improving their structure so that the cooperative directors reflect member opinion on renewable energy would restore the principle of democratic control. Avoiding ridiculously long power purchase contracts would provide local cooperatives with real autonomy and control of their energy costs and options. Broadening their focus on economic development beyond cheap power to include renewable energy would make “sustainable development” much more realistic.

Can it happen? It already has, in Iowa and on[12] Kaua’i[13], and there are more tools that ever[14] at their disposal. But as with electrification, no one will do it unless they do it themselves.

  1. Seven Cooperative Principles:
  2. a board election with no opposition:
  3. 2013 survey in Minnesota:
  4. opposed every bill:
  5. evaluation of a Seminole Electric in Florida:
  6. in:
  7. reliant on coal:
  8. [Image]:
  9. [Image]:
  10. multipliers for local (i.e. cooperative) ownership:
  11. [Image]:
  12. Iowa and on:
  13. Kaua’i:
  14. more tools that ever:

Source URL:

The Birth of Community Broadband – Video

by Christopher | August 15, 2014 9:11 am

ILSR is excited to announce a new short video examining an impressive municipal broadband network, Glasgow Kentucky. Glasgow was the first municipal broadband network and indeed, seems to have been the first citywide broadband system in the United States.

We partnered with the Media Working Group[1] to produce this short documentary and we have the material to do much more, thanks to the hard work of Fred Johnson at MWG and the cooperation of many in Glasgow, particularly Billy Ray.

People who only recently became aware of the idea of community owned networks may not be familiar with Billy Ray, but it was he and Jim Baller throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s that paved the way for all the investment and excitement we see today. 

I’m excited to be helping to tell part of this story and look forward to being able to tell more of it.


  1. Media Working Group:

Source URL:

FCC Releases Notice of Inquiry on Broadband Progress

by Rebecca Toews | August 14, 2014 3:39 pm


Section 702 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act requires the FCC to report annually on whether “advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.” The FCC kicked off its tenth such report on Tuesday by releasing a “Notice of Inquiry[1],” (NOI) in effect asking individuals and groups around the country to offer relevant data and comments.

This process amounts to a kind of crowdsourced “State of the Union” on broadband issues. In addition to determining how many people in what areas have broadband access, this NOI also asks the critical question of how exactly the FCC should define broadband. The current definition of 4mbps download[2] capacity and 1mbps upload[3] may have been sufficient in the past, but isn’t adequate for even recreational household use by many Americans today, let alone the demands of running a business and conducting commerce online.

This NOI also asks some arcane but important questions about other aspects of broadband definitions, including latency[4] (the speed of data moving within a network, a different measure than bandwidth[5]) and the widespread use of data caps and other policies in the telecom industry.

Obviously the answers to all these questions have significant implications for municipal networks. Inadequate or overly-loose definitions of broadband allow incumbents to claim that they are providing excellent service to just about everyone in a given area, when that is often far from the truth. Many restrictive state laws limiting municipal networks, as well as federal grant programs that may support such networks, are based on whether an area is defined as already served or underserved, which may be dependent on FCC benchmarks. As is often the case in regulatory issues, the devil is in the details.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler introduced the NOI[6] with the following statement:

Congress has instructed us that all Americans should have access to robust broadband services, no matter where they live. Because consumers demand increasing levels of bandwidth capacity to support the applications they want to use online, we are asking if it is time to update the benchmark broadband speed. And as more people adopt faster broadband speeds, we are asking if all consumers, even in the most rural regions, should have greater access to better broadband.

We here at ILSR believe the answer to both questions is a resounding “YES.” The due date for initial comments is September 4th, and ILSR intends to make its voice heard.

  1. Notice of Inquiry:
  2. download:
  3. upload:
  4. latency:
  5. bandwidth:
  6. introduced the NOI:

Source URL:

Listen: A Solar Ownership Comeback? John Farrell Talks with Arnie Arnesen on WNHN

by John Farrell | August 13, 2014 3:16 pm

A month ago I wrote about the potential for a comeback for solar ownership[1] (instead of leasing) as the economics and options for ownership continue to improve. Yesterday I discussed this trend in depth on “The Attitude” with Arnie Arnesen on WNHN. Subscribe to the podcast here[2], or listen by clicking the player below:

  1. comeback for solar ownership:
  2. here:
  3. [Image]:
  4. Play in new window:
  5. Download:
  6. iTunes:
  7. Android:
  8. RSS:

Source URL:

Working Partner Update: Community Purchasing Alliance, Washington DC

by Neil Seldman | August 4, 2014 3:57 pm

Based in Washington, DC, the Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) leverages the buying power of its member community organizations to lower operating costs while supporting vendors committed to a greater social purpose. CPA is owned entirely by its members, which include religious institutions, charter schools, and other nonprofits. Together, CPA helps these organizations realize that by working together they can advance their commitments to social and environmental values while also improving their bottom lines.

CPA started as an electricity-buying group in 2011. It has since grown to more than 100 organizations and helps its members save around 15% on their electricity bills by purchasing at fixed group rates that include 100% renewable energy and a rebates. The fixed rates help members with greater budget predictability and the clean energy component aligns with their sustainability principles. CPA expects 30 to 40 new religious congregations to join this program in the fall. They hope to soon help members more closely track their utility usage to determine additional ways to save money.

Members expanded their cooperative purchasing to waste and recycling pick-up, because of the significant cost savings potential in this area. CPA signed contracts that will save 25%, or $96,000 in the upcoming year, for the 45 participants in this program. Information was collected on the current practices of dozens of members to inform the Request for Proposal (RFP) process. They found members were being significantly over-charged to have their trash collected and on top of that had little recourse in their service agreements. For example, one church was paying $2,300/month for the same level of service that is now being provided for $490/month. CPA created its own service contract within the RFP but allowed respondents to propose changes. The RFP offered additional points for local, minority-owned companies that paid its workers living wages and used transfer stations and materials recycling facilities that share these values. This year, CPA selected two local companies that together employee 250 local residents as the winning vendors.

Other cooperative purchasing programs include installation of solar panels, copier leasing, office supply purchasing and payroll services. CPA also has a discount program with nine ACE Hardware stores in which members receive 10% off any item and 25% off bulk purchases. CPA estimates that, on average, members save $6,000/year by participating in the electric, trash and recycling, and supplies purchasing programs. This savings stays local and enables the nonprofit members to continue serving the community while staying committed to their social and environmental values. CPA believes the model will become self-sustaining once it reaches 180 members in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Once the concept is proven, CPA aims to work with partners to replicate the model in cities across the country.

Contact Information: Web page[1]; contact person Felipe Witchger,

This article authored by Megan Loeb and Neil Seldman


Source URL:

Chattanooga and Wilson Comment Period Open; Tell the FCC You Support Local Authority

by Lisa Gonzalez | July 29, 2014 4:45 pm

Last week, the communities of Chattanooga and Wilson, North Carolina, filed petitions with the FCC[1]. Both communities requested that the agency remove state barriers preventing expansion beyond their current service areas. On July 28, the FCC established a public comment calendar[2] for the request. It is imperative that all those with an interest in better access take a few moments to express their support for these two communities.

Opening Comments are due August 29, 2014; Reply Comments will be due September 29, 2014. That means you need to submit comments by the end of this month. If you want to reply to any comments, you can do that in September.

This is a pivotal moment in telecommunications policy. For months municipal network advocates have been following Chairman Wheeler’s stated intentions[3] to remove state barriers to local authority. Within the past few weeks, federal legislators – many that rely on campaign contributions from large providers – pushed back through Rep Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). Blackburn introduced an amendment[4] to a House appropriations bill preventing FCC preemption if the amendment becomes law.

ILSR and encourage individuals, organizations, and entities to file comments supporting the people of Wilson[5] and Chattanooga[6]. These two communities exemplify the potential success of local Internet choice. We have documented their many victories on and through case studies on Wilson [PDF][7] and Chattanooga [PDF][8].

Now is the time to share your support for local decision-making. This is not about whether any given community should build its own network so much as it is about whether every community can decide for itself how to best expand and improve Internet access, whether by investing in itself or working with a trusted partner.

ILSR will be filing comments in support of Wilson’s and Chattanooga’s petitions. As a service to those who plan to express their support for local authority, we will continue to provide information, guidance, and resources throughout the comment period. In the near future, there should be a guide to help you submit comments. But if you are really enthusiastic or already know the process, here are some links.

File comments electronically for Wilson’s petition at Proceeding 14-115[9]; Chattanooga’s petition is Proceeding 14-116[10]. Petitions and exhibits are available at the filings pages or at the links below.

  1. filed petitions with the FCC:
  2. public comment calendar:
  3. stated intentions:
  4. introduced an amendment:
  5. Wilson:
  6. Chattanooga:
  7. Wilson [PDF]:
  8. Chattanooga [PDF]:
  9. Proceeding 14-115:
  10. Proceeding 14-116:
  11. Chattanooga EPB Petition:
  12. Chattanooga EPB Exhibits:

Source URL:

Republicans Again Violate Their Own Principles

by David Morris | July 25, 2014 4:22 pm

By the time you read this, Congressional Republicans will have overwhelmingly voted to violate one of their most cherished guiding principles: A service should be paid for by those who use the service. If we don’t fully pay for services, Republicans usually insist, markets can’t work effectively.  We undervalue and overuse services, resulting in wasteful overspending.

All of which makes the debate about renewing and replenishing the months-long federal highway trust fund so revealing. This spring Republicans made clear their position:  No new taxes.  Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), speaking for himself and his party declared[1], “I do not support, and the House will not support, billions of dollars in higher taxes to pay for more spending” on transportation.

