Community Composters Gather at Conference in Los Angeles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some key takeaways from the CCC Workshop:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Take a visual tour of CCC 2017 below:


Cultivating Community Composting Workshop & Forum - 2017[32]






Subscribe to our Cultivating Community Composting mailing list

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

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

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Hierarchy to Reduce Food Waste & Grow Community

by Brenda Platt | February 10, 2017 3:28 pm


We’ve developed this Hierarchy to Reduce Waste & Grow Community[2] in order to highlight the importance of locally based composting solutions as a first priority over large-scale regional solutions. Composting can be small scale and large scale and everything in between but too often home composting, onsite composting, community scale composting, and on-farm composting are overlooked. Anaerobic digestion systems come in different sizes as well. This new hierarchy addresses issues of scale and community benefits when considering what strategies and infrastructure to pursue for food waste reduction and recovery.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has long been a strong advocate of food waste recovery. Its Food Waste Reduction Hierarchy[3] has been widely disseminated and even written into local law.  Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law[4], for instance, has made it the policy of that state. More recently, in 2015, EPA joined with the US Department of Agriculture, in establishing the first ever domestic goal to reduce food loss and waste by half by the year 2030[5]. The agency’s hierarchy remains an important guideline for how this goal is to be met: prevent food waste, feed hungry people, feed animals, and recover via industrial uses and anaerobic digestion. However, in the EPA’s hierarchy, composting is listed just before disposal via landfilling and incineration. We believe size matters.

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

Download a pdf of the Hierarchy to Reduce Waste & Grow Community: ILSR Food Waste Hierarchy v1[6].

We want you to be able to share this graphic under creative commons license, free of cost. But please, make sure to let people know they should link to:[7] to see the original content.

If you’re publishing on your website, or in one of your publications, please include this sentence:
“The following comes from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance[8] ([9]), a national nonprofit organization working to strengthen local economies, and redirect waste into local recycling, composting, and reuse industries. It is reprinted here with permission.” 
Follow the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on Twitter[10] and Facebook[11] and, for monthly updates on our work, sign-up[12] for our ILSR general newsletter.
  1. [Image]:
  2. Hierarchy to Reduce Waste & Grow Community:
  3. Food Waste Reduction Hierarchy:
  4. Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law:
  5. goal to reduce food loss and waste by half by the year 2030:
  6. ILSR Food Waste Hierarchy v1:
  8. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  10. Twitter:
  11. Facebook:
  12. sign-up:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, February 8th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: US Composting Council[4]

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

For more information on our Composting work, visit:


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

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

Source URL:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not “Us” vs. “Them”

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

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


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

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

Speaking Misinformation Through A Delegate

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

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

Christopher summed up the situation:

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

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

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

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

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When It Comes to Working People, Amazon Isn’t Innovative at All

by Olivia LaVecchia | February 7, 2017 9:51 am

[1]The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) recently released an in-depth report[2] on Amazon, and this week, ILSR and Jobs With Justice[3] partnered to produce a fact sheet[4] that looks at how Amazon is undermining working people. This post highlights ILSR’s findings on how this fast-growing corporation is increasingly at the center of many alarming economic trends.


People working at an Amazon warehouse. Photo by Scott Lewis.

When an Amazon box lands on the doorstep in as little as an hour after it’s ordered, it can seem like magic. Behind that magic, though, lies a vast network of warehouses—often nondescript, windowless buildings on the outskirts of cities—where tens of thousands of people unload and sort goods, pick and pack orders, and prepare to deliver those boxes.

These women and men describe their jobs as exceptionally grueling. They report racing across warehouses that can sprawl the distance of more than a dozen football fields; frequent bending and squatting; and production quotas that are set impossibly high—by one measure 60 percent above[6] the industry standard. “The worst part was getting on my hands and knees 250 to 300 times a day,” a man working as a picker in a Pennsylvania warehouse told the paper The Morning Call[7], adding that he was expected to pick 1,200 items in a 10-hour shift, and that frequently involved fishing items out of bins near the floor. “It’s actually impossible to meet the productivity standards and do so safely,” Beth Gutelius, a researcher who has studied Amazon, told us.

Despite these demands and risks, Amazon treats its employees as expendable. Roughly 40 percent of the people working in Amazon warehouses are temporary employees who lack job benefits and security. Though Amazon refers to these positions as “seasonal,” we found that it relies on temporary employees year-round and hires many of these workers through staffing agencies.  By not hiring people directly, Amazon skirts liability for injuries and mistreatment they suffer on the job.

Amazon’s regular direct hires are scarcely better off. Average wages for warehouse work are already low, and Amazon pays its employees even less.  We looked at Amazon’s wages in 11 metro areas and found that it pays an average of 15 percent less than the prevailing wage for comparable work. In Atlanta, for instance, where Amazon has three large facilities, Amazon’s wages are 19 percent lower than the prevailing warehouse wage, and 29 percent below the living wage for the region. (more…)[8]

  1. [Image]:
  2. in-depth report:
  3. Jobs With Justice:
  4. fact sheet:
  5. [Image]:
  6. 60 percent above:
  7. The Morning Call:
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Community Development Block Grants Aid Connectivity In Nelson County, VA

by ILSR | February 6, 2017 5:26 am

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

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

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

Nelson County Broadband

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

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

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

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

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

About CDBG

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


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

  1. Kate Svitavsky:
  2. is typically funded with:
  3. Nelson County, Virginia:
  4. said Alan Patrick:
  5. open access network:
  6. hopes to add another 52 customers:
  7. that recently provided:
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Thanks to Co-op, Small Iowa Town Goes Big On Solar

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

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

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

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

Sparking Solar

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pitch

Farmers Electric harnessed the power of the dollar to gets its solar campaign off the ground, and keep it going. In order for the program to succeed, McKenna knew early on that it had to provide a financial boost to co-op members — the environmental benefits, he says, were an unspoken cherry on top. (more…)[2]

  1. 76 percent more than the next utility:
  2. (more…):

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ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell Speaks with The Capitol Forum about Amazon’s Economic Effects

by ILSR Admin | February 2, 2017 8:33 am

ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell recently spoke about the economic impacts of Amazon in a conference call with editors and subscribers of The Capitol Forum, a news and analysis service for policymakers and others involved with issues of market competition.

The discussion, which was sparked by ILSR’s recent report, “Amazon’s Stranglehold: How the Company’s Tightening Grip is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs and Threatening Communities[1],” covered issues including Amazon’s platform power, Amazon’s role in broader economic dislocation, and potential political reactions to Amazon’s power. Here are some excerpts from the conversation. (more…)[2]

  1. Amazon’s Stranglehold: How the Company’s Tightening Grip is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs and Threatening Communities:
  2. (more…):

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“Why Local Solutions?” Internet Access Fact Sheet

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

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


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

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

Download Why Local Solutions? fact sheet[4].

Other Fact Sheets At Your Fingertips

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

Check out our other fact sheets[5].

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t Confuse The Conversation”

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

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

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

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

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

The Times Free Press reported[4]:

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

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

Ignoring Sage Advice

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

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

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

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

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

by Christopher | January 26, 2017 6:00 pm

StateScoop[1] – January 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

From Chris:

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

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

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

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

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Taking on the Billionaires

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

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

The Giveaway

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

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

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

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

The Response[4]

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

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

Class Matters

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

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

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

The Consequences

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

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

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

Why Raise State Income Taxes?


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

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

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

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

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

Taxing Labor and Capital

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

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

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

The False Benefit of State Tax Cuts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State Income Taxes: The Lay of the Land

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


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



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

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

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

A History of Failure and Success

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

The Changing Landscape

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

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

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

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

Private splendor and public squalor has never been more evident. While the recent election gave federal power to those who would widen the gap, state and local governments, the governments closest to the people, are where increasing needs, the perilous state of public services and the growing disparity between the super-wealthy and the rest of us, may offer fertile ground for progressive strategies that largely benefit those who voted for Trump.

Sign-up for our monthly Public Good Newsletter[30] and follow ILSR on Twitter[31] and Facebook[32].

  1. Tax Policy Center:
  2. House Republicans:
  3. estimate:
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  7. wealth: http://The%25201%2520percent%2520has%252035.6%2520percent%2520of%2520all%2520private%2520wealth,%2520more%2520than%2520the%2520bottom%252095%2520percent%2520combined.%2520%2509%2509The%2520400%2520wealthiest%2520individuals%2520on%2520the%2520Forbes%2520400%2520list%2520have%2520more%2520wealth%2520than%2520the%2520bottom%2520150%2520million%2520Americans.
  8. according:
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  14. analysis: http://consumer%2520payments%2520and%2520stimulus%2520payments%25202008
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“More Than Just Facebook” Internet Connectivity Fact Sheet

by Lisa Gonzalez | January 26, 2017 11:49 am

Our newest fact sheet, More than just Facebook[1], provides an overview on how Internet access and fast, affordable, reliable connectivity reaches most aspects of our lives. We provide statistics on economic development, education, and methods of delivering Internet access. This fact sheet is a good introductory tool that points out how we’ve Internet access is much more than just social media.

We also offer some explanations of concepts that may not be familiar to people who don’t work in the telecommunications field or advocate for municipal networks. This fact sheet is a tool that lays out what publicly owned Internet infrastructure and better connectivity can mean for your community.

Share it with friends, relatives, and your elected officials who might wonder if they could do more than “Like” pithy posts if they had better connectivity.


Download More than just Facebook[3].

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

  1. More than just Facebook:
  2. [Image]:
  3. Download More than just Facebook:
  4. here.:

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ILSR’s Report on Amazon Gets a Big Response in the Press

by Nick Stumo-Langer | January 25, 2017 4:00 am

November 29th, 2016 – January 23rd, 2017


Download the report[2]

When we published Amazon’s Stranglehold: How the Company’s Tightening Grip is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities[3] late last year, one thing we hoped the report would do is deepen the media coverage of the company and spur more public debate about the ways Amazon is reshaping the economy and our communities. The response has been remarkably strong. The report has been featured in numerous media stories and has inspired new reporting on the company. Here are a few highlights.

Media Highlights

“A report released this week by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance took a dim view of Amazon’s methods of doing business, arguing that the company’s 46 percent share of the U.S. online retail market is not only stifling competition and displacing retail jobs, but also weakening community bonds.”

— Seattle Post Intelligencer (“Report: Amazon has ‘stranglehold’ on online retail market[4]” by Daniel DeMay, Nov. 29, 2016)

“But, the report’s authors argue, those growing ambitions and Amazon’s control over advertising, shipping, logistics and other aspects of selling online, make it hard for smaller businesses to reach Web shoppers without dealing with Amazon.”

— San Francisco Chronicle: “Amazon criticized for vast online reach and record sales[5]” by Daniel Demay, Nov. 30th, 2016

“A report released this week from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance says…that Amazon’s rise has resulted in the elimination of 149,000 more jobs than the company has created. They also found that wages at the company’s warehouses were 15% less than the pay for similar jobs in 11 metro areas.”

Time Magazine Money (“Amazon is Dominating the Holiday Shopping Season to a Shocking Degree[6]” by Brad Tuttle, Nov. 30th, 2016)

“A new analysis from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit that advocates for local economic development, tries to put a number on just how much Amazon has saved from taxpayer largesse in the United States: $760 million between 2005 and 2014. It’s a figure, according to ILSR’s exhaustive new report[7], that’s equal to 17 percent of the company’s global profits during that time. And it’s likely an underestimate.”

— Slate (“How Did Amazon Conquer American Retail? $760 Million in Public Money Didn’t Hurt.[8]” by Henry Grabar, Dec. 1st, 2016)

“A scathing new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), which campaigns for sustainable local economies, argues for action to curtail Amazon’s influence. It compares Jeff Bezos to a ’19th-century railroad baron controlling which businesses get to market and what they have to pay to get there,’ and it argues regulators should break up the company, and that states should reduce tax breaks and subsidies that privilege the company over its competitors.”

— Fast Co.Exist (“Is Amazon Killing Jobs and Destroying Communities[9]” by Ben Schiller, Dec. 2nd, 2016)

“ILSR’s report… says Amazon is reshaping the U.S. economy in ways that hurt small businesses, reduce jobs and wages, limit the choices and products available to consumers, and harm the economies of local communities.”

— Cleveland Plain Dealer (“Amazon’s explosive growth endangers small businesses, local stores: study says[10]” by Janet H. Cho, Dec. 3rd, 2016)

“According to a study of Amazon’s community impact by the Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR) the mega-retailer has transformed shopping into an increasingly dehumanized process, while consolidating the labor infrastructure into a giant network of low-wage logistical chains where workers’ economic security shrinks and community-based businesses whither….This isn’t just a nostalgic yearning for simpler times, but a desire for a more humane economy.”

— The Nation (“What Happens to a Town When Amazon Moves In?[11]” by Michelle Chen, Dec. 8th, 2016)

“This thoroughly researched, compellingly written report presents a detailed a view of the growing power of Amazon and the ways it threatens local businesses, workers, and local economies. It’s a must-read.”

Next: Economy (“Amazon: Economic strangler or job creator?[12]” by Tim O’Reilly, Dec. 10th, 2016)

“Yet, beyond the “A to Z” selections offered on Amazon exists the reality that workers, consumers and their communities are suffering from the retailer’s stranglehold on the American economy, researchers at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) say in a study released in late November.”

— Truthout (“$1 of Every $2 Spent Online Goes to Amazon. Can We Break the Company’s Stranglehold?[13]” by Mario Vasquez, Dec. 21st, 2016)

“Recent critiques of Amazon, however, have also focused on something else: the danger posed by the company’s aggressive vertical integration… ‘For other businesses, if you’re a manufacturer, you’re another retailer — you face this really difficult decision,’ Stacy Mitchell says. ‘Do you continue to hang your shingle out on the Web where there’s less and less consumer traffic that’s likely to find you? More and more businesses are having to make a difficult decision to use Amazon’s platform, and that creates this incredible conflict of interest for Amazon.'”

— Pacific Standard (“Amazon, the Monopolist?[14]” by Dwyer Gunn, Dec. 22nd, 2016)

“A new report released last week by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance details Amazon’s effect on local economies…. The 79-page analysis argues that Amazon has monopolized retail to the extent that it has undermined local competition, jobs and wages.”

— Chicago Tonight – PBS WTTW (“Chicago Indie Bookstores Launch Campaign Ahead of Amazon’s Arrival[15]” by Reuben Unrau, Dec. 8th, 2016)

“When subtracting these expenses, [Amazon] drivers often end up earning less than the minimum wage and are denied overtime pay… That description of delivery methods was echoed by Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the advocacy group Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Along with co-author Olivia LaVecchia, Mitchell has just completed a major study[16] of Amazon’s business practices that warns that the giant corporation is killing good jobs in local economies as it seeks to monopolize different sectors of the retail business.”

— In These Times: “Delivery Drivers Sue Amazon over Misclassification, Failure to Pay Overtime and the Minimum Wage[17]” by Bruce Vail, Dec. 12th, 2016

“‘Many of these jobs will be low-paid, short-term, and have high turnover. Some will be temporary positions,’ said Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a research and advocacy group focused on stimulating local economies. ‘Those are not the kind of jobs we need in order to address the economic challenges that so many Americans are facing.’… Earlier this year, Mitchell… co-authored a report[18] on Amazon about the kinds of jobs it creates and the kinds of jobs it destroys. As the New York Times reported Friday[19], for every position Amazon fills, a greater number of traditional retail jobs are eliminated, undercutting the company’s job creation claims.”

— Buzzfeed News (“Those 100,000 New Amazon Jobs Might Not Be Good For Everyone[20]” by Caroline O’Donovan, Jan. 13th, 2017)

​​”While Amazon has said it would create 100,000 jobs in the United States in 2017, most are low-paying warehouse jobs that offer little job security. Amazon on average pays its warehouse employees 15% less than the average wage of other warehouse workers in the same region, according to Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a non-profit advocacy group that works on sustainable community development. Most of the jobs had already been announced in the local markets where the warehouses are located….’Given that there’s no real news here, one certainly has to wonder if Amazon’s announcement is mainly aimed at currying favor with President-elect Trump,’ Mitchell says.”

— USA Today (“Companies pile on job announcements to avoid Trump’s wrath[21]” by Chris Woodyard, Jan. 17th, 2017)


“We wanted to pull back the curtain and look at what this company is doing, how it’s changing the economy. And what we found is that it’s having a profound, harmful effect on competition… making it harder and harder for competing retailers and manufacturers to have a level playing field. That has all kinds of implications for consumers and for the dynamism of the economy over the long term.”

— The Capitol Forum (“Amazon: Transcript of Conference Call with Stacy Mitchell on Amazon’s Economic Effects[22],” Dec. 14th, 2016)

— WORT 89.9FM (Madison) (“The Price Of Online Shopping With Amazon[23]” by A Public Affair, Dec.19th, 2016)

— KALW (San Francisco) (“Your Call: Amazon threatens small businesses and weakens communities, says new report[25]” by Rose Aguilar and Laura Flynn, Dec. 14th, 2016)

—  KOMO News (Seattle) (by Jeff Pohjola, Nov. 30th, 2016)

Additional Coverage

The Huffington Post: “Amazon’s Takeover of the Economy is the Real Threat to American Jobs[27],” by Emily Peck, Nov. 29th, 2016 [Republished in WoW[28]]

GeekWire: “New study compares Amazon to 19th century robber barons, urge policymakers to break up the online retail giant[29]” by Nat Levy, Nov. 29th, 2016

Local First AZ: “Amazon is Undermining Competition, Small Businesses, and Workers, and Reducing Economic Opportunity and Consumer Choice, New Report Finds[30]” by Erica Fetherston, Nov. 30th, 2016

Forbes: “Amazon’s Growing Stranglehold on the US Economy[31]” by Laura Heller, Nov. 30th, 2016

Newsbold: “Amazon’s Takeover Of The Economy Is The Real Threat To American Jobs[32]” by Newsbold, Dec. 18th, 2016

American Bookseller’s Association: “A Holiday Letter From ABA CEO Oren Teicher[33] ” by Oren Teicher, Dec. 20th, 2016

Tame Bay: “Report: Amazon is damaging competition, SMEs and consumer choice[34]” by Tame Bay, Dec. 22nd, 2016

Minnpost: “Is it even possible to plan for transit to the Shakopee Amazon facility?[35]” Bill Lindeke, Dec. 22nd, 2016

Air Cargo World: “Study raises concerns about Amazon’s impact on U.S. economy[36]” by Air Cargo World, Dec. 26th, 2016

Post Online Media: “Amazon controls retail infrastructure in U.S., says report[37]” by Post Online Media, Dec. 27th, 2016

Forbes: “Amazon Has ‘Best Ever’ Holiday[38]” by Laura Heller, Dec. 27th, 2016

BTN News, Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, & Business Tourism News: “Amazon raises competitive stakes[39]” by BTN News, Dec. 28th, 2016

Publisher’s Weekly: “‘Amazon’s Stranglehold’ Co-Author Stacy Mitchell Breaks It Down[40]” by Kenny Brechner, Jan. 5th, 2017

Ted’s Magazine: “Major E-Tailers and Retailers Continue to Make Inroads on the B2B Front[41]” by Bridget McCrea, Jan. 5th, 2017

Chicagoist: “As Amazon Preps Chicago Store, Indie Bookstores Push Back[42] “” by Stephen Gossett, Jan. 5th, 2017

Streets.MN: “Podcast #96: The Urban Effects of with Spencer Cox[43]” by Bill Lindeke, Jan. 6th, 2017

Crain’s Cleveland Business Dealer: “Success doesn’t always end in dot com[44]” by Douglas J. Guth, Jan. 7th, 2017

Los Angeles Times: “Bad news for the Strand? Amazon is opening a brick-and-mortor bookstore in Manhattan[45]” by Agatha French, Jan. 9th, 2017

Phoenix Business Journal: “Get a peek inside Amazon Phoenix fulfillment center[46]” by Steven Totten, Jan. 10th, 2017

Independent We Stand: “ILSR Report Shows the Real Cost of Amazon’s Success[47]” by Independent We Stand, Jan. 12th, 2017

Plymouth Daily News: “Amazon is Bad for U.S. Economy[48]” by Dejan Lesicar, Jan. 13th, 2017

Crain’s Chicago Business: “Something else Amazon delivers[49]” by Brigid Sweeney, Jan. 14th, 2017

Reading Eagle: “Experts grapple with challenges of e-commerce” by Jeff McGaw, Jan. 18th, 2017

Good Jobs First: “Amazon’s 100,000-Job Claim: Will Taxpayers Bankroll Retail Job Churn?[50]” by Good Jobs First, Jan. 19th, 2017

Australia News: “Amazon launches hiring spree as it prepares for Australian launch[51]” by Dana McCauley, Jan. 23rd, 2017

If you’re interested in receiving updates from ILSR’s Community-Scaled Economy initiative, please sign up here[52], and follow ILSR[53], Stacy Mitchell[54], and Olivia LaVecchia[55] on Twitter.

  1. [Image]:’s+Stranglehold
  2. Download the report:
  3. Amazon’s Stranglehold: How the Company’s Tightening Grip is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities:’s+Stranglehold
  4. Report: Amazon has ‘stranglehold’ on online retail market:
  5. Amazon criticized for vast online reach and record sales:
  6. Amazon is Dominating the Holiday Shopping Season to a Shocking Degree:
  7. exhaustive new report:
  8. How Did Amazon Conquer American Retail? $760 Million in Public Money Didn’t Hurt.:
  9. Is Amazon Killing Jobs and Destroying Communities:
  10. Amazon’s explosive growth endangers small businesses, local stores: study says:
  11. What Happens to a Town When Amazon Moves In?:
  12. Amazon: Economic strangler or job creator?:
  13. $1 of Every $2 Spent Online Goes to Amazon. Can We Break the Company’s Stranglehold?:
  14. Amazon, the Monopolist?:
  15. Chicago Indie Bookstores Launch Campaign Ahead of Amazon’s Arrival:
  16. major study:
  17. Delivery Drivers Sue Amazon over Misclassification, Failure to Pay Overtime and the Minimum Wage:
  18. co-authored a report:
  19. reported Friday:
  20. Those 100,000 New Amazon Jobs Might Not Be Good For Everyone:
  21. Companies pile on job announcements to avoid Trump’s wrath:
  22. Amazon: Transcript of Conference Call with Stacy Mitchell on Amazon’s Economic Effects:
  23. The Price Of Online Shopping With Amazon:
  25. Your Call: Amazon threatens small businesses and weakens communities, says new report:
  27. Amazon’s Takeover of the Economy is the Real Threat to American Jobs:
  28. Republished in WoW:
  29. New study compares Amazon to 19th century robber barons, urge policymakers to break up the online retail giant:
  30. Amazon is Undermining Competition, Small Businesses, and Workers, and Reducing Economic Opportunity and Consumer Choice, New Report Finds:
  31. Amazon’s Growing Stranglehold on the US Economy:
  32. Amazon’s Takeover Of The Economy Is The Real Threat To American Jobs:
  33. A Holiday Letter From ABA CEO Oren Teicher:
  34. Report: Amazon is damaging competition, SMEs and consumer choice:
  35. Is it even possible to plan for transit to the Shakopee Amazon facility?:
  36. Study raises concerns about Amazon’s impact on U.S. economy:
  37. Amazon controls retail infrastructure in U.S., says report:
  38. Amazon Has ‘Best Ever’ Holiday:
  39. Amazon raises competitive stakes:
  40. ‘Amazon’s Stranglehold’ Co-Author Stacy Mitchell Breaks It Down:
  41. Major E-Tailers and Retailers Continue to Make Inroads on the B2B Front:
  42. As Amazon Preps Chicago Store, Indie Bookstores Push Back:
  43. Podcast #96: The Urban Effects of with Spencer Cox:
  44. Success doesn’t always end in dot com:
  45. Bad news for the Strand? Amazon is opening a brick-and-mortor bookstore in Manhattan:
  46. Get a peek inside Amazon Phoenix fulfillment center:
  47. ILSR Report Shows the Real Cost of Amazon’s Success:
  48. Amazon is Bad for U.S. Economy:
  49. Something else Amazon delivers:
  50. Amazon’s 100,000-Job Claim: Will Taxpayers Bankroll Retail Job Churn?:
  51. Amazon launches hiring spree as it prepares for Australian launch:
  52. sign up here:
  53. ILSR:
  54. Stacy Mitchell:
  55. Olivia LaVecchia:

Source URL:

Solar: Choice, Competition, and Clean Air

by John Farrell | January 17, 2017 6:00 am

It’s simple to promote solar power as a money saver and clean alternative to fossil fuel generation. But it sells solar short to focus only on savings, when it also gives Americans the freedom to generate their own energy and to challenge the economic and political power of big corporations.

Individual Freedom

If individuals want to invest their money, or pay someone else, to put solar on their rooftop, who is the government or the utility to tell them no? Americans should be free to decide how best to spend their money, and rooftop solar is one of the few ways they can spend it that pays back by cutting their use of electricity.


In more than 30 states, utilities operate as monopolies. The monopolies serving most customers are a private companies that receive a generous rate of return (10% or more) on money they invest in the grid system. Utilities suggest their monopoly is “natural,” and that the grid operates most efficiently in their clutches. But if that’s the case, why are utilities across the country scrambling to cut compensation for solar producers[1], add fees to the bills of solar owners, and modify electric bills so people who use less energy can’t avoid paying the utility less money[2]?

The truth is that technology from solar to smartphones undermines the rationale for a utility monopoly[3], and customers should be able to compete with their utility to get the best deal.

Americans also deserve to have a say in the rules of the electricity business. Big monopoly utilities wield their customers’ dollars against them in court and at the capitol. In Florida, investor-owned utilities have one lobbyist for every two legislators[4]. One of California’s biggest investor-owned utilities spent over $46 million[5] opposing a policy allowing cities and towns to shop for a better deal. And utilities can use money from their captive customers[6] to pay for membership in trade organizations that spread their monopoly-protection legislative ideas from state to state. Monopolies don’t just mean bad business, they make for bad politics, and less concentrated economic power means more people power in making the rules.

Benefits for Everyone

Solar is good for individuals, but their investments also pay dividends for the grid. For one, solar power produces power right where we use it. Think about a delivery from Amazon: is it better to have items sent to the distribution center 30 miles away or to your front porch?

Solar also produces power during times of peak energy use. Most state or regional grids reach their peak capacity on hot, sunny afternoons, the same time solar pours electricity into the grid. Consider congestion lanes on a freeway: when traffic is heavy, the price to use them goes up. The value of solar energy is higher because of when it’s produced.

Furthermore, solar on a local rooftop likely involves a local installer and maybe even a local loan. The money spent to finance and build a rooftop solar installation stays in the local economy when most other energy dollars do not.

Finally, solar reduces health and environmental costs that big companies unload onto their customers.  Every kilowatt-hour of energy produced at a coal or natural gas power plant produces several pounds of pollutants. Their spread into the air and water spurs warnings[7] to limit our consumption of fish, higher incidences of respiratory diseases like asthma, and other public health dangers. Because it reduces energy consumption from power plants, rooftop solar helps avoid these health and environmental costs otherwise borne by individuals rather than the utility companies that cause them.

If you like, it’s possible to get into the weeds[8] of the financial and economic benefits of rooftop solar versus coal or gas or nuclear, but aren’t choice, competition, and cleaner air enough?

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

  1. cut compensation for solar producers:
  2. people who use less energy can’t avoid paying the utility less money:
  3. undermines the rationale for a utility monopoly:
  4. one lobbyist for every two legislators:
  5. $46 million:
  6. use money from their captive customers:
  7. warnings:
  8. into the weeds:
  10. Twitter:
  11. Energy Democracy weekly:

Source URL:

Fact Sheet On Municipal Networks In Virginia

by Lisa Gonzalez | January 16, 2017 2:05 am

The latest addition to our list of fact sheets focuses on Virginia: Municipal Networks Deliver Local Benefits[1]. We noticed that municipal networks in the “Mother of States” have spurred economic development, saved taxpayer dollars, and improved local connectivity.

A number of local governments in Virginia that have invested in Internet network infrastructure have attracted Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to use the publicly owned assets to offer services to residents and businesses. Local governments are using fiber-optic networks to improve public safety, take control of their own connectivity needs, and attract or retain employers.

Download the fact sheet here[2].


Download the fact sheet here[2].

Learn more about the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) open access network, located in southwest Virginia. Christopher spoke with Frank Smith, President and CEO of the RVBA for episode 221[4] of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Take a look at our other fact sheets[5]; we will continue to add state-specific editions so check back for more. Subscribe to our weekly email[6] for a run down of stories so you can stay up-to-date on what’s happening in community broadband networks.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[7]

  1. Municipal Networks Deliver Local Benefits:
  2. Download the fact sheet here:
  3. [Image]:
  4. episode 221:
  5. our other fact sheets:
  6. Subscribe to our weekly email:
  7. here:

Source URL:

Official Agendas Available, Fourth National Cultivating Community Composting Forum

by Nick Stumo-Langer | January 13, 2017 3:17 pm

placeholderIn collaboration with the US Composting Council (USCC) and BioCycle[1], the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is releasing the agenda for the Fourth National Cultivating Community Composting Forum from January 23rd-24th to be held in conjunction with the USCC’s International Conference and Trade Show[2], COMPOST2017, in Los Angeles.

These events will bring together composters to network, share best practices, and build support for community-scale composting systems and enterprises. The Cultivating Community Composting Forum 2017 is the fourth national forum sponsored by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and BioCycle.

Thank you to our sponsors!


Best Practices in Community Composting Workshop Agenda

Monday, January 23rd, 2017 Los Angeles, California

8:30AM to 4:30pm

Agenda available here for download[3]


Welcome & Who’s Here



Part 1: Key Ingredients of Community Composting



Part 2: Small-Scale Composting Systems/Processing BMPs

Moderator: Brenda Platt, Institute for Local Self-Reliance







Part 3: Hauling, Bike, & Other Logistics

Moderator: Dan Matsch, Eco-Cycle, Boulder




Lunch & Informal Breakouts

At restaurants outside of the hotel – on your own.

Breakout Topics:



Part 4: The Business of Community Composting

Moderator: Kyle Isaacksen, Reno Rot Riders, Reno




Part 5: Community Engagement & Building Community Power via Community Composting

Moderator: Linda Bilsens, Institute for Local Self-Reliance Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders, Washington D.C.




Part 6: Breakout Discussions

Topics TBD: BMPs, hauling logistics, business plans/financial viability, outreach & marketing, policy agenda, volunteer management, community engagement/community empowerment, school composting, etc.)



Report Back from Breakouts, Closing, & Next Steps

Agenda available here for download[3]

4th National Cultivating Community Composting Forum


Tuesday, January 24th, 2017 Los Angeles, California

Agenda available here for download[22]


Nora Goldstein, BioCycle[23], @BioCycleMag[24]

Brenda Platt, Institute for Local Self-Reliance[25], @ILSR[26]


Part 1: Cultivating Community Composting Forum


Community Composting: Distributed, Diverse, and Growing

Welcome from Institute for Local Self-Reliance and BioCycle
Overview & Introduction to Community Composting (interactive polling)

Forum Keynote: Empowering Neighborhoods Through Compost, Michael Martinez, LA Compost[15]

Panel: Community Composters Drive Local Programs

This panel will showcase how community composters bring public attention to composting and the potential partnerships. Commercial scale composters and haulers – along with local government – will learn the benefit of these programs and how to support/partner with community-based efforts.




Opening Plenary – Welcome to Compost2017[30]



Lunch in the Exhibit Hall Sponsored by Exhibitors



Part 2: Cultivating Community Composting Forum

Panel Discussion: Supporting a Distributed Composting Infrastructure – Dollars and Rules

This panel will address the importance of local and state financing and policies to the development of a diverse and distributed composting infrastructure that includes community scale operations. How can state agencies such as CalRecycle’s create funding incentives to support community composters? How can local government revisit districting rules to allow for community composters to compete? What local governments are already financing and supporting community scale composting?

Moderator: Brenda Platt, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Washington D.C.


Closing Remarks



ReFed’s Roadmap Hits the Road: Building Processing Capacity at the Right Scale[36]

Discussion Panel includes:

Agenda available here for download[22]


Community composting is the radical idea that compost is used within the same community where the material is generated and that the community participates in some way. Community composters keep the feedstocks, process and product as local as possible while engaging the community through participation and education. Projects range from urban to rural and include small enterprises, demonstration/training sites, schools, universities, pedal-powered collection systems, worker-owned cooperatives, community gardens and farms.

For more information on community composting, download our report:
Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting[37]

  1. BioCycle:
  2. USCC’s International Conference and Trade Show:
  3. Agenda available here for download:
  4. Compostwheels:
  5. Compost Pedallers:
  6. BK ROT:
  7. Howard University Community Garden:
  8. Cornell Waste Management Institute:
  9. NYC Compost Project hosted by Lower East Side Ecology Center:
  10. Rust Belt Riders:
  11. CompostNow:
  12. Tilthy Rich:
  13. Philly Compost:
  14. Compost With Me:
  15. LA Compost:
  16. Terra Nova Compost:
  17. Food Plus Detroit:
  18. Real Food Farm – Civic Works:
  19. Howard University Community Garden:
  20. Edible Flint:
  21. CERO:
  22. Agenda available here for download:
  23. BioCycle:
  24. @BioCycleMag:
  25. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  26. @ILSR:
  27. Bennet Compost:
  28. Compost Wheels:
  29. Compost Pedallers:
  30. Welcome to Compost2017:
  31. NYC Department of Sanitation:
  32. Sustainable Economies Law Center:
  33. Austin Resource Recovery:
  34. CalRecycle:
  35. ReFED:
  36. Building Processing Capacity at the Right Scale:
  37. Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting:

Source URL:

State Bills To Block Municipal Networks Start In Missouri, Virginia

by Lisa Gonzalez | January 13, 2017 7:22 am

With each new legislative session come the new bills from the incumbents aiming to limit competition. We typically expect at least one and begin looking for them early in January as legislatures begin assembling in state capitols; this year the anti-muni efforts begin in Virginia and Missouri.

“Show-Me” Your Bill

Missouri’s communities have been the object of legislative persecution from big national incumbents and the legislators they back for several years. When we learned that another effort to severely limit the ability for municipalities to bring better connectivity to the community was afoot, we weren’t surprised.

This year, the bill is from Republican Senator Ed Emery[1], who has recently moved from the House to the Senate. Surprisingly, Emery’s bio reports that he also worked with his father and grandfather in their feed and grain business. As some one with a connection to farmers, one would expect him to understand the importance of high-speed connectivity in today’s agriculture industry. Emery also has a significant history in the utilities industry. He’s received both the Legislator of the Year Award from the Missouri Cable Telecommunications Association and the Leadership Award from the Missouri Telecommunications Industry Association[2].

SB 186 starts out strong by prohibiting local government from offering “competitive service,” which includes both retail or wholesale models. By preventing wholesale models, the bill interferes with a municipality’s ability to work with private sector partners, a major complaint about the bill introduced last year[3].

The bill states that voters can only choose to allow a municipality to offer any services after the community has engaged in a very thorough feasibility study and the results have been publicized. As with last year’s bill, SB 186 sets up onerous hurdles that threaten to sabotage a network in the early days, discouraging local communities from pursuing a chance to serve residents, businesses, and municipal facilities. The bill also dictates ballot language, establishes geographical limits on any local network, and clearly established that no funds from other municipal services can be directed toward a municipal network. Much of SB 186’s language comes from last year’s bill.

The bill is now in the Local Government and Elections Committee[4] but no hearing has been scheduled yet; we’ll let you know when and if it’s on the agenda. View the entire text of SB 186 online[5].

Meanwhile In Virginia

Fresh from Virginia comes HB 2108[6], the “Virginia Broadband Deployment Act,” which makes changes to existing law by adding an entire section. The bill also repeals several disclosure exclusions relating to telecommunications; those exclusion are now under the Freedom of information Act. (more…)[7]

  1. Senator Ed Emery:
  2. Missouri Telecommunications Industry Association:
  3. bill introduced last year:
  4. Local Government and Elections Committee:
  5. View the entire text of SB 186 online:
  6. HB 2108:
  7. (more…):

Source URL:

Response to Amazon’s Jobs Announcement, January 2017

by Nick Stumo-Langer | January 12, 2017 2:30 pm


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


Statement on Amazon’s Jobs Announcement

Amazon is Causing More Job Losses than Gains, and It’s Lowering Wages

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance[3], and co-author of the recent report, “Amazon’s Stranglehold: How the Company’s Tightening Grip is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities[4],” responded to the announcement on jobs made today by Amazon:

“Amazon’s jobs announcement this morning has it in the headlines as a job creator. But there’s a dirty secret about jobs at Amazon. As we found in our recent report [5]on the company, as Amazon gains market share, it destroys more jobs than it creates,” Mitchell said. “What’s more, these jobs are bad jobs. Our research finds that Amazon pays significantly lower wages than the prevailing rate for comparable work, that it’s experimenting widely with ways to erode job security, and that working conditions in its warehouses are grueling and dehumanizing.”

The report found that Amazon has eliminated about 149,000 more jobs in retail than it has created in its warehouses, and the pace of retail layoffs is accelerating as Amazon gains market share. The report also analyzed Amazon’s wages In 11 metro areas and found that it pays its warehouse employees 15% less on average than the prevailing wage for other warehouse workers in the same region. In Atlanta, for example, Amazon pays 19% less than the regional average for warehouse work. In Louisville, its wages are 17% lower, and in Phoenix 6% lower.

“What Amazon’s announcement really shows is how fast the company is growing, and that’s bad news for U.S. workers, who stand to lose more than they gain as Amazon increasingly dominates commerce,” Mitchell added. “Amazon is at the center of many of our most alarming economic trends, including the rapid increase in temporary and on-demand work, lower wages, and rising inequality.”


The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is a 42-year-old national nonprofit research and educational organization. ILSR’s mission is to provide innovative strategies, working models and timely information to support strong, community rooted, environmentally sound and equitable local economies.[6] – Email[1] for press inquiries.

  2. 612-844-1330: tel:(612)%20844-1330
  3. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  4. Amazon’s Stranglehold: How the Company’s Tightening Grip is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities:
  5. our recent report :

Source URL:

The Perils of Privatization – Episode 9 of the Building Local Power Podcast

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

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

In this episode, Chris Mitchell, the director of our Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews David Morris, a co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the director of the Public Good initiative. The two discuss the climate surrounding privatization in our economy and how the incoming Trump administration will bolster these efforts nationwide.

Morris delves deep into the history of public infrastructure including explanations of how our language around the subject has changed over the years, privatization in other countries, and hope for the future.