Camp’s position might be reasonable if he and his fellow Republicans were at the same time willing to abide by another of their basic principles: Live within your budget.  If you don’t have the money, don’t spend it.  In this instance, if drivers are unwilling to pay the road budget then cut federal highway spending by 28 percent[2], which would reduce overall national road spending by about 7 percent.

But Republicans don’t want to cut road expenditures.  They just don’t want drivers to pay.  The result has been months devising strategies to divert money from other sources.  In May, in a memo to rank and file House Speaker John Beohner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) insisted[3] they had come up with a perfect “way to ensure continued funding of highway projects in a fiscally responsible manner.” They would make up the highway-financing gap by eliminating Saturday postal delivery!   To ensure that the roads are adequate for delivering the mail they will no longer deliver the mail.

Eventually Republicans decided that sacrificing the post office to ensure that drivers could use the roads more cheaply was politically unworkable.

By now I know many readers are asking, “What about Democrats?”  After all, the House proposal was passed by a bipartisan vote of 367-55.  True. But Democrats swear no fealty to the proposition that all services should, whenever possible, be fully paid by users.   They believe I should pay for the public library even if I don’t use it.  I should pay for the public park even if I don’t use it. They believe these are public goods available always to all.  Republicans, or at least Republicans circa 2014 don’t seem to believe there are public goods.

Certainly some aspects of roads may be considered public goods. Even those who don’t drive may need them to deliver fire or police protection or ambulance services.  Which would argue that some part of the road budget could justifiably come from the general public purse.

But the Republicans don’t make that argument.  And if they did they would have to confront the fact that there are public costs as well as public benefits to roads.  The environmental damages caused by driving, for example, far outweigh the taxes paid at the pump.  To redress these damages some propose raising the gas tax by $1 or $2 per gallon or more. Republicans refuse to even entertain the notion.  If they are so ideologically hidebound that they won’t even require drivers to pay for their roads, how could they possibly ask them to pay for the actual damages caused by their driving?

Republican have not always been willing to so quickly violate basic conservative economic principles.  Prior to l956 highways were financed directly from the federal Treasury.  Then in 1956, at the insistence of Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower the Highway Trust Fund was established with revenue generated from a dedicated fuel tax.  The original tax was 3 cents per gallon.  Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush each[4] raised the tax by 5 cents per gallon. In 1993 President Clinton raised it by a little over 4 cents.  And there, at 18.4 cents per gallon, it has remained for the last 21 years.

In 2008 the highway trust fund experienced a shortfall, a result of reduced driving due to sky-high oil prices.  Congress made up the shortfall with $8 billion from general funds.  In 2009 and 2010 Congress again supplied general funds.

The hope was that eventually Congress would develop a long term funding plan that would include a gas tax increase.   In 2013 none other than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce supported such a move.  The Republicans would have none of it.

Washington Republicans are not the only ones violating the user pays principle.  The Tax Foundation estimates[5] that overall state and local governments finance only 32 percent out of user fees.  Federal funding brings this total up to 50 percent.  The rest comes out of general funds.  In the case of cities the majority comes from property taxes.

Recently states, Republican as well as Democrat have begun raising gas taxes.  Eighteen states currently impose a gasoline sales tax whose revenue rises with gas prices or pegs the tax to the rate of inflation.  But 16 states have not raised[6] their gas taxes for two decades or more.  Recently Wyoming raised its gas tax for the first time in 16 years. New Hampshire hiked its gas tax for the first time in 23 years.  But states and cities have a long way to go before they could consider their transportation funding mechanisms self-sustaining.

By the time you read this, Congress may have jimmy rigged a temporary solution to the highway funding shortfall.  Which means we get to have the same debate again next year.  Perhaps Republicans will propose slashing food stamps or Medicare or Pell grants.  Anything to avoid having to require those who use the roads to pay for the roads.



Image:  Dan Reed, Creative Commons[7]





  1. declared:
  2. 28 percent:
  3. insisted:
  4. each:
  5. estimates:
  6. raised:
  7. Dan Reed, Creative Commons:

Source URL:

Will Labor Solidarity Save the Post Office?

by David Morris | July 23, 2014 3:31 pm

The United States Postal Service (USPS) management just ran into a possible game-changing obstacle to its shameful pursuit of a fully privatized post office:  labor solidarity.

Here’s the background. For a decade the USPS has been aggressively shrinking, consolidating, and outsourcing the nation’s postal system.  In July 2011 management upped the ante by announcing[1] the rapid closure of 3600 local post offices, a step toward the eventual closing of as many as 15,000, half of all post offices in the nation.

A groundswell of opposition erupted.  Citizens in hundreds of towns mobilized to save a treasured institution that plays a key and sometimes defining role in their communities.  In December 2011, after Congress appeared ready to impose a six-month moratorium on closures USPS management voluntarily adopted a freeze of the same length.

In May 2012, the moratorium ended but management, possibly concerned about reviving a national backlash, embraced an ingenious stealth strategy. Rather than closures, management moved to slash hours at 13,000 post offices.   That could be accomplished quickly.  Reduction in hours, unlike outright closures, requires little justification.  Appeals are limited. Moreover a reduction in hours doesn’t generate the same level of outrage as a closure. The building remains open even though its value to the community is dramatically diminished.

By the end of this year management may achieve its goal.  Already 9,000 post offices have had their hours cut[2] drastically.  Part time inexperienced non-career employees have replaced full time experienced career postmasters. Management duly held meetings in every affected community but refused to heed or even respond to the counsel of local residents and businesses or provide them the data used to justify its decision

Postal clerks and letter carriers are the personal face of the most ubiquitous, trusted and respected of all public institutions.  By gradually replacing to-the-door service with delivery to more remote cluster mailboxes management has already reduced our personal interaction with letter carriers.

Last fall USPS management proceeded with the second phase in its campaign to sever our personal links to the postal clerks by quietly launching a pilot project in 82 Staples stores.  After the news became public management ingenuously announced that nothing had changed. “Staples joins with more than 65,000 retailers . . . who currently provide expanded access to postal products and services.”  Management conveniently forgot to mention that these 65,000 locations just sell stamps or flat boxes. None hosts a postal counter staffed by a retail employee that sells services.

The arrangement with Staples is different.  As management conceded, Staples “is the first retailer to take part in a USPS pilot program dubbed the Retail Partner Expansion Program.” The Retail Partner Expansion Program creates mini post offices into big box stores.

If the pilot proves successful the USPS expects to expand it to all 1,500 Staples. And then to all big box retail outlets.  Steve Hutkins, creator of the inestimable runs the numbers. We can now buy stamps at 7,450 Walgreens; 3,830 Wal-Marts; 1,632 Staples; 1,200 Office Depots; 847 Safeways; 609 Sam’s Clubs; and 426 Costcos. That adds up to over 14,000 locations.  “If all of those arrangements were converted from selling stamps on consignment to setting up postal counters, the Postal Service would have an instant infrastructure of “mini post offices” to replace real post offices…”

A bill introduced by Rep. Darrell’s Issa (R-CA) would make this replacement much easier.  According to Section 103 of the Postal Reform Act of 2013[3] the right to appeal a post office closing to the Postal Regulatory Commission “shall not apply to a determination of the Postal Service to close a post office if there is located, within 2 miles of such post office, a qualified contract postal unit.”  There are 1,200 post offices within two miles of just the Staples retail network.

For management replacing a real post office with a fake post office is a good deal. USPS average pay[4] is about $25 an hour.  Staples retail clerks earn[5] about $8.50 an hour.

For the customer this is a bad deal.  Staples’ employees receive[6] just four hours of “classroom” training for postal retail duties. Postal retail clerks receive 32 hours of intense classroom training, followed by 40 hours of on-the-job training alongside experienced window clerks. Postal workers must pass a test before they are considered qualified to work the window. Given the turnover at Staples it’s unlikely the employee at the postal counter is going to be around long enough to acquire the experience or expertise of a career postal worker.

For the community this is an awful deal. A cherished local institution created to serve the public interest would be replaced by a counter in a business created to serve distant shareholders and management. If its economic self-interest dictated Staples could decide to close the store.  To underline the reality of this threat in March Staples announced[7] it will shutter up to 225 stores. That would leave the community without any postal services at all.

Labor Solidarity to the Rescue

The American Postal Workers Union  (APWU) responded to management’s hostile action by organizing protests around the country. On April 24th a Day of Action resulted in hundreds of pickets, marches and rallies in more than 50 cities across 27 states under the rallying cry, “Stop Staples: The U.S. Mail is Not for Sale”.

In late May Staples Vice Chairman Joe Doody nervously acknowledged the USPS deal “could become a problem if more unions backed the postal workers.” He told[8] the Boston Globe, “The retailer will continue to evaluate the situation to determine whether the negative backlash is worth the benefits of the partnership,” Staples had signed the deal because it was desperate to gain more traffic through its stores.  If the deal actually reduces traffic and sales, Staples would reconsider.

State labor unions and national federations began to endorse the ‘Don’t Buy Staples’ campaign. On May 30, when the AFL-CIO, comprised of 56 unions representing 12.5 million members came out in support of the boycott.  In mid June California’s Service Employees International Union 32BJ, representing 145,000 union members in 11 states and the District of Columbia, voted for a boycott. In a letter to the Staples CEO SEUI 32BJ President Héctor Figueroa observed, “The Postal Service is the largest single civilian employer of union middle-class jobs for African Americans, and Veterans (including disabled veterans), and is the largest single civilian union employer. We need more of these types of jobs to strengthen our economy and the middle class, and we will not accept your efforts to undermine them through low-wage privation.”

After July 4th more unions formally joined the boycott. Perhaps they were inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s enduring comment at the signing of the Declaration of Independence,  “We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

In July the International Association of Firefighters representing more than 300,000 backed the boycott. AFSCME union, representing 1.6 million public-sector workers, followed suit.  Then on July 12th the 1.5 million member American Federation of Teachers (AFT) delivered the coup de grace when it signed on. APWU President Mark Dimondstein made[9] the case for solidarity to the convention, “We too are in the public sector, we too are meeting the needs of people. We’re facing some of the same problems you are—I call it divert, defund, demoralize, demonize and dismantle.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten responded. “Who does Staples really want and need to come into its stores every single day? Teachers. The best way we can help is if we say to Staples: ‘You do this to the postal workers, and we aren’t buying supplies in your stores.’”

School supplies are a key market for Staples, accounting[10] for up to one-third of its sales. Last year teachers spent[11] about $1.6 billion of their own money on school supplies. Back-to-school supply-buying gets going in earnest in late July.

On July 14th Staples announced it had withdrawn from the Retail Partner Expansion Program.

The celebrations have been muted. Management hasn’t thrown in the towel.  It’s simply changed the name of the program. As one USPS spokesperson explained[12], “We look forward to continuing the partnership whether it’s called Retail Partner Expansion or approved shipper.”  The USPS wants to establish a beachhead in thousands of retail stores.  Once a postal counter staffed by low paid non union non postal service employees begins to sell services it will be easy to expand the kinds of services it offers.

But Staples announcement and USPS’ obfuscation demonstrates that retail stores are vulnerable to boycotts, especially those organized by people in the communities they serve.  Teachers, firefighters, government workers, service employees live in significant numbers in every community.  They can form the backbone of an effort that puts big box retailers and USPS management on notice.  Hands off our post office!

And who knows?  Hands off our post office could evolve into Give us back our post office. A successful boycott to stop the further privatization of the post office could then move demand that the post office be restored to its former glory and effectiveness by reopening processing centers, extending local post office hours and rehiring experienced staff.   Benjamin Franklin, the first Postmaster General of the United States, would be pleased.


  1. announcing:
  2. cut:
  3. Postal Reform Act of 2013:
  4. pay:
  5. earn:
  6. receive:
  7. announced:
  8. told:
  9. made:
  10. accounting:
  11. spent:
  12. explained:

Source URL:

Composting Key to Soil Health and Climate Protection, According to Two New Reports

by Rebecca Toews | July 14, 2014 4:39 am

Washington, DC — Composting reduces waste and builds healthy soil to support local food production and protect against the impacts of extreme weather, from droughts to heavy rainfall. That’s the message of two new reports from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR): State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where & How [1]and Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting[2].


CONTACT: Rebecca Toews

PHONE: 612-808-0689


Download both reports:[4]

Compost is the dark, crumbly, earthy-smelling material produced by the managed decomposition of organic materials such as yard trimmings and food scraps. Compost is valued for its ability to enhance soil structure and quality. It adds organic matter to soil, improves plant growth and water retention, cuts chemical fertilizer use, and stems stormwater run-off and soil erosion. In the U.S., 99 million acres (28% of all cropland) are eroding above soil tolerance rates, meaning the long-term productivity of the soil to support plant growth cannot be maintained.

“Applying a meager half-inch of compost to the 99 million acres of severely eroded cropland would require about 3 billion tons of compost,” says Brenda Platt, the lead author of both reports and director of ILSR’s Composting Makes $en$e Project. “There is not enough compost to meet that need.  No organic scrap should be wasted.”

Compost also protects the climate:  it sequesters carbon in soil and it reduces methane emissions from landfills by cutting the amount of biodegradable materials disposed. (Methane is a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 72 times more potent than CO2 in the short-term.) A growing body of evidence demonstrates the effectiveness of compost to store carbon in soil for a wide range of soil types and land uses.

Yard trimmings composting programs are fairly well developed in the U.S. Of the 4,914 composting operations identified in the U.S. for State of Composting in the U.S., about 71% compost only yard trimmings (based on 44 states reporting). Food scrap recovery is slowly growing. More than 180 US cities and counties are now collecting residential food scraps for composting, up from only a handful a few years ago.

“There is more demand for composting, especially from businesses and institutions that want to source separate food scraps and not throw them in the landfill,” says Nora Goldstein, Editor of BioCycle, which conducted the state-by-state assessment of composting infrastructure and policies, “We not only need more infrastructure to compost these materials, we need more infrastructure to manufacture high quality compost that our soils — and climate — desperately need.” (more…)[5]

  1. State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where & How :
  2. Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting:
  5. (more…):

Source URL:

Size Matters! New Report Shows The Value of Small-Scale, Community-Based Composting

by Brenda Platt | July 14, 2014 4:30 am

Composting can take place at many levels – backyard, block, neighborhood, schoolyard, community, on-farm, and regional – and in urban, suburban, and rural areas.  Composting at the local level circulates dollars in the community, promotes social inclusion and empowerment, greens neighborhoods, builds healthy soils, supports local food production and food security, embeds a culture of composting know-how in the community, sustains local jobs, and strengthens the skills of the local workforce.  When materials are collected and transported out of the community for processing, few if any of these benefits are realized at the local level.

Community composting is thriving but needs support to grow further.  ILSR’s report, Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting, describes successful initiatives, their benefits, tips for replication, key start-up steps, and the need for private, public, and nonprofit sector support. Produced in collaboration with the Highfields Center for Composting[1] in Hardwick, Vermont, Growing Local Fertility profiles 31 model programs in 14 states and the District of Columbia. Programs range from urban to rural and include demonstration/training sites, schools, universities, pedal-powered collection systems, worker-owned cooperatives, community gardens, and farms employing multiple composting techniques. Many but not all are non-profit mission driven enterprises.  Their distinguishing feature is keeping the process and product as local as possible while engaging the community through participation and education.


Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting – FULL REPORT

ILSR’s Survey Results of Community Composters – October 2013

Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting is based upon work supported under a grant by the Utilities Programs, United States Department of Agriculture and was produced by ILSR’s Composting Makes $en$e Project[2] and the Highfields Center for Composting[1].

We welcome feedback on this guide and invite community composters to share their lessons learned and tips for replication.

Contact us at[3]

  1. Highfields Center for Composting:
  2. ILSR’s Composting Makes $en$e Project:

Source URL:

State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where & How

by Brenda Platt | July 14, 2014 4:30 am

Composting is a proven approach to reduce waste and build soil health and fertility. Amending soil with compost improves its quality and structure and thus its ability to withstand the impacts of extreme weather, from severe droughts to heavy rainfall. When added to soil, compost enhances water retention, controls erosion, and stems sedimentation and stormwater run-off.  It also protects the climate:  it sequesters carbon in soil while reducing methane emissions from landfills by cutting the amount of biodegradable materials disposed. Given that 28% of all U.S. cropland (99 million acres) is eroding so fast that the long-term productivity of the soil cannot be maintained, adding organic matter via compost to soil is critical. Erosion reduces the ability of soil to store water and support plant growth.  These are among the findings of State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where & How[1], a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, funded under a grant from the 11th Hour Project.

The 131-page report reviews composting basics, provides national and state-by-state statistics and job generation data, summarizes model programs, technologies and systems, and concludes with recommendations on how to grow composting in the U.S.


State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where & How – Full Report

State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where & How – Executive Summary

Press Release, July 14, 2014[2]

“State of Composting in US” cover article, July 2014 issue of BioCycle[3]:
– read online[4]
– download pdf[5]

Co-authored by Nora Goldstein (BioCycle Magazine[6]), Craig Coker (Coker Composting & Consulting[7]), and Sally Brown (University of Washington[8]), State of Composting in the U.S. calls for new rules and initiatives to advance composting: streamlined permitting for facilities, training programs, technical and financial assistance, strong recycling and composting goals, disposal bans, compost procurement policies, and more.  It also recommends that communities embrace development of a diverse composting infrastructure.

Large-scale centralized facilities can serve wide geographic areas and divert significant quantifies of materials from disposal. Composting locally at the neighborhood and community-scale level has other benefits:  improved local soils, more local jobs, greener spaces, enhanced food security and fewer food deserts, less truck traffic hauling garbage, and increased community composting know-how and skills.

State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where & How[1] has four main sections:

See ILSR’s companion report, Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting[9], for detailed information on how to strengthen expansion of community-scale composting. This guide describes successful initiatives, their benefits, how these initiatives can be replicated, key start-up steps, and the need for private, public, and non-profit sector support.

  1. State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where & How:
  2. Press Release, July 14, 2014:
  3. July 2014 issue of BioCycle:
  4. read online:
  5. download pdf:
  6. BioCycle Magazine:
  7. Coker Composting & Consulting:
  8. University of Washington:
  9. Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting:

Source URL:

Working Partner Update: Austin Gets $1 Million Grant for Eco-Industrial Park

by Neil Seldman | July 9, 2014 12:28 pm

ILSR and the City of Austin, Texas, have been working partners since the late 1980s, when a coalition of environmental groups, small businesses and progressive City Councilors rejected a garbage incinerator already under construction. The City Council closed down the project and initiated a path toward recycling, composting and use of low cost landfill which would save the $120 million over the planned life of the incinerator. (more…)[1]

  1. (more…):

Source URL:

Celebrate Independence with 3 Steps Toward Energy Self-Reliance

by John Farrell | July 2, 2014 5:25 am

Being from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, I’m often asked, “You want everyone off-grid and independent with their own solar array and a battery, right?”