“In the late 19th century, 75-85% of all water and sewer utilities were owned by the private sector, and it turned out that that was a disaster in part because they were managed very poorly and in part because they only wanted to serve wealthy people,” says David Morris[3]. “Today, 75-80% are owned by cities and counties, and they have been running them very impressively ever since.”


Here’s David’s reading recommendation for those interested:

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind[10] by Yuval Harari, Harper

Be sure to read up on some of David’s other work, as well as a previous Building Local Power episode David was interviewed for:

If you missed the first episodes of our podcast make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power [15]Podcast Homepage[16]. View the full transcript of the podcast, below.

Full Transcript of Podcast:

Chris Mitchell: David, welcome back to the office. I hear that the ownership of local water systems is switching. Just tell me the statistic that you just told me.
David Morris: Well, over the last century, I mean the late 19th century, 75%, 85% of all water and sewer utilities were owned by the private sector. It turned out that that was a disaster, in part because they were managed very poorly and in part because they only wanted to serve wealthy people. Today, 75% to 80% are owned by the public sector. That is, cities and counties took them over and have been running them very impressively ever since.
Chris Mitchell: Well, that’s how we’ll kick off this episode of Building Local Power in which we’ll be talking about who owns our infrastructure and the movements that are fighting about whether it’s going to be public or private. I’m Chris Mitchell. I do the broadband type work for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. David Morris is back with us. Welcome back, David.
David Morris: Thank you very much. I appreciate being back.
Chris Mitchell: David is a co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and runs our Public Good initiative, in which he thinks a lot about privatization. Let me just start by asking you why do you think so much about privatization?
David Morris: I mean, privatization almost by its very definition means that something is proprietary. It means that something is not accountable inherently. It means that something is driven by selfishness. It’s driven by greed. It’s secret. That’s what privatization means. In fact, the original kind of Latin verb form is private, which means to tear apart. Public, on the other hand, is based on cooperation and openness, and it’s sometimes aspirational, but in essence it is accountable to the voters, so it’s a completely opposite way of doing things. We have in this country, over the last century, increasingly accepted the fact that public work should be owned by the public and for the common good, and in the last 20 years we’ve begun to reverse that, that guiding principle.
Chris Mitchell: I get the impression this is not a discussion that would have been held 150 years ago, right? I mean, before that the water system, the electricity system, the roads, all of these things are creatures of the last 130 years more or less.
David Morris: They’re not creatures. Public, the public sector, they’re creatures, but we had roads in the early part of the 19th century, they were privately owned roads.
Chris Mitchell: Right. I guess I was thinking of the kind of roads we have today. We did have those roads, you’re right. We had privately owned roads back then, and we have a long history even of privately owned ferries and bridge crossings and things like that presumably.
David Morris: That’s right. When we built the interstate highway system in the 1950s, it was built without toll roads. It was clearly a public works project. Now under the new kind of infrastructure plan that Donald Trump and the republicans have, we will have a public infrastructure that’s almost entirely owned by the private sector and will be based on tolls.
Chris Mitchell: From an infrastructure perspective, the conversation really started to change in what? The 80s, the 90s? I guess one place to start might even be this whole thing, public works. In my lifetime I never really knew what public works was because I came of age at a time in which that term fell out of fashion. I think the Clinton administration really popularized this term infrastructure. I just wonder if that triggers anything for you in terms of the importance of language and how we call these things.
David Morris: Oh, absolutely it does. It was Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s that began the process of privatization, and we all remember that in his inaugural address. His key phrase was, “The government is the problem, not the solution.” He firmly believed that, but it was Bill Clinton, that’s correct, and Al Gore that essentially embraced privatization from a liberal perspective. Yes, they changed the language. You don’t hear the word public works any longer.

You hear the word infrastructure, which is a very neutral word that essentially means, well, we have to build something and maybe the private sector can build it and run it just as efficiently. Whereas the word public works says, we have to build something for the common good, whether it’s a park, whether it’s a school, whether it’s a road, whether it’s a sewer system, and therefore it has to be structured and organized in a certain ways. The construction itself is the same. You’ll be using the same materials, the same technology. It’ll be occupying the same place, but who will be accountable to and who it’ll be owned by are very different.

Chris Mitchell: The idea of who it’s accountable to I think is really important. I think we can come back to that, but one of the things that always rises to the top in privatization is the motivation of those who claim they’re just supporting privatization because it will be more efficient and less costly; that if you contract this stuff out rather than doing it in-house, tax payer dollars will be saved, there will be innovation, something magical will happen, and these public services will be delivered in a better way in some way. How do you respond to those claims?
David Morris: One can respond empirically and one can respond theoretically. Empirically, it’s false. Empirically, the studies that have been done indicate that the private sector, when it runs things like waterworks and sewer works, charges more than the public sector and when the public sector takes back, as it has in a number of cases, their water system or the sewer system, the prices go down. That’s empirically.

Theoretically, it makes sense that that happens. It makes sense because the private sector, especially if it’s private equity, which is sort of a new phenomenon in the public works field, private equity has a return of 8% to 18% that they require, so you have this enormous profit requirement. The private sector borrows money at one and a half to two times the cost of money to the public sector, and so you would expect that it would be more costly all things considered.

As for innovative, you don’t really find an enormous amount of innovation from the private sector. You don’t find that enormous amount of innovation from the public sector as it is. I think that we would all agree that if you’re going to have any innovation or cost reduction, it would come from competition. The thing about public works is that almost always they’re monopolies. In fact, when you sign a privatization agreement with one of these firms, you often guarantee that more revenue flow and you put in a non-compete clause, which means if I, as an investor, build a road, under the contract the state cannot build another road that competes with my road. It is astonishing. In terms of competition, it’s not going to be the motivating factor for them to keep their costs down or for them to innovate.

Chris Mitchell: One thing that they do do is they pay a lot less, right? This is one of the sources, I think, of the claims that the private sector may be more efficient, is that they will take a person who is getting a perhaps living wage, a wage that is above the norm in the private sector, who’s working for the public sector, they will fire that person. They will replace them with someone who will work for less. That’s a dynamic that they will point to in terms of their cost savings, and also fewer benefits and things like that. Is that right?
David Morris: Yes, that’s correct. There’s two responses to that. One is a response from the public perspective, which is that those employees of the local infrastructure works or public works are local people. They are local residents. They’re our neighbors. Are we essentially saying, now you’re paid a living wage, but we want to pay three cents less per month on our water bill, and therefore we’re going to force you into a lower wage and maybe into foreclosure and delinquency and the like. I don’t think if people put that to a vote that they would want that to happen.The second thing that happens is that you get worse employees. On average, if a investor takes over a water utility, it fires about a third of the workers, which means the other workers are working harder. If you pay workers less, you get workers that are less trained, and so you tend to get sloppier work or you get poor customer service. I mean, you sort of get what you pay for. Either from a moral perspective, if you will, or from a customer service perspective, it’s very harmful.
Chris Mitchell: Do you have any examples that come to mind from where a community has engaged in privatization and then regretted this decision? It turned around and come back to hire those people back and make it public again?
David Morris: Evansville, Indiana. Durham County, North Carolina. Gary, Indiana. Houston, Texas. Atlanta. All those sold, essentially, their water utilities or sewer utilities, and then they bought them back and they lowered their prices. We don’t have a word. You know, we have a word for nationalization, but we don’t have a word when a city takes back its public works, but Europeans have. Nationwide it is called the remunicipalization movement and that makes sense because we’re talking essentially about a local movement.
Chris Mitchell: Right. Actually, we’re seeing this in Boulder and our colleague John Farrell has written about that. Actually, you’re right. Municipalization is the word that they use in the case there with the electric utility. Here in Minneapolis we’ve seen this with the IT services for the City of Minneapolis, which they thought would be better privatized. I believe that one of the things that they realized afterward was the different incentives. When you’re a private company running a help desk, your incentive is to get the person that’s calling you to hang up. It’s not necessarily to solve their problem; it’s to get them to hang up. If you’re a local government with a problem and your help desk has an incentive of just trying to get you to hang up, that’s not a very good situation to be in.
David Morris: No, it’s not. Now, the public sector is responsible too here. I said earlier that if you have a public works, it’s accountable. It is accountable, but who is it accountable to? Because it turns out that if you raise my water rates, I throw you out of office. What happens is that local officials that want to get elected do not increase their water rates or their sewer rates or their parking meter fees. As a result, that infrastructure runs down. The pipes begin to leak. Then the less you maintain, the higher the price that you’re going to have to pay. Often, what you find is that these privatization efforts spur from a city being unwilling to go to its citizens and say, “I can ask you to pay more now or I can privatize this, and the other firm is going to ask you to pay a lot more than.”They’ve been very reticent to do that, so this, it works both ways. The public sector can borrow money at a longer term at a much lower rate. The public sector knows what’s going on locally. The public sector is accountable, but the public sector, it turns out, is a coward and that elected officials are not willing to go to people and say, “Look, we need to maintain this system.” The best example was the parking meters in Chicago. The parking meters in Chicago were such that they were run down. I can’t remember. 20%, 30% of them didn’t even work and so they sold them, and because they wouldn’t raise the parking meter fee. They sold them and the fees literally overnight tripled, but it wasn’t the responsibility of the city anymore. Yell. You want to yell? Yell at that investor. Yell at the bank that now owns it.
Chris Mitchell: One of the things that I want to bring into this, I think, is experience. You talked about a bit about water systems. I just wanted to bring this out. You have experience in terms of governing a body of a water utility, so this is not something where you’re just romanticizing them. You actually know how this works.
David Morris: Yes. I was on the board of directors. We called ourselves commissioners of the Saint Paul water utility, a city run water utility, which is one of the finest utilities, if I say so, in the country. It’s meticulous in its efficiency and it is innovative. Yes, I have a good experience, but I also know that on that commission I was a citizen representative. There was also a city council representative. The city counselor, and I will remember this meeting to the end because I said, “Why don’t we raise the rates, you know, slightly so that we can invest in technologies that will be … make it more efficient and reduce the water consumption overall?” and the city counselor said, “You know, once we raised the rate a penny and I got phone calls.” A penny and I got phone calls.
Chris Mitchell: It’s interesting that you make that point because I’m a Saint Paul resident on a house in Saint Paul. I say I own a house. I love that. I own my house, the one house that I live in and that I own, my wife and I. Our water bill is so low. It’s just astonishing to me, frankly, how … I don’t want to say anything negative about people who are in very tough circumstances and paying their bills, but when you look at the value of getting unlimited free water, fresh water to your home, the amount that my wife and I pay it’s just … I can’t believe how little it is, frankly.I think that’s a credit to how well it’s run, but one of the things that I think some people point to is where it’s not working as well. Where they have a utility and they would like to change it and they feel that it’s not accountable, but maybe they’re a minority at the ballot box. People are voting on different issues and things like that. I think there are times where people have this frustration. They just feel like it’s not as accountable as they want it to be.
David Morris:  I think that’s true. Very few people like government. We hate the national government. We’re not quite sure about the state government. We tend to like the local government, but we always have complaints, and we need a process by which those complaints are considered and dealt with, and if they’re correct, that there corrections that occur. You do have bureaucracy at the local level. Yes, but the question then is whether the solution to that is to make changes internally or is this solution to that giving up control of the system? I think that the evidence is that giving up control of the system means that the next time you want to complain, you’re complaining to the Suez, literally, the Suez water company, which now owns your system, and good luck to you.
Chris Mitchell: I think that raises a final point that I want to make sure that we make. That is, the impact of this when you have not just private ownership, but this is generally absentee private ownership, right? It’s not like all these cities have their own private company with a guy who lives in the city or a woman lives in the city owns it. We’re talking about massive multinational corporations in many cases. In my business in broadband we talk about how frustrating it is that money that I pay on my bills leaves my community and goes to Philadelphia. Here we might be talking about money that’s going to Germany or anywhere else in the world, so there’s a real impact on local dollars because these are utilities everyone is paying into this. If the money is leaving the community, that’s kind of a big deal.
David Morris: It is a big deal. Now what we’re seeing is these private profit making companies are giving away to private equity firms. Private equity firms are a strange little beast and they could care less about your community. Private profit making firms might be in there for five years, 10 years, 20 years. Private equity firms want to flip it, and so they will come in and they will own it, and within a few years they will sell it, so they’re not there for the long run at all. That’s a problem.
Chris Mitchell: Right.
David Morris: I think that the Republican, because I think it’s not just Donald Trump, the Republican proposal for infrastructure financing is a very serious change in American historical strategies. There was a time in the 60s and the 70s where if you wanted to build a sewer system, the government paid 90% of it, the federal government paid 90% of it. Then they paid 50% of it. Then they paid 20% of it, but they understood that they would come in to make grants to cities.

Now the current privatization proposal is that a private firm would put up 20% of the money as equity, 80% would be borrowed and the federal government would give them an 80% tax credit against that 20% that they had put down. Governments can use tax credits, so in essence this means that this is going to be privately owned. The public sector could build it themselves, but they’re not going to get any incentives to build it themselves and that means that you could end up with literally a majority, maybe even a vast majority in certain sectors, of our public works programs becoming private works programs.

Chris Mitchell: I’ve seen a lot of head-scratching over this because it might make sense if it was 50 years and we were building out brand new things, but it’s not like we’re going to build a new bypass around the Twin Cities. It’s not like we’re going to build a whole new water system. A lot of the infrastructure spending we need in this country is on updating existing things. Do you have a sense of how this is going to interact? Because I don’t get the sense that these investors are looking to just invest in the Saint Paul water system. They’re trying to build something new that they can then extract maximum profits from.
David Morris: They do want to just invest in the Saint Paul. These are sunk investments and why not buy them? In Missoula, Montana, which is, by the way, because of a quirk of historical circumstances the only city that doesn’t own its own water company, a group bought it for, I think it was $30 million and sold it for $300 million about 10 years later. There’s enormous profit to be made from flipping these types of investments.
Chris Mitchell: This money that’s going to be made available, you’re saying it’s going to be buying existing systems and maybe a promise to upgrade them, so in order for Saint Paul to figure out how we’re going to benefit from this infrastructure package, if it rolls forward, we have to figure out what to sell off, basically?
David Morris: Oh. Yes, that’s right. Exactly. If it wants to benefit from it. What you have often in these privatization agreements is that you sell it and then the private, the investors give you, you being the city government, $50 million, $100 million, $200 million upfront. Now upfront is a wonderful thing from a city government, especially if you happen to be a city counselor who’s going to only be in office for two years, and so you take that money and you use it to pay down your debt. Your credit rating tends to be increased and suddenly then the rates increase, and everybody is screaming at the private company, but it’s upfront money that is what makes local governments salivate about this.Under these 80% tax credit, you could certainly have a lot of upfront money that is paid to … Let’s call it a bribe to city officials. Often, if they’re put up for a vote by the citizens, call them customers, if you will, they reject it. New Jersey just changed their law. Illinois, Pennsylvania. This is in the last three years. They’ve changed their law so that they can bypass a vote on this by the local citizenry. We’re talking about something here which is not popular by the local citizenry and we’re now talking about a federal program which is a massive subsidization, but only to privately owned infrastructure.
Chris Mitchell: Wow. It’s a sobering thought, but I’m hoping that you have a reading suggestion which will be more entertaining, enlightening, positive, leaving us with a little bit more hope than perhaps we’re sending at the ebb of this conversation right now.
David Morris: Yes, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with infrastructure or public works. I thought people might be interested in a book called Sapiens by Yuval Harari, an Israeli writer. It’s an astonishing book. It’s a book that goes from Prehistory to post-human, if you will. He essentially traces the development of humanity and makes these insights that are remarkable, and so I recommend it to people. For example, he talked about how 100,000 years ago there were several human species. There was erectus, there was Neanderthal, there was of course Homo Sapiens. There was a bunch of us really running around. And that we had the same brain size and the like.100,000 years ago the Sapiens in East Africa tried to invade or tried to migrate into the Middle East where the Neanderthals already were and got the crap beat out of them. 30,000 years later the Sapiens migrated again and destroyed the Neanderthals, and then took over the world. The question is, how did that happen? What happened? According to Harari, he said that it’s that language, certainly, the development of language, and the development of cognitive ability, but the essence of that was the development of gossip. He said that gossip is essential if your group becomes more than a small clan because you need to know what your neighbor is doing, who’s trustworthy, who’s not trustworthy. You need to know about the human relationships that are going on.

When it’s a very small clan, what you need to know is, is there a saber-toothed tiger out there that’s going to eat me or where is the animals that we’re going to hunt? You know, that sort of outward oriented information. With gossip, you could have larger and larger communities, and so initially when the Sapiens went into the Middle East, it was groups of 20 fighting groups of 20, but then when they went in 30,000 years later, it was groups of 200 fighting groups of 20. These are the kind of insights and I strongly recommend it to people who are interested about us.

Chris Mitchell: That sounds interesting, and it fits with what we’ve done with communications and technologies, in that telephone originally, it was expected to be only a business use and then people started using it to gossip it was actually seen as sort of sin and an inappropriate use of technology. Certainly you skip ahead to today and seeing how Twitter and Facebook have dominated usage for how we use our media, it’s clear that there is something very social going on. Thinking of it in terms of gossip is something I had not thought of, or potentially the evolutionary advantages of, so that’s interesting.
David Morris: One of the nice things about gossip 50,000 years ago is that it was personal gossip. It might be terrible gossip, but it was one person talking to one person or three people or four people. Unfortunately, in 2016 gossip is one person talking to several billion people who don’t even know they’re being talked about, so there’s a difference in scale that we’re talking about, but the gossip originally is literally small town gossip, which some people feel might be harmful, but in this case was a matter of gathering information, who’s trustworthy, who’s sleeping with whom, who has stolen something and that type of thing, which was extremely useful to bond the groups. The other thing that Harari says that was the definitive of the cognitive revolution was that we began believing fictions, whether it was religion, nation states, whatever it turned out to be. We believe in fictions. Animals, other animals, do not believe in fictions, and so we created societies-
Chris Mitchell: By fictions I think you mean things beyond that you can readily sense, right? Imagine things perhaps.
David Morris: Are really things that don’t exist. I mean, nation states don’t exist.
Chris Mitchell: Right.
David Morris: Right? And religions don’t exist and we so made them up, but they became ways to bond larger and larger communities together because we all believed in the same fictions.
Chris Mitchell: Right. In some ways it’s actually … It’s almost creating something through shared belief.
David Morris: That’s right. That’s right. Exactly. The emphasis there is on shared.
Chris Mitchell: We face a threat from privatization and other sources, and building local power, but hopefully gossip will save us.
David Morris: If people gossip sufficiently I think that it might very well save us. You had started by saying that the people who are in favor of privatization essentially say the private sector is more efficient than the public sector. It’s more innovative than the public sector and why don’t we let them do it? They say it as if that’s an established belief system, which it is. It is the conventional wisdom. It just happens not to be true. What we need is that when someone says that to your neighbor or a city council or whatever, their immediate reaction isn’t to say, “Yeah. That’s probably true.”

Their immediate reaction is to say, “That’s false, and I know it’s false because how could you borrow money at one and a half to two times the cost and how can you have a profit of 10% when we don’t need a profit of and end up delivering it to us more cheaply? That doesn’t make sense. You’re going to have to prove yourself to me. I’m just not going to accept it as an article of faith.”

Chris Mitchell: I think this always comes down to, in my mind, the underpants gnomes of South Park. I’ll leave that as an exercise for people to find out what I mean by that, but the underwear gnomes have a three stage process for profiting. I think the uncertainty that’s in the middle stage is worth looking into for people who are unfamiliar with it. Judging from your look, you’re one of them. Thank you, everyone, for joining us. This has been another episode of Building Local Power. Please check us back in two weeks when we’re back with another discussion.
Lisa Gonzalez: That was David Morris, co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, who now heads up our Public Good initiative. He and Christopher, director of the Community Broadband Initiative at the Institute, were discussing privatization of infrastructure and traditionally public services. This was episode number nine of the Building Local Power podcast. Check out more of David’s articles and interviews at, Public Good initiative. We encourage you to subscribe to the podcast and all of our other podcasts on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever else you get your podcasts.

Never miss out in our original research by also subscribing to our monthly newsletter, also available at Thanks to Disfunction L. for the music, license through Creative Commons. The song is Funk Interlude. I’m Lisa Gonzalez from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Thanks again for listening to the Building Local Power podcast.

Audio Credit: Funk Interlude[17] by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0)[18] license.

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How 2017 Will Transform Broadband Opportunities for Local Governments

by Christopher | January 10, 2017 5:36 pm

StateScoop[1] – January 10, 2017

Commentary: Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance predicts new connectivity opportunities and an altered broadband landscape as a pro-business Trump administration prepares to disrupt the status quo.

This may well be the year of local government broadband solutions. For some communities, it will be because they are prepared to step up and are excited about ensuring all residents and businesses in the community have the tools to thrive in the digital economy. For others, it will be a last resort in the face of new political and economic challenges — but many will be taking action.

There’s a new landscape for broadband

For years, improving internet access has been — at best — an afterthought in Congress. Now with Rep. Marsha Blackburn[2] chairing the House’s telecom subcommittee and Donald Trump widely expected to appoint a pro-incumbent FCC leader, AT&T and Comcast are setting the agenda and I do not expect any federal actions will improve the competitive landscape in telecommunications.

While nearly every state has elected officials talking about how important connectivity is, very few have the will to put serious money up for network investment following recent programs with questionable outcomes. New York is putting $500 million into a complicated broadband program[3] and Massachusetts has thrown tens of millions of dollars at consultants and a massive middle-mile ring that hasn’t done much to solve its connectivity problems because it attempted to micromanage solutions in an industry it barely understands[4]. Wisconsin is actually taking money out of a smart energy efficiency program in a poorly-designed[5] one-time giveaway to internet service providers (ISPs). (more…)[6]

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Waste to Wealth, 2016 in Review

by Nick Stumo-Langer | January 9, 2017 2:00 pm

Now that 2016 is firmly in the rearview mirror, we are looking back at some of the great work that we did in our Waste to Wealth initiative during the year. We’ve broken down some of our top content into the two active categories of our initiative: Composting Makes Sense[1] & Recycling, Economic Development, and Zero Waste[2]. We’ve also included some of our top media hits[3] from the year as well as a full index of our stories available here[4] or below.

Top Posts from Composting for Community Project:

Infographic: Compost Impacts More Than You Think[5]

by Brenda PlattMay 6, 2016

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



We want you to be able to share these infographics under creative commons license, free of cost. Read more…[7]

ILSR’s NSR Program Replicated in Atlanta, GA[8]

by Linda BilsensJuly 8, 2016

ILSR is proud to introduce the Atlanta Community Compost Advocates! Corinne Coe of Terra Nova Compost Cooperative[9] partnered with ILSR and ECO City Farms[10] to adapt their Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders (NSR) Composter Training Program[11] for the City of Atlanta. ILSR and Terra Nova Compost collaborated closely to fundraise for, design and implement the inaugural class of the Community Compost Advocate Training Program (CCATP), which was offered with with generous financial support of the Food Well Alliance[12]. On the weekends of June 11th-12th, 18th-19th, and 25th-26th, a culturally diverse group of 16 participants came together to learn about the art and science of composting and community. Read more…[13]

Montgomery Co., MD Bill Requires Distributed Composting[14]

by Brenda PlattJuly 14, 2016

On June 28, 2016, Montgomery County Council (Maryland) Vice President, Roger Berliner, introduced legislation to require the development of a comprehensive composting and food recovery strategic plan. The bill might be the first in the country to stipulate a diverse and distributed plan that considers food rescue, backyard composting, community scale composting, on-site institutional and commercial composting, on-farm composting, local use of compost to support soil health and the County’s stormwater management program, and more. Read more…[15]

Composting Will Help Flint Recover From Its Water Crisis[16]

by Linda BilsensAugust 9, 2016

It would be an understatement to say that Flint has been in the news a lot lately—one of the most recent stories has to do with a lapsed trash collection contract[17] that left residents without service. The city still has a long road ahead before it can fully heal from the water contamination crisis that started in 2014: more than 8,000 children[18] are thought to have been effected; 6 city officials have just been charged[19] in connection; and Flint’s Mayor, Karen Weaver[20], used the podium at the recent Democratic National Convention to remind the nation that “The water is still not safe to drink or cook with from the tap”. Like many older industrial cities, Flint also has lead and other heavy metals in its soils[21], exacerbating the effects of the water crisis. As is often the case, low-income communities are more likely to be exposed to the highest concentrations. Read more…[22]

EPA’s New Rules for Landfills Won’t Cut Greenhouse Gas Pollution[23]

by Rebecca ToewsSeptember 12, 2016

The Federal Register recently published new landfill rules which fail to meet any of the goals that the White House and EPA have set forth to reduce landfill gas emissions.

In July, US EPA’s “Fuels and Incineration Group” (FIG) pushed through its final revisions to new rules regarding landfills in the United States. The rules state that landfill owners may receive greenhouse gas credits that profit a landfill operation’s bottom line.

Garbage is Not Renewable.” states Neil Seldman of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “While we applaud the EPA for its public statement in support of food loss reduction,” he says, “this new landfill policy will do nothing to help move toward the food recovery goal. It will even hurt these efforts.” Read more…[24]

Vote for the White House Kitchen Garden[25]

by Linda BilsensOctober 31, 2016

On a chilly day in late-February, my husband and I received an unexpected visitor[26] to our backyard: First Lady Michelle Obama. We are deeply honored that the First Lady chose our family’s garden (along with a couple of local schools) to act as the launchpad of her Let’s Move! Initiative[27]. The initiative has succeeded in bringing the connection between gardening, homegrown food, and an active, healthy lifestyle into the national spotlight, and it is thought to represent the largest single impact the Obama Administration has had on food issues[28]. Read more…[29]

Video: Prospect Heights Community Farm Community Composting Feature[30]

by Linda BilsensNovember 18, 2016

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we document and promote innovative uses of local power that can be used around the country. Community composting is a way that neighborhoods can take control of what could be waste, such as food scraps, and turn it into wealth, such as healthy soil. Prospect Heights Community Farm[31] in Brooklyn shows us how they are doing just that in our latest video. Read more…[32]

Video: Compost Happens, But Training Matters[33]

by Linda BilsensNovember 23, 2016

Composting is an age-old practice that still benefits our soils as much today as it did in ancient times. But, what many people may not know is that proper training matters[34] in order to create this “black gold” both safely and effectively. At ILSR’s Composting for Community Project, we’re cultivating a greater awareness of the myriad benefits compost can provide to our soils and ourselves, the critical role community plays in the composting process, and what it takes to create high-quality compost. Read more…[35]

The Community Compost Cooperative at the Howard University Community Garden[36]

by Valerie OnifadeDecember 8, 2016

The composting site at the Howard University Community Garden in NW Washington, DC (Shaw/Howard area) showcases what a collaboration between a local government department, non-profit organizations, small businesses, institutions of higher education, and members of the community can accomplish for composting efforts. This project demonstrates the benefits that come from community composting and has the potential to become an example of the onsite institutional systems that ILSR promotes[37]. Read more…[38]

Composting Cultivates Economic Development – Episode 7 of the Building Local Power Podcast[39]

by Nick Stumo-LangerDecember 15, 2016

In this episode, Chris Mitchell, the director of our Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews Linda Bilsens, Project Manager of ILSR’s Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Program. Bilsens explains how producing compost from food scraps builds local economic development, fights climate change, and cultivates community.

Chris and Linda discuss how both individuals and communities can partake in rebuilding their local soils by composting organic materials. Check out the further information on our composting work here: Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders training program[40]. Contact Linda Bilsens[41] if you’re interested in replicating this program. Read more…[42]

Top Posts from Recycling, Economic Development, and Zero Waste Project:

Zero Waste: A Short History and Program Description[43]

by Neil SeldmanJanuary 20, 2016

In the last 20 years, No Waste, a simple term expressing the aspirations of recycling activists, became Zero Waste and a social movement bearing that name quickly took root in the USA, Europe, Asia and the entire globe.

In 1995, Dr. Daniel Knapp of Urban Ore, Berkeley, CA traveled to and toured Australia for the first of a series of talks with governments, businesses and citizens in major cities on how to maximize materials recovery and minimize wasting by reusing, recycling, and composting everything currently being wasted. Read more…[44]

Is Recycling Stagnating? The Case of Los Angeles[45]

by Neil SeldmanMarch 8, 2016

In the past several months, journalists in major publications such as Forbes, the Huffington Post, the Washington Post, the New York Times and Mother Jones have concluded that recycling rates have stagnated. They tend to blame the recent downturn in materials prices. They’re half right. Recycling levels have stagnated in many cities and towns, largely in the South and Midwest, and the national average of 35 percent has not moved much in more than a decade. Read more…[46]

Activists Win The Day: Huge Grassroots Victory Over Curtis Bay Incinerator[47]

by Neil Seldman | March 18, 2016

The best way to defeat proposed incinerators has proven itself once again: community organizing. The Maryland State Department of the Environment[48] pulled the permit on the proposed 4,000 ton per day incinerator to be built in the long suffering industrial communities of Curtis Bay-Brooklyn on the Fairfield Peninsula in south Baltimore. Curtis Bay and Brooklyn are adjacent to communities in Anne Arundel County, MD which are also celebrating this grass roots victory. Read more…[49]

The Victory Over Proposed Incinerator in Logansport, Indiana[50]

by Neil SeldmanApril 21, 2016

For the past 40 years organized citizens and small businesses have successfully defeated proposed incinerators in over 400 cities and counties in the US. Each confrontation was unique even as they shared common elements: Opponents of garbage incineration used facts against the administration’s public relations, focused at the local level where elected officials are most vulnerable to public outcries, stayed polite and professional in the face of ad hominem attacks, and relied on community meetings and social media to get around black outs by local media. Read more…[51]

Save the Albatross Coalition Formed[52]

by Neil SeldmanMay 9, 2016

The Save the Albatross Coalition was initiated by recycling activists through the Grass Roots Recycling Network, founded in 1995. ILSR’s Brenda Platt and Neil Seldman were two of the five co-founders of GRRN.  The Coalition aims to address the earth’s global plastic pollution problem through responsible behavior by companies that generate the plastic products that threaten our oceans.  Neil Seldman co-chairs the Save the Albatross Coalition with Captain Charles Moore of Algalita Research and Education, based in Long beach, CA. Read more…[53]

The Future of Garbage in Maryland Is Not What It Used To Be[54]

by Neil SeldmanJune 13, 2016

A few years ago it looked like Maryland would start to resemble states like Connecticut and Massachusetts that invested heavily in garbage incineration. Baltimore has a downtown incinerator, Harford County wanted to expand theirs, Washington County wanted its own facility, Frederick and Carroll Counties were under contract for building a new 1,500 ton per day plant, a private company wanted to build a 4,000 ton per day plant at Curtis Bay in south Baltimore, and Prince George’s County began exploring ‘conversion technologies’ or as Bradley Angel of GreenAction for Environment and Health calls them, ‘incinerators in disguise.’ Read more…[55]

Eureka Recycling: Efficient, Cost Effective, and Socially Beneficial Recycling[56]

by Neil SeldmanSeptember 8, 2016

Grassroots recycling companies were a critical link in the United States as the transition from the drop off recycling centers that sprung up after Earth Day in 1970 and municipal curbside service that emerged in the mid 1970s. Non-profit and for profit enterprises demonstrated the feasibility of curbside collection and by the mid 1980s municipal services were being introduced throughout the U.S. Established hauling companies bought some of the more successful enterprises.[1][57] Several remain in operation today: Recycle North in Burlington, VT, Center for Eco Technology in Pittsfield, MA, Infinity Recycling in Chestertown, MD, EcoCycle in Boulder, CO, Berkeley Ecology Center, Ann Arbor Ecology Center, Resource Center in Chicago, and Eureka Recycling in St Paul, MN. Read more…[58]

ILSR Co-Founder Speaking at Ralph Nader’s Breaking Through Power Conference[59]

by Nick Stumo-LangerSeptember 14, 2016

On Monday, September 26th, Institute for Local Self-Reliance co-founder Neil Seldman[60] will present at Ralph Nader’s Breaking Through Power Conference[61] in Washington D.C. His presentation: “Community Business is Revolutionary”[62] will be at 11:10AM at Carnegie Institution of Washington[63].

Tickets for one-day passes are only $10 and can be purchased through TicketMaster[64]. Here is the description of the event from the organizers of the Breaking Through Power Conference. Read more…[65]

Murray J. Fox, The “Johnny Appleseed” of U.S. Recycling[66]

by Neil SeldmanOctober 6, 2016

In my career of five decades of working in the recycling field for ILSR there is only one person I consider a true “Johnny Appleseed of Recycling” in the U.S.  His name is Murray J. Fox and he remains a sage of recycling, whose own history provides insight into today’s policies and issues. He never failed to teach others about the configuration of the equipment, the technologies to be employed and the problems to be solved.  In the 1970s, Fox provided guided tours to beginning community recyclers of his ingeniously designed beneficiation plants with modern equipment and expandable walls along concrete pads.  These were the people  who subsequently became national leaders in the emerging U.S. recycling movement. Read more…[67]

Review of the “Facts” that Guide Waste Management, Inc.’s CEO[68]

by Neil Seldman | October 20, 2016

The CEO of Waste Management, Inc. (WMI) commented to CNBC that, based on the facts, glass and organics should not be collected because they lack economic value for shareholders. In a related panel discussion, the need for top-down legislation to help recycling was deemed unnecessary. Accordingly, WMI is reducing its investments in recycling. “As profits in this area decrease,” one report states, “WMI has reduced its investment in recycling from $300 to $400 million per year to under $20 million per year, (See, Waste Dive for September 6[69], 7[70], and 14[71]). Read more…[72]

Top Media Highlights from 2016:

5. 4 Money Stories in the Compost Industry[73]

by Jenna Miller, National Center for Business Journalism | November 25, 2016

The feasting season is also the season for food waste. According to the Worldwatch Institute the amount of discarded food in the U.S. increases by a third between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Composting helps with some of that. Year-round, compostable material makes up between a third and a half of residential waste produced in the U.S, according to the Institute for Local Self Reliance. Read more…[74]

4. The Not-So-Great Side Effect of Your Sheet-Mask Addiction[75]

by Fawnia Soo Hoo, Refinery29November 12, 2016

Don’t let the unseasonal heat wave fool you — winter is, eventually, coming. That means it’s time to stock up on those hydrating and repairing products. One of the most effective ones out there? Sheet masks. But as we drench our faces in donkey milk or snail goop, we can forget one glaring issue: all the leftover waste. After a week of regular treatments, your garbage can can might look like Hannibal Lecter and Jason Voorhees went on a bender — full of crumpled eyeless and mouthless masks along with heaps of plastic packaging, which will all end up in a landfill. Read more…[76]

3. Getting Smart About Waste[77]

by Bob Graves, Governing MagazineApril 26, 2016

With the advent of the Internet of Things, it may seem that technology can make virtually anything “smart.” We hear regularly about intelligent transportation systems, electrical grids and vehicles. But what about waste? Can technology make waste smart? Read more…[78]

2. Seeds of Hope[79]

by Taylor Haynes, Clever Root MagazineNovember 7, 2016

In 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama, aided by local school children, planted the first seeds of what would become an impressive garden on the grounds of the White House, overflowing with vegetables, fruit and herbs. Nearby, the White House beehives keep busy pollinating the garden and making honey, which is often used as a gift for foreign dignitaries.

On February 25, 2016, the First Lady visited the Washington D.C. home and garden of The Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Compost Project Manager Linda Bilsens and Eriks Brolis. Her visit was a complete surprise — but Brolis and Bilsens were more than happy to give the First Lady a tour. The First Lady even sifted the couples’ compost. In return, she personally invited the couple to visit the White House Kitchen Garden. Read more…[80]

1. Landfills Have a Huge Greenhouse Gas Problem. Here’s What We Can Do About It.[81]

by Erica Gies, EnsiaOctober 25, 2016

We take out our trash and feel lighter and cleaner. But at the landfill, the food and yard waste that trash contains is decomposing and releasing methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Landfill gas also contributes to smog, worsening health problems like asthma. Read more…[82]

Full Index of Waste to Wealth Content, Chronologically:

Follow the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on Twitter[138] and Facebook[139] and, for monthly updates on our work, sign-up[140] for our ILSR general newsletter.

  1. Composting Makes Sense: #compost
  2. Recycling, Economic Development, and Zero Waste: #zero
  3. top media hits: #media
  4. index of our stories available here: #index
  5. Infographic: Compost Impacts More Than You Think:
  6. HERE:
  7. Read more…:
  8. ILSR’s NSR Program Replicated in Atlanta, GA:
  9. Terra Nova Compost Cooperative:
  10. ECO City Farms:
  11. Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders (NSR) Composter Training Program:
  12. Food Well Alliance:
  13. Read more…:
  14. Montgomery Co., MD Bill Requires Distributed Composting:
  15. Read more…:
  16. Composting Will Help Flint Recover From Its Water Crisis:
  17. lapsed trash collection contract:
  18. 8,000 children:
  19. just been charged:
  20. Karen Weaver:
  21. in its soils:
  22. Read more…:
  23. EPA’s New Rules for Landfills Won’t Cut Greenhouse Gas Pollution:
  24. Read more…:
  25. Vote for the White House Kitchen Garden:
  26. received an unexpected visitor:
  27. Let’s Move! Initiative:
  28. food issues:
  29. Read more…:
  30. Video: Prospect Heights Community Farm Community Composting Feature:
  31. Prospect Heights Community Farm:
  32. Read more…:
  33. Video: Compost Happens, But Training Matters:
  34. training matters:
  35. Read more…:
  36. The Community Compost Cooperative at the Howard University Community Garden:
  37. onsite institutional systems that ILSR promotes:
  38. Read more…:
  39. Composting Cultivates Economic Development – Episode 7 of the Building Local Power Podcast:
  40. Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders training program:
  41. Linda Bilsens:
  42. Read more…:
  43. Zero Waste: A Short History and Program Description:
  44. Read more…:
  45. Is Recycling Stagnating? The Case of Los Angeles:
  46. Read more…:
  47. Activists Win The Day: Huge Grassroots Victory Over Curtis Bay Incinerator:
  48. The Maryland State Department of the Environment:
  49. Read more…:
  50. The Victory Over Proposed Incinerator in Logansport, Indiana:
  51. Read more…:
  52. Save the Albatross Coalition Formed:
  53. Read more…:
  54. The Future of Garbage in Maryland Is Not What It Used To Be:
  55. Read more…:
  56. Eureka Recycling: Efficient, Cost Effective, and Socially Beneficial Recycling:
  57. [1]:
  58. Read more…:
  59. ILSR Co-Founder Speaking at Ralph Nader’s Breaking Through Power Conference:
  60. Neil Seldman:
  61. Breaking Through Power Conference:
  62. “Community Business is Revolutionary”:
  63. Carnegie Institution of Washington:,-77.0657896,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x89b7c9b1c191e789:0x732bc14c4a51d628!8m2!3d38.9587651!4d-77.0635956
  64. TicketMaster:
  65. Read more…:
  66. Murray J. Fox, The “Johnny Appleseed” of U.S. Recycling:
  67. Read more…:
  68. Review of the “Facts” that Guide Waste Management, Inc.’s CEO:
  69. 6:
  70. 7:
  71. 14:
  72. Read more…:
  73. 4 Money Stories in the Compost Industry:
  74. Read more…:
  75. The Not-So-Great Side Effect of Your Sheet-Mask Addiction:
  76. Read more…:
  77. Getting Smart About Waste:
  78. Read more…:
  79. Seeds of Hope:
  80. Read more…:
  81. Landfills Have a Huge Greenhouse Gas Problem. Here’s What We Can Do About It.:
  82. Read more…:
  83. Update on Houston One Bin System Plan:
  84. DC Department of Public Works Gets Waste Diversion Staff:
  85. A Response to Anti-Recycling Ideology:
  86. Minnesota Report Underscores Potent Recycling Industry in the State:
  87. Congratulations to the 2015 Deconstruction/Reuse Contest Winners:
  88. Indianapolis puts MRF on hold, first step towards a modern recycling program:
  89. Lawsuit Possible Next Step in Baltimore Community’s Battle Against Proposed Garbage Incinerator:
  90. Cultivating Community Composting Forum and Workshop Bring Composters Together:
  91. First Glance at Second Chance – A nonprofit deconstruction company:
  92. Recycling and the Skid in Oil Prices:
  93. Gold in the Garbage: How Recycling Rates Could Be a Lot Higher:
  94. MD Bill Introduced That Names ILSR to State Task Force:
  95. Update on One Bin Plan in Houston and Dirty MRF in Indianapolis:
  96. Survey says…Recycling Quality Harmed by One-Bin Approach:
  97. Condo in the Scarborough District of Toronto Gets Serious About Recycling:
  98. Webinar: Crowdfunding for Community Composting:
  99. New England Reuse and the Reuse People of America Partner on Deconstruction:
  100. Activists Win the Day: Huge Grassroots Victory Over Curtis Bay Incinerator:
  101. Destiny Watford Wins Recognition for Work Fighting Curtis Bay Incinerator:
  102. Paul Connett Hand Delivers Zero Waste Book to Pope Francis:
  103. ILSR Leading Free Worm-Powered Composting Workshop as Part of DC Food Recovery Week of Action:
  104. Incinerator News: From Baltimore, MD, to Arecibo, Puerto Rico:
  105. Anti-Incineration Efforts in China: Two Plants Canceled in One Week:
  106. Getting Smart About Waste:
  107. Saint Vincent de Paul Continues to Expand Re-Use Partnerships:
  108. Lesson From the 2016 NCSU Vermiculture Conference:
  109. Niagara Falls Jumps Ahead in Recycling, Reduces Waste by 20%:
  110. The Future of Garbage in Maryland is Not What it Used to be:
  111. Revolution Recovery – Dealing in All Things Deconstruction:
  112. Reaching for Zero Waste is Contagious.:
  113. Compost Combats Desertification: Download New Poster:
  114. The Repurpose Project – Building Community Through Reuse:
  115. Recent Developments in the World of Mattresses:
  116. Community Forklift: A Blueprint for Reuse Success:
  117. Technology Industry Kills Right to Repair Bill in New York State Senate:
  118. Montgomery Co. MD Bill Requires Distributed Composting:
  119. Zero Waste to Landfill?:
  120. HERC’s Emissions and Toxic Ash Make it a Far Cry from Best Practices in Dealing with Trash:
  121. Saluting ILSR’s 2016 Interns:
  122. Prince George’s County Has Officially Declined to Move Forward with Garbage Incineration:
  123. Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Compost Training Program:
  124. NSR Master Composter Course in Baltimore, Fall 2016!:
  125. Sweden is not recycling 99% of its waste.:
  126. Eureka Recycling: Efficient, Cost Effective and Socially Beneficial Recycling:
  127. Gay Gordon-Byrne on the Right to Repair:
  128. The True Value of Recycling and the Waste Stream – Episode 2 of the Building Local Power Podcast:
  129. ILSR Sponsors the Fourth National Cultivating Community Composting Forum, Scholarship Fun Announced:
  130. Brenda Platt Speaks to San Diego Food Waste Summit:
  131. Review of the “Facts” That Guide Waste Management, Inc.’s CEO:
  132. Statements on Extended Producer Responsibility in Europe:
  133. Seeds of Hope:
  134. EPR in British Columbia and its relevancy for the U.S.:
  135. 2016 World Soil Day: Benefits of Composting Infographic Posters:
  136. Community Purchasing Alliance Expands Waste and Recycling Services:
  137. Dramatic Economic Impacts of Increased Recycling in South Carolina:
  138. Twitter:
  139. Facebook:
  140. sign-up:

Source URL:

New Resource: Map, List Of Citywide FTTH Munis

by Lisa Gonzalez | January 9, 2017 5:03 am

It’s no small feat to plan, deploy, and operate a municipal citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, but communities are doing it. We’ve put together a Citywide Municipal FTTH Networks list and a map[1], with quick facts at your fingertips. If your community is considering such an investment, this list can offer a starting point on discovering similarly situated locations to study.


The list is divided by state and each state heading offers a description of any barriers that exist and a link to the statute in question. Under each community, we also included relevant links such as to the provider’s website, coverage on, and reports or resources about the network.

We used four basic criteria to put a community on our list and map:

Share the list far and wide and if you know of a community network that meets our criteria that we missed, please let us know. Contact H. Trostle at[3] to suggest additions.

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

  1. Citywide Municipal FTTH Networks list and a map:
  2. [Image]:
  4. here:

Source URL:

The Year in Building Local Power – Episode 8 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | December 29, 2016 12:00 pm

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

In this episode, Chris Mitchell, the director of our Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews a roundtable of ILSR staff members. Participants are: Olivia LaVecchia[3] of the Community-Scaled Economies initiative, Karlee Weinmann[4] of the Energy Democracy initiative, and Nick Stumo-Langer[5], ILSR’s Communication Manager.

The group discusses elements of our economy and society where local power is either being attacked or strengthened. Listen in for discussion of corporate concentration (from Olivia), electric utility monopolies (from Karlee), and citizen-sponsored initiatives (from Nick) – each of these discussions talk about how citizens have an opportunity to increase their communities’ power in our political system.

“One [statistic] that I think is really telling is that four companies control 85% of the beef market…in the United States,” says Olivia LaVecchia, citing Elizabeth Warren’s speech on rising corporate concentration[6].


Here are the links to the bi-weekly roundup of what material we’re interested in reading and watching:

From Olivia[13] –

Venezuela, A Failing State[14] by William Finnegan, The New Yorker

From Karlee[15] –

Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear, and Why[16] by Sady Doyle

From Nick[17] –

The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court[18] by Bob Woodward & Scott Armstrong

Simmons vs. Gladwell: The Future of Football[19] by Bill Simmons & Malcolm Gladwell, The Ringer

From Chris[20]

Monopoly Power and the Decline of Small Business[21] by Stacy Mitchell, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

If you missed the first episodes of our podcast you can find those conversations with Olivia LaVecchia here[22], Neil Seldman here[23], John Farrell here[24], David Morris here[25], Lisa Gonzalez here[26], Stacy Mitchell here[27], and Linda Bilsens here[28]. Also to see all of our episodes make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power [29]Podcast Homepage[30]. View the full transcript of the podcast, below. (more…)[31]

  1. Building Local Power podcast:
  2. full transcript: #transcript
  3. Olivia LaVecchia:
  4. Karlee Weinmann:
  5. Nick Stumo-Langer:
  6. rising corporate concentration:
  7. [Image]:
  8. Play in new window:
  9. Download:
  10. iTunes:
  11. Android:
  12. RSS:
  13. Olivia:
  14. Venezuela, A Failing State:
  15. Karlee:
  16. Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear, and Why:
  17. Nick:
  18. The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court:
  19. Simmons vs. Gladwell: The Future of Football:
  20. Chris:
  21. Monopoly Power and the Decline of Small Business:
  22. here:
  23. here:
  24. here:
  25. here:
  26. here:
  27. here:
  28. here:
  29. Building Local Power :
  30. Podcast Homepage:
  31. (more…):

Source URL:

Energy Democracy, 2016 in Review

by Nick Stumo-Langer | December 28, 2016 6:00 am

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

Top Energy Posts of 2016[1] | Top Media Hits of 2016[2] | Top Twitter Posts of 2016[3]

My colleagues and I have been promoting effective, bottom-up strategies to build up local economies. You can see that detailed in our annual report here: 2016 Annual Report: Decentralizing Economic Power, Reinvigorating Democracy[4]. Here are some of the highlights of our work in 2016:

Looking forward into 2017, we’ll add a power-packed toolkit to help communities across the country take charge of their energy future. Our resolve to decentralize power and reinvigorate democracy is stronger than ever. Please join us in replicating these inspiring successes as a powerful counterpoint in uncertain times by making a tax-deductible gift today[5].

Top 5 Energy Democracy Posts of 2016:

5. Report: Re-Member-ing the Electric Cooperative[6] by John Farrell, Matt Grimley, & Nick Stumo-Langer, March 29th

Electric cooperatives have been the backbone of the nation’s rural electrical system for more than 80 years. Their mission and business model now face more challenges than ever, from financial to contractual to basic member control. But the opportunity is equally great, with a chance for member-driven investment to power hundreds of local economies across the rural United States. Read more…[7]

4. Just How Democratic are Rural Electric Cooperatives?[8] by Matt Grimley, January 13th

Randy Wilson knew you had to start somewhere.

Knocking on doors and hanging around retail store parking lots, he and volunteers from the citizen group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth[9] collected signatures. After weeks of holding out clipboards, they collected the more than 500 signatures needed to run for the board of the Jackson Energy Cooperative in Appalachian Kentucky. Read more…[10]

3. Report: Beyond Sharing – How Communities Can Take Ownership of Renewable Power[11] by John Farrell, April 26th

The electric utility monopoly is breaking up, but will renewable energy become another form of wealth extraction or will community renewable energy enable communities to capture their renewable power? Read more…[12]

2. Community Power Map[13] – Interactive Resource

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

ILSR’s Community Power Map[14] provides an interactive illustration of how communities are accelerating the transition toward 100% renewable energy and how policies help or hinder greater local action. Explore the map…[15]


1. Report: Mighty Microgrids[17] by John Farrell & Matt Grimley, March 3rd

Communities all over the country are finding ways to break the macro barriers to microgrids. As we flip from a top-down to bottom-up grid management structure, major policy barriers must be lifted in order to expand energy democracy to customers and producers. Read more…[18]

Top 5 Media Highlights of 2016:

5. Will Trump Quit Mocking Climate Science When He Sees The Viability Of Free Market Solutions?[19] by Ken Silverstein, Forbes – July 27th

The Democrats, meanwhile, are calling for the country to generate half of its electricity[20] from clean energy sources within a decade.

“The difference between the parties has a great deal more to do with the potential winners and losers during this transition than it does with the science itself,” says John Farrell, the director of the Energy Democracy initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance[21], in an interview. “Follow the money. That’s a good way to understand the party platforms.”

4. New mapping tool showcases clean energy policies and projects[22] by Frank Jossi, Midwest Energy News – September 16th

A new state “community power[23]” mapping tool released this month gives policymakers and activists a national scorecard on state and local clean energy initiatives.

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

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

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

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

3. Five Policies Blocking Microgrids (From a Veteran of Local Energy Wars)[24] by Elisa Wood, Microgrid Knowledge – April 1st

“People’s expectations have risen about what level of control they ought to be able to have,” says John Farrell, director of democratic energy for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR)[25], a 40-year-old organization that is a veteran of local energy wars.

ILSR wants to see local communities control more of the $360 billion/year[26] spent on electricity in the U.S. But the question is “how do we allow people to participant and have some measure of control in a way that makes the whole system work together?” he says. “I think it is very possible.”

2. Q&A: New report challenges assumption that bigger solar is better[27] by Frank Jossi, Midwest Energy News – October 17th

John Farrell, director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s[28] Energy Democracy Initiative, argues in a recent paper that smaller-scale solar — and to a lesser degree wind — can be just as effective as utility-scale projects.

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

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

Evidence in the paper — “Is Bigger Best in Renewable Energy?[29]” — reveals that solar in particular is a bit more competitive at a smaller scale than wind. Economies of scale appear more favorable in the wind industry, where better and bigger equipment along with faster wind can offset higher transmission costs, he said. Still, the report doesn’t totally dismiss small wind, especially that which is community owned.

1. Messy Battles Over Energy Are on Ballot Across States[30] by Ari Natter & Mark Chediak, Bloomberg Markets – November 1st

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

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

Top 5 Twitter Engagements of 2016:

Imagine if other industries followed electric utilities in pursuing fixed fees:[31][32]

— John Farrell (@johnffarrell) February 5, 2016[33]

How $400 million could have doubled U.S. solar capacity, but was squandered on lobbying.[34][35]

— John Farrell (@johnffarrell) May 5, 2016[36]

We spend $360 B /yr on electricity. Changing who owns the power has huge upside, says @johnffarrell[37] #commonbound[38][39]

— Stacy Mitchell (@stacyfmitchell) July 9, 2016[40]

A reminder to take renewable energy forecasts with a grain of salt:[41][42]

— John Farrell (@johnffarrell) October 10, 2016[43]

Solar is getting so so so cheap.[44][45]

— John Farrell (@johnffarrell) November 18, 2016[46]

This article originally posted at[47]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[48] or get theDemocratic Energy weekly[49] update.

  1. Top Energy Posts of 2016: #post
  2. Top Media Hits of 2016: #media
  3. Top Twitter Posts of 2016: #twitter
  4. 2016 Annual Report: Decentralizing Economic Power, Reinvigorating Democracy:
  5. by making a tax-deductible gift today:
  6. Report: Re-Member-ing the Electric Cooperative:
  7. Read more…:
  8. Just How Democratic are Rural Electric Cooperatives?:
  9. Kentuckians for the Commonwealth:
  10. Read more…:
  11. Report: Beyond Sharing – How Communities Can Take Ownership of Renewable Power:
  12. Read more…:
  13. Community Power Map:
  14. ILSR’s Community Power Map:
  15. Explore the map…:
  16. [Image]:
  17. Report: Mighty Microgrids:
  18. Read more…:
  19. Will Trump Quit Mocking Climate Science When He Sees The Viability Of Free Market Solutions?:
  20. generate half of its electricity:
  21. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  22. New mapping tool showcases clean energy policies and projects:
  23. community power:
  24. Five Policies Blocking Microgrids (From a Veteran of Local Energy Wars):
  25. Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR):
  26. $360 billion/year:
  27. Q&A: New report challenges assumption that bigger solar is better:
  28. Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s:
  29. Is Bigger Best in Renewable Energy?:
  30. Messy Battles Over Energy Are on Ballot Across States:
  33. February 5, 2016:
  36. May 5, 2016:
  37. @johnffarrell:
  38. #commonbound:
  40. July 9, 2016:
  43. October 10, 2016:
  46. November 18, 2016:
  48. Twitter:
  49. Democratic Energy weekly:

Source URL:

New Year’s Resolutions for Electric Utilities, Happy 2017!

by Karlee Weinmann | December 26, 2016 12:00 pm

The turn of the year is a perfect time for monopoly electric utilities nationwide to reflect on their substandard policies and embrace changes that will bring cleaner, more affordable energy to their customers. By finally committing to truly support distributed generation and renewables, these utilities can ensure their customers will have the choice and freedom they deserve in an evolving energy economy.

In 2017, fair-minded and forward-thinking monopoly electric utility CEOs will resolve…

…to not impose fixed fees[1] that undermine the value of customer-owned renewable generation.

…to not stop customers from installing solar[2].

…to encourage engagement among member-owners[3] if the utility is a cooperative.

…to be honest with my customers[4] about the proven benefits of distributed solar power.

…to recognize that the traditional utility business model is outdated[5], and to find new ways to support customer choice.

…to maximize demand response and energy efficiency[6] before building out new capacity.

…to support inclusive financing[7] to allow universal access to efficiency upgrades and on-site renewables.

…to support local jobs[8] by encouraging renewable energy and energy efficiency installations.

…to seek new business models[9] that align my financial interest with that of utility customers.

…to focus more on the benefits for utility customers[10], rather than the profits of utility shareholders.

Share the infographic below, or the individual resolutions above, to tell electric utilities that valuing renewable energy is good for their customers, good for their business, and good for the United States’ grid.


Created by Nick Stumo-Langer

This article originally posted at[12]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell[13] or Karlee Weinmann[14] on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly[15] update.

  1. not impose fixed fees:
  2. not stop customers from installing solar:
  3. encourage engagement among member-owners:
  4. be honest with my customers:
  5. recognize that the traditional utility business model is outdated:
  6. maximize demand response and energy efficiency:
  7. support inclusive financing:
  8. support local jobs:
  9. seek new business models:
  10. focus more on the benefits for utility customers:
  11. [Image]:
  13. John Farrell:
  14. Karlee Weinmann:
  15. Energy Democracy weekly:

Source URL:

Dear Santa…ILSR’s Federal Energy Policy Wish List

by Karlee Weinmann | December 20, 2016 6:00 am

A new administration critical of clean energy[1] imposes vast uncertainty on a U.S. energy sector that in recent years has tiptoed toward greater local control and increased renewable energy generation. This year, our federal policy wish list includes a series of items that would keep up the trend and deliver economic benefits to communities nationwide.

This infographic spotlights our most sought-after policies, and while it would be nice if Santa could deliver them this week, we likely must rely instead on incoming federal officials to drive changes.


Created by Nick Stumo-Langer


Clean Energy Incentives

Extend clean energy incentives, using cash rewards in place of the federal tax credits. Offering cash incentives for solar, wind, and other projects lowers the barrier to building them[3], opening the field to more market participants and reducing the need for Wall Street financiers.

Conversely, without tax credits or a cash substitute, the federal government could impose a fee on fossil fuel users based on the amount of carbon and other pollutants they emit. Measures designed to favor renewable generation, such as other countries’ carbon taxes[4] or Minnesota’s “value of solar” policy[5], could serve as models.


Include Proximity in Cost of Energy Produced

Update PURPA, the federal law passed in 1978 to promote renewable energy generation[6], to explicitly incorporate the cost of power delivery in avoided cost. A more comprehensive calculation would reward projects built near substations for putting less strain on the grid, boosting their compensation.


Competitive Bidding for Transmission Projects

Require all transmission projects under federal jurisdiction to undergo a competitive bidding process that includes non-wires alternatives[7], ensuring the chosen method is the best way to meet the need.


Antitrust Enforcement in Electric Utilities

Ask the Justice Department to study the implications of consolidation in the U.S. electricity industry. A steady flow of mergers and acquisitions[8] in the power sector has stifled competition, with likely implications for consumers.


Electric Vehicle Funding

Earmark Federal Highway Administration funds for electric vehicle infrastructure development, continuing work accelerated under the Obama administration[9].

This article originally posted at[10]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell[11] or Karlee Weinmann[12] on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly[13] update.

  1. critical of clean energy:
  2. [Image]:
  3. lowers the barrier to building them:
  4. other countries’ carbon taxes:
  5. “value of solar” policy:
  6. to promote renewable energy generation:
  7. non-wires alternatives:
  8. steady flow of mergers and acquisitions:
  9. accelerated under the Obama administration:
  11. John Farrell:
  12. Karlee Weinmann:
  13. Energy Democracy weekly:

Source URL:

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

by Nick Stumo-Langer | December 15, 2016 12:00 pm

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

In this episode, Chris Mitchell, the director of our Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews Linda Bilsens, Project Manager of ILSR’s Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Program. Bilsens explains how producing compost from food scraps builds local economic development, fights climate change, and cultivates community.

Chris and Linda discuss how both individuals and communities can partake in rebuilding their local soils by composting organic materials. Check out the further information on our composting work here: Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders training program[3]. Contact Linda Bilsens[4] if you’re interested in replicating this program.

“The communities that are embracing this…that I’ve seen that they’re tired of waiting for someone else to do something,” says Bilsens of the powerful benefits that composting can have on communities.


If you missed the first episodes of our podcast you can find those conversations with Olivia LaVecchia here[11], Neil Seldman here[12], John Farrell here[13], David Morris here[14], Lisa Gonzalez here[15], and Stacy Mitchell here[16]. Also to see all of our episodes make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power [17]Podcast Homepage[18]. View the full transcript of the podcast, below.

Full Transcript of Podcast:

Linda Bilsens: We throw away quite a bit of material each year. More than 50% of what we throw away is actually compostable. We actually throw away about 38 million tons of food waste each year, and only 5% of that is composted, which I think is crazy.
Chris Mitchell: That sounds pretty crazy. I think maybe we should talk about it for the next 20 minutes or so.
Linda Bilsens: Sounds good.
Chris Mitchell: You’re Linda Bilsens, the program manager for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Program. I’m Chris Mitchell. I do broadband-type stuff for the institute focusing on locally-owned networks, but I also interview people at ILSR about building local power. That’s what we’re going to talk about today. I’d like to start out a little bit wide since this is the first time we’re talking about composting on building local power and just ask you, sure, those are big numbers that you just threw out, but why should we care about composting?
Linda Bilsens: I was asking myself the same question a few years ago when I first starting getting into composting. Basically I got into composting because I wanted to be able to grow my own food, so I started gardening and working on farms. When it came down to it, the soil is pretty much what makes all of that possible. If you’re going to be growing in the same place over and over again, you have to add back what you take away, and composting is the way that you do that. So I basically came to composting because I wanted to grow my own food.
Chris Mitchell: One of the things that I think is interesting about composting as well as many components of our waste stream is that you can pretty much do it anywhere. Is that right?
Linda Bilsens: Yep, absolutely. You don’t need a lot of infrastructure to make it happen especially at the small scale, so that’s pretty much we focus on is just getting people started. There are some lessons to learn about how to do it a little bit better without running into some of the nuisance problems that you could otherwise come across, but in general it’s really you just got to go start doing it.
Chris Mitchell: If we were to see hundreds of communities doing that around the nation, in what ways would that contribute to more local power do you think? Aside from just having better soils, how would the community benefit if they were putting energy into these kinds of programs?
Linda Bilsens  The main reasons that get me excited about this work is that composting is something that you don’t really have to wait for a government program or a business to provide a service. You can basically start doing it today. Because as long as you’re producing waste, which we all do, if you eat any food, if you cook at all, if you have a backyard or a garden, you have stuff to compost. Instead of throwing it in your garbage bin, if you have any space or a community garden, you can start composting that today and see a tangible product in a few months time.
Chris Mitchell: My wife is very supportive of composting, and we got into it a number of years ago. I’ll say two immediate impacts in our household that I wouldn’t say are about building local power but just were interesting to me is that most of our trash disappeared. It turned out that we cook a fair amount, so a lot of our trash was stuff that we could compost. Then the second thing is that we don’t have to take our trash out as often …
Linda Bilsens: Totally.
Chris Mitchell:  … because we’re mostly throwing away plastic or other things that is not going to rot in our kitchen, so we could wait until the bag was more full to take that trip out that nobody wants to do.
Linda Bilsens: Totally.
Chris Mitchell: So those are concrete effects.
Linda Bilsens: You’re actually taking out the smelliest part of your waste as well, which is pretty exciting, I think, and you’re doing something productive with it at the same time.
 Chris Mitchell: What else were you going to say in terms of what helps us build local power?
Linda Bilsens With the community composting scale, which is really what we tend to prioritize, is that you have this opportunity to … It’s like another opportunity to connect with your neighbors and your neighborhood. It’s another opportunity to come together and work on something together for a common end goal. Here in DC, around a number of the community gardens that exist, there are about 40 or so, you see people of diverse backgrounds coming together and working together on something as simple as compost. There’s just kind of a touchpoint for the community. I think it gives us another opportunity for common ground, another opportunity to interact with each other, get to know each other, which I think is pretty critical if you want to come together to exert any sort of local power.
Chris Mitchell: Some people have started businesses, too. I mean this isn’t just something one does to make one’s self feel better. You could actually start a small business doing this.
Linda Bilsens: Definitely. It still requires you to be quite entrepreneurial at this stage. I think that we don’t really value compost or soil or the other benefits that comes from composting enough for it to be something that just anybody could start up, but I think if you’re entrepreneurial and you’re dedicated to it, you can definitely start a business.
Chris Mitchell: Let’s talk about the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilder Program. What exactly is that? What do we do at ILSR around this issue?
Linda Bilsens: The full title is the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Composter Training Program. That’s pretty much what it is it’s a composter training program. It’s built off of what is more broadly known as the Master Composter model. This is offered throughout the country, and it’s often offered in conjunction with a master gardener program, which more people would be familiar with likely. Yeah, there’s like at least 50 plus programs around the country. There’s probably more, but that’s the number that we identified a couple of years when we were surveying. It’s all about giving people the basic tools that they need to start composting. What differs for us and I think the title makes the point, is that we’re focusing on neighborhoods not just backyards, so we focus on community composting which involves not just one household but a number of households or a community of some sort.
Chris Mitchell: Is this something that it’s just white people do? I think that a lot of people might think, “Oh, composting. It’s the latest trend in counterculture, white folks.” I suspect that’s not been your experience.
Linda Bilsens: Definitely not. What excites me so much about composting and what I’ve witnessed here in the DC community in particular but also in the Baltimore community where we just started working is that it is empowering for everyone. Composting is an opportunity to take control of what would be a waste and make it a resource. I think that’s appealing to most everybody. I do think that whether it’s immigrant populations or groups of immigrants that are just coming over that come from agriculturely focused countries, or anybody that’s interested in growing their own food for the various reasons that someone might be interested in that, composting is a natural complement to all of that. So I do think it’s appealing to just about anybody. Especially with the inequalities that we see in our food system, it’s really a compelling tool for any community.
Chris Mitchell: I see that. It’s interesting that [you’re 00:07:58] worked and we have programs that are related as far away as Atlanta and Lincoln, Nebraska. Is there anything that you find interesting about the kind of communities that are embracing this?
Linda Bilsens: The communities that are embracing this, there is a common thread that I’ve seen. It’s basically people who are just tired of waiting for somebody else to do something.
Chris Mitchell: That’s great.
Linda Bilsens: Yeah. I mean it’s just this really simple … It almost seems silly. Composting to some people seems silly, but once you start doing it and you actually see that you can create something and you’re also helping address a number of other big problems that we as a humanity face, it’s pretty inspiring stuff.
Chris Mitchell: Let’s talk about one of those in particular. How does composting interface with climate change?
Linda Bilsens: By composting, we’re taking out this huge chunk of the waste stream that otherwise ends up in landfills or incinerators. I think that food waste in specific is the largest portion of waste that ends up being incinerated or landfilled in the United States, so you’re taking it away from being burned or from sitting in a landfill. Also food waste in particular, organic materials, when they decompose in anaerobic conditions, they basically create a stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. It creates methane.
Chris Mitchell: A different way of saying that, of course, when they rot, bad things happen, right?
Linda Bilsens: Totally. There’s ground water pollution. There’s air pollution. There’s always bad things that can come from it, so you’re kind of avoiding that.
Chris Mitchell: Right, and rotting is not composting.
Linda Bilsens: Nope, nope. Though I do hear people in the composting world say, “Rot on,” as like a “Rock on.” Though I think rotting is not necessarily a negative term, yeah, you don’t want to putrefy things. You want things to decompose properly.
Chris Mitchell: That’s a good word, putrefy. You think rot, it’s kind of a word that makes you think of nasty things, but then putrefy is yet another level up.
Linda Bilsens: Definitely. Another benefit to the climate from composting has to do with the carbon sequestration potential of healthy soil, and compost is an important amendment to keeping soil healthy. By improving the quality of the soil, you improve the biology of the soil, which is tied to the ability of soil to sequester carbon, basically pulling it out of the atmosphere and holding on to it, but you also grow more plants which also sequester carbons. So it’s really exciting. This is a new field that I think is gaining traction now, but it’s kind of a hot topic.
Chris Mitchell: It is. In fact some very powerful people have become more interested in it. Can you tell us about a surprise guest that you had over last winter?
Linda Bilsens: My husband and I had been nominated basically to be featured as part of what we thought was an HGTV special on urban farming. Home and Garden Television was supposedly coming to DC, and they wanted to feature some community gardens in the DC area to show how cool urban ag is. My husband was arranging all this. After a few visits with what we thought was HGTV staff, we had this interview. So we arrive in our backyard, and there’s 20 plus people kind of crawling around. We start this interview with Home and Garden Television. As we’re answering a random question about how we started the garden and what did we do to the soil to improve it, as my husband’s in the middle of answering, up behind us comes this voice. We turn and it happens to be the First Lady Michelle Obama so both of us completely awestruck and speechless.
Chris Mitchell: I can imagine.
Linda Bilsens: I’m pretty sure I squealed actually.
Chris Mitchell: There’s probably video evidence of that.
Linda Bilsens: Oh, yeah. No, I’ve heard it lots of times at this point. I’m certain of it. Yeah, so she surprised us. We totally got pumped by Michelle Obama, and it was pretty exciting.
Chris Mitchell: That’s great. Do you have a sense, then, that this is something that is catching on around the country?
Linda Bilsens: Yeah. No, absolutely. Though Michelle Obama’s visit was fantastic and such an honor and it was exciting to see somebody that prominent supporting or interested in what we were doing because she was technically there to see the garden. But as soon as we brought up the concept of composting and how important it is to us maintaining our garden and the importance of not wasting that food, she wanted to go see the composting system. So she led the entire camera team through our tiny little walkway to the composting system, and she wanted to test out the compost sifter that we have. She totally understood why we were doing what we were doing, and she was excited about it, and she was very complimentary of it. It was really exciting to see that. Also through the rest of our work and the Composting for Community Project under which the NSR falls …
Chris Mitchell: That’s the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Program, NSR?
Linda Bilsens: Yes. Through the rest of our work in the Composting for Community Project under which the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Program falls, we’re getting a chance to work with community composters from around the country, so it’s certainly something that is growing in terms of a movement.
Chris Mitchell: What’s the best place to go for people that want to learn more about it and how they might get involved?
Linda Bilsens: Our webpage on the ILSR website would be a great place to start. That’s the Other places that they might look for information would be BioCycle. It’s a magazine for the composting industry. Nora Goldstein, who’s a close friend of the institute, she’s the editor of that magazine. Composting at the community scale is a passion for hers as much as it is for us. So those are two great places to start.
Chris Mitchell: Wonderful. We’d like to end this show by asking for a recommendation for something to read: article, book, maybe even a podcast, who knows? What’s something interesting you’ve heard or read that you want to share with people?
Linda Bilsens: A couple of things come to mind. The Marin Carbon Project in California is putting out lots of interesting research papers on the topic of carbon sequestration and soil and compost in particular, so if anybody’s interested in that, they’re a great source for information. There’s also a series about the inequality in our food system and how to address that I’ve been fully making my way through. It’s actually a publication called Food First, The Institute for Food and Development Policy. There’s a series that they put out recently about dismantling racism in the food system, which I think is really eye opening. It gets me motivated.
Chris Mitchell: Excellent. I think those are very interesting recommendations. I’ll be checking them out myself. Thank you for taking some time to tell us more about the composting work and why it’s relevant, how it can build local power.
Linda Bilsens: Thanks Chris.
Lisa Gonzalez That was Linda Bilsens, program manager for the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Program at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance talking with Chris Mitchell about the program and how composting contributes to local power. Learn more about the program at Subscribe to this podcast and all of the podcasts in the ILSR family on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research by also subscribing to our monthly newsletter at Thanks to Dysfunction Al for the music licensed through Creative Commons. The song is “Funk Interlude.” I’m Lisa Gonzalez from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Thanks for listening to Episode Number 7 of our building local power podcast.

Audio Credit: Funk Interlude[19] by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0)[20] license.

  1. Building Local Power podcast:
  2. full transcript: #transcript
  3. Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders training program:
  4. Linda Bilsens:
  5. [Image]:
  6. Play in new window:
  7. Download:
  8. iTunes:
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  10. RSS:
  11. here:
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  17. Building Local Power :
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  19. Funk Interlude:
  20. Attribution Noncommercial (3.0):

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Decentralizing Economic Power, Reinvigorating Democracy: ILSR’s Impact in 2016

by ILSR Admin | December 15, 2016 6:00 am

Image: Donate Button[1]ILSR’s forward-thinking, bottom-up solutions have never been more needed.   Please help us expand our impact in 2017 by making a donation[2] to ILSR.


Download the Report[4]

As we head into a turbulent era of government, the values and goals of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) remain steadfast. Every day we help communities tap into their own power to build a more democratic, equitable, and sustainable future. Our 2016 Annual Report: Decentralizing Economic Power, Reinvigorating Democracy[5] illustrates how ILSR’s initiatives have gained important victories, connected with people across the country, and moved the needle on our most important economic and political conversations.

With the generosity of people like you, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has been at the forefront of advancing policies and models that support locally driven economies while protecting the climate and reducing inequality. Please take a look through our annual report[6] and donate to support our work[7].

Here’s a look at a few highlights from 2016 and what lies ahead for 2017:


  1. [Image]:
  2. making a donation:
  3. [Image]:
  4. Download the Report:
  5. 2016 Annual Report: Decentralizing Economic Power, Reinvigorating Democracy:
  6. annual report:
  7. donate to support our work:
  8. Community Power Map:
  9. Federal Communications Chair Tom Wheeler told members of Congress:
  10. Amazon’s Stranglehold:
  11. (more…):

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Fact Sheet on Minnesota’s Rural Digital Divide

by Lisa Gonzalez | December 5, 2016 12:14 pm

The fact sheet highlights the great work that Minnesota cooperatives and municipalities have done to bring fast, affordable, reliable Internet service to rural areas throughout the state. They’ve built many Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks, but there is still much work to do.

One in 4 Minnesotans lives in a rural area, and of those rural households, 43 percent lack access to broadband, defined by the FCC as 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Resilient, robust, fiber is the long-term goal, but fixed wireless can help extend coverage in hard-to-reach rural areas.

Download the fact sheet[1] and pass it on.

See all of our Community Network Fact Sheets[2] here.

Read ongoing coverage related to these networks at ILSR’s site devoted to Community Broadband Networks[3].  You can also subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks.[4]

  1. Download the fact sheet:
  2. Community Network Fact Sheets:
  3. Community Broadband Networks:
  4. subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks.:

Source URL:

2016 World Soil Day: Benefits of Composting Infographic Posters

by Brenda Platt | December 5, 2016 6:00 am

placeholderDecember 5th is World Soil Day, on this day we celebrate the eminent power of soil reinforced with compost. In 2002, the International Union of Soil Sciences declared December 5th as World Soil Day[1] “to celebrate the importance of soil as a critical component of the natural system and as a vital contributor to human wellbeing.” In 2013, when the resolution was introduced to the full United Nations General Assembly, it was passed unanimously.

Check out our newly printable and shareable infographic pages:

One Person’s Trash…[2] | Composting Enhances Soils and Protects Watersheds[3]

Composting Protects the Climate[4] | Composting Creates Jobs[5] | What Can You Do?[6]

On this World Soil Day, we are pointing to the vast benefits that locally-based composting has in improving soil.

“The dust storms and floods of the last few years have underscored the importance to control soil erosion. I need not emphasize the seriousness of the problem and the desirability of our taking effective action, as a Nation and in the several States, to conserve the soil as our basic asset. The Nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”

– Franklin D. Roosevelt, Letter to all State Governors on a Uniform Soil Conservation Law, Feb. 26, 1937

With almost 30% of U.S. cropland eroding above soil tolerance levels – meaning the long-term ability of the soil to sustain plant growth is in jeopardy – these words ring as true today as they did in 1937. FDR was responding to the devastation wreaked by the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. Today, much of the western United States remains under severe drought conditions. In the East, we’ve had our share of droughts but extreme storms seem to be reigning lately. Enhancing the ability of soil to retain water, slow stormwater run-off, and resist erosion is vital to life on this planet as we know it.

Fortunately we have one fairly simple solution: amending soil with compost. Compost-amended soil enhances soil properties, stems soil erosion, and protects against soil desertification. In addition, compost converts wasted food and resources into a valuable asset.

In honor of World Soil Day, we are releasing our popular compost infographic as a series of individual printable and shareable images. Check out the original post here: Infographic: Compost Impacts More Than You Think[7].






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

  1. World Soil Day:
  2. One Person’s Trash…:
  3. Composting Enhances Soils and Protects Watersheds:
  4. Composting Protects the Climate:
  5. Composting Creates Jobs:
  6. What Can You Do?:
  7. Infographic: Compost Impacts More Than You Think:
  8. [Image]:
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  10. [Image]:
  11. [Image]:
  12. [Image]:
  13. Twitter:
  14. Facebook:
  15. sign-up:

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The Public Good Newsfeed – December 1, 2016: The Perils of Privatization

by David Morris | December 1, 2016 3:00 pm

placeholderA selection of recent news stories with an ILSR insight into “The Public Good.”

Stories in this Newsfeed:

The Privatization of Everything[1] |  Privatizing Education[2] | Privatizing the Oceans[3]

Privatizing Municipal Services[4] | A Resource Guide to Privatization[5]

The outcome of the Presidential election will make the word “privatization” will become central to our political conversations. We should be mindful that the privatization movement did not start with Donald Trump, nor has it solely been a Republican initiative. For those wanting to familiarize themselves with the already pervasive nature of that movement and its problematic impact, we offer a few choice readings.

29The Privatization of Everything

Talking Points Memo[6] (TPM) has an excellent primer on privatization. The Hidden History of the Privatization of Everything[7] consists of three essays by experts in the field.

Donald Cohen, founder and Executive Director of In the Public Interest, offers a sobering review of the rapid growth of privatization from an idea to a movement to dominance.

He notes:

Journalist David Dayen, reports on the true cost of private prisons:

“Actual housing of convicts in prisons and jails is only one part–perhaps the smallest part–of the overall industry revenue stream. Private companies seek to pull profits from the moment someone is suspected of a crime to the final day they meet with a parole officer. Private industry transports prisoners, operates prison bank accounts, sells prescription drugs, prepares inmate food, and manages health care, prison phone and computer time. And that’s just the start. The money comes from the taxpayer, in state and federal contracts, and the suspects, inmates, and parolees themselves, in fees and add-ons. Those caught in the web represent what marketers would call the ultimate “captive audience”: there is no way to shop around for a better deal.”