In a word, no.

But our mission of economic and energy self-reliance has several similarities to the kind of (economic) independence being sought by England’s American colonists in the 1770s and celebrated this week. And in the spirit of that overlap, I’d like to offer three ways Americans can celebrate their independence by increasing their energy and economic self-reliance.

Step 1: Do What You Can, Recruit Your Friends

The citizen “meter watchers” of SOUL Wisconsin find that modest changes can cut electricity consumption by 13% or more, saving $140 per year. They find that with some pretty low energy tasks like swapping out inefficient light bulbs, using power saving power strips and inexpensive light timers, or putting off-the-shelf foam insulation on hot water pipes, households can get high energy savings. Their energy tracking tool shows kilowatt-hours and dollars saved, and also greenhouse gas emissions avoided, from your energy conservation efforts.

If you like energy saving and reducing carbon emissions, chances are your friends will, too.  Expand the impact (and savings) by recruiting your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues.

Step 2: Generate Your Own Energy

Even the best conservation practices can only do so much, and chances are you’re still sending a sizable sum to your utility company every month.  If you’re one of the lucky 1 in 4 residents that owns a sunny rooftop, you can invest in solar power to reduce or eliminate your solar bill.  Join your neighbors in a bulk purchase or finance a system with a crowd-funded loan[1].

Maybe you lack a sunny rooftop, but you’re in one of the few states with policy supporting community-based renewable energy[2]. That local grocery store would be just the place for a solar array owned by you and your neighbors.

Step 3: Organize to Change the Rules

Unfortunately, somewhere between steps 1 and 2 most Americans will find that generating their own power often requires an exercise in political power. Your utility company may erect significant barriers, charge high fees, or pay pennies for energy from your own solar array. It may not allow community-based energy projects at all. It’s because they’re reluctant to see the inevitable, monumental shift in power generation – from large-scale fossil fuel power plants to decentralized renewable energy systems – result in a similarly monumental shift in ownership of the energy system, from them to you.

Some utilities will hide behind the spurious[3] “technical limitations” of the electricity system or the purportedly[4] low cost[5] of their existing, dirty power plants.  They’ll fight good policy like community solar[6], feed-in tariffs[7], incentives for clean energy[8], and net metering[9].*

And that’s why there’s something to be learned from the English colonists nearly 250 years ago.  When your (East India) company is giving you a bad deal, it’s time to dump them.


Photo Credit: Deval Patrick[10]

*Some utilities embrace the notion of self-reliance[11].


  1. finance a system with a crowd-funded loan:
  2. community-based renewable energy:
  3. spurious:
  4. purportedly:
  5. low cost:
  6. community solar:
  7. feed-in tariffs:
  8. incentives for clean energy:
  9. net metering:
  10. Deval Patrick:
  11. Some utilities embrace the notion of self-reliance:

Source URL:

ILSR’s Brenda Platt Delivers Keynote for US Zero Waste Business Conference 2014

by Rebecca Toews | June 18, 2014 1:44 pm

ILSR co-Director, Brenda Platt attended this year’s USZBC conference, hosted in Atlanta, Georgia at the beginning of May. Elemental Impact’s online magazine highlighted Platt’s keynote presentation in their blog[1]:

For the 2014 USZWBC Conference[2] – Creating Value Through Zero Waste, the superb program topics substantiated the zero waste industry’s continued evolution. Hosted in Atlanta, GA – a city entrenched with zero waste roots via the 2009 Zero Waste Zones[3] launch – the conference sessions addressed the far-reaching impacts of zero waste practices.


  1. their blog:
  2. 2014 USZWBC Conference:
  3. Zero Waste Zones:
  4. (more…):

Source URL:

Brenda Platt Presenting At Maryland Recycling Network – June 19, 2014

by Brenda Platt | June 17, 2014 2:34 pm

ILSR co-Director, Brenda Platt, is speaking on a zero waste panel on June 19, 2014, at the Maryland Recycling Network’s annual conference[1].   Her presentation, “The State of Composting in the U.S.,” will highlight cutting edge composting programs around the country.  Management and reduction of organics in our waste streams is a hot topic for many communities and represents a key step in meeting future zero waste goals.

The Maryland Recycling Network and SWANA Mid-Atlantic Chapter have put together a two day event at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum, MD where you’ll find:

mdrecyclingnetworkRegistration Information here.


  1. Maryland Recycling Network’s annual conference:

Source URL:

Same Price, More Renewables. San Diego’s Fight for Community Choice – Episode 23A of Local Energy Rules Podcast

by John Farrell | June 5, 2014 4:47 pm

“San Diego and its community choice energy district would be able to offer a diverse energy mix with all of the solar, biodiesel, biogas, and energy storage resources that we have in San Diego.  A product that is price competitive and yet at the same time would strive for and achieve a higher level of renewable content.”

See how this southern California city is striving for more clean energy and more local control in this interview with Lane Sharman, co-founder and chair of the San Diego Energy District Foundation. This podcast was recorded via Skype on May 21, 2014.


A Fight Against ‘Solar Taxes’

The rise of the San Diego Energy District Foundation was in response to fees proposed on solar customers by San Diego Gas and Electric in October 2011[7].  Thanks to the efforts of Lane, Bill Powers, and others in and outside of the foundation, the solar-crushing “Network Usage Fees” were not adopted[8]. It was a particularly important win, because the fees would have applied to those customers who had already installed solar, with the expectation that they wouldn’t pay extra for going solar.

Pursuing More Local Energy Control

The Energy District Foundation wasn’t satisfied with stopping their monopoly utility from implementing bad policy, it wanted to create an energy system that put the community in charge of implementing policy that was positive for the economy and the environment. In 2012, members of the Foundation worked with Protect Our Communities, a nonprofit organization focused on using California’s community choice aggregation law, to create a local entity in charge of greening up the city’s energy supply with local power. They hope to follow in the footsteps of Marin County[9] and Sonoma County in prioritizing local control of a cleaner energy system, at competitive prices.

Why Public Power?

The interest in local control over energy purchases is rooted in the inherent conflict of interest between ratepayers and their existing for-profit utility. Utilities in California make money by investing in hardware (power plants, power lines, and the like) and not finding the cleanest, lowest cost power for their ratepayers. In part, this is because taxpayers pick up the tab for pollution from fossil fuels.  A public entity is more likely to incorporate those externalities. Water, sewage, and education all provide examples of where the public sector provides excellent local service.

How Renewable Can San Diego Be?

A 2010 study called the San Diego Regional Plan for 100% Renewable Energy outlines the technical potential for clean energy in the region. But it’s the market prices for clean power than are most encouraging.  Open bids for new energy in Texas, for example, had solar bidding in at 5¢ per kilowatt-hour compared to retail energy prices of 15¢ or more. The county has approved (in 2013) a comprehensive energy plan[10] that will include an investigation of a local energy aggregation.

A ‘Monopoly Protection Act’

Incumbent utilities don’t much like the San Diego Energy District Foundation and its plan for local control of the energy system. The big three corporate monopoly utilities in California are behind a new bill (AB 2145[11]) that would completely undermine community choice aggregation by changing a key provision of implementation.  Currently, when a local government establishes a local aggregation to purchase power on behalf of its residents and small businesses, these individuals may opt out. If AB 2145 passes, all potential participants would have to opt in. It effectively shields the monopoly utilities from competition, requiring a yet-to-be-operational local utility to spend thousands of dollars to attract customers before it sells a single kilowatt-hour. Furthermore, it would make energy procurement nearly impossible for the local utility, which would be unable to effectively plan and purchase power without a reasonable estimate of their market share.

For more information on community choice aggregation, Lane recommends the San Diego Sierra Club[12], the local[13], the Local Energy Aggregation Network[14], and the San Diego Energy District Foundation [15]

This is the 23rd edition of Local Energy Rules[16], an ILSR podcast with Senior Researcher John Farrell that shares powerful stories of successful local renewable energy and exposes the policy and practical barriers to its expansion. Other than his immediate family, the audience is primarily researchers, grassroots organizers, and grasstops policy wonks who want vivid examples of how local renewable energy can power local economies. It is published twice monthly, on 1st and 3rd Thursday. Click to subscribe to the podcast: iTunes[17] or RSS/XML[18]

Sign up for new podcast notifications[19] and weekly email updates from ILSR’s energy program[20]!

Thanks to ILSR intern Jake Rounds for his audio editing of this podcast.

Photo credit: Rick Naystatt[21]
  1. [Image]:
  2. Play in new window:
  3. Download:
  4. iTunes:
  5. Android:
  6. RSS:
  7. fees proposed on solar customers by San Diego Gas and Electric in October 2011:
  8. “Network Usage Fees” were not adopted:
  9. Marin County:
  10. The county has approved (in 2013) a comprehensive energy plan:
  11. AB 2145:
  12. San Diego Sierra Club:
  13. local
  14. Local Energy Aggregation Network:
  15. San Diego Energy District Foundation :
  16. Local Energy Rules:
  17. iTunes:
  18. RSS/XML:
  19. new podcast notifications:
  20. weekly email updates from ILSR’s energy program:
  21. Rick Naystatt:,_Old_Town.jpg#filelinks

Source URL:

International Conversation on Zero Waste, May 2014

by Neil Seldman | May 5, 2014 7:17 pm

During a recent e-mail interchange, Mal Williams of Zero Waste Wales, Plasnewydd, Cardiff, reported on disappearing waste in that country. In order to maximize efficiency, add value to collected recyclables and reduce available materials for incineration, co-mingled recycling (single stream), is being phased out.