… private prison companies can prosper whether the incarceration rate expands or lowers, by controlling the other ends of the pipeline, from pre-trial supervision to post-prison re-entry. The greatest source of profits now comes from federal contracts to detain, transfer, and deport undocumented immigrants. The more toxic the immigration debate becomes, the more advantage for-profit corporations take.”

Journalist Erika Eichelberger describes how privatization circumscribes public control and actions.

“In 2006, the city leased four major parking garages to a Morgan Stanley-led firm for $563 million[8]. In 2009, Morgan Stanley sued the city for threatening its profits by allowing a nearby building to open a public garage. Chicago had to pay $62 million[9] to settle.

In 2008, Mayor Daley sold off 36,000 city parking meters[10] to another Morgan Stanley-backed company, with little[11] public input. It was later revealed that the deal was undervalued[12] by $1 billion. Meter rates skyrocketed from $3 an hour to $6.50 an hour. And the firm charged the city millions[13] for violating the contract by putting certain meters out of use for street repairs, parades, and festivals, and for giving free parking permits to people with disabilities…

Between 1994 and 2006, 43 highways[14] became so-called public-private partnerships, according to a 2009 report by the Frontier Group. Many toll road contracts include[15] provisions discouraging[16] governments from improving or expanding nearby public routes in order to funnel traffic—money—to the privatized road…

Virginia’s 2006 contract with two private firms to build toll lanes on the Capital Beltway requires[17] the state to compensate the companies whenever carpools exceed 24 percent of traffic in carpool lanes for the next forty years—‘or until the builders make $100 million in profits.’

The state of Indiana had to reimburse[18] the private company operating the Indiana Toll Road $447,000 in 2008 because the state waived the tolls of people who had to evacuate during severe flooding. The company also refused[19] to allow state troopers to close the toll road during a snowstorm because it would hurt profits…

Some 700[20] jurisdictions across the country have elected to privatize transportation policy on the traffic enforcement side as well, in the form of red light cameras. These are the cameras mounted at intersections that take a photo of your license plate when you run a red light. The company will then issue the ticket, usually after approval by local authorities.

Some of these firms require[21] cities to approve a fixed percentage of all tickets in order to guarantee the company a certain level of income, thereby eliminating local judicial discretion. Some companies impose[22] financial penalties on municipalities that make safety improvements at intersections if those improvements could affect the volume of tickets a company can issue…

‘When you sell off public assets to private parties basically what you’ve done is absolutely confined the ability of the public sector to dictate the terms by which public good is determined,’ Mac McCarthy, president of the Lincoln Institute for Land says. ‘[Private] contract becomes law.’”

Milpitas School District Solar Carports 2Privatizing Education

Back in 2011 Diane Ravitch, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, and President of The Network for Public Education, in a terrific piece in the Saturday Evening Post, declared[23],  “The media tell you that other nations have higher test scores than ours and that they are shooting past us in the race for global competitiveness. The pundits say it’s because our public schools are overrun with incompetent, lazy teachers who can’t be fired and have a soft job for life. Don’t believe it. It’s not true.”

She noted that these complaints have been repeated over the last 60 years, a time during which the United States became the world’s most innovative, technologically advanced and economically powerful and prosperous nation.  “Is it possible that we succeeded not because of test scores but because our society encourages something more important than test scores: the freedom to create, innovate, imagine, and think differently?”

Ravitch addresses the crucial publicness of public schools.

“Since the 1840s, our public schools have been a bulwark of our democratic society. Over time, they have opened their doors to every student in the community regardless of that student’s race, religion, language, disability, economic standing, or origin…

With this openness, there is a price to be paid: Our public school teachers have one of the most difficult jobs in society. Their classes include children who are recent immigrants, many of whom don’t speak or read English; they include children who have social, emotional, mental, and physical disabilities; they include children who live in desperate poverty….

Our schools are now expected to educate all children, whatever their condition. In 1975, Congress mandated special education for children with disabilities. It promised to pay 40 percent of the cost but has never followed through…”

“(Later) (i)nstead of sending the vast sums of money that schools needed to make a dent in its goal, Congress simply sent testing mandates to every school. It required that every child in every school must reach proficiency by 2014—or the schools would be subject to sanctions. If a school failed to make progress over five years, it might be closed or privatized or handed over to the state authorities or turned into a charter school. There was no evidence for the efficacy of any of these strategies, but that didn’t matter.

Setting an impossible goal, providing inadequate resources to pursue that goal, and then firing educators and closing schools for failing to reach it is cruel and unusual punishment…

Charter schools on average do not produce better academic results than regular public schools. As charters proliferate, regular public schools lose students and funding, and many charters try to avoid the students who are most costly and difficult to educate…

Piece by piece, our entire public education system is being redesigned in the service of increasing scores on standardized tests of basic skills. That’s not good policy, and it won’t improve education. Twelve years of rewarding children for picking the right answer on multiple-choice tests is bad education. It will penalize the creativity, innovativeness, and imaginativeness that has made this country great.”

In late 2016 AlterNet,[24] one of the most widely read sources of information from a progressive perspective, examined the role of charter schools more deeply in an eBook, Who Controls Our Schools?[25]

Many will be surprised to discover, that charter schools were first proposed by the head of a major teachers union.  Albert Shanker viewed them as vehicles that would allow liberate teachers from stifling bureaucratic rules and allow them the freedom to experiment with different education strategies.  Lessons learned would be used to improve public schools.

But soon the charter movement became a vehicle, not to improve the public school system, but to hobble and eventually eliminate it. Conservatives, whose proposal for education vouchers, had been consistently rejected by voters, viewed charters as a way of achieving the same goal:  the privatization of public education. The Walton Family Foundation, for example, which initially supported a school voucher movement, has spent more than $1.3 billion on K-12 education and boasts it has given seed funding to one-in-four charter schools.

As charters expanded investors became interested in this huge new potentially lucrative sector. When media mogul Rupert Murdoch announced in 2010 that News Corp. planned to enter the for-profit K-12 education market, he called it “a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.” (Today that figure is more than $600 billion.)

Democrats as well as Republicans jumped aboard the charter train.  When Bill Clinton’s Presidency began, the U.S. had a single charter school. When it ended, there were more than 2,000. The Bush Administration made state acceptance of charters a requirement for receiving billions of dollars in education federal funds. The Obama administration reinforced that policy.

In 2014 three million students attended 6,700 charter schools, an increase of 70 percent since 2009. Forty percent were part of corporate chains or franchises.

Who Controls Our Schools?[26] also examines the impact of privatization on the long American tradition of local control of education and on minority and poor communities.

“New Orleans, Detroit, New York, Chicago, Columbus, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, the District of Columbia, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Baltimore, and Houston have all seen elected school boards upended by privatization. Collectively, these cit­ies experienced the forced closure of more than seven hundred public schools and replacement by charters, according to a May 2014 report by Journey for Justice Alliance[27], a nationwide coalition of community groups as well as youth and parent organizations in twenty-one cities. ‘America’s predominantly black and Latino communities are expe­riencing an epidemic of public school closures,’ their report begins. ‘We need the American people to know that the public education sys­tems in our communities are dying,’ their report continues.”

28Privatizing the Oceans

Award winning investigative reporter Lee Van der Voo has written a blockbuster of a book about something most people are unaware of:  the privatization of our oceans.

Fish Market: Inside the Big Money Battle for the Ocean & Your Dinner Plate[28] notes the rise of a cap-and-trade arrangement for fish.  To reduce overfishing, governments create caps on the amount of fish that can be caught.  Then they dole out the rights to fish them among qualifying entities.

“(O)nce those rights are awarded by the government, whoever holds that slice of the pie holds exclusive access to a corresponding percentage of fish. Those rights are privately controlled after that… Now the rights to catch fish are private market assets that trade hotter in places like Alaska than brick-and-mortar real estate.

The private property rights attending catch shares had locked many fishermen and even whole communities out of the oceans. Catch shares created powerful landlords on water and as those landlords grew more powerful, catch shares were converting fishermen from proud family-business sorts into sharecroppers who were leasing their access to the sea from wealthy and increasingly corporate power brokers.”

In a review of Van der Voo’s book, Larry Getlen comments:

“Regulators would cap the number of fish that could be caught, but the right to fish then would be doled out, like property, to the people that had historically fished them…

“Those who own the rights to fish a certain area can rent or sell them like feudal landlords, in perpetuity. That means fishermen, who used to freely fish certain areas, now have to rent those same areas from absentee landlords.

“The bizarre setup means owners of fishing boats have become the equivalent of Uber drivers for share owners who take anywhere from 50 percent to 75 percent of the profit.”

Owners of less than 20 percent of a boat are required to be aboard any vessel catching their fish, but are not required to fish. This has led to boat owners offering amenities such as “big screen and satellite TVs, massive DVD collections, quality grub and staterooms” to attract share owners aboard to relax while the owner and his crew do the back-breaking work of fishing.”

Getlen continues, “The town of St. George, off the Bering Sea near Alaska, was long home to some of the most robust pollock fishing in the country. But due to a fishing rights management scheme called “catch shares,” the town has no rights to fish its own waters and regularly watches their former industry literally pass them by.

“Every year, the industry takes about $2 billion in gains out of this fish resource on the Bering Sea,” St. George Mayor Pat Pletnikoff tells Lee van der Voo in “The Fish Market[29].” “Not one plug nickel sticks to St. George.”

27Privatizing Municipal Services

“Privatization was supposed to yield greater efficiency due to competitive pressures on private providers to produce quality service at a lower cost. However, after 40 years of experience, this result has not been born out,” writes[30] Cornell Professor Mildred E. Warner.

Warner, an expert on local government and public management maintains:

“One of the keys to cost savings from privatization is competition.  But competitive markets in most public services do not exist. So privatization merely substitutes a private monopoly for a public one. Private providers will reduce service quality to enhance profits – especially if competition is not present.

Contracting out to low competitive markets requires local governments spend so much time managing the market that it cuts into their ability to monitor.”

Increasingly cities are revisiting their original infatuation with privatization.  A 2009 survey[31] by the International City Management Association, found that from 2002 to 2007 cities re-municipalized services as often as they contracted them out.  The reasons? Poor service quality, lack of cost savings, improvements in public delivery, and problems with monitoring.  Another factor was the local political support for bringing the work back in-house. It turns out citizens prefer local services to be locally controlled and publicly delivered.

As Warner notes, cities contract with other governments as well as with for profit corporations. However, bringing the function back into the city is 60 percent more likely when the contract is with a for profit partner.

Inter-municipal cooperation is growing in popularity. Indeed, according to Warner, inter-municipal contracting is now larger than for profit contracting. Local governments view cooperation as an effective way to gain economies of scale, better coordinate services in a region and still keep public control.  Rather than being focused on competition as the basis for efficiency, inter-municipal contracting has successfully built on the positive benefits of cooperation.

In an article in the New York Times Elliot Sclar, a Professor of Urban Planning at Columbia University and an expert of privatization, notes[32] that ideology often drives a city’s decision to privatize but in the private sector, ideology rarely plays a role in determining “make or buy” decisions.

“Three factors drive the decision: the number of interactions required between the service supplier and the purchasing organization; the ability of the purchasing organization to judge the quality of the product; and the nature of control over the physical assets and people involved in delivering the goods.

The general rule of thumb is that when the number of interactions is high, quality is not easily determined and control over assets is required, you should keep the function in-house. If the reverse is true, you can outsource.

That is why, for example, it makes perfect sense to hire a contractor to paint city hall every few years but why attempting to privatize something as complex as New York City’s employee record keeping system has proved to be a disaster.

Why is this the case? Because success or failure is connected to the complexity of the organizational relationship between buyer and seller and the amount of information that the public buyer continually needs to assess in determining how the project is progressing. These two factors explain virtually all of the reported failures of privatization for functions like prison medical services or highway construction.”

30A Resource Guide to Privatization

Since opening its doors 8 years ago, the non-profit group, In the Public Interest[33] has established itself as the go-to organization for information about privatization.  Its web site contains a treasure trove of current news and short and long reports on the whole spectrum of privatization-related issues and the experience of privatization in various sectors:  education, prisons, water, infrastructure, childcare, transportation, etc.

In 2014 the organization released a resource guide[34] that allows first timers and old timers to easily navigate its rapidly expanding library.  At the time there were over 35 reports available.  I imagine by now there could easily be 50. The two most recent, published in the fall of 2016, are How Privatization Increases Inequality and The Banks That Finance Private Prison Companies.

A sampling of the titles in their library will give you a taste of the information available.

Closing the Books: How Government Contractors Hide Public Records

The Decision to Contract Out: Understanding the Full Economic and Social Impacts  

Shift: How Taxpayers Began Reclaiming Control of their Public Services

Out of Control: The Coast-to-Coast Failures of Outsourcing Public Services to For-Profit Corporations

I particularly like the groups’s ability to synthesize dozens, if not hundreds, of reports into easily digestible, sometimes bite-sized information sheets. A prime example is their brief, and I do mean brief publication, Privatization Myths Debunked[35], which exposes the fallacies of the principal arguments in favor of privatization.

Myth #1:  Privatization saves money

The Truth: Privatization often raises costs for the public and governments

Myth #4:  Privatization allows governmental entities more administrative flexibility.

The Truth:  Privatization requires substantial administrative resources for monitoring and oversight.

Myth #6:  If anything goes wrong, the government can easily fire the contractor or adjust the contract.

The Truth:  Reversing privatization involves huge costs and service interruptions.

Sign-up for our monthly Public Good Newsletter[36] and follow ILSR on Twitter[37] and Facebook[38].

  1. The Privatization of Everything: #Everything
  2. Privatizing Education: #Education
  3. Privatizing the Oceans: #Oceans
  4. Privatizing Municipal Services: #Municipal
  5. A Resource Guide to Privatization: #Guide
  6. Talking Points Memo:
  7. The Hidden History of the Privatization of Everything:
  8. $563 million:
  9. $62 million:
  10. parking meters:
  11. little:
  12. undervalued:
  13. millions:
  14. 43 highways:
  15. include:
  16. discouraging:
  17. requires:
  18. reimburse:
  19. refused:
  20. 700:
  21. require:
  22. impose:
  23. declared:
  24. AlterNet,:
  25. Who Controls Our Schools?:
  26. Who Controls Our Schools?:
  27. Journey for Justice Alliance:
  28. Fish Market: Inside the Big Money Battle for the Ocean & Your Dinner Plate:
  29. The Fish Market:
  30. writes:
  31. survey:
  32. notes:
  33. In the Public Interest:
  34. resource guide:
  35. Privatization Myths Debunked:
  36. Public Good Newsletter:
  37. Twitter:
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Amazon’s Growing Stranglehold – Episode 6 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | December 1, 2016 12:00 pm

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

In this episode, Chris Mitchell, the director of our Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews Stacy Mitchell (no relation) ILSR Co-Director and Senior Researcher for the Community-Scaled Economies initiative about their latest report: Amazon’s Stranglehold: How the Company’s Tightening Grip is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities[3]. Mitchell details the main points from the recent report including the startling fact that nearly $1 of every $2 spent online are spent on Amazon.

Chris and Stacy discuss how Amazon’s impact is not only being felt by other online retailers, but it’s growing stranglehold over manufacturing, shipping and receiving, and online retail platform is harming workers, local communities, and the general health of our country’s economy. Read the report here:

New Report: How Amazon’s Tightening Grip on the Economy Is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities[4]

“It has become the gatekeeper to online commerce,” says Mitchell of Amazon’s overwhelming online market dominance. “All these other business all have to play by Amazon’s rules, they all have to be dictated to by Amazon.”


Here’s an image from the report, detailing Amazon’s growing monolithic presence:


For more information on the issues that Stacy and Chris discussed, read the Amazon report here[12]. You can follow the work of our Community-Scaled Economies initiative by following Olivia LaVecchia[13] and Stacy Mitchell[14].

If you missed the first episodes of our podcast you can find those conversations with Olivia LaVecchia here[15], Neil Seldman here[16], John Farrell here[17], David Morris here[18], and Lisa Gonzalez here[19]. Also to see all of our episodes make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power [20]Podcast Homepage[21]. View the full transcript of the podcast, below.

Full Transcript of Podcast:

Stacy Mitchell: It has become the gatekeeper to online commerce and so all these other businesses all have to play by Amazon’s rules. They all now have to be dictated to by Amazon.


Chris Mitchell: Stacy, welcome to Building Local Power.


Stacy Mitchell: It’s great to be here. Thanks, Chris.


Chris Mitchell: I’ve been really, really, really excited to talk with you about Amazon in this report. It builds on what Olivia and I had spoken about in what I think was the first episode of Building Local Power. It’s right before Black Friday which is to say it’s right before Thanksgiving, the best holiday. As you can tell from my voice, I’m very enthusiastic.


Stacy Mitchell: That’s great. We are too. We’re eager to release this big piece of research.


Chris Mitchell: Yeah, we’re going to talk about Amazon today and particularly about your program’s reaction to Amazon and trying to get people to wrestle with what Amazon is. Stacy, remind us who you are.


Stacy Mitchell: Well, I’m Stacy Mitchell and I direct the community scaled economy initiative at ILSR.


Chris Mitchell: I’m Chris Mitchell, the second Mitchell at ILSR, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. With no relation. We don’t have any family overlap from what we can tell although we both shop at the Redding Outlet Stores in our youth in Pennsylvania which was a pretty odd coincidence.


Stacy Mitchell: That’s right.


Chris Mitchell: I run the community broadband networks program here. I’ve been the host so far on this Building Local Power where we focus on local businesses, local approaches to making sure that we have political and economic power at home. Stacy, one other thing I wanted to mention, you wrote Big Box Window, a book that at this point is totally irrelevant, right?


Stacy Mitchell: Well, I wouldn’t go that far. But Big Box Window really charge the rise of big retailers and retailers as the power players in our economy. Amazon is a new iteration of that and in many ways, much more alarming, I would argue, iteration of that. It’s an extension of Walmart. Big Box Window is the foundation for what we’re now talking about in some ways.


Chris Mitchell: We’re going to be talking about this report on Amazon that you’ve just released, just releasing two days ago from [inaudible 02:22] podcast there so people can go to to read. One of the things that first hit me was half of all Americans are members of Amazon’s Prime program. I’m curious, if you can just start off by discussing some of the things that really hit you when you were researching Amazon as to why it’s so important to talk about Amazon in the modern economy.


Stacy Mitchell: One of the statistics that I find just stunning is that now more than half of everyone who’s looking to buy something online, they don’t go to a search engine, they just start their shopping right on Amazon. 55% of all people looking to buy something online start at Amazon. That’s up from a third just three years ago. There’s this way in which online shopping has become Amazon. One of the consequences of that is that lots of other companies, anybody who wants to sell something online, other retailers, manufacturers, they now face this really difficult decision. They can either continue to hang their shingle out on the web themselves where there’s less and less traffic or they can decide to become third party sellers on Amazon’s marketplace and thus become dependent on one of their biggest competitors.


Chris Mitchell: One of the things that I learned over the years is that, from you, is that Amazon’s actually growing faster than eCommerce is growing. It’s outstanding.


Stacy Mitchell: It is. I mean, eCommerce is growing just enormously every year, huge double digit increases. Amazon is growing even faster. That pie is getting bigger and bigger and then Amazon’s piece of it is getting bigger and bigger. According to our calculation, Amazon is now capturing one out of every $2 that Americans spend online. We project that within five years, online shopping will account for a fifth of all consumer retail spending and that two-thirds of those dollars will be flowing through Amazon. Amazon is now the biggest seller of toys and books and by next year will be the biggest seller of apparel and consumer electronics, anywhere, online and off.


It’s making huge investments into groceries. It’s got delivery trucks on the road now. It’s talking about building 2,000 pickup points, like stores/pickup points across the country. I mean, this is a company that has enormous ambitions. We’re just talking about the retail part of Amazon. Amazon is so much more even than just a big retailer.


Chris Mitchell: Right. I actually think that we may have to just focus on the retail for this conversation to avoid it being a two-hour affair. I highly encourage people that are intrigued by that to go and pick up the report and to check it out. One of the things that I found interesting is just not just Amazon’s scale but that you talk with small business owners all the time. You do a survey and you found that they perceive Amazon as being the number one threat to their business in many cases.


Stacy Mitchell: By far. This Amazon is a much bigger deal, a bigger threat in their eyes than anything else, than Walmart, than not being able to get a loan to grow, that the cost of healthcare, difficulty finding employees. I mean, anything you can name that is a small business issue, Amazon is a significantly higher threat in their mind according to our annual survey.


Chris Mitchell: Why should we care? What if a lot of those businesses just they fail? Amazon wins. We all like shopping in Amazon. Why is that a problem for our communities if we prefer to get our things from Amazon rather than the guy down the street or the woman down the street?


Stacy Mitchell: There are a number of reasons. One of the reasons that we should be concerned about that is competition. Our economy works well when it’s competitive and when we have a marketplace that is diverse, that is there are lots of different kinds of businesses out there competing for our dollars. That’s important to us as consumers in a couple of ways. One, it’s the key to keeping low prices. It’s the key of innovations. The retail sector in particular, independent retailers play this really important function within their industries. I interviewed for this report quite a few manufacturers. What they will tell you is that even though independent retailers are relatively small share of the market, they’re absolutely indispensable because they are critical to the launch of new products, that they are the ones who create the kind of diversity.


If you’ve got an innovative new product, it is most likely going to find its way into the marketplace through, initially through an independent business then go on to be sold by other retailers. Just to give you an example of that, in the book business, the chances that someone is going to discover a new book that they’d like to read, that they’re three times more likely to do that on a bookstore than they are shopping on Amazon, that diversity of products that in true way for new creators. A lot of that comes through independent businesses and through having this sort of diverse array of outlets. Manufacturers are extremely worried. They will tell you off the record, of all of this collapsing into one single platform. The choices that we see, that we encounter as consumers, being entirely driven by the choices that Amazon makes about what to to show us. That’s one really big concern.


Chris Mitchell: One of the things that you also wrote that I just wanted to capture here, and I’ll give you a second to finish off your thought, was we’re much more than consumers, we’re people that need to earn a living, who want to have meaningful jobs, care about freedom to build a business. We’re neighbors, we’re citizens, we’re entrepreneurs, we’re producers, taxpayers and residents with needs and wants from an economy that go beyond the one click check out. I wanted to just add that in and then please finish your thought.


Stacy Mitchell: Absolutely. That’s exactly what I was going to turn to next. We tend to think about the economy in terms of our role as consumers but we are all these other things. What Amazon’s consolidation of the economy is doing is that it’s cutting off opportunities. It has become much harder now to start a business. We’re creating far fewer new businesses than we were 10 years ago, than we were 20 years ago. Entrepreneurship is at this really all time low. That’s very concerning because it means there are fewer opportunities or us as individuals to be entrepreneurs and to make a living. But the other thing is that Amazon is dramatically reshaping the labor market. It’s pushing more and more people, both out of work and into temporary positions. It’s driving more and more of its business using on-demand, Uber-like labor where people work for a few hours and are paid a piece rate to deliver Amazon packages.


When you look at the future of the economy in Amazon’s vision, it’s an economy that doesn’t offer at lot of opportunities for people and that most of those opportunities are extremely low paid. This is a company that’s really a central protagonist in driving inequality and in shrinking the middle class.


Chris Mitchell: Can you tell us why should, from a perspective of Building Local Power, why should we be concerned at the demise of the independent businesses in our communities? What I’m trying to get at is that I think local business leaders are often leaders in the community.


Stacy Mitchell: That’s absolutely right. Commerce has always been attached to place. Businesses have always been where people are. Amazon’s severing that relationship. When we begin to think about what that means, when we have growing numbers of vacant storefronts in our communities, when we’re losing all of those jobs and those business owners that are often very active in local affairs and really anchor an important part of community, we’re losing that to a company that isn’t supplying those jobs in a lot of our community that isn’t present at all and that of course is not owned locally. None of those decisions are made in terms of the needs of the community.


There’s just a wealth of research and I think we all know in our own lives that local businesses, they sustain the social networks. You’re very likely to run into someone you know when you’re out running errands, have a sort of happenstance interaction with your neighbors. A lot of how we experience the places that we live is through our errands, is through the businesses that line our streets. We have a lot at stake in terms of how we experience community but also that sense as you put it of community power, of really having an ownership and having a community that’s able to look after its own needs to a degree and to set its own future. I’ve been thinking a lot about Amazon, Amazon’s rise, just reflecting on the history that a lot of communities have been experiencing in terms of the lost of manufacturing and in the lost of small businesses, replaced by Walmart, and now even the Walmart shops are going away. This is sort of another way of that kind of lost of community control. That’s, I think, very alarming.


Chris Mitchell: One of the things you said toward the beginning is that local businesses would face this choice of putting their own website, they’re doing their own eCommerce or doing it through Amazon. Why is it a problem if they decide to be a seller on the Amazon marketplace rather than doing it themselves?


Stacy Mitchell: The reason it’s a problem is that they are now dependent on their biggest competitor. Amazon runs this big third party marketplace. Most shoppers wouldn’t realize but half of all sales on Amazon come from their third party sellers. Amazon charges those sellers a pretty significant fee for that. They basically have sort of a tax on all of this commerce that’s going on. But they’d also take a lot more from sellers even than just that fee. One of the things that they do is they watch what sellers do and they learn from them, they learn so if you’re an independent retailer and you have a lot of knowledge about a particular product area and you start selling on Amazon, Amazon is going to be watching your inventory. They’re going to see what sells and then they’re going to bring the most profitable of what you’re selling into their own inventory. They’re going to use all your data and knowledge and they’re going to turn around and use it against you.


They can also change their rules at anytime. Amazon is just notorious for changing its rules, just dismissing a seller, cutting you off. You’ve got people out there who built businesses selling on Amazon who one day wake up and find that Amazon has closed their account and that they no longer have a livelihood. This is just the idea of being that dependent on your biggest competitors, just incredibly dangerous and precarious position to be in.


Chris Mitchell: One of the reactions that I get from people when I start talking about why I don’t support Amazon, why I try to do everything I can to not support them in terms of buying from them or watching their programming or doing whatever is that I’m being unreasonable and that Amazon has just won on a neutral field. But you talk about all the taxpayer subsidies that Amazon has received and all the ways in which Amazon gets subsidies that from local governments or from states that they would never dream of giving to local independent retailers that are already competing. Can you tell us some more about that?


Stacy Mitchell: Absolutely. Amazon built its business from the very beginning back in 1995 on being sales taxed, exempt from having to collect sales tax. Every other brick and mortar retailer out there has to collect sales tax. Amazon for many years did not and even to this day, still does not collect sales tax in 16 states. There’s a lot of research that that actually drives Amazon’s sales, that that’s a significant competitive advantage that it has over other retailers. As Amazon in the last few years has expanded its network of warehouses so they’ve moved to the strategy where they want to do same day delivery in all the big cities. They’ve been building warehouses everywhere and that’s meant that they’ve had to give up the sales tax advantage in a lot of states.


But what they have done is that they’ve now turned around and they’ve gone to local and state governments and said, “Give us a subsidy to build these warehouses.” We went and looked and found that over the last 10 years, Amazon has built over 77 big warehouses and it has received major public subsidies on over half of those warehouses. Altogether, we counted almost a billion dollars in local and state public monies going to Amazon to support its expansion. This is a company that just relies heavily on government handouts.


Chris Mitchell: I want to just give you a second because we’re running out of time that you make a point, Amazon isn’t like the future which is how I think a lot of people imagine Amazon but it’s the past. You referenced railroad barons. How is Amazon the past?


Stacy Mitchell: When you strip away all of the modern vernier of Amazon, the digital trappings of Amazon, when you just look past that, what this company really is and what it’s all about, it really reminds me a lot of the late 19th century, it reminds me of these Robber barons who owned railroads, Cornelius Vanderbilt and those guys back then, what they did is they gained control of those railroads and then they used their control of railroad to dictate to other businesses and to actually block their competitors from getting to market. They had competitors in other industries that they controlled and they’d say, “Sorry, you can’t ride on my rails. Or if you want to ride on my rails, it’s going to cost you an enormous sum of money.” Amazon is effectively doing that online. It has become the gatekeeper to online commerce.


All these other businesses, small manufacturers, big manufacturers, other retailers, they now all have to play by Amazon’s rules, they all now have to be dictated to by Amazon. It has the ability to just basically levy this tax on all of their business. That’s one way. I think the other way in which Amazon really struck us when we were writing this report is being so much more like the past is when you look at its labor model. It’s got all of these precarious temporary worker staffing its warehouses, doing its deliveries, all of these people who are now working for piece rate, like the old sweat shops of yore when people sewed clothing and they got paid a tiny piece rate for every piece that they [inaudible 17:29].


Amazon is increasingly moving to that with its package delivery, tiny piece rate for delivering the package and other work that it has going in its warehouse. When we think about this company and we really look at what it is, it is much more reminiscent of a past that I don’t want to go back and that I don’t think is good for the economy. I think we can also draw on that period because Americans really rose up against that consolidation of power back then and they passed anti-trust laws, they passed labor laws. It’s to that history that we really need to look as we wrestle with how to deal with this new form of concentrated power.


Chris Mitchell: Well, I hope that people, if they weren’t convinced halfway through the show are now convinced that they need to read this report, there’s so much in it. But I do want to ask you for another reading recommendation that you would have for people, whether it’s a book or an article or something else. What’s some other piece that you’d want to recommend people check out?


Stacy Mitchell: Something that I just read that I thought was very insightful is an article that’s in one of the recent issues of the Atlantic. It’s called How Post-Watergate Liberals Killed Their Populist Soul. It’s by Matt Stoller. It’s a really interesting look at how we moved away from anti-trust and anti-monopoly beginning in the 1970’s and 1980’s. A lot of good insights on what I think is where we sort of went wrong as a country and stopped being concerned about concentrated power, not only because of the effects on the economy but also the way concentrated power is undermines democracy and undermines our government. I just thought it was a very interesting read. I highly recommend it.


Chris Mitchell: Yes. Let me just pile onto that because I also really enjoyed that. I think it’s really appropriate in this time when I think a lot of people are just thinking, “I hate Republicans. I hate Democrats.” It’s a real reminder of nuanced these things are and is not one party’s fault, that we need to look deeper. Something Olivia had said was that she’s just been enjoying his writing in general. I think you said his name was Matt Stoller, right?


Stacy Mitchell: Yes, he’s terrific.


Chris Mitchell: He’s been doing good work. I encourage people to check that out. Thank you so much, Stacy. This has been just a wonderful conversation.


Stacy Mitchell: Thank you, Chris.


Lisa Gonzalez: That was Stacy Mitchell, director of the community scaled economy initiative and co-direct of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, talking with Chris Mitchell about her initiative’s recent report, Amazon’s Stranglehold, how the company’s tightening grip is stiffing competition, eroding jobs and threatening communities. That was episode number six of our Building Local Power podcast. Learn more about the community scaled economy initiative and their amazing research at or you can also download the report. Subscribe to this podcast and all of the podcast in the ILSR family on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research by also subscribing to our monthly newsletter at Thanks to this [inaudible 20:31] music, license through creative commons, the song is Funk Interlude. I’m Lisa Gonzalez from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Thanks again for listening to the Building Local Power podcast. Catch you next time.


Audio Credit: Funk Interlude[22] by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0)[23] license.

  1. Building Local Power podcast:
  2. click here: #transcript
  3. Amazon’s Stranglehold: How the Company’s Tightening Grip is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities:
  4. New Report: How Amazon’s Tightening Grip on the Economy Is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities:
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  7. Download:
  8. iTunes:
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  12. Amazon report here:
  13. Olivia LaVecchia:
  14. Stacy Mitchell:
  15. here:
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  17. here:
  18. here:
  19. here:
  20. Building Local Power :
  21. Podcast Homepage:
  22. Funk Interlude:
  23. Attribution Noncommercial (3.0):

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Media Outlets Cover 2016 Colorado Broadband Ballot Initiatives

by Nick Stumo-Langer | December 1, 2016 8:00 am

Various Sources[1] – November 2 – 19, 2016

On November 8th, 2016, 26 Colorado cities and counties joined[2] 69 of their fellow communities in opting out of the restrictive, anti-municipal broadband state law, SB 152. For years, we at ILSR have been covering the developments in Colorado as voters reclaim local telecommunications authority.

The media, both locally and nationally, took notice of our efforts.

Here’s a roundup of stories in which national, state, and local outlets cited our work and provided information to ensure this vital issue gained coverage. Read more in our story covering the votes[3] and in our podcast about the election[4].

MEDIA COVERAGE – “26 Colorado Communities Opt out of Restrictive State Broadband Law”

Pre-Election Coverage:

+ 26 Colorado Communities Will Vote on Building Their Own Internet Networks[5] by Jason Koebler, Motherboard Vice – November 2nd, 2016

Colorado is the only state in the country that has a ballot measure requirement for locally run networks; 22 other states have different laws that restrict local broadband efforts. With so many cities overwhelmingly voting in favor of local government-run broadband, Mitchell says that Colorado’s law hasn’t quite had the effect CenturyLink would have liked.

“If this is the worst barrier we had to deal with, I don’t think anyone would be complaining,” he said. “It’s not as bad as Nebraska or North Carolina[6], where cities basically can’t do anything under the circumstances of their laws.”

+ How Election Day Can Shape States’ Community Broadband Laws[7] by Craig Settles, CJ Speaks – November 7th, 2016

The time for community broadband champions to engage their newly and re-elected state senators and representatives is from November 9 until January 3. Chris Mitchell of motherboard-vice-logothe Institute for Local Self-Reliance says, “Concerned citizens need to organize and speak out. This is a great time for meeting your state representatives by phone, email, or in-person because the big industry lobbyists work them constantly. Let legislators know this is an important issue and you are watching them.”

+ Communities Are Finally Taking Back Their Broadband Destiny from Big Telecom[8] by Jason Koebler, Motherboard Vice – November 8th, 2016

“I can’t explain how different it feels to me than a few years ago,” Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self Reliance, told me. “For a few years, we basically tracked every single city that was considering building its own network. Now, we’re struggling to keep up—we don’t even know every city that’s interested in doing this.”

Post-Election Coverage:

+ Colorado Communities Preempt State Muni Broadband Limits [9]by John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable – November 9th, 2016

“We have seen overwhelming support for local Internet choice in Colorado” said the institute’s Christopher Mitchell. “These cities and counties recognize that they cannot count on Comcast and CenturyLink alone to meet local needs.”

dsl-reports-logo[10]+ Colorado Voters Oppose Comcast-Written Protectionist State Law[11] by Karl Bode, DSL Reports – November 9th, 2016

According to the Institute for Local Reliance[12], the voting results haven’t even been close: “Results from ballot initiatives varied by modest degree but all left no doubt that the local electorate want out of SB 152.”

+ Colorado Voters Continue To Shoot Down Awful Comcast-Written Protectionist State Law[13] by Karl Bode, TechDirt – November 9th, 2016

In this week’s election, all 26 of the municipal broadband-related referendums on the ballot in Colorado communities, including Aspen, were approved by relatively wide margins[14]:

“Results from ballot initiatives varied by modest degree but all left no doubt that the local electorate want out of SB 152.”

+ Another Set Of Colorado Counties Vote To Toss Restrictive Law, Permit Municipal Broadband[15] by Kate Cox, The Consumerist – November 10th, 2016

MuniNetworks, which supports and advocates for communities to be able to build networks when they choose, reports that[16] every single one of the 26 local municipal broadband networks on ballots in Colorado Tuesday passed with flying colors.

+ DTNS 2900 – Oh, What Tangled Laws We Weave for ISPs [17]by Daily Tech News Show – November 10, 2016

+ Golden, Lafayette and 24 Colorado communities vote yes on broadband Internet alternatives[18] by Tamara Chuang, The Denver Post [Republished in True Viral News[19]] – November 10th, 2016

The cities of Golden, Lafayette and 24 other Colorado municipalities approved ballot measures Tuesday allowing them to explore the idea of offering their own broadband Internet service. They join 69 other counties and municipalities in the state — or 95 total, according to Community Broadband Networks[20] — who voted in years past to opt out of SB 152.

denverite-logo+ Dozens more Colorado communities rejected SB 152, clearing the way for municipal broadband[21] by Andrew Kenney, Denverite – November 10th, 2016

The law is SB 152, passed by the Colorado legislature in 2005. It effectively bans local governments from providing any kind of television or Internet service — unless they get permission from their voters first.

Gradually, governments around Colorado have been doing just that. Seven counties and 19 municipalities put it to a vote in Colorado this season, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance[22], a nonprofit that advocates for municipal broadband.

+ County officials tout options after broadband measure [23]by Katharhynn Heidelberg, Montrose Daily Press – November 13th, 2016 [Subscription Required]

+ Superior, Lafayette to probe potential of municipal broadband[24] by Anthony Hahn, Longmont Times-Call [Republished in Boulder Daily Camera[25], Colorado Hometown Weekly[26], Colorado Daily News[27], and Government Technology[28]] – November 19th, 2016

longmont-times-call-logoA fiber optic network — strands of fiberglass bundled together by sheath either above or below ground — is extremely scalable, according to the Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a non-profit that advocates for municipal broadband. He adds that the material is also capable of supporting Internet use long into the future. …

“The main thing is that (municipalities) now have the freedom to do with it what they want,” Mitchell said. “There are models all over Colorado — certainly cities like Longmont and Centennial. The most important thing is to basically look at different options that are available, but it takes time to do that.

If you are interested in receiving weekly updates from the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance please click here[29], follow MuniNetworks[30] and Christopher Mitchell[31] on Twitter. Original MuniNetworks article available here[32].

  1. Various Sources:
  2. 26 Colorado cities and counties joined:
  3. our story covering the votes:
  4. in our podcast about the election:
  5. 26 Colorado Communities Will Vote on Building Their Own Internet Networks:
  6. Nebraska or North Carolina:
  7. How Election Day Can Shape States’ Community Broadband Laws:
  8. Communities Are Finally Taking Back Their Broadband Destiny from Big Telecom:
  9. Colorado Communities Preempt State Muni Broadband Limits :
  10. [Image]:
  11. Colorado Voters Oppose Comcast-Written Protectionist State Law:
  12. Institute for Local Reliance:
  13. Colorado Voters Continue To Shoot Down Awful Comcast-Written Protectionist State Law:
  14. were approved by relatively wide margins:
  15. Another Set Of Colorado Counties Vote To Toss Restrictive Law, Permit Municipal Broadband:
  16. reports that:
  17. DTNS 2900 – Oh, What Tangled Laws We Weave for ISPs :
  18. Golden, Lafayette and 24 Colorado communities vote yes on broadband Internet alternatives:
  19. True Viral News:
  20. Community Broadband Networks:
  21. [Image]+ Dozens more Colorado communities rejected SB 152, clearing the way for municipal broadband:
  22. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  23. County officials tout options after broadband measure :
  24. Superior, Lafayette to probe potential of municipal broadband:
  25. Boulder Daily Camera:
  26. Colorado Hometown Weekly:
  27. Colorado Daily News:
  28. Government Technology:
  29. click here:
  30. MuniNetworks:
  31. Christopher Mitchell:
  32. available here:

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Mapping Amazon’s U.S. Logistics Network

by Olivia LaVecchia | November 29, 2016 11:28 am


Amazon’s been expanding its infrastructure at a breakneck pace. Between the summer of 2015 and the summer of 2016, Amazon’s network of distribution facilities doubled in number, as it rolled out 14 of its massive fulfillment centers, 11 new sortation centers, and 60 smaller facilities like delivery stations and Prime Now hubs. In July, the company announced that it would have 18 more new fulfillment centers up and running by the end of September. “It’s the biggest expansion of any distribution system for any retailer that we’ve ever seen,” says Mark Meinster, the executive director of a worker center based in the Chicago area.