Nancy Gorrell, Berkeley, CA commented:
Hooray for Wales! Here in Berkeley, we are having to restructure rate fees, because recycling has replaced garbage.

Mary Lou Van Deventer, Urban Ore, Berkeley, CA, commented:
Quite so. Berkeley’s rates are based on garbage, which is dwindling, and therefore income is falling, leading to higher rates to pay for everything.  Garbage income finances recycling, so as garbage falls and recycling increases, recycling is doing more work but there’s less money to cover it.  Moreover, City Hall actually refuses to restructure the rates because they are convinced the people want to think recycling is free.  And they won’t tell.  (Recyclers want to get paid – shh.) (more…)[1]

  1. (more…):

Source URL:

Amazon’s Big Assist from Government

by Stacy Mitchell | May 1, 2014 11:24 am

Amazon’s sales have fallen in states where it is now required to collect sales taxes, according to a new study[1] by three economists at Ohio State University. The study offers striking evidence of how much Amazon’s dominance of the retail marketplace is owed to nearly 20 years of favorable tax treatment.

The economists examined credit and debit card data for 246,000 households, focusing on five states that recently enacted laws requiring Amazon to collect sales tax: California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia. They analyzed household spending at Amazon three months before and after the law took effect, and then compared the findings to spending patterns in states that did not adopt an online sales tax law.

Households cut their spending at Amazon by about 10 percent when the company begins collecting sales tax, the economists found. The effect is even greater for larger purchases. Spending falls 16 percent for purchases larger than $150 and 24 percent for those over $300.

That sales tax still matters this much to Amazon’s fortunes is quite remarkable. One might imagine that the company’s size and efficiency, its vast online marketplace and formidable distribution logistics, would be more than enough to outrun its competitors. But in fact, not having to collect sales tax in most states still provides a significant competitive edge, even at this late date.

We can only imagine how different the retail landscape might be today had Congress passed an internet sales tax bill a decade ago, when Amazon was big — it had revenue of $7 billion in 2004 — but not yet in possession of the level of market power it now has. Amazon posted $73 billion in sales last year. The retailer, which owns dozens of internet brands, including Zappos and, now accounts for a staggering one-third of all the items Americans buy online.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has long downplayed the importance of sales tax, as have the company’s supporters. Writing in the Daily Beast last year, columnist Megan McArdle declared[2], “Amazon’s competitive advantage no longer derives from its tax-free status.”

But this study reveals what Jeff Bezos has undoubtedly known for years: Amazon’s success, its track record of shuttering local businesses, is as much a product of government favoritism as it is of its own ingenuity. Indeed, Amazon’s actions from its founding in 1995 provide ample evidence that having a sales tax advantage has always been pivotal to its strategy:

  1. study:
  2. declared:
  3. unguarded interview:
  4. (more…):

Source URL:

Webinar: The Power of Community Composting

by Brenda Platt | April 30, 2014 11:15 am

Across the nation, grassroots action to capture and recycle organic resources from communities by communities are expanding. The solutions are as diverse as the places and people where these efforts originate, yet the commonalities show a clear trend of an emerging movement. To kick off International Compost Awareness Week, ILSR and Highfields Center for Composting held a “The Power of Community Composting” webinar on May 5th at 4 pm. Brenda Platt, ILSR Co-Director and Director of the Composting Makes $en$e project, presented. To get more information on the International Compost Awareness Week and the Highfields Center for Composting, see here[1]



  1. here:

Source URL:

To Save the Internet We Need To Own The Means Of Distribution

by David Morris | April 28, 2014 10:20 am

map-stories[1]With the announcement by the FCC that cable and telephone companies will be allowed to prioritize access to their customers only one option remains that can guarantee an open internet:  owning the means of distribution.

Thankfully an agency exists for this. Local government.  Owning the means of distribution is a traditional function of local government.  We call our roads and bridges and water and sewer pipe networks public infrastructure for a reason.

In the 19th century local and state governments concluded that the transportation of people and goods was so essential to a modern economy that the key distribution system must be publicly owned.  In the 21st century the transportation of information is equally essential.

When communities own their roads they can and have established the rules of the road.  The most fundamental and ubiquitous is what might be called road neutrality. Everyone has equal access regardless whether they drive a Ford or a Chevy, a jeep or a moped.

About 20 years ago, exasperated by high prices, poor service and a callous disregard by cable and phone companies for the future communications needs of their host communities, American cities began building their own networks.  Initially these were based on cable and later on fiber.

Today almost 90 communities have citywide fiber networks.  Another 74 have citywide cable networks.  Scores more have partial fiber networks that serve public institutions—local government, libraries, schools, networks—and could easily be extended.  See here[2] for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s comprehensive map of muni networks in the United States.

More than 3 million people currently live in communities with a publicly owned communications network.

Unlike the FCC, cities that own their telecommunications networks can, and undoubtedly will respond to the will of their citizens by embracing the principle of net neutrality.

Many of today’s muni networks are in cities that a century ago built their own electricity networks after private companies proved unwilling to provide universal, affordable, reliable power. Today over 2000 cities still own the electric means of distribution.   Their price and reliability is comparable or better than those of investor owned utilities and they are, unsurprisingly, far superior in responding to the needs of their communities.

Publicly owned telecommunications networks offer lower prices and higher speeds than Comcast and AT&T and Time Warner.  It is instructive that the first gigabit network was built not by a private company but by Chattanooga, a muni network. Today 40 cities in 13 states have locally owned gigabit networks.

Cities that have built their own networks have found them a singularly successful economic development investment, especially for retaining and attracting the growing numbers of businesses that require high speed, high capacity networks. (more…)[3]

  1. [Image]:
  2. here:
  3. (more…):

Source URL:

Understanding the Small Business Credit Crunch

by Stacy Mitchell | April 16, 2014 12:59 pm

Even as their big competitors are awash in capital, many locally owned businesses are struggling to secure the financing they need to grow.  A new ILSR analysis[1] has found that, since 2000, bank lending to large businesses is up 36 percent, while small business loan volume has fallen 14 percent and  “micro” business loans — those under $100,000 — have plummeted 33 percent.

(The largest corporations do not even need to rely on bank loans, of course, but can finance their growth through the soaring stock and corporate bond markets.)

The problem is not a lack of demand.  In our 2014 Independent Business Survey[2], 42 percent of business owners that needed a loan in the previous two years reported being unable to obtain one.  Startups, businesses with fewer than 20 employees, and enterprises owned by minorities and women are having an especially difficult time.  Even with the same business characteristics and credit profiles, small businesses owned by African-Americans and Latinos are less likely to be approved for loans, according to one recent study[3].

One consequence of this credit shortage is that many small businesses are either not adequately capitalized or have been forced to rely on high-cost alternatives, such as credit cards.  Both scenarios make them more vulnerable to failing.

The broader consequences for our economy are significant.  Studies show locally owned businesses are a primary source of net new job creation, contribute to higher median household incomes, and increase social capital.  Yet independent businesses in many sectors are losing market share, while the number of new startups has steadily fallen over the last two decades.  Insufficient capital is a key culprit driving these trends.

To shed light on this problem and help inform policy discussions,  ILSR has published an overview of the small business lending landscape[4]. Among the key takeaways:


  1. ILSR analysis:
  2. 2014 Independent Business Survey:
  3. one recent study:
  4. overview of the small business lending landscape:
  5. (more…):

Source URL:

Two Big-Box Decisions Show How Smart Planning Policies Protect Good Jobs

by Stacy Mitchell | April 1, 2014 10:30 am

Although few cities take full advantage of them, planning and zoning powers are among the most potent tools communities have for shaping their economies. Two recent decisions, in Massachusetts and Wisconsin, underscore why land use planning matters and how smart policies can strengthen the local economy and protect good jobs.

The first was a decision by the Cape Cod Commission to deny Lowe’s a permit to build a store in the town of Dennis. As I wrote in a piece last year (“Here’s One Smart Way to Handle Big-Box Stores[1]“), Cape Cod is one of the few places in the country that embeds economic criteria in its planning policies and requires that large projects (commercial development over 10,000 square feet) win approval from both the host town and a regional planning body, the Cape Cod Commission, which is made up of representatives from each of the Cape’s 15 towns.

Guided by Cape Cod’s Regional Planning Policy[2], the commission does not limit its review to conventional zoning issues, such as the number of parking spaces or the distance the building is set back from the street. Instead it focuses on how the development would affect Cape Cod’s economy and environment.

After looking closely at the Lowe’s proposal, the Cape Cod Commission concluded[3] that “the probable benefit of the proposed development is not greater than the probable detriment.”

A pivotal issue was the store’s projected impact on jobs and wages. One of the region’s primary planning goals is to increase household income. Lowe’s would have the opposite effect, the commission concluded. In a region already saturated with building supply stores, Lowe’s arrival would cause many existing local businesses to downsize or close. The result would be a net decline of 48 jobs after Lowe’s opened.

Moreover, the new jobs at Lowe’s would pay $9,000 less on average than the jobs lost at local stores, resulting in a total income loss of over $3 million for the region’s residents.

Armed with this kind of analysis, the Cape Cod Commission has approved relatively few big-box stores in its 24-year history. Walmart has only one store in the region. It’s less than half the size of a typical supercenter and located in a building that used to house another department store. Not surprisingly, Cape Cod has significantly more independent businesses per capita than the national average.

Another example of the value of smart planning policy was last month’s unanimous decision by the Green Bay (Wisconsin) City Council to deny Walmart’s petition to build a 154,000-square-foot store in a historic industrial area adjacent to the downtown.

Green Bay has been looking to redevelop this area. In a similar situation, many cities might leap on a 15-acre Walmart store on the theory than anything is better than nothing. But Walmart’s suburban-style store did not fit the vision that residents and city officials had developed through a series of planning exercises. (more…)[4]

  1. Here’s One Smart Way to Handle Big-Box Stores:
  2. Regional Planning Policy:
  3. concluded:
  4. (more…):

Source URL:

Lifecycle Building Center, Atlanta, GA, Established in December 2011

by Neil Seldman | April 1, 2014 9:32 am

ILSR prepared a zero waste plan for the Atlanta Office of Sustainability in 2011-12. During site visits ILSR and Saint Vincent De Paul provided assistance to several community based reuse enterprises. In turn these new community businesses became working partners in ILSR’s and Saint Vincent De Pauls’ national networks. Neil Seldman serves as an advisor to the Lifecycle Building Center.

The Lifecycle Building Center (LBC) was co-founded by Adam Deck, a former store manager for Raleigh’s Habitat ReStore and a professional deconstruction expert, and Shannon Goodman, an architect formerly with Perkins+Will. (P+W) (more…)[1]

  1. (more…):

Source URL:

Report: Energy Storage – The Next Charge for Distributed Energy

by John Farrell | March 26, 2014 6:00 am

Update 5/2/14: titles for Fig. 2 and 3 in the report were mistakenly switched and are now corrected.  

Energy storage promises to change the electricity system during the next decade, as fundamentally as distributed renewable energy has in the last decade. A new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Energy Storage: The Next Charge for Distributed Energy, forecasts where the battleground is shaping up. The report also details promising examples of local renewable energy utilizing energy storage — from Laurel, MD to San Diego, CA to Kaua’i Island, Hawaii — illustrating how the powerful combination can allow for more thorough adoption of renewable energy, support greater local control, and increase reliability of the energy system.

Download the full report here.

The new report reviews the many ways energy storage systems enhance distributed renewable energy including innovative uses for electric vehicles (EVs), community solar, island power grids, and microgrids. The report also looks at ways in which communities utilized energy storage to help managed supply and demand and ancillary electricity services, while reinforcing infrastructure, and supporting renewables.

Energy storage stands to change the political dynamic of local renewable energy development, while also impacting economics and policy prescriptions. The new ILSR report can provoke conversation and new thinking around the coming technologies.


Source URL:

Could Minnesota’s “Value of Solar” Make Everyone a Winner?

by John Farrell | March 13, 2014 4:27 pm

placeholder[1]On Wednesday, Minnesota became the first state to allow utilities a new method of contracting with distributed solar producers, called the market-based “value of solar.” If adopted by utilities, it will fundamentally change the relationship between solar-producing customers and their electric utility.

Following Minnesota’s Value of Solar Process? Here are a few resources:

  • Part 1[2] and Part 2[3] and Part 3[4] and Part 4[5] of ILSR’s series of posts on the process
  • The MN Department of Commerce final comments[6] and draft value of solar methodology[7] (January 2014)
  • My comments to the Department of Commerce[8] on value components to include (PDF and slideshow[9])
  • Live tweets and context with Twitter hashtag #MNVOST[10]
  • The Department’s value of solar stakeholder resource page
  • The enabling law (see Art. 9, Sec. 10 and following) – HF 729[11]

Until now, producing on-site energy from a solar panel has been treated much like any other activity reducing electricity use. Energy produced from solar is subtracted from the amount of energy used each month, and the customer pays for the net amount of energy consumed.  This “net metering[12]” policy has guided the growth of distributed solar power in the United States to an astonishing 13 gigawatts GW by the end of 2013.

But net metering has been the focal point for the utility war on the democratization of the grid, a phenomenon made possible by enormous reductions in the cost of on-site power generation from solar. The following map illustrates the many states where utilities have sought to undermine policies and/or incentives supporting distributed renewable energy generation.

battlegrounds over net metering and distributed generation[13]

The transformation of the grid has utilities crying foul (or fowl[14]) because lots of customers using net metering reduces their balance sheet revenue. However, increasing evidence suggests that the overall economic benefits to the utility’s electric grid may outweigh the loss of revenue.

Value of solar creates a market price for distributed solar energy in an effort to answer the utility’s cry. And Minnesota’s rigorous formula suggests that in crying “foul,” utilities may have been crying “wolf.” That’s because the initial estimates of the market value of solar peg it at more than the retail electricity price.  In other words, utilities have been getting a sweet deal on solar power.

Will Value of Solar Work?

Will the value of solar market price be sufficient to maintain growth in distributed solar generation?

Yes, according to preliminary calculations.

Xcel Energy, the state’s largest electric utility, shared estimations for the value of solar in its comments (to reduce the value) to the Public Utilities Commission in mid-February. Their calculations follow:

Minnesota value of solar calculation Xcel Energy [15]

The solar market price includes eight separate factors, but the largest four account for the lion’s share of the value: 25 years of avoided natural gas purchases, avoided new power plant purchases, avoided transmission capacity, and avoided environmental costs.

The value of avoided fuel cost recognizes that utilities cannot buy natural gas on long-term contracts the way they can buy fixed-price solar energy, and it internalizes the risk of fuel variability that utilities have previously laid on ratepayers.

The avoided power plant generation capacity value recognizes that sufficient solar capacity allows utilities to defer peak energy investments (like Xcel’s recently requested 3 natural gas peaking power plants that an administrative law judge discarded in favor of distributed solar).

Avoided transmission capacity costs rewards solar for on-site energy production, saving on the cost of infrastructure and energy losses associated with long-range imports.

The environmental value may be the most precedent setting, because it means that when buying solar power under Minnesota’s value of solar tariff, a utility is for the first time paying for the environmental harm it had previously been socializing onto everyone else. This value is based on the federal “social cost of carbon” as well as non-carbon externality values adopted by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

All told, the preliminary market value of solar estimate by Xcel Energy (14.5¢ per kilowatt-hour) for Minnesota comes fairly close to the levelized cost of energy from solar projects in Minnesota using the federal 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC). Residential projects installed at $4/Watt will cost 17.2¢ per kWh over 25 years (and be eligible for state incentives). Commercial projects installed at $3/Watt will cost 12.9¢ per kWh over 25 years.

Market Value of Solar v. Levelized Solar Cost[16]

Will Utilities Adopt Value of Solar?

The crucial remaining issue is whether Minnesota utilities will adopt value of solar in place of net metering. The adopted methodology may require utilities to (in the short run) pay more for solar electricity than they do under net metering. The following chart shows that a representative residential customer with a 5 kW solar array would net an extra $200 bill credit this year with the value of solar than they would using net metering.

Market Value of Solar v Net Metering[17]

Within five years, however – based on recent utility rate inflation of 4-5% per year – the premium falls to just $12.  And over the life of the value of solar contract – 25 years – the net present value (5% discount rate) of utility payments for solar production is $3,000 less under value of solar than under net metering.

Not only that, utilities lock in the market value of solar when the signed a 25-year contract, not bad for a business rocked by volatile fuel prices.

Who Wins?

In theory, everyone is a winner if utilities adopt Minnesota’s market value of solar. In the near term, solar energy producers will get a better price than they have under net metering. In the long term, the cost of solar will fall (perhaps significantly) below the market value (accelerating the development of solar energy), and the 25-year, fixed price contract will help small-scale producers secure financing.

Utilities should also come out ahead. Over the 25-year life of solar projects, they will pay less for solar energy than under net metering. Furthermore, greater amounts of solar on the grid will (over time) erode the market price for solar energy since much of its value is based on low (zero) fuel costs and environmental advantage over fossil fuel generation.

The market value of solar should also be a victory for ratepayers. First, it’s transparent and without subsidy. In fact, it removes hidden subsidies for polluting fossil fuel generation. Ratepayers also get to purchase this renewable resource based on its value to the grid and not an awkward and obscure retail price proxy.

Is the market value of solar the best thing to come out of Minnesota in 2014? If nothing else, it beats the polar vortex[18].

  1. [Image]:
  2. Part 1:
  3. Part 2:
  4. Part 3:
  5. Part 4:
  6. final comments:
  7. draft value of solar methodology:
  8. My comments to the Department of Commerce:
  9. slideshow:
  10. #MNVOST:
  11. HF 729:
  12. net metering:
  13. [Image]:
  14. fowl:
  15. [Image]:
  16. [Image]:
  17. [Image]:
  18. polar vortex:

Source URL:

Crimea, Anschluss and the Enduring Quest for Autonomy

by David Morris | March 11, 2014 4:24 pm

The upcoming Crimea referendum is both ordinary and extraordinary. Ordinary because more than 100 times since World War II geographically concentrated ethnic or linguistic groups have voted on the question of independence.  Extraordinary because never before have a people encountered a ballot allowing them to choose only between continuing subservience within their existing nation or subservience to another nation.

The quest for autonomy is ubiquitous.  When given the choice most regions choose statehood. Since World War II the number of nations has mushroomed from 51 to 193.

Sometimes the desire for autonomy results in devolution rather than independence as nations concede authority in order to maintain territorial integrity.  That was the outcome of Quebec’s political awakening in the late 1970s.  In the wake of Franco’s death in 1975 Spain constitutionally evolved into what is now sometimes called a “State of autonomies”.  In 1998 Scotland won the right to elect its own parliament.  In 2005 South Sudan gained autonomy within Sudan.