Many of the facilities have been financed partly by taxpayers. Amazon has pocketed at least $613 million in public subsidies for its fulfillment facilities since 2005, our new report[2] finds, and more than half of the 77 large facilities it built between 2005 and 2014 have been subsidized by taxpayers.

For Amazon’s customers, these facilities — nondescript, windowless buildings on the outskirts of cities or near major rail hubs — are mostly invisible. In order to better visualize the company’s U.S. network, we’ve mapped it. Drawing on data from the firm MWPVL International, as well as Amazon’s own news releases, we’ve broken down its facilities in those small and large, those old and new and forthcoming. To view the map larger, click on the box at the top right, and to see the legend, click the icon at the top left. The map is as of October 2016.

Below the map, we’ve also graphed the company’s expanding footprint, measured by the square footage of its warehouses and other fulfillment facilities.


  1. [Image]:
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Report: How Amazon’s Tightening Grip on the Economy Is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities

by Olivia LaVecchia | November 29, 2016 11:27 am


Download the report

Download the report[1]

For all of its reach, Amazon, the company founded by Jeff Bezos in 1995 as an online bookstore, is still remarkably invisible. It makes it easy not to notice how powerful and wide-ranging it has become. But behind the packages on the doorstep and the inviting interface, Amazon has quietly positioned itself at the center of a growing share of our daily activities and transactions, extending its tentacles across our economy, and with it, our lives.

Today, half of all U.S. households are subscribed to the membership program Amazon Prime, half of all online shopping searches start directly on Amazon, and Amazon captures nearly one in every two dollars that Americans spend online. Amazon sells more books, toys, and by next year, apparel and consumer electronics than any retailer online or off, and is investing heavily in its grocery business. Its market power now rivals or exceeds that of Walmart, and it stands only to grow: Within five years, one-fifth of the U.S.’s $3.6 trillion retail market will have shifted online, and Amazon is on track to capture two-thirds of that share.

But describing Amazon’s reach in the retail sector describes only one of the company’s tentacles. Amazon is far more than a big, aggressive retailer. As we show in this report, Amazon increasingly controls the underlying infrastructure of the economy. Its Marketplace for third-party sellers has become the dominant platform for digital commerce. Its Amazon Web Services division provides the cloud computing backbone for much of the country, powering everyone from Netflix to the CIA. Its distribution network includes warehouses and delivery stations in nearly every major U.S. city, and it’s rapidly moving into shipping and package delivery for both itself and others. By controlling this critical infrastructure, Amazon both competes with other companies and sets the terms by which these same rivals can reach the market. Locally owned retailers and independent manufacturers have been among the hardest hit.


Download ILSR’s one-page timeline of Amazon’s expansion[3]

Amazon’s bet is that as long as consumers are enjoying one-click ordering and same-day delivery, we won’t pay much attention to the company’s creeping grip. Even as consumers, Amazon’s dominance comes with significant consequences. The company uses its data on what we browse and buy to shape what we see and adjust prices accordingly, and its control over suppliers and power as a producer itself means that it’s increasingly steering our choices, deciding what products make it to market and what products we’re exposed to.

But we’re also much more than consumers. We’re people who need to earn a living, who want to have meaningful jobs, who care about the freedom to build a business. We’re neighbors and we’re citizens, entrepreneurs and producers, taxpayers and residents, with needs and wants from an economy that go beyond the one-click checkout.

Amazon’s increasing dominance comes with high costs. It’s eroding opportunity and fueling inequality, and it’s concentrating power in ways that endanger competition, community life, and democracy. And yet these consequences have gone largely unnoticed thanks to Amazon’s remarkable invisibility and the way its tentacles have quietly extended their reach.

Our new report, Amazon’s Stranglehold: How the Company’s Tightening Grip is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities, aims to pull back this cloak of invisibility. It presents new data; draws on interviews with dozens of manufacturers, retailers, labor organizers, and others; and synthesizes a broad body of previous reporting and scholarship. (more…)[4]

  1. Download the report:’s+Stranglehold
  2. [Image]:
  3. Download ILSR’s one-page timeline of Amazon’s expansion:
  4. (more…):

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Video: Compost Happens, But Training Matters​

by Linda Bilsens | November 23, 2016 6:00 am

placeholderplaceholderComposting is an age-old practice that still benefits our soils as much today as it did in ancient times. But, what many people may not know is that proper training matters[1] in order to create this “black gold” both safely and effectively. At ILSR’s Composting for Community Project, we’re cultivating a greater awareness of the myriad benefits compost can provide to our soils and ourselves, the critical role community plays in the composting process, and what it takes to create high-quality compost.

Our Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Composter Training Course[2] has a community-scale focus and a community service component. This course involves ~20 hours of classroom instruction and ~20 hours of hands-on fieldwork covering Composting Science, Soil Science, Compost Testing, Pile and Bin Building, Community Engagement, and much more!

The benefits of composting are maximized when the process takes place locally. That’s why Neighborhood Soils are at the core of our NSR program. We emphasize the art and science of hot composting that can be implemented at schools, churches, urban farms, and community gardens. Here, the members that make up these communities can be engaged in the act of cycling uneaten food back into healthy soils that are used to grow more food. Healthy soils and healthy food are key to community self-reliance. Now that’s worth being thankful for!

Watch our video below and see how you can join the movement!

Follow the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on Twitter[3] and Facebook[4] and, for monthly updates on our work, sign-up[5] for our ILSR general newsletter.

  1. training matters:
  2. Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Composter Training Course:
  3. Twitter:
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Amid Murky Energy Outlook, Some Reasons To Be Thankful [Infographic]

by Karlee Weinmann | November 22, 2016 6:00 am

placeholderWithout a clear policy plan from President-Elect Donald Trump, the nation’s energy future hangs in the balance. But in a year that saw an influx of state-level ballot initiatives[1] targeting action in the energy sector, a murky (or hostile) federal landscape will only deepen calls for action in statehouses and city halls.

Despite the unclear future[2], we share a few things we’re thankful for this year. These policy plays prove it’s possible — at the local level — to overcome obstacles to renewable energy generation, local ownership, and widespread access to both.


Created by Nick Stumo-Langer[3]

Community Solar Policies

State-level community solar policies are paying off, expanding solar access to residents otherwise unable[4] to tap into renewable generation. Such projects are critical to reach renters and low-income households, in addition to homeowners with shaded roofs.

Though community solar installations continue to pop up nationwide, the East Coast is home to a few showpiece programs that model how to get community solar done. (more…)[5]

  1. influx of state-level ballot initiatives:
  2. unclear future:
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Broadband Boosted at the Ballot, An Election Wrap-Up – Episode 5 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | November 17, 2016 12:00 pm

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

In this episode, Chris Mitchell, the director of our Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews Lisa Gonzalez, Senior Researcher for the Community Broadband Networks initiative about the recent election and what it means for municipal broadband networks across the nation. In this podcast, Gonzalez delves into the election results coming out of Colorado regarding the two dozen communities who voted to reclaim their broadband connectivity future. 26 additional Colorado cities and counties opted out of a restrictive, cable monopoly-supported state law, passed in 2005, that prevents these entities from providing service or partnering with the private sector.

Chris and Lisa also discuss the general election results that brought Donald Trump to the presidency, specifically noting the impact that his ascension brings to local communities’ ability to provide Internet connectivity to their residents. The two also discuss the implications of a Trump presidency on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s mission of working across partisan lines in local communities.

“A lot of this has to do with just the fact that they want to have that control,” says Gonzalez of the Colorado communities who voted to be able to control their own broadband future. “They want to be the one to make the decisions for themselves.”


Here’s a map of the communities who have voted to reclaim their local authority:


For more information on the issues that Lisa and Chris discussed, read her piece on the Colorado vote: Colorado Voters Choose Local Control in 26 Communities[10]. You can follow the work of our Community Broadband initiative more closely by following[11]. (more…)[12]

  1. Building Local Power podcast:
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  10. Colorado Voters Choose Local Control in 26 Communities:
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Going Beyond Candidates: Three State Initiatives That Could Change America

by David Morris | November 11, 2016 9:55 am

On November 8th citizens in 35 states vote[1] on 163 ballot initiatives. They cover a wide range of subjects (e.g. marijuana, minimum wage, taxes, gun control). To my mind, initiatives in three states—California on reducing drug prices, South Dakota on revamping its political system, and New Mexico on the inequitable use of bail– stand out as having a potentially broad national impact.

California Takes on Big Pharma

Californians will vote on a ballot initiative that requires state agencies to pay no more for any prescription drug than the lowest price paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for the same drug. It would apply to more than 1 million state and public university employees as well as 3 million Medicaid patients (although it would exclude 10 million Californians on managed care Medicaid plans.)

Pharma Exec[2] magazine warns its readers, passage of Proposition 61[3], “would shake the rafters of every single state drug program in the nation, as well as the federal Medicaid and Medicare programs.” It’s a warning well with heeding. Federal law entitles all state Medicaid programs to the lowest prescription drug prices available to most public and private payers in the U.S., excluding the VA. Medicaid discounts ordinarily are in the 20 percent range, but VA discounts[4] can be as high as 42 percent. Thus the California measure could extend the VA’s low drug prices to Medicaid programs serving tens of millions of additional people nationwide.

As of October 20, pharmaceutical companies had spent more than $109 million to defeat the measure compared to just $15 million for supporters. Nevertheless, the initiative appears headed to victory.

The pricing of drugs has become a national disgrace. Horror stories abound. Turing Pharmaceuticals purchased the rights to a generic AIDS drug and promptly raises its price from $13.50 to $750 a pill. According to Forbes[5], prices increased by 100 percent or more between 2013 and 2014, in 222 generic drug groups. Specialty drugs have become astronomically expensive. Reuters[6] reports that in 2014, annual medication costs of 139,000 Americans exceeded $100,000, nearly triple the number who reached that level a year earlier.

The pharmaceutical industry is astonishingly profitable. Median return on assets is more than double the rest of the Fortune 500, according[7] to Alfred Engelberg. The industry is awash in cash. Pfizer holds $74 billion in unrepatriated profits overseas and Merck holds $60 billion, enough to fund their respective annual research budgets for l0 years.

While the industry reaps the financial benefits, the taxpayer bears much of the financial cost. Some observers calculate that direct and indirect government support is such that private industry pays[8] only about a third of R&D costs. Pouring salt in he taxpayers’ wounds, the government gifts these largely publicly funded drugs long-term patent protection. Which is one reason, as the Washington Post[9] reports, drug companies focus on marketing, often spending $2 for marketing for every $1 spent on research.

Despite repeated scandals, the federal government has been unwilling or uninterested in stepping in. Congress hoots and hollers about the outrageous price hikes but specifically prohibits Medicare from negotiating with drug companies for price discounts. Federal law allows the government to unilaterally lower the price of drugs developed with government funds when a company is gouging customers, but the Administration so far has refused to wield this power. The government could also allow the import of less expensive equivalent drugs, but the Administration has refused to exercise this authority either.

Which leaves it up to the people to assert their own authority, in those states where this is possible. That’s what Californians have done. (more…)[10]

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  3. Proposition 61:,_Drug_Price_Standards_(2016)
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Report: Inclusive Financing for Efficiency and Renewable Energy

by John Farrell | November 11, 2016 7:00 am


Download the Report[1]


Browse the Report

Executive Summary
A Huge Opportunity
     Challenges to Reaching Most Customers
     A Necessary Paradigm Shift
A Powerful Universal Tool: Inclusive Financing
     Program Design 
     Key Results
     Immediate Savings
     Universal Access
     Bigger Savings
     High Cost Recovery Rate
 A Time-Tested Tool
 Inclusive Financing in Practice

Executive Summary

Energy efficiency and renewables represent the most promising pathway to lower energy costs for individual consumers and utilities. Programs that help utility customers pursue home improvements, like better insulation or rooftop solar panels, can slash monthly utility bills and eliminate the need for utilities to add costly — and outdated — power and gas infrastructure. The upside is undeniable, with energy efficiency measures alone predicted to save customers $2 trillion by 2030. But limited access hinders progress. The best energy efficiency programs serve less than 2% of customers each year, and few reach the majority of a utility’s customers, including renters, customers without strong credit, and low- and moderate-income households, who pay disproportionately high energy bills.

Utilities can knock down major barriers to energy efficiency and renewables by allowing customers to make site-specific investments and recovering utility costs through an opt-in tariff. Tariffed on-bill programs are often referred to as inclusive financing because they allow all utility customers the option to access cost effective upgrades. Inclusive financing solves many of the problems dogging the push for a more sustainable, affordable, and equitable energy economy because, unlike loan-based programs, tariffed on-bill programs are open to all customers regardless of their income, credit score, or renter status.

The Opportunity:


  1. Download the Report:
  2. (more…):

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As Trump Heads to White House, Lack of Actual Policy Threatens U.S. Energy Future

by Karlee Weinmann | November 9, 2016 12:00 pm

The U.S. energy economy faces unprecedented pressure to integrate clean and renewable fuel sources like wind and solar, but after a distracting 2016 presidential campaign sidelined energy policy, troubling and untenable gaps in the president-elect’s strategy remain unchecked.

In the run-up to Tuesday’s election, the lone flicker of interest in clean energy was promptly extinguished when Ken Bone, who raised the issue during the Oct. 9 town hall-style debate, became an Internet sensation known more for his red sweater than for probing the unknowns clouding the country’s energy future (we wrestled[1] with the answers).

Even as the U.S. tiptoes away from coal and grapples with environmental concerns, reporters and debate moderators sidestepped energy plans. Not unexpectedly, each candidate’s vision generally tracked with their party’s[2] overarching views[3]. But Donald Trump, even as he sits poised to take over the presidency, has yet to offer a comprehensive agenda.

Broadly speaking, the Republican has pledged to revert the U.S. energy economy back to coal and lift regulations on oil and gas production[4], erasing efforts by the Obama administration to bolster clean energy sources. He would repeal federal spending on clean energy, including wind and solar power. And Trump has also famously (and egregiously) claimed that climate change is a “hoax,”[5] diminishing a central political motivation for promoting clean energy.

Trump’s coal-centric vision veers sharply from Democrat Hillary Clinton’s proposed plan, which hinged on jump-starting the clean energy economy. The candidates shared a bit of common ground, though — through the campaign, neither addressed local ownership of energy, a touchstone[6] in the push to expand renewable generation left in flux after Trump’s election.



  1. we wrestled:
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Colorado Voters Choose Local Control In 26 Communities

by Lisa Gonzalez | November 9, 2016 11:30 am

We didn’t need a crystal ball, magic potion, or ESP to predict that local Colorado voters would enthusiastically reclaim telecommunications authority yesterday. Twenty-six more local governments put the issue on the ballot and citizens fervently replied, “YES! YES, WE DO!”

Colorado local communities that want to take action to improve their local connectivity are hogtied by SB 152, the state law passed in 2005. Unless they hold a referendum and ask voters if they wish to reclaim the right to do so, the law prevents[1] local governments from providing service or partnering with the private sector. Since the big incumbents that pushed the law through aren’t providing necessary connectivity, their only choice is to opt out and work with new partners or move forward on their own. (more…)[2]

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Powering a Political Revolution, North Dakota’s Non-Partisan League – Episode 4 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | November 3, 2016 12:00 pm

Update November 16, 2016: Full transcript[1] of this podcast is now available.

Welcome to the fourth episode of the Building Local Power podcast[2].

In this episode, Chris Mitchell, the director of our Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews David Morris, the co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the director of the Public Good initiative about the history behind North Dakota’s Non-Partisan League. In this podcast, Morris goes into detail on the League’s political influence and how their policies set North Dakota on a trajectory of local ownership and a tradition of fighting concentrated economic power. He also notes that North Dakotans are still fending off challenges from major banks and pharmaceutical chains, and that the tradition of local ownership is strong throughout the state.

nonpartisan-league[3]“This is an example of effective organizing that had an impact,” says Morris. “There are much more examples of that than there are top-down, ‘somebody created a great idea somewhere in Congress or the White House’ and they implemented it. It’s almost always pressure from the grassroots level that moves us forward.”


For more information on the issues that David and Chris discussed, read his piece on the Non-Partisan League: How to Make a Political Revolution[10], and our report on North Dakota’s independent pharmacy law: North Dakota’s Pharmacy Ownership Law Leads to Better Pharmacy Care[11].

If you missed the first couple episodes of our podcast you can find those conversations with Olivia LaVecchia here[12], Neil Seldman here[13], and John Farrell here[14]. Also to see all of our episodes make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power [15]Podcast Homepage[16].

Full Transcript of Podcast:

David Morris: This was an investment that they were making. It wasn’t a contribution to the betterment of the world. This was a personal investment.


Chris Mitchell: What are you going to have for lunch?


David Morris: I don’t know what I’m going to have for lunch. Probably a caesar salad, but I may splurge and have a hamburger, I have to ponder that.


Chris Mitchell: Today, I’m excited to be talking to David Morris, the co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. The guy who makes us all honest, in the office, otherwise I would be totally dishonest without your presence, I have to admit. Welcome to Building Local Power.


David Morris: Thank you, Chris, and thanks for the introduction.


Chris Mitchell: No problem. I just wanted to say that for people who are not familiar with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, it’s almost forty-three years, now. You’re a co-founder of it. I’m Chris Mitchell, I run the internet related work for the Institute. When I started here almost ten years ago, I didn’t really have a sense of what it would be like to work in an environment like this, but I am very impressed with how seriously you take empirical research, and the truth over just ideology. It’s something that I’ve been inspired by.


David Morris: Thank you. I believe in evidence based ideology.


Chris Mitchell: Right. Today, we’re going to talk, it’s election season. We’re going to talk today about this populist uprising in North Dakota, and the reason that I find it very interesting is not just that it’s led to almost a hundred years of change, and set the tone for North Dakota, but that people don’t really know about it. Stacy Mitchell, one of our colleagues, incredible mind, here, she believes that the reason people aren’t familiar with it is that liberals don’t want to talk about North Dakota, and that conservatives don’t like the reforms, because they involve the government doing good things. That’s why we’re going to talk about it. What is your interest in talking about this? How would you describe it?


David Morris: My interest is that it came out of a certain period of American history, which in some ways is being repeated, in some ways it’s not, because it was a hundred and twenty years ago, but nevertheless, it was a time where people were not only concerned about inequality, but were tackling it, people were very concerned of big corporations. People were very concerned about how big corporations in cities were dominating farmers. There were depressions every ten years in the United States, and there were movements, there was the populous movement, which was also a party, there was the peoples party, there were the progressives, and what they were trying to do was to make structural reform. That’s the context, if you will, out of which the North Dakota political revolution happened.


Chris Mitchell: I just think it’s worth noting for people who haven’t studied the history, this wasn’t just sort of a secular thing, this was the first time we had corporations on the scale that they were, and I think, right now, we probably have corporations on a scale that we have not seen, the power of a single corporation to enact its will is not unparalleled, perhaps, but it’s near the peak, it seems like. Then, and now.


David Morris: That’s exactly right. In the late nineteen century is when your little businesses became industries, your industries became large manufacturing firms, and you large manufacturing firms consolidated into what they call trusts, what a interesting word, so now when we want to break them up we have to call ourselves, antitrust, I ask you, but in the late nineteen century you literally had industries where you had one dominant firm in each industry, and you had state legislatures, which were controlled by the corporations. It was similar to now. Those corporations were smaller in size, certainly, than those in 2016, but their power was probably even greater.


Chris Mitchell: Although, as you say that, I have to immediately think you have oil, and then a few decades later you have standard oil controlling all of it. Right? I mean, oil wasn’t out of the ground, hydrocarbon oil, not whale oil, and eventually any standard oil takes over everything. Now, we have the internet, Facebook, and Google kind of have taken over everything. I think as we talk about what happened in North Dakota, it’s important to recognize that some of the things we just take for granted, the power of Google, and Facebook, I think are very analogous to what we saw with, what people are reacting to there.


David Morris: I think that, that’s very true. In North Dakota, the farmers, we’re talking about primarily an agricultural state then, and now, but then it was about 90%, agriculture, and the farmers knew that they were a colony of Minneapolis, which is where we’re conducting this interview. Their railroads were controlled by Hill, who was based in Saint Paul, and he …


Chris Mitchell: There’s a wonderful house you can tour there, still.


David Morris: Yes. A wonderful house. A house where it’s lit by both gas, and electricity, he wasn’t exactly sure what the future was going to bring, and he had his own power plant.


Chris Mitchell: He was diversified. Let’s dig into North Dakota. In North Dakota you are wrestling with these issues, where do you want to start with, what they did?


David Morris: The initial thing that they did is they came together, the farmers, and they said, “We want to cooperatively owned, what they call a terminal elevator, which is essentially a mill, and a storage facility, and we would drop off you grain, and cooperatives were a big deal in the late nineteen century in rural areas, so they wanted that. In 1913, in North Dakota, they adopted initiative systems, which meant basically if you got enough signatures on a petition you could put something on the ballot, and you could essentially pass a statute.


In this case, they did in 1913, 1914, actually they passed an initiative that said we want a grain elevator, but the legislature had to then make that law, their initiative process was enabling, but not determinants, if you will. The next January, January of 1915 the legislature reported back that it would be catastrophe if they did such a thing, that it shouldn’t be done, and it wouldn’t be done. Two months later, two former socialist party candidates decided that they would create a new party. It would be called the nonpartisan league, that is it would not be a political party that had a label, that ran it’s own candidates on the line on the ballot.


What it would do is it would endorse anyone who endorsed their program. Their program would be very concrete and very specific. One other factor, that is important, here is that in 1905, North Dakota adopted an open primary system. Now, the progressive league had essentially introduced primaries around the country as a way to avoid the backroom deals of political parties. It was a fresh air time to enable democracy, North Dakota went one step further and said there would be an open primary, which essentially meant that anybody could vote in any primary. You didn’t have to be a democrat to vote in the democratic primary, and so forth.


The nonpartisan league took advantage of that, and essentially it established it’s first convention in March of 2016, it endorsed candidates who would support their program, and their program was very concrete. It wasn’t a 2016 program, which essentially said, “We will help the small businesses, and we will help the poor, and we will help the this,” very concrete. It said, “We’re going to have a state owned flour mill. We are going to have state owned bank. We are going to have a state owned insurance company.” There were about five or six specific planks, that was March of 2016.


Chris Mitchell: Yeah. Let’s just pause for a second. They wanted all this stuff to be state owned, because they didn’t want it to be controlled out of Minneapolis?


David Morris: That’s right. They wanted to be able to control it themselves, and they felt that the state would be an enabling mechanism for this. Now, we should understand that they weren’t talking about state monopolies, they were talking about if you want to use 2016 jargon, they were talking about public options.


Chris Mitchell: Mm-hmm (affirmative).


David Morris: In other words, they wanted a state bank, but that didn’t mean that all the banks were going to be eliminated in North Dakota, in fact, when they did get a state bank, it was an enabling bank, it didn’t provide direct loans, it was a partnership bank with the existing small banks in Minnesota. Same thing with the flour mill, not the only one that exists in North Dakota, but they wanted an option, and an option, which would be either owned directly by them, as cooperatives or that would be owned indirectly by them, by the state.


Chris Mitchell: I think it’s worth noting. That this public option it’s not just like, and then you have a state owned bank, I think it impacts the entire ecosystem, where then all of the entities that are playing there have to offer better products, better services for the most part.


David Morris: Absolutely. I mean, what you do is, it’s not so much that you engender competition into the marketplace as that you engender effective, genuine competition. This is competition by an institution that is owned directly or indirectly by the citizens, and by the customers. This is an institution that’s nonprofit, it’s not profit oriented, this is an institution that has a social mission, but it also has to compete with the private marketplace, if you will. It goes both ways in terms of competition. It’s a very, very effective tool in American history, but North Dakota took that tool, and made it the central part of it’s economy.


In March of 1916, the nonpartisan league had, actually, it’s second political convention, it endorsed candidates that embraced it’s program. In June of 2016, they ran in the republican primary and took over, essentially the republican party, which then, as now, has a lock on North Dakota, it is a republican state, the nonpartisan league in November of 1916, literally took over the state, in terms of all state elections. They did not take over the senate, but they took over the house. They then, tried to pass a legislative program, and what they found was what they needed a constitution amendment that would allow the state to participate in business. In other words, they had to, if you want to use 2016 language, again, is that they wanted permission to go socialists.


Chris Mitchell: Sure.


David Morris: They had the votes to do that in the house, but not in the senate, and the next election they won the senate, as well. Winning the senate, as well, they got the Constitutional Amendment passed by initiative that allow the state to participate in business. With that, sort of opening the dam, they got a grain elevator, they got a bank, they actually put ten initiatives on the ballot, all ten won. Now, you have a completely different structure to the economy of North Dakota.


Chris Mitchell: Can I ask, and I just have to wonder, what was the rest of the republican party thinking around the country as the republican party in North Dakota is enacting these changes?


David Morris: I don’t know what they were thinking, but we need to remember that this was a moment that the populous movement got the income tax passed, the supreme court declared it unconstitutional, this was a moment where people were busy amending the US Constitution, so they could allow that to happen. People were getting direct election of US senators, at this point, by an amendment to the Constitution, there were antitrust legislation that was passed, there was a lot of things going on.


Chris Mitchell: Okay.


David Morris: I don’t think, necessarily that the republican party viewed this in the same way as they would, there was no social media at that time. This was not a moment where I think that they saw this as a political earthquake, however, within North Dakota, they did see it as a political earthquake, and there was a push back, and what they did, among other things, the nonpartisan league was to make it easier to get initiatives on the ballot. To make those initiatives be stronger in terms of their implementation and then they also passed a law that said that initiatives could recall elected officials. They were the first in the country to do such a thing.


Chris Mitchell: I’m sensing that this might be an agent of their demise.


David Morris: It was the agent of their destruction, actually, because there was an opposition, and it  was an opposition that arouse for a number of different reasons that we can talk about, if you are interested, but within two years, 1921, that opposition essentially recalled every official that the nonpartisan league had elected on a statewide basis.


Chris Mitchell: Why had the popular tides swung against them?


David Morris: One of the things was that they overreached in the sense that they were elected on specific program, and they were beginning to do things that were beyond that program. The second thing is that the price of wheat dropped by 70%, after World War I ended, by 1921, by 70%, so there was a significant dissatisfaction as tends to happen when economies collapse. The third is that when the war ended this thing called the Russian revolution occurred, and therefore the anti Bolshevik, you were communist, and so forth, in fact, the leader of the, the founder of the nonpartisan league, a man named Townley, was actually arrested indited, and tried in Minnesota for preaching sedition, essentially. It was a state anti sedition act, and so the combination of those three things essentially did them in.


What was interesting was that, so the opposition took over, and the opposition put, I cannot remember, I believe it was ten items on the ballot for initiatives to essentially overturn, get rid of the bank, I mean so it was essentially to completely strip, and lost every one of them. Not by much, it was close, two thousand vote shift, and the bank of North Dakota would have disappeared, would have been stillborn, essentially. It was still in the process of being created.


The point is that the nonpartisan league had done enough good basic organizing, and educating, and doing in terms of enacting, that people, although the didn’t like them personally, for a number of different reasons, they didn’t want that program, that structure to go away. That’s really the most important point, if you will, of the nonpartisan league, because that’s the spirit, the value system, in fact, that continued, that endured. The political structure was gone by 1921, it was essentially gone, the party continued for about ten more years with the movement, the formal movement continued for about ten more years. The sentiment continued, so in 1933, they passed a Constitutional Amendment that prohibited corporations from owning land.


Then in 1963, they passed a law, I’m not sure it was a Constitutional Amendment, it might have been, that said that the pharmacies had to be owned by a registered pharmacist, in other words there couldn’t be chain pharmacies. They put that in, and a number of other things that they passed, and now if we want to go fast forward to the current time, there’s been a push back of all of those, and in fact there have been three. First there was two legislative efforts to overturn the pharmacy provision, by Walmart, and Walgreen’s, and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance was involved in that at the legislative level in providing the data that convinced the legislature to not to approve those. Then, Walmart spent nine million dollars to get it on the ballot, and lost by two to one on the ballot, and that was in 2014. Then, last year, there was a major effort to overturn that 1933 prohibition on corporations owning farm land, and that lost, significantly. We still have that value system from a hundred years ago.


Chris Mitchell: I think it’s worth making sure people are aware that the resources we put together on the pharmacies, for instance, is all available on our website. I hope people check it out, because for me it’s very fascinating to see that any thought you might have that Walgreen’s, and Walmart bringing economies of scale would lower drug prices, rather than having independently owned pharmacies is not true, and it’s not born out by the data.


David Morris: No. It’s not born out by the data, in fact, we did a study, which we submitted to the legislature that compared North Dakota, and South Dakota in terms of pharmacies and found out that North Dakota has many more pharmacies in rural areas. We did a study and compared prices, actually, between the Walmart’s and the family owned pharmacies in North Dakota, and found that they were lower in price. That on any measure that you would use to compare pharmacies, they came out better, and there are of course more pharmacies per capita in North Dakota than there are in South Dakota. It really has been a very, very compelling, they couldn’t get it through the legislature, they lost overwhelming there, and that’s where essentially the peoples representatives are, then they lost on the ballot. The people like it, and it really is a good structure. Similarly, we’ve done studies of the impact of the Bank of North Dakota.


Chris Mitchell: This is what I’m really interested in. If the bank had been cancelled out, way back when, how would North Dakota be different?


David Morris: When the bank first set up, when it first opened its doors in 1921, the interest rates that were charged to farmers on farm loans, dropped by one-third, it had an immediate impact. Also, the bank of North Dakota in 1930s was not interested in taking over peoples farm land. There were foreclosures because there were private mortgages, but essentially the state was not interested in doing that. If you fast forward to 2016, the Bank of North Dakota, which let’s call it, it is a socialist institution, has enabled the capitalist system to be much more healthy in that the banks sent in North Dakota, and there are more banks in North Dakota, than there are in any other part of the country, and they are family owned banks, 83% of the deposits are in essentially community banks, and they have a return on their assets, which is almost twice that, 50% more than in the big banks.


By any measure it has enabled a very healthy economy, significant majority of student loans are given through the bank, and the small business loans are primarily given through the bank. If you look nationwide, and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has all that data on our website, as well. If you look nationwide, you find that the small business loans are coming from small banks, they’re not coming from big banks, the student loans are coming from small banks, they’re not coming from big banks. What big banks do is to provide the loans that would allow AT&T to decide that it wants to take over Time Warner, and they get involved in international trading, and they picked around the derivatives in the like, but if your small banks that actually do what people thought banks were supposed to do all along.


Chris Mitchell: Right. Here, we talk often on my internet program related stuff, about US Internet, here in Minneapolis, financed by local banks to get back to North Dakota and to put a bow around it. I think, also North Dakota did better in the housing crisis, and the most recent recession of 2007 through, however long you want to date it. Is that right?


David Morris: That’s right. The Bank of North Dakota has generated, I think, in the last 20 years or less than that a billion dollars in quote profits, which half of it went into the state. In 2007, 2008, North Dakota suffered much less than the rest of the country. Now, there’s a kicker, here, in that with fracking there’s an enormous amount of oil that was discovered in North Dakota, so you have to uncouple that from a nonpartisan league. From the Bank of North Dakota, they have a surplus in their budget, and certainly what has happened in the last six or seven years is essentially more to the fact that they have this enormous revenue coming from oil. However, that is temporary, and already the oil prices have been reduced, there’s less drilling, there’s less pumping than there has been before North Dakota now, I believe, this year, has a deficit and they’re having to deal with the fact that they didn’t plan very well. It’s the nonpartisan league was not in control in North Dakota when the oil came in, let’s just say that.


Chris Mitchell: I think as we wrap this up, I think, lessons for today are important, and one of them that I takeaway is this idea of talking to people on concrete issues, rather than abstract notions of capitalism, socialism, or this, or that, it’s kind of like, here’s a solution, it’s a policy solution, it’s a state bank, and here’s what it’s going to do for you, and you said concrete maybe five times in talking about the nonpartisan league. Do you think that the lessons from the nonpartisan league can help us to organize today in a time where we’re perceived to be more partisan than ever?


David Morris: Yes. I think, absolutely. I mean one thing that the nonpartisan league did was require membership dues that were very stiff. They were very stiff. They were about two percent of peoples income.


Chris Mitchell: Wow.


David Morris: These were poor farmers, really. Right? Yet, by 1915, very early on forty thousand out of six hundred thousand people in the state were members, so that’s how they got their revenue, and how did they get that revenue? By going to the farmers and looking them in the eye, and saying, “This is an investment, because this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to get you a state owned grain mill, grain and flour mill. As a result you are not going to be having your grain degraded, because it’s owned by a Minneapolis firm. You do not have to pay the truck, the railroad fees to get it to Minneapolis to be turned into flour.” Farmers are smart, they can do that, but on a back of an envelope, they can figure out, so this was an investment that they were making, it wasn’t a contribution to the betterment of the world, this was a personal investment.


I think that people can in fact do that, now, in terms of being very concrete. There is some things that we couldn’t do that about, but I think that if we could colorless on sort of half a dozen very concrete institutions, if you will, or laws, or statutes, or policies that we would embrace, we could then go out and we could sell those very specifically, and I think that, that’s important. The other thing that is important is for us to understand how important primaries are. The Tea Party discovered how important primaries were and they took over the republican party not through the open primary process, they literally went into the republican party and took it over at the primary level. We tend to wait until the general election, but because we wait until the general election, we don’t, sometimes we don’t have a choice that we would like to have, and we never really have a choice about specific planks of a program.


Chris Mitchell: Thank you, so much, for coming in, and talking about this. I feel like this isn’t one of those issues that could disappear from history. I hope that we can make sure that, that doesn’t happen, because you might think state bank, some of these issues are kind of yesterday’s issue, but this is the effective organizing that makes a difference. These are the minor changes that can make a difference in a state decade in, decade out. It seems to me.


David Morris: Yes. Absolutely. I mean, this is an example of effective organizing that had an impact. There are many examples in American history of effective organizing that had an impact. In fact, there are much more examples of that than there topped down, somebody created a great idea, somewhere in congress, or the white house, and they implemented it. It’s almost always pressure from the grassroots level, that moves us forward.


Chris Mitchell: We’ll be talking about more of those in the future, as we continue to build local power. Thank you.


David Morris: Thank you, Chris.


Lisa Gonzalez : That was David Morris, co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and the man behind the public good initiative. He was visiting with Chris Mitchell for episode number four of our Building Local Power Podcast. Learn more about the nonpartisan league on, by reading David’s article titled, How to Make a Political Revolution. You can also download the 2014 report on North Dakota’s pharmacy ownership law at Subscribe to this podcast, and all the podcasts in the ilsr podcast family on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get you podcasts, never miss out on our original research by also subscribing to our monthly newsletter at Thanks to Dysfunction Al, for the music, license through Creative Comments. The song is Funk Interlude. I’m Lisa Gonzalez, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Thanks, again, for listening to the Building Local Power Podcast.


Audio Credit: Funk Interlude[17] by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0)[18] license.

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Vote for the White House Kitchen Garden

by Linda Bilsens | October 31, 2016 4:15 pm

On a chilly day in late-February, my husband and I received an unexpected visitor[1] to our backyard: First Lady Michelle Obama. We are deeply honored that the First Lady chose our family’s garden (along with a couple of local schools) to act as the launchpad of her Let’s Move! Initiative[2]. The initiative has succeeded in bringing the connection between gardening, homegrown food, and an active, healthy lifestyle into the national spotlight, and it is thought to represent the largest single impact the Obama Administration has had on food issues[3].

To our great surprise, the First Lady was as excited to see our compost system, which we use to recycle our food and garden scraps, as we were to show it to her. We discussed the critical role of composting in minimizing the waste our family creates and maintaining the health of our garden’s soil while the First Lady sifted our compost! After the filming ended, we continued discussing our garden, our compost, and the First Lady’s hopes for the future of the Let’s Move! Initiative. Before departing with her large entourage, as a reciprocation to her visit and as is common courtesy among gardeners, she invited us to tour her own garden at the White House.


Months later, when the growing season was in full bloom, we were hosted at the White House and were blown away with the beauty, bounty and elegance of the First Lady’s White House Kitchen Garden[4]. What we saw were dozens of varieties of vegetables, fruits and herbs, all artfully companioned to grow in succession so that something is always ready for harvest — it is clear that a staff of skilled growers is working behind the scenes there. (more…)[5]

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A Massachusetts Co-op Makes A Powerful Vintage

by Karlee Weinmann | October 31, 2016 6:00 am

placeholderFor more than five years, Vineyard Power Cooperative[1] has provided electricity customers living in one of Massachusetts’ best-known island communities the chance to buy into an energy future that favors renewables and bolsters their local economy.


This is part of a series released in October 2016 for Energy Awareness Month highlighting

communities and community energy projects on ILSR’s Community Power Map[2].

Vineyard Power serves the small resort island of Martha’s Vineyard, planted off of Cape Cod and famous for drawing well-heeled visitors during summer months. But those who live in the resort area year-round are known for their deep emphasis on community and civic engagement, values reflected in their push for a diverse energy mix.

Owners Not Just Customers

Since it launched in 2009, Vineyard Power has welcomed more than 1,300 community members to its rolls. The cooperative structure means those “customers” don’t merely buy electricity — instead, they are member-owners with an ownership stake in Vineyard Power and a say over its strategic direction. That’s a distinctly different approach[3] from the investor-owned utilities in town.

Leveraging its community-owned cooperative structure, Vineyard Power set out specifically to promote generation from renewable resources on the island. Historically, Martha’s Vineyard has imported virtually all of its energy[4] through undersea cables or by boat — an expensive and unreliable process.

Vineyard Power joins some other enterprising electric co-ops that have emerged as frontrunners in serving member-owners hungry for renewables — in some cases to match their values and in others to drive down costs. Farmers Electric Cooperative[5], which serves a handful of rural farming communities in rural Iowa, for example, is considered a national leader[6] in solar power.

A Competitive Cooperative

Vineyard Power’s business deviates a bit from traditional electric cooperatives. It generates revenue in part through membership fees, but mostly through direct retail energy sales[7] to its member-owners in a competitive retail market. As a nonprofit, it redistributes any net gains into energy savings programs or new generation projects designed to increase cost savings for member-owners.

Unlike other utilities, it doesn’t enjoy the government’s guarantee of a monopoly service territory.  That distinction means Vineyard Power’s success hinges much more directly on its ability to match community needs and values — something cooperatives, rooted in democratic control[8], supports.

The model separates Vineyard Power from investor-owned utilities that often shortchange their customers by leaning on an outdated profit model[9]: selling more power and building fossil fuel-burning plants, despite technology that makes in-demand renewables a more viable choice than ever.

Tapping the Sun and Wind, and Smart Use

The price of installing solar panels, for example, plunged in recent years[10] to historic lows. Lower costs have helped Vineyard Power and its member owners install solar arrays on parking lots and capped landfills — about 300 kilowatts of generation capacity to date.

Vineyard Power has planned to integrate offshore wind power into its portfolio. Aligning with a new requirement[11] for Massachusetts’ investor-owned utilities to buy up to 1,600 MW of offshore wind power over the next decade, the cooperative solidified its partnership[12] with a Danish group that holds the lease to windy areas in the Atlantic near the island.

In addition, Vineyard Power is exploring smart grid technology[13], which better links energy users to energy sources, to boost energy efficiency. Through a pilot project, more than three dozen member-owners received access to a web portal that allows them to more closely monitor energy use. At the same time, some replaced appliances[14] with smart, energy-efficient models, allowing the cooperative to experiment with demand response strategies[15] by adjusting when those appliances run to avoid periods of peak energy use[16].

Guiding Vineyard Power is the idea that communities thrive when they chart their own futures — “Our Island, Our Energy” is emblazoned on its original logo[17]. It offers residents an alternative to

investor-owned utilities, which have a wider-reaching service areas and can still cash in even when customers get a raw deal.

The cooperative’s success hinges instead on its ability to match member-owners’ needs and expectations, and for now, that means finding news ways to save energy and promote the growth of local renewable energy.

To learn more about the national movement toward distributed generation and renewables, visit ILSR’s interactive Community Power Map[2]. The tool showcases programming, policies and projects across the U.S., and compares state-by-state performance. Bookmark it and check back for updates.

This article originally posted at[18]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[19] or get the Energy Democracy weekly[20] update.

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Movie Monster Madness At MuniNetworks! Internet Terror Triple Feature!

by Lisa Gonzalez | October 28, 2016 12:00 pm

Much like the the bone-chilling flicks celebrating eerie entertainment that dwells in the depths of our dark imaginations, monster cable and DSL Internet service providers strike terror in the hearts of subscribers…if they survive. Mesmerizing fees, hair-raising customer service, and shockingly slow connections can drive one to the brink of madness.

In celebration of Halloween 2016, our writers each selected a national ISP and reimagined it as a classic horror character. The results are horrifying! Read them here…if you dare!

frankenmerger-attAT&T’s Frankenmerger

by Kate Svitavsky, Broadband Intern

This shocking film tells the horrific tale of a mad scientist in his quest to create the world’s largest telecommunications monopoly monster. The scientist’s abomination runs amok, gobbling up company after company, to create a horrifying monster conglomerate. Watch the monster terrorize towns across America as it imposes data caps[1], denies people access[2] to low-cost programs, and refuses to upgrade infrastructure[3]. What nightmare lies ahead? Will the townsfolk and their elected officials unite to stop the monster, before it acquires Time Warner? Watch and find out!

mummy-last-centurylinkThe Mummy From Last CenturyLink

by Scott Carlson[4], Broadband Research Associate

Archaeologists unearth the Last CenturyLink Mummy from a rural field of copper wires. Townspeople put the Mummy on display in Hard Luck City Hall. Little do they know the Last CenturyLink Mummy was once Pharaoh of DSL (Dreadfully Slow Line) service. Long ago, he was cursed by subscribers[5] and doomed to remain in the slumber of purgatory, much like the DSL Internet access they endured. He awakes when he hears the City Council talk of launching a muni fiber network and summons his zombie lobbyist worshippers[6]. Will the brave people of Hard Luck prevail against Last CenturyLink Mummy and his lobbyists from beyond the grave? Will Hard Luck finally get the Internet connectivity they need to banish last century technology forever? (more…)[7]

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RePower Madison Challenges Old Electric Monopoly Model

by Karlee Weinmann | October 28, 2016 6:00 am

placeholderAn unconventional approach to grassroots organizing in Wisconsin’s capital city has in recent years tipped incumbent utility Madison Gas & Electric (MGE) toward policies that favor consumers and renewables, a distinct shift in a state held back for years by entrenched monopolies with outdated business plans.


This is part of a series released in October 2016 for Energy Awareness Month highlighting

communities and community energy projects on ILSR’s Community Power Map[1].

RePower Madison[2], a local nonprofit whose mission is to give citizens more flex in the energy economy, led the fight. While state-level efforts failed in front of utility-controlled regulators and an unhelpful legislature, RePower quietly emerged as a pioneer in the fight to grow local power and push MGE away from an archaic business model hinged on building new power plants and selling more electricity.

That outdated model doesn’t sync with a marketplace where renewable energy, including wind and solar power, is more abundant and less costly than ever before. RePower Madison and its allies are making progress, thanks in large part to a strategy that brings the clean energy debate straight to the heart of an investor-owned utility: its boardroom.

Photo Credit: Mitch Brey

Activist Shareholders Take Charge

A RePower Madison report released last year[3] showed that MGE sourced roughly 70% of its power from coal, and that its rates were among the highest of any Wisconsin utility. The organization helped to rally shareholders[4] around better policies that support cost savings for customers and greater clean power capacity.

Once a year, the utility’s investors can propose changes to how the company does business, forcing accountability on utility brass and fostering a more public conversation about its strategy.

This boardroom influence puts weight behind clean power proponents who have picketed the shareholder meetings in recent years. Roughly 1,800 people attended MGE’s annual summit last year, where shareholders pressured the utility to sharpen its focus on clean power.

Across virtually all major economic sectors, “activist investors[5]” have elbowed their way into boardrooms clamoring for strategic overhauls during shareholder meetings. When the Madison utility proposed to saddle customers [6]with a substantial across-the-board fee hike in 2014, RePower Madison used the annual get-together to make waves that reverberated across the power sector.

A coalition of investors interested in restoring customer control and keeping costs down used their stake in the utility to force an overhaul of that plan. While MGE had planned to pump up monthly fixed fees from around $10 to nearly $70 over a few years[7], shareholder blowback derailed the plan. The opposition reduced the monthly fee to $19 and created opportunities for customers to offer feedback[8] through several dozen “community conversations”[9] held last year.

Last year, RePower Madison again proved boardroom leverage is a powerful tool to influence investor-owned utilities. The group’s 2015 push united investors in a call for greater accountability as MGE shapes its energy policy.

Together, they urged MGE to shift away from dirty power[10] — it held stakes in multiple coal-fired plants — and flesh out its portfolio with renewables. Ultimately, MGE agreed to a compromise with a pledge to explore alternatives and see whether it could source a quarter of its electricity with renewables by 2025. If successful, this would match state renewable requirements in many states, including neighboring Minnesota.

RePower Madison’s twist on shareholder activism is just one piece of its multi-pronged approach to improving Wisconsin’s clean energy economy. The organization also focuses on maximizing community input on utility policy and educating the public[11] on the pitfalls of dirty power.

Distributed Generation in the Crosshairs

The organization’s actions come at a time when Wisconsin’s most prominent investor-owned utilities — including MGE and We Energies, which serves Milwaukee — have been slow to adopt policies that align with greater demand for renewables and long-range sustainability.

Despite substantially chipping away at the fixed fee proposal, the increase still stung distributed generation. Similar fee hikes across the country[12] threaten rooftop solar, skewing the cost-benefit calculus for such projects. Fixed fees amplify the cost burden even for customers who reduce their energy use or integrate renewables — both moves that ease strain on the grid and give customers more control over their electricity.

Due to increased scrutiny, MGE has made some improvements to its renewables strategy[13]. Last year, the utility touted a series of initiatives, including sourcing 30% of its power from renewable sources by 2030 and planning for a 500 kW community solar project in a Madison suburb.

Gary Wolter, MGE’s chairman and CEO, echoed clean power advocates when he discussed the project with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Challenging traditional utility values, he showcased that the community solar array will feed power back onto the grid and allow more customers to buy locally generated power.

“Importantly, it will give customers, some of whom could never install solar generation themselves, the opportunity to benefit from renewable energy,” he told the paper[14]. The project, expected to serve 250 subscribers, notched approval from state regulators earlier this year.

Still, one community solar project representing a fraction of total energy production will do little by itself to shift power to customers, especially when locally owned.

The utility reported that “a significant majority[15]” of customers surveyed through its community meetings said it was important to them to have more control over their energy use. It committed to develop products and services to support that, potentially including additional community solar and pricing options that reward electric vehicle owners for off-peak charging.

But advocates say it remains to be seen[16] exactly how much and how effectively the utility will factor consumers into its plans.

Madison Redoubles Pressure on MGE

The utility’s playbook — specifically its reluctance to adopt transformative clean energy reforms — defies the city’s longtime focus on sustainability. More than a decade ago, Madison ushered in the Sustainable Madison Committee[17], a body formed within City Hall to spearhead green design and sensible energy policy.

One of the committee’s most notable actions was a developing a plan to push Madison to the forefront of energy innovation.

In June, the City Council adopted an ambitious framework[18] — backed by RePower Madison — that calls for an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 and a 50 percent reduction in energy consumption by 2030.

As part of the plan, MGE agreed to supply 30% of its retail electric sales with renewables by 2030, with 25% of its retail electric sales covered with renewables by 2025.

Achieving that goal will require substantial cooperation between the city and MGE, though the two have not solidified many specific plans for a partnership. So far, the joint effort does not go as far as Minneapolis’ first-of-its-kind Clean Energy Partnership[19], a formalized union between the city and the incumbent gas and electric utilities to further aggressive climate goals.

To date, Madison has said it will work with MGE to broaden customer access to renewables and energy efficiency. For its part, the city will launch a Property Assessed Clean Energy program[20] to promote energy efficiency, and log city-owned properties that could install rooftop solar.

The MGE solar farm lines up with that broader vision, though its output remains relatively paltry. The project could, however, stir complementary grid upgrades[21] to accommodate smart meters and rate design that rewards customers for shifting energy use to off-peak times. An existing utility-run program, Green Power Tomorrow[22], charges customers who opt in a premium for clean power (a practice that defies the low cost of clean power[23]).

“MGE staff are looking forward to working with city representatives to determine how we can partner and where we can advance common interests,” MGE’s Wolter said in a July statement[24]. “The work plan presents a valuable opportunity for the city and MGE to continue working collaboratively toward our shared goals of reducing carbon emissions, increasing renewables and deepening community engagement on energy issues.”

But while the city-led initiative redoubles pressure on the utility to cooperate on clean energy goals, RePower Madison remains committed to its core mission: pressing for deeper changes at the utility that favor renewable generation and community control. Mitch Brey, the organization’s campaign manager, told Midwest Energy News[25] that delivering results will be key.

“There is always more that can be done and I’m hoping the city will not stop after they’ve passed this,” he told the news site. “It’s a start, and it’s clearly a clean energy victory and a victory for everyone in Madison.”

To learn more about the national movement toward distributed generation and renewables, visit ILSR’s interactive Community Power Map[1]. The tool showcases programming, policies and projects across the U.S., and compares state-by-state performance. Bookmark it and check back for updates.

This article originally posted at[26]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[27] or get the Energy Democracy weekly[28] updates. Photo Credit: Mitch Brey[29]

  1. Community Power Map:
  2. RePower Madison:
  3. RePower Madison report released last year:
  4. rally shareholders:
  5. activist investors:
  6. proposed to saddle customers :
  7. to nearly $70 over a few years:
  8. for customers to offer feedback:
  9. several dozen “community conversations”:
  10. urged MGE to shift away from dirty power:
  11. educating the public:
  12. fee hikes across the country:
  13. made some improvements to its renewables strategy:
  14. he told the paper:
  15. a significant majority:
  16. remains to be seen:
  17. Sustainable Madison Committee:
  18. an ambitious framework:
  19. first-of-its-kind Clean Energy Partnership:
  20. Property Assessed Clean Energy program:
  21. stir complementary grid upgrades:
  22. Green Power Tomorrow:
  23. defies the low cost of clean power:
  24. in a July statement:
  25. told Midwest Energy News:
  27. Twitter:
  28. Energy Democracy weekly:
  29. Mitch Brey:

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Google Fiber Pauses – But No One Else Should

by Christopher | October 27, 2016 4:30 pm

Google Fiber has finally announced its plans[1] for the future after weeks of dramatic speculation that it will lay off half its workforce and give up on fiber-optics entirely. Google has now confirmed our expectations: they are pausing new Google Fiber cities, continuing to expand within those where they have a presence, and focusing on approaches that will offer a better return on investment in the short term.

Nothing Worth Doing Is Easy

In short, Google has found it more difficult than they anticipated to deploy rapidly and at low cost. And in discussions with various people, we think it can be summed up in this way: building fiber-optic networks is challenging and incumbents have an arsenal of dirty tricks to make it even more so, especially by slowing down access to poles.

That said, Google is not abandoning its efforts to drive better Internet access across the country. In the short term, people living in modern apartment buildings and condos will be the greatest beneficiary as Google takes the Webpass model[2] and expands it to more cities. But those that hoped (or feared) Google would rapidly build Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) across the country are likely disappointed (or slightly relieved, if they happen to be big incumbent providers).

This is a good moment to talk about the lessons learned from Google Fiber and what we think communities should be thinking about.

Let’s start by noting something we have often said: Google Fiber and its larger “access” approach have been incredibly beneficial for everyone except the big monopolists. Its investments led to far more media coverage of Internet access issues and made local leaders better understand what would be possible after we dismantle the cable broadband monopoly.

Benoit Felton, a sharp international telecommunications analyst wrote a very good summary of Google Fiber titled Salvaging Google Fiber’s Achievements[3]. Some of my thoughts below overlap his – but his piece touches on matters I won’t address, so please check out his analysis.

I want to focus on a few key points.

This is Not a Surprise

utility-pole-1Google is a private firm that has a fiduciary responsibility to maximize returns for its shareholders. More to the point, so is Alphabet, which houses Google Fiber. Google’s interest in fiber was not solely pulling revenue out of the network in the same way that Comcast, AT&T, and others do. They wanted to maximize good Internet access to get more people to use the Internet more and thereby increase the value of their ad business. That is why they have been more consumer-friendly in many ways than the big cable and telephone companies. Google believes it wins even when it simply forces other providers to upgrade their networks. (more…)[4]

  1. finally announced its plans:
  2. Webpass model:
  3. Salvaging Google Fiber’s Achievements: //">
  4. (more…):

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A Deep Dive to Answer Ken Bone’s Energy Question

by John Farrell | October 27, 2016 9:45 am

placeholderAt the second presidential candidate debate, one red-sweater-wearing American earned notoriety for his question about little-discussed energy policy. The question deserved a thorough response, given that it brushes on some myths of the clean energy transition but also the challenge of guaranteeing justice for displaced workers.

Midwesterner Ken Bone asked this question:

What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs, while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?

Ken Bone

Credit: Washington Post[1]

There’s a few items to unpack here:

  1. That energy policy must help meet our energy needs
  2. That energy policy should be environmentally friendly
  3. That we should minimize job losses for workers in fossil fuel power plants (and the fossil fuel energy industry more broadly)

Meeting the needs of the energy system is a basic issue of supply and demand, but what many Americans may not realize is that the options for supply are rapidly changing and that we have many new tools to manage demand as a way to meet our needs.

Meeting Needs with Supply, Switching, Savings, and Shifting

Take the supply issue. Most folks realize that we can produce electricity more cheaply[2] from new wind and solar power plants than those powered by coal or gas.

What folks may not realize is that other energy uses, such as transportation and building heating, may also go renewable through electrification. Electric vehicles will allow us to switch from oil to power from the wind and sun. Renewably-powered heat pumps (basically air conditioners that can produce cold and heat with electricity) can supplant propane, fuel oil, and natural gas.

And although it’s conventional wisdom that the cheapest energy supply comes from conservation, Americans may not realize how big the potential savings are. Simply using smiley faces on bills to reward efficient energy users, Opower[3] has motivated electricity customers to reduce energy use by 1% to 3%. Energy efficiency investments like Energy Star appliances and LED lighting go further, and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy found that every $1 spent on efficiency yields $1.24 to $4.00 in economic returns[4]. A McKinsey analysis[5] backs this up, showing that many of the tools to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (and energy use) will save money.


The question of supply doesn’t only concern total energy delivered, but also WHEN energy is delivered. A substantial fraction of the electric system (around 30%) is built just for redundancy in periods of peak use, similar to how many lanes on major urban freeways are filled only during the two daily rush hours. But smart thermostats and smart appliances offer new tools to reduce peak use[7] by shifting when we use energy. We can run washers and dishwashers in the evening instead of the afternoon, for example, to avoid expensive and unnecessary grid expansion simply to serve those short periods of highest demand.

In other words, good energy policy allows us to take advantage of cost-effective renewable energy, enabling us to switch from fossil fuels to wind and sun, to replace fuels with electricity, to reduce our energy needs, and to maximize the efficiency of the whole system by diversifying when we use energy.

Easy Environmentally Friendly Energy Policy

We’re in an era when the cleanest energy sources are often the cheapest. Wind provides the lowest-cost electricity of nearly any new power source. Solar energy, whether vast fields of panels or small rooftop arrays, competes with electricity from fossil fuel resources.

But more importantly than what’s cheapest now is how we lay the groundwork for the future. Renewables will be the cheapest option everywhere well within the timeframe (40-50 years) that we plan new power plants and power lines. Smart strategies employed today ensure those investments will not be stranded as the cost of new technology continues its rapid descent, avoiding what economists call “path dependency.” Path dependency is what happens when you buy a Hummer and gas prices rise to $4.50 per gallon. Keeping the car is costly, but high fuel prices also lower its resale value, sticking you with poor options. (See more on path dependency in our 2015 report on Hawai’i[8]).

In the energy sector, environmentally friendly policy means investing in low-cost renewables. It also means very carefully considering proposals for new fossil fuel power plants, gas pipelines, or other infrastructure that won’t serve the energy system of the next decades.

Minimizing Job Losses for Existing Workers

The questions of the employment future for fossil fuel workers, power plant or otherwise, is the most insightful and challenging element of Ken’s question. It’s also the one to which we have the fewest well-developed answers.

Handling transitions in technology isn’t new. We’ve seen cars replace horses, computers replace typewriters, and smartphones replace point-and-shoot cameras. But few of these evolutions have been as policy-driven and fast-moving as the growth of renewable energy. There’s a moral obligation to account for those whose livelihood has depended on jobs in the fossil fuel industry, and whose skills may not translate well to the renewable energy future.

One important note is that job losses across the fossil fuel industry thus far have not been driven by renewable energy, but rather by automation and competition among fossil fuels. The demise of many coal power plants in the past decade has had as much or more to do with the exploitation of inexpensive (not counting environmental harms) natural gas[9] with new fracking techniques. Mechanization of tasks also drove the demise of jobs in the coal industry, replacing humans with machines (a process that continues[10]).

The following chart shows how the productivity of the coal mining industry rose significantly even as jobs decreased three-fold.


Although automation may be the major culprit behind job losses in the past, there’s no question that either economics or sound environmental policy will render many (if not all) existing jobs in the fossil fuel industry obsolete by mid-century. So where to turn?

Future Employment for Fossil Fuel Industry Workers

Employment in the fossil fuel industry falls into two categories that will be most impacted by the shift to renewable energy. Oil, gas, and coal extraction jobs will fall sharply as the U.S. reduces dependence on fossil fuels. Employment in traditional power plants will also drop, with those jobs displaced by a 21st century power grid with wind and solar power plants.

In short, we can’t protect the jobs IN the fossil fuel industry, but we can help workers OUT of the industry and into a better future.

As of May 2015, the U.S. coal-mining and oil and gas extraction industries employed[12] 263,000 people, doing everything from digging up coal to processing forms for environmental compliance. Another 60,000 worked in coal power plants, all facing shutdowns due to competitive clean energy.

The good news is that, based on the age of the existing workforce in the extraction business, about 70 percent of the job losses (resulting from a 60% drop in production over the next 20 years) can be addressed through retirement as the workers reach age 65. The remaining 30 percent would need (five years of) wage and benefit insurance, as well as retraining and relocation funds. In a 2016 article[13] in the American Prospect, University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers Robert Pollin & Brian Callaci showcase results of their study[14] pricing these benefits at $200 million per year. Programs like these already exist, such as Solar Ready Colorado[15] that helps displaced coal miners in western Colorado learn skills in the solar industry. Rapid growth ahead signals that employment growth in solar and other renewable energy industries will far outstrip[16] job losses in the fossil fuel sector.

The Prospect article authors also include $90 million per year in their plan to fully fund pension programs for coal miners, which given the recent bankruptcies of multiple coal mining companies are unlikely to be made whole otherwise[17]. Additionally, the authors dedicate $200 million to community-level transition, directing investment in clean energy technology into communities disproportionately impacted by the shrinking fossil fuel industry, such as oil and gas towns like Odessa, TX or Midland, TX.

They peg the total cost of these initiatives around $500 million per year over 20 years, or about 1/500th of a percent of the annual U.S. gross domestic product. Put another way, if every American paid 10¢ more per month on their electric bill, we could fully fund a smooth transition for most fossil fuel industry workers.

It’s also worth noting that leaving behind fossil fuel jobs also means leaving behind significant health and safety hazards. Extraction jobs are among the riskiest in America[18], as measured by fatalities per worker, and jobs like mining threaten permanent health impairment[19] via conditions like black lung.

Ken Bone has earned notoriety for his red sweater and his online indiscretions, but he should be given credit for a question that gets at the complexity and nuance of good energy policy. The answers aren’t always easy, but they’re worth taking time to address.

Photo Credit: Washington Post[1]

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

  1. Washington Post:
  2. more cheaply:
  3. Opower:
  4. every $1 spent on efficiency yields $1.24 to $4.00 in economic returns:
  5. McKinsey analysis:
  6. [Image]:
  7. new tools to reduce peak use:
  8. 2015 report on Hawai’i:
  9. natural gas:
  10. continues:
  11. [Image]:
  12. employed:
  13. article:
  14. study:
  15. Solar Ready Colorado:
  16. far outstrip:
  17. unlikely to be made whole otherwise:
  18. the riskiest in America:
  19. permanent health impairment:
  21. Twitter:
  22. Energy Democracy weekly:

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The Public Good Newsfeed – October 26, 2016: California Takes on Big Pharma, South Dakotans Take on the Political Establishment, and more…

by David Morris | October 26, 2016 9:32 am

placeholderA selection of recent news stories with an ILSR insight into “The Public Good.”

Stories in this Newsfeed:

California Takes on Big Pharma[1] | South Dakotans Take on the Political Establishment[2] | New Mexico Takes on Debtors’ Prisons[3]

17California Takes on Big Pharma

This November, Californians will vote on a ballot initiative that, according to Pharma Exec[4] magazine, “would shake the rafters of every single state drug program in the nation, as well as the federal Medicaid and Medicare programs.”

Proposition 61[5] requires that state agencies pay no more for any prescription drug than the lowest price paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for the same drug. It would apply to more than 1 million state and public university employees as well as 3 million Medicaid patients (although it would exclude 10 million Californians on managed care Medicaid plans.)

The impact could be even broader.  Federal law entitles all state Medicaid programs to the lowest prescription drug prices available to most public and private payers in the U.S., excluding the VA.  Medicaid discounts ordinarily are in the 20 percent range, but VA discounts[6] can be as high as 42 percent.  The California measure could extend the VA’s significant  discounts to health programs serving tens of millions of additional people nationwide.

As of October 20, pharmaceutical companies have spent more than $109 million to defeat the measure compared to just $15 million for supporters.  Nevertheless, as of two weeks before the election, it appeared well on the way to victory.

The pricing of drugs has become a national disgrace.  Horror stories are an almost every day occurrence. Turing Pharmaceuticals purchases the rights to a generic AIDS  drug  and promptly raises its price from $13.50 to $750 a pill.  In fact, in 222 generic drug groups, prices increased by 100 percent or more between 2013 and 2014, according to Forbes[7]. Specialty drugs have become astronomically expensive. Medivation’s prostate cancer drug Xtandi costs $129,000 a treatment. Reuters[8] reports that in 2014, 139,000 Americans had medication costs in excess of $100,000, nearly triple the number who reached that mark a year earlier.

The pharmaceutical industry’s median return on assets is more than double that of the rest of the Fortune 500, according[9] to Alfred Engelberg.  The industry is awash in cash.  Pfizer holds $74 billion in un-repatriated profits overseas and Merck holds $60 billion, enough to fund their respective annual research budgets for l0 years.

While the industry reaps the benefits, the taxpayer bears much of the cost. Some calculate that direct and indirect government support is such that private industry pays[10] only about a third of R&D costs and much of that goes to develop drugs that offer cosmetic or minor improvements.  The Washington Post[11] reports that while government foots the bill for development, drug companies focus on marketing, often spending $2 for marketing for every $1 spent on research.

Despite repeated scandals, the federal government has been unwilling or uninterested in stepping in.   Congress specifically prohibits Medicare from negotiating with the drug companies for price discounts.  Federal law allows the government to unilaterally lower the price of drugs developed with government funds but has refused to do so.  It can also allow less expensive but has refused to that either.   State governments have largely refused to intervene either.

Which leaves it up to the people to assert their authority, where they are able, to put the issue directly to the voters.  That’s what Californians have done.

19South Dakotans Take on the Political Establishment

On November 8th South Dakotans will vote on three initiatives which, if taken together, could change the face of state politics.

Amendment V[12] converts all state elections into nonpartisan contests. There would be no Democrat or Republican primaries. The top two finishers in the first round of voting would face off in the general election. California, Louisiana and Washington have similar run-off systems but in those states candidates still run with a party label.  That would be prohibited in South Dakota, making it the only state apart from Nebraska to have purely non-partisan elections. (Nebraska had its own political revolution in 1934 when its citizens voted[13] not only for nonpartisan elections but the nation’s first and only unicameral legislature.)

Amendment T[14] creates a commission to redraw state legislative districts every ten years when a new census comes out.  Ordinarily this redistricting is done by legislators themselves but as Matt Sibley, one of the organizers for this initiative, told[15] Governing Magazine,  “There is an inherent flaw in the system when legislators are picking out there own legislative districts.” In-house redistricting often results in a number of uncontested legislative races, diminishing the value of the franchise for those living in that district. The new commission would be barred from considering the party affiliation of voters and location of incumbent lawmakers when drawing new maps. 

Measure 22[16] is the most complex of the three initiatives, requiring as many as 70 changes to election law.  The key is the distribution of two $50 “Democracy Credits” to each registered voter which they could then donate to state legislative candidates who agree to participate in at least three public debates and cap the amount of private money they receive per contributor. Democracy Credits, or Democracy Vouchers as they are sometimes called were first adopted in 2015 by initiative by Seattle voters. (Washingtonians are also voting in November on Initiative 1464[17], which would give every registered voter three Democracy Credits of $50, which they could then donate to state legislative candidates who agree to certain conditions.)

18New Mexico Takes on Debtors’ Prisons

In November, New Mexico will become the first state to decide on whether to directly address a justice system that forces defendants who cannot pay bail to stay in jail.

In 1987 the Supreme Court declared[18], “In our society liberty is the norm, and detention prior to trial or without trial is the carefully limited exception.”   Nevertheless, in most of America, lower-income people who have been arrested and can’t afford bail sit in jail for weeks, months, even years before seeing a judge. Their involuntary incarceration can result in lost jobs and income and increased family stress which raises the likelihood they will reoffend.

Ninety-five percent of the growth in the jail population since 2000 is attributed to an increase in pretrial detainees, Christopher Moraff reports in Next City[19], according to the Department of Justice. Nationwide, according to a Harvard Law School report, 34 percent of defendants are kept in jail pretrial solely[20] because they are unable to pay a cash bond, and most of these people are among the poorest third of Americans.  National data from local jails in 2011 showed that 60% of jail inmates were pretrial detainees and that 75% of those detainees were charged with property, drug or other nonviolent offenses.

According to the Vera Institute of Justice[21], the average number of days that people stay in jail awaiting trial has increased from 14 days in 1983 to 23 days in 2013.

The perverse and unjust consequences of bail have begun to receive national attention as part of the larger issue of the revival of debtor’s prisons[22].  In March the Justice Department sent a letter[23] to judges advising them that employing “bail or bond practices that cause indigent defendants to remain incarcerated solely because they cannot afford to pay for their release” violates the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection.

In September 2015 Equal Justice Under Law[24] and the Southern Center for Human Rights[25] filed a class action lawsuit against the city of Calhoun, Georgia for their practice of requiring bail for indigent defendants. The case involved a disabled man who was jailed for six days because he couldn’t afford to pay a $160 fixed cash bail bond. “Hundreds of thousands of human beings are held in American cages every night solely because they are too poor to make a payment,” Alec Karakatsanis, co-founder of Equal Justice Under Law told the Huffington Post[26].  In January the District Court ruled[27] in their favor, issuing an injunction against the city of Calhoun, ordering it to implement a new bail scheme and release any misdemeanor arrestees in the meantime.

The city has appealed arguing “the Constitution does not guarantee bail, it only bans excessive bail.”

In August the Department of Justice, for the first time submitted an amicus brief[28] on the subject of bail to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Some jurisdictions have begun to change their pretrial release policies so that danger to the community and likelihood of flight are the main factors to determine pretrial release, not whether the accused can pay bail. In a New York City pilot program[29], 1,100 people were granted supervised relief; 87 percent showed up to court when required without incident.  From July 2013 to December 2014, Mesa County, Colorado was able to reduce[30] its pretrial jail population by 27 percent without negative consequences for public safety.

Washington, D.C. has run an essentially cashless[31] justice system for those accused of misdemeanors for many years. Nearly 88 percent of defendants in D.C. are released with non-financial conditions. Between 2007 and 2012, 90 percent of released defendants made all scheduled court appearances; over 91 percent were not rearrested while in the community before trial.  Ninety-nine percent were not rearrested for a violent crime.

The New Mexico initiative originated with a murder case in which the defendant, remained in jail for more than two years without going to trial even though he agreed to wear a GPS device, make regular contact with the court and was not considered a danger to the community or likely to flee. Not only did the state Supreme Court rule[32] in favor of the defendant, it formed a task force that recommended[33] an amendment to the “right to bail” provision in the New Mexico constitution.

Constitutional Amendment 1[34] is a legislatively referred initiative with bipartisan support.  No group is campaigning against it.  Perhaps because it is a result of legislative action, it reflects the give and take of the legislative process.  Thus the Amendment also gives judges more discretion to keep dangerous people in jail — even if they can afford bail. A study[35] from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation shows that nearly half of the highest-risk defendants are released pending trial while low-risk, non-violent defendants are frequently detained.

Perhaps more important, negotiations have resulted in final language more opaque than the original.  Originally the Amendment was clearly and directly stated: “A person who is not a danger and is otherwise eligible for bail shall not be detained solely because of financial inability to post a money or property bond.”  The final language reads, “A defendant who is neither a danger nor a flight risk and who has a financial inability to post a money or property bond may file a motion with the court requesting relief from the requirement to post bond. The court shall rule on the motion in an expedited manner.”

Some worry the additional conditions might raise barriers to achieving the objective of the initiative.  But most are optimistic that the New Mexico law will break new ground in efforts to eliminate a debtors prison in the United States. New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles W. Daniels, a prime mover behind the initiative contends[36], “There is nothing I’ve done or will do on the court that is going to be a more important improvement of justice than getting this amendment passed.”

Sign-up for our monthly Public Good Newsletter[37] and follow ILSR on Twitter[38] and Facebook[39].

  1. California Takes on Big Pharma: #CA
  2. South Dakotans Take on the Political Establishment: #SD
  3. New Mexico Takes on Debtors’ Prisons: #NM
  4. Pharma Exec:
  5. Proposition 61:,_Drug_Price_Standards_(2016)
  6. discounts:
  7. according to Forbes:
  8. Reuters:
  9. according:
  10. pays:
  11. Washington Post:
  12. Amendment V:,_Constitutional_Amendment_V_(2016)
  13. voted:
  14. Amendment T:,_Constitutional_Amendment_T_(2016)
  15. told:
  16. Measure 22:,_Initiated_Measure_22_(2016)
  17. Initiative 1464:,_Initiative_1464_(2016)
  18. declared:
  19. Next City:
  20. solely:
  21. Vera Institute of Justice:
  22. debtor’s prisons:
  23. letter:
  24. Equal Justice Under Law:
  25. Southern Center for Human Rights:
  26. Huffington Post:
  27. ruled:
  28. amicus brief:
  29. program:
  30. reduce:
  31. cashless:
  32. rule:
  33. recommended:
  34. Constitutional Amendment 1:,_Constitutional_Amendment_1_(2016
  35. study:
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  37. Public Good Newsletter:
  38. Twitter:
  39. Facebook:

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Energy Policies on the 2016 Ballot, Two Weeks Out

by Nick Stumo-Langer | October 20, 2016 5:00 pm

This is an update of analysis done back in June, state-by-state information has been updated, however, conclusions have largely been left the same, see the original post here[1].

Citizen-sponsored ballot initiatives frequently demand progress on renewable energy implementation (and have for years[2]), oftentimes these occur when state legislatures show little to no political will to increase locally-owned solar or wind energy. In 2016, more states than ever before have attempted to place items on their ballots to change the energy landscape. Sponsored by citizen groups, legislators, and (sometimes) energy industry giants, these initiatives range from encouraging energy choice to placing further limits on the propagation of nuclear energy.

A number of these efforts, particularly those in Florida and Nevada, are the results of unresponsive legislatures and Public Utilities Commissions (PUC), tied down by powerful utility monopolies (where competing initiatives sponsored by the powerful industry incumbents).

The Nevada PUC, for example, completely eliminated net metering benefits[3] for its residents – even refusing to grandfather existing solar projects. This PUC action, at the behest of the utility, Warren Buffet’s NV Energy, motivated citizens of Nevada to propose the Nevada Energy Choice Amendment[4] as well as the Nevada Solar Rate Restoration Referendum[5]. The former would ensure energy market competition and the latter would repeal fixed fees for solar customers (more detail on these and other initiatives is below).

The following map highlights the 12 states with proposed or implemented ballot initiatives in 2016.

Many of these initiatives did not make the ballot in November, but they represent efforts of citizens to reclaim control over an energy system long dominated by powerful private interests.

The following is a list of the initiatives under consideration, by state.


Jump down to Arizona[7], California[8], Colorado[9], Florida[10], Massachusetts[11], Missouri[12], Montana[13], Nevada[14], Ohio[15], Oregon[16] & Washington[17].


Ballot Initiatives Map - Version 2.005[18]The state of Arizona had two proposed initiatives for the 2016 ballot. Both initiatives were withdrawn[19] by their respective parties after an agreement materialized in the Arizona state legislature. Neither initiative seems to be poised for reintroduction in the future.

Net Metering Amendment

The first proposed initiative[20] would have amended the state constitution to “require energy companies to compensate solar users who generate excess power at the same price that the company charges to its customers,” enshrining net metering in the state constitution. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) supported this initiative and it was a solar industry-friendly amendment which prompted a response embodied in the Solar for All Act.

Solar for All Act

The second proposed initiative is a direct refutation[21] of the Net Metering Amendment above, introduced in the state legislature after the first initiative was approved. The initiative “would mandate that solar customers be placed on rate plans that are different from traditional customers and their rates be ‘reasonably based’ on the cost to serve them.” 



[22]The state of California had two proposed initiatives for the 2016 ballot. Neither initiative gained enough signatures to be considered, but could be considered in the future.

California Nuclear Power Initiative  √

The first initiative[23] expands state regulations on nuclear power plants. The official ballot language requires that a nuclear power plant “has approved technology for permanent disposal of high-level nuclear waste” and requires the California Energy Commission to “find on case-by-case basis facilities…with adequate capacity to reprocess power plant’s fuel rods.”

With the frequent[24] cost overruns[25] of nuclear power plants, it seems hard to believe that additional regulation would be required to prevent new construction. This initiative may instead be intended to reduce the economic incentive to continue operating the power plants without a plan for disposing of nuclear waste. Since the federal government has been studying this issue for decades with no solution, this initiative may effectively shutter existing nuclear power plants.

California Publicly-Owned Electric Utilities Initiative  √

The second ballot initiative[26] intends to replace most investor-owned utilities, including San Diego Gas & Electric, Bear Valley Electric, PG&E and Southern California Edison. The initiative would replace them with the publicly-owned California Electrical Utility District, and divide that district into 11, equally-populated wards. Each one of these wards would have a board member elected to 4-year terms. According to the ballot language[27], the district would have “the power to acquire property, construct facilities necessary to supply electricity, set electricity rates, impose taxes, and issue bonds.”

Municipal utility districts have been at the forefront of clean energy innovation. This includes Denton, TX[28], with an already 40% renewable energy supply, Georgetown, TX[29], with its contracts for 100% renewable energy, as well as little Minster, Ohio, with a solar plus storage system[30]. Of course, local ownership is not sufficient to promote clean energy. One of the largest municipal utilities in the country, serving Los Angeles, has been a laggard in developing renewable energy. But local control would give Californians more power to accelerate the transition to cost-effective, renewable energy.


The state of Colorado had two proposed initiatives on the ballot during the 2016 voting cycle.

Colorado Local Control of Oil & Gas Development Amendment  √

The first initiative[31] “authorizes local governments to prohibit, limit, or impose moratoriums on oil and gas development.” The entities can limit this development in order to protect their “community’s health, safety, welfare, and/or environment.” The initiative also protects communities from state preemption of local laws meant to curtail local impacts from oil and gas development.

State preemption of local laws, as we’ve written previously[32], frequently works directly against community’s energy concerns. Protecting local ordinances limiting the development of oil and gas is vital for empowering communities to make their own decisions against dirty energy.

Colorado Mandatory Setback from Oil & Gas Development Amendment  √

The second initiative[33] would change the Colorado state constitution to require a 2,500-foot setback for any new oil or gas facility from the “nearest occupied structure[34].” It would, potentially significantly, reduce the ability to extract additional fossil fuels in Colorado.