Devolution whets but often does not quench the thirst for full independence. This fall Scotland will vote on nationhood.  The Parti Quebecois, expected to handily win provincial elections in April, likely will revive the issue of separation. After Spain rejected their recent demands for near full sovereignty the autonomous Basque Country and Catalan began to take steps toward nationhood. Indeed, Spain’s recent promise to veto Scotland’s entry into the European Union if Scots voted for independence was clearly borne of a fear for its own dissolution.

Uncoupling has sometimes occurred peacefully as happened with Norway and Sweden a century ago and the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.  More often it has involved considerable violence. The 1990s breakup of Yugoslavia into 7 nations and one autonomous province took 10 often-bloody years. In late 1975 East Timor declared independence but an invasion and occupation by Indonesia delayed actual independence until 2002. South Sudan’s independence in 2011 followed two civil wars; violence continues to wrack the new nation.

In 1991 Crimea itself voted for autonomy within the Soviet Union.  After the USSR’s breakup the continuing separatist movement from Ukraine led many observers to view Crimea as the next international flashpoint.  In 1993 the Economist warned[1] of a ‘long-running, acrimonious, possibly bloody and conceivably nuclear, dispute over Crimea’.  The dispute was peacefully but uneasily resolved when the ‘Autonomous Republic of Crimea’ was embedded in the 1996 Ukrainian constitution and the 1998 Crimean constitution.  But Crimea’s political authority remained weak.

The overthrow of a Ukrainian government that found its strongest backing among Russian speakers coupled with its new parliament’s passage of a bill eliminating the use of Russian as an official language (later withdrawn under heavy international pressure) spurred the initial Crimean crisis.

If history were the norm, we might expect Crimeans to vote on whether they preferred more autonomy or full independence.  Tragically that choice has never been offered.  The original referendum offered by Ukraine and set for May 25 (later pulled forward to March 30) allowed Crimeans to vote only on greater autonomy.

The options offered in the March 16th referendum are even worse. Crimeans will have the opportunity to choose between subservience to Ukraine or Russia. Such a ballot appears to be unprecedented.  The closest we came to such a vote was in 1938 when the Austrian government proposed a plebiscite on the annexation of Austria by Germany.  Fearing he would lose such a vote, Hitler invaded Austria under the guise of quelling alleged violence against Germans.  Hitler not only swallowed up Austria but to this day he continues to win the language battle.  We use the term Anschluss to describe the takeover of Austria, a German word meaning unification rather than using the German word for annexation.

Ukraine and the West insist that Crimeans do not have the right to vote on independence. Russian agrees.  This tragic meeting of minds moves us toward a potentially tumultuous showdown.






  1. warned:

Source URL:

Faulty Study Ignores Small Business Benefits

by Stacy Mitchell | March 5, 2014 12:07 pm

Photo by Cale Bruckner[1].  This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Last month, San Francisco’s Office of Economic Analysis waded into the debate over whether the city should beef up its policy restricting the spread of chain stores[2]. In a new study, the OEA concludes that the city’s regulations are harming the local economy and that adding additional restrictions would only do more damage. But this sweeping conclusion, hailed by proponents of formula retail, rests on a deeply flawed analysis. The study is riddled with data problems so significant as to nullify its conclusions.

San Francisco is the only city of any significant size where “formula” businesses, defined as retail stores or restaurants that have 10 or more outlets, must obtain a special permit to locate in a neighborhood business district. The law’s impact, in one sense at least, is readily apparent: Independent businesses account for about two-thirds of the retail square footage and market share in San Francisco, compared to only about one-quarter nationally. Although chains have been gaining ground in San Francisco, the city far outstrips[3] New York, Chicago, and other major cities in the sheer numbers of homegrown grocers, bookstores, hardware stores, and other unique businesses that line its streets.

San Francisco’s policy has gaps, however, which have prompted a slew of recent proposals to amend the law. Members of the Board of Supervisors have proposed a variety of changes, such as extending the policy to cover more commercial districts (it only applies in neighborhood business districts) and broadening the definition of what counts as a formula business.

The OEA presents its study as an injection of hard economic data into this policy debate. There are three pieces to its analysis. Let’s take each in turn.

First, the OEA reports that chains provide more jobs than independent retailers do. It presents U.S. Census data showing that retailers with fewer than 10 outlets employ 3.2 workers per $1 million in sales, while chains (10 or more outlets) employ 4.3 people.

One major problem with this statistic is that the OEA includes car dealerships. Retail studies generally exclude the auto sector, because car dealers differ in fundamental ways from other retailers and car sales account for such a large chunk of consumer spending that they can skew one’s results. The OEA’s analysis is a classic example of this. Because the vast majority of car dealerships are independently owned and employ relatively few people per $1 million in sales, by including them, the OEA drags down the employment figure for local retailers overall.

If you take out car dealers, which are not subject to San Francisco’s formula business policy anyway, and also remove “non-store” retailers, a category that includes enterprises like heating oil dealers and mail order houses, a different picture emerges. Retailers with fewer than 10 outlets employ 5.3 people per $1 million in sales, compared to only 4.5 for those with 10 or more locations.

The actual difference is even a bit more than this, because chains handle their own distribution, employing people to work in warehouses, while independents typically rely on other businesses for this. And, of course, a portion of the jobs chain stores create are not local jobs; they are housed back at corporate headquarters. The OEA fails to mention either of these fairly obvious caveats.


  1. Cale Bruckner:
  2. policy restricting the spread of chain stores:
  3. far outstrips:
  4. (more…):

Source URL:

Santa Monica City Net: An Incremental Approach to Building a Fiber Optic Network

by Lisa Gonzalez | March 5, 2014 8:51 am

Santa Monica has built a fiber network called City Net that has lowered its own costs for telecommunications, helped to retain businesses, and attracted new businesses to the community. Built incrementally without debt, it offers a roadmap any community can draw lessons from.

Unlike the majority of municipal fiber networks, Santa Monica does not have a municipal power provider – City Net is run out of the Information Systems Department. The vision for the network and its expansion was created in the Telecommunications Master Plan in 1998, standardizing the procedure that we now call “dig once.” Careful mapping and clever foresight laid the foundation for growth.

The first goal of the network was to save public dollars by eliminating leased lines from private providers. The first $530,000 investment in fiber infrastructure ultimately resulted in an ongoing savings of $700,000 per year. As part of their long term strategy, the City reinvested those savings in expanding the network. Over the past ten years, the network has expanded to offer dark fiber and services of 100 Mbps to 10 Gbps to area businesses as well as free Wi-Fi to the public in many areas.

Money that could have been spent on leasing slower, less reliable connections from existing providers has instead been used to expand public infrastructure and other public amenities. Free Wi-Fi, public safety video cameras, and realtime parking info are just a few niceties that enhance the quality of life in Santa Monica.

Learn more about Santa Monica’s journey from idea to reality. Download Santa Monica City Net: An Incremental Approach to Building a Fiber Optic Network[1].

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance presents this in-depth case study co-authored by Eric Lampland and Christopher Mitchell.

Read ongoing stories about these networks at ILSR’s site devoted to Community Broadband Networks[2].  You can also subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks[3].

About ILSR: Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) proposes a set of new rules that builds community by supporting humanly scaled politics and economics. The Telecommunications as Commons Initiative believes that telecommunications networks are essential infrastructure and should be accountable to residents and local businesses.[4]

About Lookout Point Communications: Lookout Point Communications was established in 1997 to offer consulting in various aspects of communications technology. The company has assisted individuals, companies, schools and governments to understand choices in communication networks and implement positive[5]

  1. Santa Monica City Net: An Incremental Approach to Building a Fiber Optic Network:
  2. Community Broadband Networks:
  3. subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks:

Source URL:

Zero Waste Symposium – Comments By Neil Seldman

by John Bailey | February 24, 2014 5:13 pm

Comments (edited version) by Neil Seldman at the Zero Waste Symposium[1] – held February 4, 2014

Sponsored by Zero Waste San Diego and the California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA)

February 4, 2014

Thank you very much, Rick. It’s always a pleasure to come back to California – certainly San Diego. Many of you know that I learned my recycling in California many years ago. And, my first assignments were helping to replace planned incinerators in LA and San Diego with recycling. And here are two of the people here who taught me – Jon Michael Huls and Rick Anthony; Kathy Evans, is still an active recycler in Berkeley; Cliff Humphrey is working in Kansas City. Mike Anderson and Bernie Meyerson have retired. (more…)[2]

  1. Zero Waste Symposium:
  2. (more…):

Source URL:

When It Comes to Public Services, Government Knows Best

by David Morris | February 20, 2014 8:29 pm

Minneapolis will soon vote to shift nearly 180 privately owned bus shelters to public ownership following numerous complaints about the lack of maintenance and upkeep.  When it does it will join the burgeoning ranks of cities who have discovered that when it comes to public services government knows best.

In the post-Ronald Reagan era Americans take as indisputable that the private sector is more nimble and more innovative and the profit motive commands efficiency.  But a mountain of evidence points in the other direction. The government is highly competitive.  Indeed privatized services often come at a higher price and lower quality.

The examples are legion.  Medicare boasts a tiny overhead cost compared to that of private insurance companies.  Federal unsubsidized student loans are cheaper and more flexible than private bank student loans. Private contractors cost Washington almost twice as much as federal employees for the same tasks.

Evidence of government excellence is equally abundant at the state and local level.   In a growing number of jurisdictions governments are reassessing the value of privatizing services.