[35]The state of Florida had three proposed initiatives on the ballot in 2016: a utility-sponsored, status quo solar initiative, a citizen initiative shifting the right to produce and sell solar energy, and one renewable energy tax measure on the ballot during the 2016 cycle. The citizen-sponsored initiative did not make the ballot but could be considered in future years.

Right to Produce and Sell Solar Energy Amendment  √

This initiative[36], intended for the 2016 ballot, won’t be up for a vote until at least 2018. If passed, the ballot measure would provide businesses and individuals a “constitutional right to produce up to two megawatts of solar power and sell that power directly to others,” language designed to allow solar energy companies to build systems on customer property and sell the power directly to via a power purchase agreement.

This initiative would overturn Florida’s existing policy of only allowing utilities to sell electricity[37], no matter the source, directly to consumers. The organization Floridians for Solar Choice[38] led the campaign for the ballot initiative and is a coalition of conservative activists, environmental groups, and politicians of all ideological orientations.

Right to Solar Energy Choice Amendment  Χ

The status-quo initiative[39] on the 2016 ballot is a constitutional amendment “giv[ing] residents of Florida the right to own or lease solar energy equipment for personal use.” It offers no new power to customers to procure solar energy through a power purchase agreement and adds new statutory language to allow utilities to attempt to undercut the energy savings from those using solar.

The contributors to Consumers for Smart Solar[40], the committee exclusively tasked with passing this constitutional amendment, counts among its donors[41] mainly investor-owned monopoly utilities, including: Duke Energy[42] and Florida Power and Light Company[43]. Representatives from environmental groups as well as conservative, tea party activists have lambasted the proposal[44] as “claim[ing] to support a free-market principle, but…sides with monopolies to stop competition from solar.”

Special note: Recent investigations have revealed[45] that monopoly electric utilities deliberately mis-led Florida voters by selling this amendment as friendly to local ownership of solar energy, despite this not being factually accurate.

Tax Exemptions for Renewable Energy Measure  √

The second constitutional amendment[46] on the ballot this year in Florida would “provide tax exemptions for solar power and other renewable energy equipment included in home values for property taxes.” Previous research has shown that residential property values rise about 1% for each kilowatt of solar installed[47]. The tax exemptions would begin 2018 and continue for 20 years. This measure was approved by a margin of 73%-27%[48] by Florida voters on Primary Election Day on August 30th, 2016. 



Ballot Initiatives Map - Version 2.012[49]Wind Energy Act Repeal and Amendment Χ

This proposed initiative expired for the 2016 election year, however, it could be on the ballot in 2017. The Energy Act Repeal and Amendment would remove[50] specific targets for wind energy development and remove the expedited process implemented for utility-scale wind projects. In any new wind project, new criteria would have to be met and each would have to “receive a public benefit determination from the Commissioner of Environmental Protection.”


The state of Massachusetts had two proposed energy initiatives on the ballot during the 2016 election cycle.

Renewable Energy Initiative  √

This ballot initiative[51] would have required electricity suppliers to increase the minimum electricity generated by renewable energy generating sources by 1% every year until 2019, 2% every year until 2029, and 3% each year starting in 2030.

By requiring electricity suppliers to gradually and continually increase their percentage of renewable energy each year, Massachusetts is making a commitment that 70% of the energy load be met with renewable energy by 2040.

Solar and Renewable Energy Initiative  √

The initiative would[52] have “establish[ed] a Commonwealth Solar Program.” By 2025, 10% of all retail electricity sales would be coming from community-shared solar or commercial community-shared solar facilities. It would also change net metering by “remov[ing] existing limits on available capacity eligible for net-metering facilities within each electric distribution company service territory.”

Removing net metering caps and requiring substantial sales from community-shared solar would dramatically expand solar power capacity in Massachusetts.


This initiative did not gain enough signatures to make it onto the 2016 ballot but still could be on the 2017 election ballot.

[53]Missouri Enhanced Net Metering and Easy Connection Act  √

This ballot initiative[54] would require municipal electric utilities and electric corporations to “make net metering available” to a greater number of customers and increase the amount of net metering capacity available to customers. While there are a number of different versions gathering signatures across the state, the features they hold in common is to remove any interconnection fees for customers utilizing net metering, as well as ensuring customer-generators are compensated at a standardized rate across the state.


Renewable Energy Initiative I-180  √

This ballot initiative[55] would have required the state of Montana to incrementally supply more of their electricity (80% by 2050) from renewable energy sources, specifically wind, solar, geothermal, and hydroelectric. The measure “would also establish a program for displaced fossil fuel workers and a pension program for fossil fuel workers.” The initiative is important to a state that has yet to establish a renewable energy standard through the legislature. It also caps program costs and provides a safety net for fossil fuel energy workers via retraining programs and pension safety nets, funding with a tax on each kilowatt of electricity produced.

These measures are ambitious but “are necessary”[56] to combat CO2 emissions.


Nevada 2016 Energy Ballot InitiativesThe state of Nevada has one proposed, one implemented energy related initiatives on the ballot for the 2016 voting cycle.

Nevada Energy Choice Amendment  √

The first ballot initiative[57] would “make it the policy of the state that electricity markets be open and competitive and minimize the regulatory burden in the electric energy market.” The initiative seeks to end the monopoly of utility company NV Energy.

Like the following one, this ballot initiative arose from the controversial end of net metering in the state by NV Energy-backed public utilities commissioners, which led  multiple solar development companies, such as SolarCity, to pull out of the state. The initiative’s intention[58] is gain “meaningful choices among different providers” and to minimize the “economic and regulatory burdens…in order to promote competition and choice in the electric energy market.” It’s a direct shot at the monopoly power of NV Energy.

Nevada Solar Rate Restoration Referendum  √

The second ballot initiative[59] for Nevada is more typical, and targeted a repeal of a section of Senate Bill 374 that “established a fixed fee for solar customers that differed from the fixed fee for other ratepayers.” The initiative would have removed the discrimination in pricing on solar customers that reduces the value of the net metering program.

As we’ve reported,[60] fixed fees are a way that monopoly electric utilities pass fees onto customers and discourage lower energy use via energy efficiency or on-site power generation.


Ohio Clean Energy Initiative  √

The ballot initiative outlined[61] a $14 billion dollar energy program that includes research for alternative energy development and infrastructure projects, spending $1.3 billion per year to develop wind, solar, and geothermal projects. This measure “would create an Ohio Energy Initiative Commission, which would receive $65 million each year and take part in infrastructure capital improvement projects with counties, municipal corporations, townships, and governmental entities.”

With renewable energy investment stonewalled[62] in the Ohio legislature, this initiative would allow renewable energy projects to move forward in The Buckeye State.


Oregon Fossil Fuel Expansion Ban Initiative  √

This ballot initiative[63] would have “ban[ned] the expansion of infrastructure related to fossil fuel extraction, processing, shipment, transportation, or distribution in Oregon.” This initiative has been labeled The Clean Economy Initiative and, while it doesn’t directly expand renewable energy resources, it does shift the impetus towards clean energy development and against fossil fuels.

This initiative attacks any expansion[64] of fossil fuel development to the benefit of cleaner energy.


Ballot Initiatives Map[65]Carbon Emission Tax √

This ballot initiative[66] would impose a tax on “the sale or use of certain fossil fuels and fossil-fuel-generated electricity, at $15 per metric ton of carbon dioxide in 2017, and increasing gradually.” By placing economic incentives to move towards carbon-free and renewable energy, the state of Washington is encouraging further development of renewable energy technology.

The organization Carbon Washington[67] sponsored this initiative.

Editor’s Note: The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy of Washington state was originally reported as being in favor of the Carbon Emission Tax, this was in error and that section has been changed to reflect it.

This article originally posted at[68]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[69] or get the Energy Democracy weekly[70] update.

Image Credit: Tom Arthur from Wikimedia Commons[71] via CC BY-SA 2.0[72]

  1. see the original post here:
  2. for years:
  3. completely eliminated net metering benefits:
  4. Nevada Energy Choice Amendment:
  5. Nevada Solar Rate Restoration Referendum:
  6. [Image]:
  7. Arizona: #Arizona
  8. California: #California
  9. Colorado: #Colorado
  10. Florida: #Florida
  11. Massachusetts: #Massachusetts
  12. Missouri: #Missouri
  13. Montana: #Montana
  14. Nevada: #Nevada
  15. Ohio: #Ohio
  16. Oregon: #Oregon
  17. Washington: #Washington
  18. [Image]:
  19. were withdrawn:
  20. first proposed initiative:
  21. direct refutation:
  22. [Image]:
  23. first initiative:
  24. frequent:
  25. cost overruns:
  26. second ballot initiative:
  27. According to the ballot language:
  28. Denton, TX:
  29. Georgetown, TX:
  30. solar plus storage system:
  31. first initiative:
  32. as we’ve written previously:
  33. second initiative:
  34. nearest occupied structure:
  35. [Image]:
  36. This initiative:
  37. only allowing utilities to sell electricity:
  38. Floridians for Solar Choice:
  39. status-quo initiative:,_Amendment_1_(2016)
  40. Consumers for Smart Solar:
  41. counts among its donors:,_Amendment_1_(2016)
  42. Duke Energy:
  43. Florida Power and Light Company:
  44. lambasted the proposal:
  45. investigations have revealed:
  46. second constitutional amendment:,_Amendment_4_(August_2016)
  47. residential property values rise about 1% for each kilowatt of solar installed:
  48. margin of 73%-27%:
  49. [Image]:
  50. would remove:
  51. ballot initiative:
  52. The initiative would:
  53. [Image]:
  54. ballot initiative:
  55. ballot initiative:,_I-180_(2016)
  56. “are necessary”:
  57. first ballot initiative:
  58. intention:
  59. second ballot initiative:
  60. As we’ve reported,:
  61. ballot initiative outlined:
  62. stonewalled:
  63. ballot initiative:
  64. attacks any expansion:
  65. [Image]:
  66. ballot initiative:
  67. Carbon Washington:
  69. Twitter:
  70. Energy Democracy weekly:
  71. Tom Arthur from Wikimedia Commons:
  72. CC BY-SA 2.0:

Source URL:

Energy Democracy: Customer Control over Renewable Energy – Episode 3 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | October 20, 2016 12:00 pm

Update November 16, 2016: Full transcript[1] of this podcast is now available.

Welcome to the third episode of the Building Local Power podcast[2].

In this episode, Chris Mitchell, the director of our Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews John Farrell, the director of our Energy Democracy initiative about the concept of energy democracy and about his latest report, Is Bigger Best in Renewable Energy?[3] John specifically outlines some of the key concepts that make up the principles of energy democracy and how locally-owned renewable energy continues to shape our electric grid in new and exciting ways.

“We have traditionally had these large companies produce energy for us and our role is that we are simply customers,” says Farrell, “What’s really been happening in recent years is that we’re seeing a transition in the rules of the system…and that citizens want a bigger say over the [electric] system and their energy future.”


For more information on John’s work, follow John Farrell on Twitter[10] or get the Energy Democracy weekly[11] update and read his latest report: Is Bigger Best in Renewable Energy?[3] and see more fantastic charts like the one below.

Solar Competes at Most Sizes[12]

If you missed the first couple episodes of our podcast you can find those conversations with Olivia LaVecchia here[13] and Neil Seldman here[14], also to see all of our episodes make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power [15]Podcast Homepage[16].

Full Transcript of Podcast:

John Farrell: People definitely resonate with that notion, that once they have an element of control they’re more interested in having more control over their energy future.


Chris Mitchell: Hey, welcome back to the third episode of Building Local Power from the Institute For Local Self Reliance. Today we’re talking with John Farrell, the director of our Energy Democracy Program. Welcome to the shown John.


John Farrell: Thanks for having me Chris.


Chris Mitchell: I’m Chris Mitchell, the guy who heads the internet related program, the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, or program. Depending on how I feel like describing it in a given day. Today we’re going to talk about energy democracy. John, you’ve just released a new report talking about economies of scale. We’re going to get into that, but let’s first start with a general question. For people that are interested in building local power, making sure that their communities empower to make their own decisions, why should they care where their electricity comes from?


John Farrell: Well there’s a huge opportunity, and you think about it in a big scale here. We spend collectively in this country about 360 billion dollars a year on electricity. The technology in the electricity system is changing so fast to allow us more and more control over that at a local level. Whether that’s rooftop solar, or the fact that I can sit here on my couch and control my thermostat from my smartphone, or the rising prevalence of electric vehicles, and the fact that those batteries can both take energy from the grid but also give it back to the grid. We just have so many different ways in which we have local control possible thanks to technology, and the fact that it’s becoming cost effective that it really changes the whole dynamic of the system. It’s a really important place for us to look.


Even more important than that, electricity is so exciting because it’s basically the only kind of energy source that we have, not that we can actually make renewable, that we can make clean. We know with the wind and the sun that we have cost effective alternatives to fossil fuels. Whether it’s from a local control standpoint, or the economic opportunities, or from the environmental standpoint, electricity is really an exciting place to play.


Chris Mitchell: Let’s talk about the newer report that you’ve done, which actually it seems to me this is a continuation of some of the work you did when you first started at ILSR. It’s worth noting, I think our energy program is one of the longest running efforts that the institute has been involved with. Tell us what the new report is all about.


John Farrell: Well the report was intended in some ways as an update, you’re right. In 2008 we examined the economies of scale, and wind energy production, and also in ethanol. Basically to look at this question of, “Is bigger best?” There is this conventional wisdom that bigger sized things are more economically efficient. That persists throughout our economy, but also in energy. It was true for a very long time. For decades in fact in the electricity industry, that the bigger you built the power plant the more energy you could get out of it at a lower cost per unit. That myth kind of persisted into renewable energy, even though renewable energy like wind and solar is really very different. The power plant that you build that’s 500 megawatts, or 1,000 megawatts to conserve hundreds of thousands of homes, is kind of one big built custom unit when you’re talking about fossil fuel generation.


When you’re talking about renewable energy through we’re talking about modular systems. An individual wind turbine only powers maybe 500 homes. An individual solar panel only produces a couple hundred watts, enough to run your toaster, or something like that. When you build a big power plant you just build lots of them. We have this enormous opportunity with renewable energy to build things at a smaller scale, because we don’t need to have 100, or 1,000, or 500,000 of these units in order to make a power plant, we only need a handful of them. You can build a couple of wind turbines and have it power a small community. You can build a solar on a rooftop and have it power that home. That’s really the opportunity provided by the technology, and what we were investigating in our report then was this question of whether or not it’s cost effective in fact to do so at a smaller scale, versus doing so on a large scale.


Chris Mitchell: I feel like when you say, “Cost effective,” I have to wonder where we’re going to draw the boundaries. It might be if you just look at the cost per watt produced, that might be one thing. How do you count in the reliability that comes from having multiple points of electricity production scattered around so they’re not likely to be disrupted by a single tornado, or hurricane, or earthquake? Did you wrestle with issues that are around that, of where you just draw the boundary of what costs are relevant?


John Farrell: We didn’t wrestle with that particular issue in the report, although I appreciate you mentioning it because for example, utilities are required to have a reserve. The regional management of our grid system, the regional managers say to all the utilities, “You have to have as a reserve, basically a duplicate of your largest sized power plant, plus a safety margin.” To take into account that issue of when you lose, let’s say that biggest power plant goes out, plus another transmission line goes out and limits the amount of power you have available on your system. It’s funny because that reserve margin is directly related to the scale of the system. If you didn’t have large power plants then your reserve requirements would be relatively low, because you it would take a lot more disruption in order to turn off a lot of your power plants.


To be fair we didn’t wrestle with that particular issue, although it is an important one in renewable energy in particular because the more you spread out, the less variable it is. With one solar panel on my home rooftop, if it gets cloudy right over my home the power output from that solar panel drops dramatically. If we have solar powered panels spread out all over a metropolitan area for example, on a partly cloudy day it’s unlikely that all of them are going to be clouded at the same time, and so the system can be more adaptable.


To get to the point in terms of where you draw the line, what we really did that was different than what other folks do is we did extend the line to talk about how much does it cost to bring that power to the point where we use it. Most of the analysis that look at this issue of whether bigger is better say, “Oh, well that really huge power plant that we can build out in the desert for solar, it only costs half as much per kilowatt hour as it does to generate solar on a home rooftop.” It sort of ignores the fact that nobody’s out in a remote area of the California desert charging their iPhone, right? We’re doing that in our homes and in our businesses.


What we tried to do is to take into account that delivery problem, both in terms of building the infrastructure to make that delivery, and the losses of energy that you have when you try to send it long distance.


Chris Mitchell: I’m sitting at the edge of my seat, what’s the result? Is it better to have those giant plants out there in Nevada, or in California? Is it better to distribute it?


John Farrell: The answer is it depends a little bit. We looked both at wind energy and at solar energy. What we found if you look just at where that energy is generated, is that the difference between a very small wind power plant with maybe like three or four turbines, and the really big one’s is about a 16% lower cost of energy if you build it really far away. That there are transmission costs that add a significant amount of cost to your project in terms of going distance. What we found was kind of an approximation is the best we could do. If your wind power project is more than, say about 400 miles away from the city where you’re going to be using the energy, it’s probably not going to pay off to try to go seek either that better wind resource, or build that bigger project than it would … instead it would be better to build that project locally and at a smaller scale, that you could make up that transmission difference.


We actually have a map in the report that kind of looks at this with some concrete examples, whether that’s Minneapolis, or Chicago, or New York City, and just gives you a sense of what those costs are for that kind of distance to travel, and where it actually ends up being more cost effective to generate closer to home. With solar energy, it even gets a little bit more complicated in the sense that … and this is where that analysis starts to get, I think really into the important piece. Which is, it’s not really an apples to apples comparison. That power plant that’s out in the desert, that solar power plant that’s really large and out in the desert, is going to compete in the wholesale market. They’re selling energy into this big regional market, and they’re competing with all the other kind of stuff. Coal power plants, natural gas power plants, what have you.


The solar on the rooftops really competing with whatever it is, whatever the price it is that the utility charges that ultimate customer. When I put solar on my own roof I’m just reducing my energy load, I’m reducing my energy bill. That price is a lot higher than out on a wholesale market when it doesn’t take into account all those delivery charges. There’s a couple things here. One is, yeah you could get cheaper electricity, even with transmission from a solar project delivered into an urban area, maybe. The point is that it’s not even competing with the same energy costs as that rooftop solar project.


What we really found was that solar is competitive just about anywhere. That if you build it out in the desert on that large scale, it competes on the wholesale market. If you build it on a commercial rooftop on the top of a warehouse, or on top of a retail store, it competes with the commercial retail energy price. You can put it on a home rooftop, it competes with that energy price as well. I think that’s the most important thing is to say, “It’s going to compete everywhere. That no matter where we put it, the energy that it generates is going to be more valuable than the energy cost, than the energy that we pay for at that location.”


Chris Mitchell: Is it even the right question to be asking in terms of whether things are cost comparative today when we’re talking about building a new facility? If you put a panel for solar photo voltaic on your roof, it’s going to last 20 or 30 years. If you build a new coal plant, it’s going to be 50, 70 years I’m guessing. To some extent isn’t there a forecasting element to this?


John Farrell: Absolutely. When we compare in our report the price of the large scale wind and solar systems, we don’t compare to what the price is on the grid now from these old fossil fuel plants that are paid off, but that we’ll also have to retire relatively soon, many of them. We instead compare that to what does it cost to build a new power plant. A new natural gas power plant, since we’re not building a lot of coal thankfully. That’s the price that we find appropriate to compete against. When we talk about rooftop solar though, we’re still really only talking about that issue of what’s the price to deliver energy? I pay like, in Minneapolis 11 or 12 cents for every kilowatt hour of energy that I consume from Excel Energy, the electric utility. That’s the price of the competition.


This price to get new natural gas power plant producing energy wherever it is on the grid that it plugs, is more like six or seven cents a kilowatt area. That’s what that large scale solar has to compete against.


Chris Mitchell: You and I were in grad school together where you first became acquainted with my loud mouth. One of the things that I remember from energy course is the psychological impact from having a solar panel on your rooftop. It makes you think differently. It might make you more willing to get up and turn that light off that you’re not using because you’re thinking about where it’s produced. Whereas your neighbor might just be using power that comes from Manitoba’s hydro electric dams, or nuclear power plant that’s really far away, and they don’t really see themselves as having a relationship to it. I’m curious about the democracy part of your Energy Democracy Program. How does that really play into the electricity production in the United States?


John Farrell: It really is a see change in this sort of culture of energy. That we have traditionally had these large companies that produce energy for us, and that we are simply customers. That our only job in terms of managing our energy consumption is to try to use less. What’s really happening in recent years is that we’re seeing a transition in the sort of rules of this system, where regulators are saying, “You know what? We need to focus more on energy efficiency and conservation because those are the cheapest way to get more energy for the whole system.” We’re also seeing more, like you point out, of people thinking about the fact that now that we have the technology at our fingertips, now that we can be producers, we want to have a lot more control and say over the system.


Say in Boulder Colorado for example, the city there has now been in about a five year battle with the Incumbent Electric Utility over wanting to have more say in it’s energy future. On behalf of a lot of customers who have solar themselves who are saying, “Look, I individually can make this decision to reduce my reliance on the Incumbent Electric Utility, and our community wants to do that as well because there’s all these economic benefits, and spillover benefits that have nothing to do with energy, but everything to do with kind of the future and the resilience of my local economy that can come from this.” A perfect illustration of this is something like 30 or 40% of electric car owners served by the San Diego Gas and Electric Utility in Southern California, also have solar power. They look at this, they went out, they bought the car, and they realized, “Hey, rather than charging this from the utilities dirty power plants, I can own my own solar panel and I can charge from that. I can further reduce my transportation costs by generating the energy I use to put into my car.”


People definitely resonate with that notion that once they have an element of control, they’re more interested in having more control over their energy future.


Chris Mitchell: Let’s talk quickly about the, what I sometimes think of as the, “Big guys.” The big incumbent interests. Do they make more money from large central production generation facilities than they would from a grid that is more distributed?


John Farrell: Well it’s important to kind of draw a line here and divide. There’s sort of two kinds of utilities. You have role electric cooperatives and municipal utilities, which are effectively owned by their customers. There’s no profit motive here, but there is kind of a cultural dependence on large scale power generation, sort of the relationship … most cities for example that have their own utility are part of a larger network of power purchasers, and power plant operators, and they all buy from the same people. They’re kind of stuck in this paradigm of, “Well we’ve always bought power from these guys, and they’re the one’s who make the power plant decisions, and they like building big things.” That’s kind of the nature of that relationship.


With the other kind of utilities we have what are called, “Investor owned utilities.” Those are for profit private companies. In many cases, and probably in most states, about 30 states, they have, they are what called, “Regulated Monopolies.” They have control over all of their customers, there’s no alternative supplier. They make money in two ways. One is selling more electricity, although some recent laws have kind of tweaked that to allow them to make some money even when they’re encouraging conservation. They really make their most money, their return on investment when they spend their own money, when they spend their own capitol. Big utilities don’t like to build small things, they like to build big things.


There’s a definitely bias toward building big from investor owned utilities, because that’s where they’re going to make their return on investment. They’re going to build, for example in Minnesota the utility was recently trying to replace a very large coal power plant with about 700 megawatts of natural gas generation. They want to own that themselves of course, because when they build that and own it themselves, however many millions or billions of dollars that costs, they’re going to get about 10% of that back for their share holders.


Chris Mitchell: John, one of the things that I hear, and I sometimes think of this as your uncle at Thanksgiving when you’re talking about these sorts of issues will say, “Yeah, well Germany. They have all of this renewable energy and it’s a disaster. They’re just buying all this coal now, and their prices are outrageous. It’s a horrible, horrible disaster.” You talked about Germany in your report, what’s going on there?


John Farrell: Well there’s a lot of different pieces to this sort of, “Germany is bad,” or this, “Doubling down on renewable’s is bad myth,” about Germany. What I think is important to understand first of all is that they have a term of what they’ve been doing in Germany, they call it, “Energy [Foreign Language 00:16:22],” which means … and I apologize, my German language skills are very limited. I probably mispronounced that horribly, but the basic concept is that word means, “Energy change.”


Chris Mitchell: Just to be very clear for people who might not be familiar, what’s the 30 second thumbnail sketch of what Germany’s actually done?


John Farrell: Germany has built more renewable energy, and gets more of it’s electricity from renewable resources than just about any other country in the world. They did this through kind of a crash plan in terms of investment in both wind and solar energy over the past 15 to 20 years. Germany is doing this form a standpoint about changing their energy supply to renewable energy resources, and also doing it in terms of changing the ownership of those resources. I did a comparison in the report for example, in a similar 5 year period both Germany and the U.S. installed about 22 gigawatts of solar, 22,000 megawatts of solar. There was a huge difference in the way that they deployed that. In Germany three quarters of those projects were smaller than 500 kilowatts, which for example is the roof of a fairly sizable retail store. In the United States, it was less than half of those projects, solar projects, were smaller than a megawatt, which would be like a big box store, like an IKEA for example.


Way more of the solar that Germany built was built at a small scale. There are some policy differences about what drove that development, but the idea was, “Let’s spread this around to everybody. Let’s let everybody make a return on investment in this switch over to solar.” They also had a similar commitment in wind power. There’s that piece of it that I think is crucially important is that they don’t just look at this standpoint of the cost of the energy, but they look at it in terms of the overall benefit to the economy, and to the people. Millions of German’s are owners in solar individually, or they’re part of wind cooperatives, or energy cooperatives that are financially benefiting from this transition that is much more than just the cost of electricity.


I think a second issue that’s important to address with Germany, cause it comes up a lot, is this issue of cost. Yes because of taxes Germany, German’s pay about twice as much per kilowatt hour of electricity as we do here in the United States, sometimes even three times as much. What’s important to understand is that German’s only pay about the same amount per bill as we do, about $100 a month as we do in the United States. They’ve learned to use less. They have tools available to them, like solar, to reduce their energy consumption. It’s not that it’s much more costly in Germany, it’s that they have a lot of different ways to help reduce their bill. Giving customers that control is a huge piece of this energy democracy movement in the United States as well.


Chris Mitchell: I think it’s also worth noting that they have metric hours over there. It’s a totally different system.


John Farrell: Right.


Chris Mitchell: I want to conclude with a question as to recommendation that you can offer for an article, or a book that you’ve recently read that just peaked your interest that you think people should hear about.


John Farrell: That’s a really great question. I guess what I would say is basically anything that David Robert’s over at Vox writes. He is a really insightful writer, he gives, I think really excellent perspective on the change in the energy system, but he also occasionally dives into some really fascinating pieces on politics, and the psychology of both energy and politics. The article that was most interesting to me recently was one that he wrote about kind of Donald Trump’s relationship with the truth, and the bad … he has just kind of a different perspective on truth than most American’s do, which I thought was really interesting. It wasn’t a critique per say, it was just sort of an acknowledgement that he sort of operates at a very different way than most of us do with that relationship. I find that he’s very insightful whether he’s writing about politics or energy, and so very much enjoy his work.


Chris Mitchell: Great, and he was, I remember his name. He was with Grist before wasn’t he?


John Farrell: Yeah. Yeah, he left Grist for Vox a few years ago but has been doing very similar and excellent work at Vox since than.


Chris Mitchell: Great, well thank you for talking about these issues with us. We’ll hear back from you in a few months I’m guessing.


John Farrell: Sounds good, thanks Chris.


Lisa Gonzalez: That was John Farrell, director of the Energy Democracy Program here at ILSR, visiting with Chris Mitchell for episode number three of our Building Local Power Podcast. To download John’s new report, visit where you can also sign up for updates on the Energy Democracy Program, and you can checkout the latest updates from John. In addition to reports he regularly publishes articles on the Energy Self Reliant States blog, and he interviews guests for the Local Energy Rules podcast. In fact you can subscribe to this podcast, and all of the podcasts in the ILSR podcast family on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts from. Never miss out on our original research by also subscribing to our monthly newsletter. You can also do that at


Thanks to Dysfunction Al for the music, license suit, creative commons, the song is Funk Interlude. This is Lisa Gonzalez from the Institute for Local Self Reliance, thanks again for listening to the Building Local Power podcast.


Audio Credit: Funk Interlude[17] by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0)[18] license.

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Report: Sparking Grid Savings Starts at Home

by John Farrell | October 12, 2016 6:00 am



Download the Report[1]


Browse the Report

Big Potential Savings
    Peak Reduction from Commercial Buildings
    Peak Reduction from Homes
Deepening of Peak Energy Reduction in Homes
Powerful Examples
Automated or No?


In the past decade, two major trends have threatened the ability of electric utilities to meet the needs of the electricity system. The first is that national electricity sales have flattened, a reversal of nearly 100 years of constant growth, while peak energy use has continued to climb. In other words, at certain moments each year, the grid is strained to capacity by the simultaneous electric use of all customers. Traditionally, utilities have built new power plants to accommodate these moments of intense use. But now utilities can’t recover the costs of these power plants as effectively, as more efficient appliances and lighting lower the total amount of energy sold annually. The chart below shows the remarkable reversal of this trend.

Flattening Electricity Consumption per Capita (U.S.)

The second challenging trend is a need for flexibility. Wind and solar energy production are growing, and utilities have traditionally focused on flexible supply rather than demand. Now, utilities need low-cost tools to maximize flexibility, such as ways to adjust energy demand, not just supply. The chart below, from the U.S. Energy Information Administration[2], illustrates this need for flexibility on the California electricity grid.

Source: EIA[3]

Source: EIA

xcel-dr-switch[4]Fortunately, there are solutions. For years, utilities have reduced the problem of peak energy demand by controlling customer energy use. Xcel Energy in Minnesota is one of many utilities integrating basic “demand response,” using radio controls (right[5]) on customer air conditioners to cycle them off over 15-minute intervals, reducing grid-wide peak energy consumption. The company’s Savers Switch program[6] can reduce electricity demand by 300 megawatts by controlling the air conditioners of 400,000 residential and commercial customers.

Other utilities are adopting new technology, from smart meters to smart thermostats. These tools allow the utility to price energy based on the time of use and its actual cost, offering customers an incentive to use power when it costs less to deliver and giving the utility more control over energy use.

These programs have just scratched the surface.

New technology, particularly in the hands of electric customers, is creating an unprecedented opportunity to move beyond air conditioners and tap the many other sources of controllable electricity demand in homes and businesses. Utilities, like Xcel, should harness these lower-cost ways to meet rising peak energy demand.


Big Potential Savings

imageedit_83_3656718250Customers empowered with smartphones, smart apps, and smart devices can already adjust their energy use (and lower their costs) in response to the needs of the electricity system. A variety of smart thermostats can be controlled from smartphones, such as the one in the author’s home (right). Customers can restrict when they run appliances or charge electric vehicles to times with low power costs. And in some markets, companies aggregate these empowered customers to lower overall energy demand significantly using “automated demand response.”

Below are a few potent examples of how utilities access available energy resources in homes and businesses when the grid needs more power.

Peak Reduction from Commercial Buildings


Source: Siemens

Five large commercial buildings (100,000 square feet or greater) in the Northwest were selected by researchers from Berkeley Labs to participate in an automated demand response program[8]. The building operators used a number of energy-saving strategies, including pre-heating or -cooling before peak energy periods, cycling off heating/cooling units, and reducing lighting levels.

Over the four winter test periods, buildings averaged a peak demand reduction of 14%, a combined 767 kilowatts. Over four summer test periods, buildings averaged a peak demand reduction of 19%, an average of 338 kilowatts. Electric load reduction was possible even with gas heating systems because of the fans used to distribute heat.

During a Texas grid emergency, 100 retail stores using Siemens automated demand response tools were able to reduce energy use by 21%[9] over 3.5 hours without significantly disrupting customers. The graphic to the left[10] illustrates how the utility sees this demand response.

Peak Reduction from Homes

When it comes to managing residential energy consumption, utilities have used radio-controlled devices for more than two decades, but are just beginning to take advantage of Internet-connected devices or smart appliances.


Think of this as a giant battery.

One historic example comes from Great River Energy, an aggregation of cooperative utilities in Minnesota, which remotely controls over 100,000 water heaters[12], enough to store more than 1 gigawatt-hour of electricity. That’s enough electricity to power 37,000 homes for an entire day. Xcel Energy’s Savers Switch program, mentioned in the introduction, aggregates air conditioners in 400,000 homes and businesses to control 300 megawatts of energy demand.

Some utilities are pushing the envelope with new technology.

Oklahoma Gas & Electric achieved[13] energy use reductions of 2 kilowatts per home in the first year of its smart meter and smart thermostat program. The utility allowed 40,000 volunteer customers to switch to electric rate plans where the price varied based on the demands on the grid. Customers received[14] smart meters and smart thermostats to shift their consumption accordingly. The 70 megawatts of peak power reduction was 50% to 100% more than the utility anticipated. In addition to cost savings for more than 90% of participating customers[15], the utility’s costs of $300 to $400 per home were far less than the cost of adding new peak-time power plant generation to the electricity system.

By its second year, the utility increased residential participation to over 100,000 households with average load reduction of 1.4 kilowatts[16], and by year four, 92% of participating customers saved an average of $140 per summer. The 1.4 kilowatt average load reduction is twice that achieved by Xcel’s Saver’s Switch program.

Oklahoma Gas & Electric’s smart meter network was funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, although Arizona utilities have achieved reliable, if less substantial, results[17] (0.2 kilowatts of peak reduction) with smart thermostats alone. Another 1,000-customer pilot by Energate achieved approximately 1 kilowatt of demand reduction[18] per customer with a Canadian electric utility, a program now slated for expansion.


Deepening of Peak Energy Reduction in Homes

While most programs so far have targeted home comfort (central air conditioning or electric water heating), there are other sources of electricity consumption that remain untouched.

The following table shows numerous power draw estimates for common household appliances whose operation could be time-shifted during periods of high energy draw. Energy savings from dishwashers and clothes washers may already be captured in programs where customers pay more for electricity during peak periods, but refrigerators and window air conditioning units run on their own schedule.

Typical Energy Consumption of Large Household Appliances (Watts)

Data Source:[19] Don Rowe[20] Inverter Company Chabot Space & Science Center[21] Consumer Reports[22] ILSR Estimate
Refrigerator 600 500-750 N/A 725 600
Dishwasher N/A 1,200 1,200-1,500 1,800 1,200
Clothes washer 500-1,000 500 500 425 500
Window A/C units 1,000-1,500 N/A 1,000 1,000 1,000

Using the lower-end estimates for each, we could expect controlling refrigerators to provide around 600 watts, dishwashers 1,200 watts, clothes washers around 500 watts, and room air conditioners around 1,000 watts of power.

Of course, not all these items are available all the time. But the time we most need them is the time of peak energy demand. For this illustration, we’ll use Dakota Electric in Minnesota, a utility with an electricity system that reaches peak use in the summer, between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m.

We can probably assume that almost every household (99%) has access to a refrigerator and clothes washer. Dishwashers are in about 75%[23] of American homes, while 91% of Midwest homes have air conditioning[24]. About 22% of air conditioned homes (around 20% of total homes) use window units.

So let’s say a Minnesota utility wanted to manage energy demand in 10,000 homes in Minneapolis. The following table shows how many available appliances the utility would have at its disposal, at a maximum, and the total megawatts of capacity.

Maximum Number of Available Controllable Appliances and Capacity (10,000 households)

Appliance Number Total Megawatts
Refrigerators 9,900 5.94 MW
Dishwashers 7,500 9.00 MW
Clothes washers 9,900 4.96 MW
Window A/C units 2,200 2.20 MW

Of course, just because a customer has the appliance does not mean it would be on. Newer refrigerators use smaller compressors that run 80% to 90% of the time[25]. We’ll assume 80% of refrigerators are available to cycle (about 4.7 MW). Dishwashers are much less certain, with the average dishwasher running just one cycle every 3 days[26]. The wash/dry cycle takes about an hour, so in the 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. timeframe, we can only assume we’ll have 1 in 6 dishwashers running at all (assuming half are running in our peak time window), and only 20% of those available each hour (0.3 MW).1[27] Clothes washers are used more frequently — the average American does 400 loads per year[28], so the typical washer is running 1.1 times per day. We’ll assume half of laundry loads are done between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m., and that each individual cycle takes one hour. Thus, in a given hour we would have 11% of washers available to control (0.55 MW). Because we’re talking about peak energy times, it’s probably hot out, so we’ll assume 90% of window A/C units are running the full 5 hours (1.98 MW).

Cycling appliances frequently is bad for the compressor (where applicable), so we’ll assume the utility taps at most 20% of available units each hour to cover the entire peak demand period.

Estimated Available Capacity from Controllable Appliances (10,000 households)

Appliance Number Total Megawatts Total % Available Available Megawatts Available Megawatts per hour (20%)
Refrigerators 9,900 5.94 MW 80% 4.7 MW 0.94 MW
Dishwashers 7,500 9.00 MW 03.3% 0.3 MW 0.06 MW
Clothes washers 9,900 4.96 MW 11% 0.55 MW 0.11 MW
Window A/C units 2,200 2.20 MW 90% 1.98 MW 0.40 MW

We’re left with 1.51 MW of controllable energy demand per 10,000 households. It may seem small, but in a city like Minneapolis with 166,000 households[29], the utility has 25 megawatts of untapped energy supply, or about 4% of total peak energy demand.

So how could Xcel Energy or another utility start capturing this potential?

Powerful Examples

California utility PG&E offers a market-based automated demand response program[30], with payments ranging from $200 to $400 per kilowatt of load reduction. For comparison, the owners of the five buildings participating in the pilot program in the Northwest could have earned a minimum of $153,000 for participation in the PG&E program, in addition to their reduced energy bills. Our hypothetical 10,000 Minneapolis households, if grouped together, could have each earned up to $76 had they been participating in the PG&E program.

SDG&E, also in California, offers a similar automated demand response program with incentives[31] worth up to $300 per kilowatt of demand reduction. While 60% of the incentive depends upon completion of the project and test of its load reduction potential, 40% is based on actual performance during the year.

Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative’s Energy Wise[32] demand response program has automated and manual components. The utility provides a free smart thermostat that allows it to automatically control cooling and heating during peak energy events. The 44% of customers who participate receive a 10% discount on electricity during summer months. In exchange, the utility pre-cools the house by two degrees in the morning, and allows temperatures to rise by up to 4 degrees five to seven times per month.

The cooperative’s program goes further, encouraging customers to form teams to beat the peak. The highest-performing teams can win gift cards and prizes, and are notified of peak energy events via email, text, or phone the day prior.