In the Public Interest[1] reports that in 2010 the Hernando County, Florida sheriff’s office took over management of its jail from the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) after the CCA failed to adequately maintain the facility and engaged in practices that compromised safety and increased the chance of escapes and incidents of violence.  The sheriff increased annual salaries of corrections officers by more than $7,000 to attract the highly qualified, significantly improved the quality of the facility and saved $1 million the first year of public operation to boot.

In 2011 Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett considered outsourcing many city services, including the maintenance of fleets, facilities and streets but had the good sense to open the bidding process to public workers. The public proposal was chosen over local and national firms for its significant taxpayer savings.

In 2012, San Diego sought to sell its landfill to a private corporation. Several companies submitted bids.  Once again the city had the foresight to allow public service workers to submit a bid.  The review board concluded the city would save money and get better service by keeping the operation of the landfill in-house.

In 2012, Illinois awarded the Maximus one of country’s largest private social service providers a $77 million contract to review Medicaid eligibility. A 2013 independent investigation found errors in almost 50 percent of the cases.  Illinois terminated[2] the $77 million contract last December. One analysis found that state employees would save Illinois more than $18 million annually while replacing unqualified call center hires with trained caseworkers.

Every year, the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) eight districts solicit bids m private contractors as well as MnDOT’s own striping division to paint lane stripes n every highway in Minnesota. Without fail, MnDOT’s public striping crew beats the private competitors by a large margin.

Outsourcing not only tends to cost more and provide lower quality services; it also has unquantifiable but very real other costs.  After Minneapolis outsourced its information management system to Unisys about 10 years ago it found it had lost much needed in-house expertise, including the ability to properly oversee the Unisys contract.

Last fall the Jonesboro Sun asked the CEO of Tiger Correctional Services, a company that contracts for jail commissary services with the Craighead County Arkansas Sheriff’s Department for financial information that was public when the services were operated by that department.  Tiger’s attorneys asserted that because it is a private company none of the company’s records were subject to public open records laws.

With regard to private military contractors, Major Kevin P. Stiens and Lt. Col. (Ret.) Susan L. Turley observed[3] with regard to private military contractors, “Not only did the cost savings fail to materialize, outsourcing caused other tangible losses. The government lost personnel experience and continuity, along with operational control, by moving to contractors.” Air Force Colonel Steven Zamperelli added,  “Private employees have distinctly different motivations, responsibilities and loyalties than those in the public military.”

One city shifting 180 bus shelters back into public hands is a minor development with a one-day news life. But it reflects a much larger story, the growing reevaluation by governments of the efficacy of privatizing public services.





  1. In the Public Interest:
  2. terminated:
  3. observed:

Source URL:

Webcast: ILSR & Allies Respond to Walmart’s Environmental Claims

by Stacy Mitchell | February 19, 2014 2:16 am

placeholder[1]On Feb. 17th, during a 90-minute event broadcast live from Walmart’s Arkansas headquarters, the company’s top brass, including its new CEO Doug McMillon, presented what they claimed was remarkable progress to green Walmart’s operations and protect the planet.

ILSR, together with our allies at Environmental Action[2] and OUR Walmart[3], organized a live webcast response attended by hundreds of environmental activists.

Click below to watch this 45-minute event, which includes analysis of Walmart’s environmental impact and greenwashing by ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell; perspective from Dominic Jamal Ware, a Walmart worker and leader with OUR Walmart who connects the dots between the company’s environmental harms and its destructive labor practices; and details on Environmental Action’s growing grassroots campaign on Walmart.  (Get involved in that campaign by sharing this event[4] and signing the petition.)

For more background, see our report, Walmart’s Assault on the Climate: The Truth Behind One of the Biggest Climate Polluters and Slickest Greenwashers in America[5]. 

  1. [Image]:
  2. Environmental Action:
  3. OUR Walmart:
  4. sharing this event:
  5. Walmart’s Assault on the Climate: The Truth Behind One of the Biggest Climate Polluters and Slickest Greenwashers in America:

Source URL:

Independent Business Owners Report Growing Public Support, Call for Policies to Level the Playing Field

by Stacy Mitchell | February 6, 2014 9:37 am

Image: 2014 Independent Business Survey Cover

A national survey of independent business owners conducted by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance[1] in partnership with the Advocates for Independent Business[2] coalition has found that Local First initiatives are boosting customer traffic and improving the outlook on Main Street, but policymakers need to do more to create a level playing field and ensure that small local businesses have an equal opportunity to compete.

The survey gathered data from 2,602 independent businesses across the country.

Among the survey’s key findings:

Sales Growth — Independent businesses reported revenue growth of 5.3% on average in 2013. The retailers surveyed experienced a 1.4% increase in same-store holiday sales, comparable to many competing chains.

Buy Local — Over 75% of businesses located in cities with active Local First campaigns reported increased customer traffic or other benefits from these initiatives. They also reported sales growth of 7.0% on average in 2013, compared to 2.3% for independent businesses in places without such an initiative.

Challenges — Competition from large internet companies was rated as the biggest challenge facing independent businesses, followed by supplier pricing that favors their big competitors, high costs for health insurance, and escalating commercial rents.

Graph12[3]Policy Priorities — Among independent retailers, the top policy priorities are extending the requirement to collect sales tax to large online retailers, eliminating public subsidies and tax breaks for big companies, and regulating the swipe fees that Visa and Mastercard charge.

Internet Sales Tax — More than three-quarters of independent retailers said that the fact that many online companies are not required to collect sales tax had negatively impacted their sales, with 41% describing the level of impact on their sales as “significant.”

Access to Credit — Of those businesses that applied for a bank loan in the last two years, 42% either failed to obtain a loan or received a loan for less than the amount they needed.

“This comprehensive survey makes clear the unparalleled role that local businesses play in the health and vitality of communities,” said Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association[5] and Co-Chair of Advocates for Independent Business[2]. “And it highlights, too, the challenges that these businesses are facing regarding equitable governmental policy and a level competitive playing field. However, the widespread acceptance of the localism movement — which shows the potential of small business advocacy — is a clear sign for optimism.”


  1. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  2. Advocates for Independent Business:
  3. [Image]:
  4. View a presentation of the key findings:
  5. American Booksellers Association:
  6. (more…):

Source URL:

Show Me Solar: Parity, Value, and Opportunity for Solar Power

by John Farrell | February 4, 2014 5:16 pm

placeholder[1]What can solar power do for a single state? How about 21% of its energy, $14 billion in economic activity, and over 150,000 jobs. At a discount to existing electricity costs. Without subsidies.

ILSR’s Director of Democratic Energy, John Farrell, shared this message with the Missouri Solar Energy Industries Association on Feb. 1, 2014 in Kansas City. Click below to view or download the presentation, or read the short report on Solar Jobs for Missouri.


Show Me Solar: Clean, Local Power for Missouri’s Economy from John Farrell[2]
  1. [Image]:
  2. John Farrell: //

Source URL:

Bill to Limit Internet Investment Introduced in Kansas

by Lisa Gonzalez | January 30, 2014 1:00 pm

Kansas is the latest legislative battle ground in the fight to preserve local self-reliance. The Kansas Legislature is taking up SB 304[1] to limit local municipalities’ authority to invest in publicly owned networks.

While the language of the bill states the purpose is to “encourage widespread use of technological advances” for video and broadband at competitive rates, it actually discourages investment and competition.

The bill provides an obligatory exemption but our analysis[2] finds:

The bill contains what will appear to the untrained eye to be an exemption for unserved areas. However, the language is hollow and will have no effect in protecting those who have no access from the impact of this bill.

The first problem is the definition of unserved. A proper definition of unserved would involve whether the identified area has access to a connection meeting the FCC’s minimum broadband definition delivered by DSL, cable, fiber-optic, fixed wireless or the like. These technologies are all capable of delivering such access.

However the bill also includes mobile wireless and, incredibly, satellite access. As we have noted on many occasions, the technical limits of satellite technology render it unfit to be called broadband, even if it can deliver a specific amount of Mbps. Satellite just does not allow the rapid two-way transmitting of information common to modern Internet applications. Mobile wireless comes with high costs, prohibitively low monthly caps, and often only works in some areas of a rural property. This is not a proper measure of having access to the Internet.

The second problem with the fake unserved exemption is the challenge of demonstrating an area meets it. If one suspected that a territory with over 90% of the residents did not meet the overly broad definition, one would have to engage in an expensive survey to prove it at the census block level. Data is not ordinarilly collected at that granular level – and even when it is, it is often based on unverified claims by existing carriers.

Even if anywhere in Kansas qualified as unserved under this definition, the cost of proving it would only add to the extremely high cost of building to such a low density population, breaking any business plan that could attempt it.

Every legislative session we contend with at least one state bill like SB 304 (Georgia faced similar legislation in 2013[3]). Barriers to municipal network investment exist in nineteen states[4], preventing local communities from serving their own needs as  powerful incumbents turn away. Those incumbents’ business model dictates they consider shareholder interests above all else but municipal networks first serve and provide accountability to the community. Even though billion dollar incumbents refuse to invest in places like Chanute[5] or Ottawa[6],  they use political connections to restrict local communities from making the investment on their own.

From our story on

These types of bills make a mockery of our political system. Whether to invest in essential infrastructure (or how to) is a decision that should be made at the local level, where people know how their unique mix of assets and challenges relate to ensuring everyone has fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet. There is no need for the state or federal authority to overrule local decision-making. The only reason we see it popping up in state after state (most recently Georgia) is because powerful cable and telephone companies want to ensure they face no competition – even in the most rural areas of the country.