Orvibo Smart OutletThe good news is that these successful programs don’t require advanced or smart meters, which have yet to replace older meters for 50% to 75% of customers[33] across the country, including all of Xcel Energy’s Minnesota customers. Energate, one of many companies in the “connected home” space, offers utility programs that simply pair smart devices with an Internet connection — no smart meter required[34]. That could be a significant tool in Minneapolis, where, like many other large cities, over 90%[35] of households have access to a wired, broadband Internet connection (and the city has a citywide Wi-Fi provider[36]).

Weather forecast company WeatherBug offers forecasting analytics as a tool to enhance the savings from smart, connected thermostats. In a Texas trial, smart thermostats using the company’s integrated weather analysis were able to increase peak energy savings[37] by 13% per home.

Automation technology is available off the shelf today. The Orvibo smart outlet plug[38] (shown right), for example, lets customers set a schedule or turn the device on and off from anywhere via a wifi connection. There are dozens[39] more choices, many available for less than $50. These devices are compatible with large appliances and could be deployed as part of utility demand response programs.


Automated or No?

Of the four appliances we considered, there are two distinct types. Refrigerators and air conditioners run independently, turning on and off automatically based on their thermostat settings. Interrupting the cycle of a refrigerator or air conditioner is a minimal inconvenience, and can be done remotely without the customer even noticing it’s happening. Central air conditioners are already controlled in this fashion by utilities, but smart outlets could allow utilities to control automatic appliances like refrigerators and window air conditioners, too.

The other kind of appliances—in this case, washers and dishwashers—run manually, typically starting when a human interacts with them. Trying to stop a washer or dishwasher mid-cycle may reset the machine or cause it to fail to complete its task.

In other words, automating demand response may only make sense for the automatic appliances. For appliances run manually, requiring human interface, it may make sense to instead change human behavior. This may be done more effectively by using transparent pricing communicated through talk, text, or social media, as is done in the Energy Wise program. It can be aided by timers built into these appliances, such as dishwashers or clothes washers that can be scheduled to run at a later time.

For manual appliances, there’s also an opportunity to use psychology to obtain savings. Opower[40] has teamed up with many utilities to put smiley or frowny faces on monthly electric bills to motivate customers to use less energy than their neighbors. The strategy has helped reduce energy use, some of which overlaps with peak demand periods.



Homes and businesses represent a large source of manageable energy consumption. Decades-old utility programs enable control of a few major sources of household or business energy use, but much untapped potential remains. In one city, Minneapolis, controlling four major household appliances in homes across the city could reduce peak energy demand by 4%.

Utilities can use commercially available smart technology to allow themselves or their customers to cycle automatic appliances—refrigerators and window air conditioners—and reduce peak energy consumption. Transparent pricing based on the actual costs of electricity can motivate customers to shift the time they use manual appliances such as washers and dishwashers, further reducing peak energy demand.

Electric utilities should explore programs for residential and commercial demand response to access this abundant, low-cost source of peak energy supply.



  1. We’re obviously simplifying dramatically, since there’s likely a bias toward dishwashers or clothes washers running later in the evening for working families, or at different times of day entirely. [Back to text][41]
  1. Download the Report:
  2. U.S. Energy Information Administration:
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  5. right:
  6. Savers Switch program:
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  8. automated demand response program:
  9. reduce energy use by 21%:
  10. graphic to the left:
  11. [Image]:
  12. remotely controls over 100,000 water heaters:
  13. achieved:
  14. received:
  15. cost savings for more than 90% of participating customers:
  16. average load reduction of 1.4 kilowatts:
  17. reliable, if less substantial, results:
  18. 1 kilowatt of demand reduction:
  20. Don Rowe:
  21. Center:
  22. Consumer Reports:
  23. 75%:
  24. have air conditioning:
  25. 80% to 90% of the time:
  26. every 3 days:
  27. 1: #Footnotes
  28. 400 loads per year:
  29. 166,000 households:
  30. automated demand response program:
  31. incentives:
  32. Energy Wise:
  33. 50% to 75% of customers:
  34. no smart meter required:
  35. over 90%:
  36. citywide Wi-Fi provider:
  37. increase peak energy savings:
  38. outlet plug:
  39. dozens:
  40. Opower:
  41. [Back to text]: #Commercial

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ILSR Sponsors the Fourth National Cultivating Community Composting Forum, Scholarship Fund Announced

by Brenda Platt | October 11, 2016 5:03 pm

placeholderIn collaboration with the US Composting Council (USCC) and BioCycle[1], the Institute for Local Self-Reliance announces two events to be held in conjunction with the USCC’s International Conference and Trade Show[2], COMPOST2017, in Los Angeles:

Best Practices in Community Composting Workshop – 

January 23, 2017

Cultivating Community Composting Forum 2017 –

January 24, 2017

These events will bring together composters to network, share best practices, and build support for community-scale composting systems and enterprises. The Cultivating Community Composting Forum 2017 is the fourth national forum sponsored by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and BioCycle.

Interested in sponsoring and helping to support this event?[3] Click here to go the sponsorship page[4] and let us know how you can support this event!

Community composters, we invite your participation and input on the agenda! What topics or experts would you most like to hear from? Are you interested in presenting? What are your biggest challenges?

Limited scholarships are available to community composters! Apply by Friday, October 28. We have scholarships up to $500 to help offset COMPOST2017 registration fees, and travel and hotel costs. Community composters are also eligible to receive a waived registration fee (a $350 value) with a commitment to volunteer 8 hours at the conference.




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Report: North Carolina Connectivity – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

by Nick Stumo-Langer | October 11, 2016 12:00 pm

North Carolina’s digital divide between urban and rural communities is increasing dangerously in a time when high quality Internet access is more important than ever. Rural and urban areas of North Carolina are essentially living in different realities, based on the tides of private network investment where rural communities are severely disadvantaged. The state has relied too much on the telecom giants like AT&T and CenturyLink that have little interest in rural regions.

Download the Report[1]

The state perversely discourages investment from local governments and cooperatives. For instance, electric co-ops face barriers in seeking federal financing for fiber optic projects. State law is literally requiring the city of Wilson to disconnect its customers in the town of Pinetops, leaving them without basic broadband access. This decision in particular literally took the high-speed, affordable Internet access out of the hands of North Carolina’s rural citizens.

The lengths to which North Carolina has gone to limit Internet access to their citizens is truly staggering. Both a 1999 law limiting electric cooperatives’ access to capital for telecommunications and a 2011 law limiting local governments’ ability to build Internet networks greatly undermine the ability of North Carolinians to increase competition to the powerful cable and DSL incumbent providers.

In the face of this reality, the Governor McCrory’s Broadband Infrastructure Office recommended a “solution” that boils down to relying on cable and telephone monopolies’ benevolence. What this entire situation comes down to is a fundamental disadvantage for North Carolina’s rural residents because their state will not allow them to solve their own problems locally even when the private sector abandons them.

“It’s not as if these communities have a choice as to what they’re able to do to improve their Internet service,” says report co-author Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “There’s a demonstrated need for high-quality Internet service in rural North Carolina, but the state literally refuses to let people help themselves.”


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ILSR’s Testimony at New York City Hearing on Retail Diversity and Neighborhood Character

by Olivia LaVecchia | October 10, 2016 12:16 pm

Locally owned businesses are taking a hit in New York City. In lower-income and affluent neighborhoods alike, long-time businesses are being forced out by chain stores, rising rents, and new development, and the barriers to starting a new enterprise in the city are higher than ever. These businesses are an essential part of the city’s character and of its economy, and though generations of New Yorkers have pulled their families into the middle class by starting a business, now, this traditional route to a stable and prosperous life is diminishing.

On Sept. 30, the New York City Council’s Committee on Small Business and Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises held a hearing[1] on zoning and incentive ideas to address the crisis. There was heated discussion at the four-hour hearing, including testimony from more than 30 people. A briefing report[2] [.doc] that city staff prepared for the Council draws on ILSR’s work to propose solutions, and we also submitted written testimony.

The City has long discussed[3] taking the kind of policy action that some of its peer cities, like San Francisco, have. While this hearing is a first step, it remains to be seen whether City officials are willing to act to level the playing field for New York’s locally owned businesses.

To see our testimony, download a copy[4] [PDF] or read it below. We also examined the issue of rising retail rents in New York and other cities in our April 2016 report, “Affordable Space: How Rising Commercial Rents Are Threatening Independent Businesses, and What Cities Are Doing About It[5].”


Testimony of Olivia LaVecchia and Stacy Mitchell, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Before the New York City Council Committee on Small Business and Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises
Oversight Hearing on Zoning and Incentives for Promoting Retail Diversity and Preserving Neighborhood Character
September 30, 2016

Thank you, Chairs Cornegy and Richards, and Members of the Committee on Small Business and the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, for holding this hearing and for the opportunity to submit testimony on this critically important issue.

We work at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a 42-year-old national nonprofit research and educational organization with primary offices in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., where Olivia is a researcher and Stacy is co-director. In our work, we examine the many benefits that strong locally owned businesses bring to communities and economies, and public policy tools that support their growth and development. Stacy has presented on this topic at national conferences organized by groups like the American Planning Association and the National Main Street Center, and has advised many communities seeking policy responses. We’re also the co-authors of an April 2016 report titled, “Affordable Space: How Rising Commercial Rents Are Threatening Independent Businesses, and What Cities Are Doing About It,” in which we outline six broad policy strategies cities can use to maintain and create a built environment where locally owned businesses thrive.[1]

Our testimony briefly examines the importance of locally owned businesses to New York City and the crisis affecting them, and then offers examples of effective and proven policy strategies to level the playing field for these businesses. Promoting retail diversity and preserving neighborhood character are worthy policy goals, and ones that help the City achieve many other goals as well, such as creating jobs, advancing economic opportunity, and strengthening neighborhoods. (more…)[6]

  1. a hearing:
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  3. long discussed:
  4. download a copy:
  5. Affordable Space: How Rising Commercial Rents Are Threatening Independent Businesses, and What Cities Are Doing About It:
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In Maryland, Community Solar Pioneers Offer Blueprint

by Karlee Weinmann | October 7, 2016 6:00 am

placeholderA pair of rooftop solar arrays in Maryland spotlight how pioneering communities can pool their resources to expand local access to renewable energy. These “community solar” projects are an increasingly popular approach as electricity customers renounce utilities’ reliance on fossil fuel and look for ways to cut their energy costs.


This is part of a series released in October 2016 for Energy Awareness Month highlighting communities and community energy projects on ILSR’s Community Power Map[1].

The first of the two projects, atop a church in University Park[2] near the border of Washington D.C, went operational in 2010, around the time that legislation promoting community-scale solar projects began to surface nationwide. Back then, these solar projects were much more ad hoc. They cost more, and there were few proven success stories.

But enterprising communities saw the potential and used early solar projects as guides, giving way to a trend that has since brought community solar projects to neighborhoods across the U.S. The roughly 23-kilowatt University Park project directly influenced a separate 22-kilowatt installation in Greenbelt[3], a couple of towns to the east. In both cases, the local investors sell electricity to the host site.

Community Solar Projects and Virtual Net Metering.[4]

Today, more than a half decade after both projects went operational, they deliver the benefits targeted by their backers: they generate renewable energy for local users, replacing some fossil-fueled electricity, while participants steadily earn back the investment made to supplement tax credits and other incentives. Through 2015, they had each earned back $560[5] of their initial $1,000 buy-in.

Both projects used a private financing model to reduce compliance costs with securities regulations, a major barrier[6] for raising capital for community renewable energy projects. With other structures, these compliance costs could rise to as much as 75% of project costs. The graphic below illustrates the strategy, taken from our Beyond Sharing report[7] on community renewable energy.

University Park busting barriers[8]


The investor groups are technically for-profit entities, structured as limited liability corporations, so that they can capture perks tied to renewable energy production in Maryland. Among those incentives are renewable energy certificates, earned by generating solar power, that the groups can sell. Investors can profit from the sale of energy produced by their arrays.

“A social benefit like carbon reduction did not preclude a possible return on an individual’s contribution to the project,” the University Park partnership says it in its materials[9].

University Park and Greenbelt seeded community solar in Maryland, showing how to harness the collective investment of individuals to promote renewable energy. But privately run projects have been tough to scale up despite their success at the hyperlocal level, leaving a gap in a marketplace with unquenched demand for community solar. University Park backers, for example, were able to secure pro bono legal help in arranging the project.

That’s where a new statewide pilot program[10] comes in. The three-year initiative aims to add around 200 MW of community solar, according to plans approved in June, with about 60 MW of that capacity focused on low- and moderate-income electricity customers. Through the program, renters and others unable to install solar on their rooftops can still cash in on renewables. If it works similar to other state programs, the big difference is that the participants won’t own the solar projects, but rather just the right to a share of its electricity production, a key distinction in avoiding securities regulations.
16 states with virtual net metering transparentMaryland’s action brings it into a group of about a dozen states with community solar policies[11], typically crafted to diversify the energy mix and drive new investment in the local clean energy economy — goals that guided the University Park and Greenbelt investors years ago.

Under regulations approved over the summer[12], the Maryland program promises utilities will pay community solar subscribers the retail rate for energy use they offset and excess power generated by their arrays. It also guarantees no subscription fees for customers, meaning those opting in as projects go online will see the same payback on their electricity bills as rooftop solar customers.

One utility, Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative Inc., challenged the state’s ability to impose the on-bill credit guarantee for electricity that exceeds the customer’s own use and has asked federal regulators[13] to review the pilot program.

For their part, though, local officials have touted community solar as a multi-pronged asset to the state. It aligns, they say, with a broader vision for a more dynamic local energy economy. W. Kevin Hughes, who heads the Maryland Public Service Commission, has cheered the initiative.

“This pilot program will implement the General Assembly’s desire to increase access to solar electricity for all Maryland ratepayers, especially low- and moderate-income customers,” he said in June[14], after it sealed regulatory approval. “It will encourage private investment in Maryland’s solar industry and diversify the state’s energy resource mix.”

To learn more about the national movement toward distributed generation and renewables, visit ILSR’s interactive Community Power Map[1]. The tool showcases programming, policies and projects across the U.S., and compares state-by-state performance. Bookmark it and check back for updates.

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

  1. Community Power Map:
  2. atop a church in University Park:
  3. a separate 22-kilowatt installation in Greenbelt:
  4. [Image]:
  5. earned back $560:
  6. a major barrier:
  7. Beyond Sharing report:
  8. [Image]:
  9. says it in its materials:
  10. a new statewide pilot program:
  11. states with community solar policies:
  12. approved over the summer:
  13. has asked federal regulators:
  14. he said in June:
  16. Twitter:
  17. Energy Democracy weekly update:

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Mediacom Lawyers Slow Internet Competition With Court Time, Resources

by Lisa Gonzalez | October 6, 2016 7:26 am

When big corporate incumbent providers fear a hint of competition from a new entrant, they pull out all the stops to quash any potential threat. One of the first lines of offense involves the courts. Iowa City now leases its fiber to Cedar Rapids based ImOn[1] and to stop it, Mediacom is reprocessing an old argument. It didn’t work the first time, but they are going for it anyway; this is another example of how cable companies try to hobble competitors; just stalling can be a “win.”

A Lawsuit In Search Of An Offense

Mediacom has a franchise[2] agreement with Iowa City to offer cable television services and it also provides subscribers the option to purchase Internet access and telephone services. As most of our readers are attuned to these matters, you probably already understand that just any old cable TV provider can’t come into Iowa City and set up shop. State and local law require them to obtain a franchise agreement, which often includes additional obligations in exchange for access to a community’s potential customer base.

According to a 2015 Gazette article[3], Mediacom provides annual payments for use of the public right-of-way, operates a local office, and provides free basic cable services to local schools and government buildings. These types of commitments are commonplace as part of franchise agreements and are small sacrifices compared to the potential revenue available to Mediacom.

ImOn started offering Internet access and phone services to Iowa City downtown businesses in January but the company does not offer cable TV services like it does in other Iowa municipalities. ImOn doesn’t have a franchise agreement with Iowa City but Mediacom says that it should. They argue that, because ImOn has built a system capable of offering video service, it should also have to obtain a franchise agreement.

In August, U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Wolle dismissed the case, stating in a nutshell:

“Although ImOn is constructing in Iowa City a system that may become capable of delivering cable programming, ImOn is not now delivering cable programming. Therefore, ImOn is not presently required to seek a cable franchise.”

Blast From The Past

This isn’t the first time this argument has echoed off the walls of a courtroom. Back in 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit dismissed a similar case between Time Warner Cable (TWC) and the city of North Kansas City. The situation was similar, except the city had not yet decided whether to invest in the required head end to provide video over the fiber-optic[4] network they wanted to deploy. At the time, a Missouri law required a vote if the community planned to build and own a system in order to offer cable TV services. TWC wanted the use the court for a pre-emptive strike: to bar the city from using the network for video services stating that they could not do so because they had never held a vote.

TWC’s argument revolved around the question of whether or not the city owned or operated a cable television facility, which was in violation of state law. Since the network was not offering cable services and there was no head end yet – in fact they didn’t even know if they wanted to invest in one – what really mattered was whether or not North Kansas City owned a “cable TV facility” without prior voter approval. In other words, were they building a network that was capable of offering cable TV services?

As in Iowa City, the court determined that the issue was not “ripe.” From the opinion[5]:

It is factually undisputed that the City’s fiber-optic network is not connected to the required head end facility to receive such signals nor is there any plan to acquire it. Thus, Time Warner’s statutory claim rests on a contingent future event:  the ownership or operation of a cable-television facility by the City;  therefore, Time Warner’s claim that a vote is required under Missouri law is not ripe in that the City does not currently own or operate a cable-television facility because the planned fiber-optic network will not be capable of transmitting cable-television signals and because the City recognizes that in order for it to provide cable-television services a public vote would be required.

Let’s not put the cart before the horse.

Jeff Janssen, vice president of sales and marketing for ImOn said in December that if the provider’s plans change, they will take the necessary steps:

“Franchise agreements are all around cable TV,” he said. “Once we decide, or if we decided to offer cable TV in Iowa City, we would get that franchise agreement, we are required to.”

Every Tool In The Anti-Competitive Toolbox

Mediacom has approximately 4,500 employees and, like the other large corporate providers, they have a highly qualified regiment of attorneys. Not likely they missed the similarities between the North Kansas City and Iowa City cases, but there’s more than one way to win.

Traditionally, winning means presenting the facts and proving to the judge that they fit into the law and that your interpretation of how they work with the law is more correct than your opponent’s. For companies like Mediacom and TWC, however, winning can also mean delaying your opponents project to drive up their costs or cool subscriber interest. In other words, going after the fruit before it is “ripe.”

Winning may also mean forcing the other side to give up and walk away by driving up their legal costs or making them lose progress when construction is delayed and subscribers lose confidence in the project.

Big incumbents have become masters at using the courts for sabotage schemes, no matter how frivolous the perceived infringement. They sue or threaten to sue over poles[6], attempts to streamline[7], and what services a city can and cannot offer[8]. The state legislatures that have passed laws restricting local authority have only helped massive telecoms and cable companies abuse the courts by providing vehicles for their lawsuits. At the same time, they have forced local governments to waste citizen funds and stalled Internet access, typically to the communities most desperate for it.

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

  1. Iowa City now leases its fiber to Cedar Rapids based ImOn:
  2. franchise: /glossary/1#term12
  3. 2015 Gazette article:
  4. fiber-optic: /glossary/1#term10
  5. From the opinion:
  6. sue over poles:
  7. attempts to streamline:
  8. can and cannot offer:
  9. here:

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Report: Is Bigger Best in Renewable Energy?

by John Farrell | September 30, 2016 6:00 am



Download the Report[1]


Browse the Report

Introduction: The Savings of Size?
    Renewable Energy Economies of Scale
Evidence to the Contrary
    Limits to Scale in Wind
    Limits to Scale in Solar
    Does Big or Small Grow Fastest?
Why Economics Isn’t the Issue


Conventional wisdom suggests the biggest wind and solar power plants will be cheapest, but where they deliver power, and who will own them, matters more.



Introduction: The Savings of Size?

For nearly a century, it’s been considered conventional wisdom that larger-scale power generation means lower-cost electricity. This wisdom is built on two basic theories of economies of scale.

First, there’s the simple fact that larger volume components of power plants provide more usable space than the related materials costs. This simple illustration explains. The box on the left has a volume of 1x1x1 = 1 cubic foot. To assemble the box, you need 6 square pieces of material, each with an area of 1, for a total of 6 square feet. The box on the right has a volume of 2x2x2 = 8 cubic feet. The larger box can be assembled of 6 square pieces, each with an area of 2×2 = 4 square feet, for a total of 24 square feet. We’ve increase the volume of our container 8-fold, with only a 4-fold increase in material costs.

As power plants became bigger in the first half of the 20th century, they captures this economy of scale in materials.

The second basic theory is that the average cost of a product decreases the more you make of it. This takes into account the scale economies in material costs (in building the factories), but also the notion that some overhead costs (such as annual registration fees, insurance, etc) are fixed or grow more slowly than the total output of a business.

Both of these theories were well supported by data in the early years of electricity generation in the 1900s, with coal, oil, and then nuclear power plants producing lower cost power from larger sized plants. The advantage to size also lent credence to the conventional wisdom of monopoly utilities. Big power plants required large amounts of capital, and capital markets offered lower interest rates to companies that did not have the risk of competition for their ever­-larger power plants. (more…)[2]

  1. Download the Report:
  2. (more…):

Source URL:

Trust In Government: Strongest Close To Home

by Hannah Trostle | September 27, 2016 5:29 am

We have recently covered state laws preempting local control, especially in North Carolina and Tennessee[1]. State governments are supposed to be “laboratories of democracy” and municipalities are sub-parts of the state. Preemption is ostensibly to prevent problems, but instead these state laws limit local governments’ solutions for ensuring better connectivity.

At the same time, people trust their local government, more than their state government, to handle problems. That’s the latest finding from Gallup’s most recent Governance Poll, and that makes sense for all of us following community networks.

It’s no surprise that trust starts with local community leaders. We have spoken to a number of public officials that acknowledge that when you know your elected official – perhaps live down the street from them or run into them at the grocery store – it’s much easier to know that they share your hopes for the community.

Polls, Trends, and Republicans

Gallup’s September 7th-11th Governance Poll[2] found that 71 percent trust their local government to handle problems, but only 62 percent say the same about their state government. This continues a fifteen-year trend of people putting their faith in local government more than in state government.


Seventy-five percent of Republicans stated that they have a “great deal/fair amount” of trust in local government. (Compare to only 71 percent of Independents and 66 percent of Democrats.)  This corresponds with what we found in January 2015 while analyzing our data. Most citywide, residential, municipal networks are built in conservative cities[3]. They trust local governments to solve connectivity problems when the big providers can’t or won’t deliver.


Image of the graph on trust in local and state governments from Gallup[4]

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

  1. North Carolina and Tennessee:
  2. Gallup’s September 7th-11th Governance Poll:
  3. municipal networks are built in conservative cities:
  4. Image of the graph on trust in local and state governments from Gallup:
  5. here:

Source URL:

Connectivity’s Community Impact: Looking At The Numbers

by Hannah Trostle | September 24, 2016 5:09 am

People rave about next-generation connectivity’s possibilities in rural economies, but what does that mean for locals? A recent survey quantified the actual impact of a reliable high-speed Internet connection in an underserved area.

Central Minnesota telephone cooperative, Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC), released the results of an impact survey[1] on their newest fiber Internet service customers. CTC had extended their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to an underserved area south of Brainerd[2], with funding from a 2015 state broadband grant.

A Positive for Small Businesses and Farms

The survey of the CTC customers in the grant footprint highlighted the importance of connectivity for the community. Forty percent reported that they could not live in a home without a reliable high-speed connection. At the same time, fifty-six percent of the CTC customers currently use their home Internet connection for work purposes.

The new connectivity had a positive impact on small businesses and farms. More than twenty percent of the CTC customers maintain a home-based business or farm, and thirty-six percent of them reported that Internet service reduced their overall operating costs. Meanwhile, nine percent of all the CTC customers surveyed stated that they plan to start a home-based business in the next few years.

Reaching Goals

These results are especially refreshing for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant program. CTC received more than $750,000 from the program in 2015 to improve connectivity for telecommuting and home-based businesses[3] in the area.

The previously underserved area sits south of Brainerd and extends to Fort Ripley. To encourage survey responses, CTC offered the chance to win an iPad and sent reminder postcards and emails to their customers. Twenty-eight percent of CTC’s customer base in that area took the survey either online or over the phone

The Co-op Perspective

Blandin on Broadband recently published videos[4] from a co-op panel at the 2016 Minnesota Broadband Conference. In this short video from the conference, CTC representative Kristi Westbrock discusses the survey and the role of rural co-ops in expanding access to high-quality Internet service.

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

Photo Credit: Doug Kerr[6] via Flickr (CC 2.0[7])

  1. released the results of an impact survey:
  2. Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to an underserved area south of Brainerd:
  3. to improve connectivity for telecommuting and home-based businesses:
  4. Blandin on Broadband recently published videos:
  5. here:
  6. Doug Kerr:
  7. CC 2.0:

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At the Two-Year Mark, a Few Lessons from the Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership – Episode 40 of Local Energy Rules Podcast

by Karlee Weinmann | September 16, 2016 12:00 pm

Minneapolis garnered national attention when it formed a first-of-its-kind partnership[1] with local utilities to advance sustainable, efficient energy policy. Now, as communities across the U.S. increasingly push for influence over their energy futures, the Midwestern city offers a blueprint for what works and a taste of the challenges that come with cooperation.

John Farrell, who leads the Energy Democracy Initiative at ILSR, was a key player in forging the hard-fought Clean Energy Partnership[2] in 2013. He’s still involved as a member of the advisory committee formed to steer the city and its two investor-owned utilities toward policies that favor renewable energy and efficiency.

Officially two years in, the Minneapolis model offers deeper insight to other communities chasing meaningful change. Farrell outlined the key takeaways in the latest episode of Local Energy Rules, the ILSR podcast that highlights innovative pathways to local, renewable energy.


A Historic Partnership

The Clean Energy Partnership, as it’s known, marked a pioneering approach to responsible energy policy. It united the City of Minneapolis and its two investor-owned utilities, electricity provider Xcel Energy and natural gas provider Centerpoint, to advance the city’s goals for shrinking its carbon footprint and promoting a healthy energy economy.

By the time the partnership formed in 2013, Minneapolis had already set ambitious targets for reducing emissions by 30 percent by 2025 — a benchmark out of reach unless households and businesses significantly cut their electricity and natural gas use. That energy consumption was central to the effort, placing utilities at the heart of the issue.

Still, the utilities hopped on board only after a fierce campaign to shake up their outdated business models, including a threat to put power exclusively under the city’s control. Ultimately, the focus shifted away from municipalization toward the unique three-way framework in play today. The compromise guaranteed a change[9] in how the city treats energy.

“We didn’t get the municipalization vote on the ballot. We felt in a way like we had lost the fight for the leverage that we wanted,” Farrell said. “On the other hand, we had actually already gotten something that we wanted, which was we had gotten this public commitment from both utilities.”

The monthslong saga spotlighted the need for innovative strategies, like raising municipalization as a viable alternative, to push reluctant utilities and enterprising cities toward better energy policies.

Building Alliances

Organizers in Minneapolis mounted their Minneapolis Energy Options campaign at a key time, when each city council member and the mayor were up for election. Several sitting policymakers had aligned themselves with the city’s Climate Action Plan, but the election season brought a bigger platform to raise energy issues — including municipalization — and demand accountability.

Multiple candidates, as well as the outgoing mayor, threw their weight behind plans to shake up how Minneapolis approaches energy. Against the backdrop of growing community interest, the organizers nailed down commitments from officials and in turn cemented vital alliances at City Hall. Still, as labor-intensive as it was, drumming up support from voters and candidates was the easier part.

The utilities, locked into a decades-old business model that shortchanges renewables and energy efficiency, were tougher sells. Ultimately, they buckled under rising pressure to join forces with the city. They promised to evaluate how they could fit into the city’s aggressive energy plan, and then-Mayor R.T. Rybak made clear the city expected distinct results.

In a letter to Xcel’s brass[10], Rybak set a bar for the partnership to produce a payoff more significant than the utility’s lackluster past efforts to support Minneapolis in going green.

“It was the perfect response, to say that, ‘Yes, we would love to work with you, but it’s going to have to be more meaningful than it has been in the past,’” Farrell said. “That really made it clear that the city was on our side in this fight, and that the utilities were going to have to please the city in some ways to get them off their back.”

Finding Leverage

Pressure from the city exposed new opportunities to prod the utilities to do more. Rybak’s letter put momentum behind the Minneapolis Energy Options campaign, but it also invited officials — and the public — to closely monitor exactly how far the utilities went to propel city goals forward[11]. That particularly stung Xcel, whose headquarters sits in downtown Minneapolis.

A budding fight for municipalization, or at least a notable overhaul, in MInneapolis fanned tensions already brewing in Boulder, CO. There, Xcel was mired in a long-running, messy fight over whether the city should squeeze it out to form its own electric utility. As Farrell remembers it, Xcel’s CEO was so defensive that he hinted the company would move to a different city.

“We got under their skin,” Farrell said, noting that a utility’s public image can be a valuable tool to force change. The specter of ratepayers frustrated with Xcel for doing too little to support the city’s Climate Action Plan became a pressure point in getting the utility to deepen its focus on those goals.

Advocates eyeing similar shakeups in their cities can borrow from the growing crop of cities eyeing similar outcomes, but there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Organizers in Madison, WI, for example, have followed Minneapolis’ lead to motivate meaningful changes in local energy policy. But their approach is decidedly different — it starts in the boardroom.

Shareholders in Madison’s investor-owned utility have called for tweaks through resolutions that outline better long-term strategies[12]. The “activist shareholder” approach has become increasingly common in U.S. boardrooms, and the technique can be useful in bending utilities toward policies and programs that favor customers, renewables and energy efficiency.

“If you really want to move utilities and elected officials, you need leverage,” Farrell said. “You need to make them feel like they have to respond to you.”

Thinking creatively about the individual dynamics at play in each community is key to crafting the solutions that make progress possible. Cities like Madison and Minneapolis both showcase the potential for novel tactics to shape the fight for more sensible energy policy.

“To me, it suggests there’s always a lever somewhere you can move,” Farrell said. “It’s just a question of identifying where those levers are and how to pull on them.”

Charting Progress

Minneapolis’ unique approach to addressing significant gaps in in energy mix offers a loose blueprint for other cities, but the partnership is far from a ready-made solution. While it itself offers a platform for delivering results, growing pains and slow progress showcase the ongoing work needed to capture the opportunity.

The citizen advisory committee, on which Farrell sits, is an important check on the partnership’s progress and priorities — especially considering the inertia prevalent among utilities that leaves them reliant on an old-school business model that hinges big profits on hefty consumption and dirty power generation.

As it stands, Farrell says, the Minneapolis framework through its first years has yet to reach its potential. The group is approaching the end of its inaugural two-year work plan[13], designed mainly to set a foundation for future efforts. Reports so far highlight existing programs that dovetail with the partnership’s goals, but the utilities have yet to introduce new, bigger approaches.

“That’s kind of the key to this next work plan,” Farrell said. “What are we going to put in there that’s going to accomplish some of those goals?”

Going forward, advocates want to see richer data collection and a focus on equitable access to initiatives that support access to renewable energy and efficiency-oriented upgrades. They also want greater community engagement, a callback to an important piece of the Minneapolis Energy Options campaign.

Measuring some progress is easy, because benchmarks are spelled out in city documents. That includes emissions reductions of 80% by 2050, a plan to reach 75 percent of Minneapolis households with an energy retrofit by 2025, and an overarching effort to reduce energy consumption. But none of those will happen — and no more ambitious goals will surface — if the utilities don’t debut wider-reaching programs with access in mind. The initial work plan also failed to set any interim goals, making it harder to evaluate efforts in the short run, an issue Farrell is interested in solving for the upcoming two-year plan.

While municipalization would have guaranteed the city more flex over how it achieves its goals, the partnership offers advantages. Rather than wrangle over a city utility takeover for several years, the three-pronged partnership can get to work now.

“I’m optimistic that the partnership will prove more effective because we have more time to work with it,” Farrell said. “Although the key is whether or not some of the programs that have already launched are going to be ambitious enough and whether or not the new items that we add can be successful.”

For further reading, check out Farrell’s review of the first two years of the Clean Energy Partnership[14] and proposals for the next work plan[15] from Community Power (the successor to Minneapolis Energy Options).

This is the 40th edition of Local Energy Rules[16], an ILSR podcast with Director of Energy Democracy 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.

Local Energy Rules is published intermittently on, but you can Click to subscribe to the podcast: iTunes[17] or RSS/XML[18].

This article originally posted at[19]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[20] or get the Energy Democracy weekly[21] update.

  1. a first-of-its-kind partnership:
  2. Clean Energy Partnership:
  3. [Image]:
  4. Play in new window:
  5. Download:
  6. iTunes:
  7. Android:
  8. RSS:
  9. guaranteed a change:
  10. a letter to Xcel’s brass:
  11. propel city goals forward:
  12. resolutions that outline better long-term strategies:
  13. inaugural two-year work plan:
  14. Farrell’s review of the first two years of the Clean Energy Partnership:
  15. proposals for the next work plan:
  16. Local Energy Rules:
  17. iTunes:
  18. RSS/XML:
  20. Twitter:
  21. Energy Democracy weekly:

Source URL:

Wilson, North Carolina Forced to Turn Off Service to Rural Pinetops

by Lisa Gonzalez | September 16, 2016 7:07 am

Last night, Wilson’s City Council voted to halt Greenlight Internet service to the community of Pinetops[1], North Carolina. City leaders, faced with the unfortunate reversal of the FCC’s preemption[2] of harmful state anti-muni laws, felt the move was necessary to protect the utility. Service will stop at the end of October.

No Other Solution

Before the vote City Manager Grant Goings told the Wilson Times[3]:

“Unfortunately, there is a very real possibility that we will have to disconnect any customer outside our county. That is the cold, hard truth,” Goings said. “Without getting into the legal options that our city attorney will discuss with the council, I’ll summarize it like this: we have not identified a solution where Greenlight can serve customers outside of our county.

“While we are very passionate about reaching underserved areas and we think the laws are atrocious to prevent people from having service, we’re not going to jeopardize our ability to serve Wilson residents.”

When H129 passed in 2011, it provided an exemption for Wilson, which allows Greenlight to serve Wilson County. The bill also states[4] that if they go beyond their borders, they lose the exemption. North Carolina’s priorities are clearly not with the rural communities, but with the big corporate providers that pushed to pass the bill.

After Wilson leaders took the vote, Christopher commented on the fact that they have been put in such a difficult position:

“It is a travesty that North Carolina is prioritizing the profits of the big cable and telephone companies above the well-being of local businesses and residents. The state legislature needs to focus on what is good for North Carolina businesses and residents, not only what these powerful lobbyists want.”

Economic Progress Grinds To A Halt

Vick Family Farms, highlighted in a recent New York Times article[5], is only one Pinetops business that faces an uncertain future. The potato farm invested in a new packing plant that requires the Gigabit connectivity they can only get from Greenlight. Incumbent Centurylink has explicitly stated that is has no intention to upgrade infrastructure in a community of only 1,300 people.

In a letter to Governor McCrory[6], Mayor Burress rightly lays the blame on the shoulders of the state. “In effect,” he says, “the state of North Carolina is turning off our Gigabit entry to the 21st century global knowledge economy.”

He also describes how Gigabit connectivity to rural Pinetops, brightened their future[7] in a number of ways:

“The economic future of my rural community improved immediately when we gained access to Wilson’s broadband service. Compared to what we had been receiving from the incumbent, access to Greenlight services was like being catapulted from the early 1990s into the 21st century. Our small businesses and residents have saved hundreds of dollars and significantly increased their productivity because of the reliable and super fast Greenlight speeds. Our town commissioners also began planning a new economic development strategy, because as a Gigabit giber community we became newly competitive in the region for attracting creative class and knowledge workers from Greenville and Rocky Mount and the new jobs created by the Rocky Mount CSX distribution hub.”

The Pinetops Board of Commissioners passed a resolution[8] after the Wilson vote, calling on the North Carolina General Assembly to repeal H129. Wilson Energy will still use the fiber connections to Pinetops homes will still use but customers will not have the option to use the infrastructure for connectivity. Nevertheless, if there are future changes in North Carolina laws that remove the state barriers, Pinetops could once again be served by Wilson’s Greenlight.

Bigger Than Wilson

When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit made their decision to reverse the FCC’s ruling on the anti-muni laws, their decision immediately harmed the community of Pinetops. Their decision, however, reaches to every rural community where the big Internet Service Providers don’t offer the fast, affordable, reliable connectivity needed in the 21st century.

In the words of Wilson’s City Manager:

“This is bigger than Wilson. This is about the rural areas, particularly in eastern North Carolina, because the majority of the area does not present enough profitability to attract the private-sector investment,” Goings said. “As a community, a state and frankly as a nation, we need to find ways to connect these rural communities, and our city council believes strongly that our state officials should focus on being part of the solution instead of constructing barriers to prevent communities from being served.”

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

  1. community of Pinetops:
  2. reversal of the FCC’s preemption:
  3. told the Wilson Times:,72844
  4. The bill also states:
  5. highlighted in a recent New York Times article:
  6. a letter to Governor McCrory:
  7. brightened their future:
  8. passed a resolution:
  9. here:

Source URL:

Eureka Recycling: Efficient, Cost Effective and Socially Beneficial Recycling

by Neil Seldman | September 8, 2016 9:35 am

Grassroots recycling companies were a critical link in the United States as the transition from the drop off recycling centers that sprung up after Earth Day in 1970 and municipal curbside service that emerged in the mid 1970s. Non-profit and for profit enterprises demonstrated the feasibility of curbside collection and by the mid 1980s municipal services were being introduced throughout the U.S. Established hauling companies bought some of the more successful enterprises.[1][1] Several remain in operation today: Recycle North in Burlington, VT, Center for Eco Technology in Pittsfield, MA, Infinity Recycling in Chestertown, MD, EcoCycle in Boulder, CO, Berkeley Ecology Center, Ann Arbor Ecology Center, Resource Center in Chicago, and Eureka Recycling in St Paul, MN.

From these beginnings, the country today enjoys a vibrant recycling industry with over one million workers, 65,000 companies and 40,000 local government programs.

Community based recycling enterprises always out compete the large national haulers, by far. The challenge is to get access to the materials that they control as waste.
– Dan Knapp, Urban Ore, Berkeley, CA

Most recently non-profit Eureka Recycling[2] is demonstrating that local and community focused enterprises are the most cost effective and socially beneficial way to recycle. They are establishing a new and higher standard for municipal contracting for recycling services.  These standards include prohibiting the use of at risk temporary workers with meager pay and no benefits.  Employing well-trained unionized workers under respectful labor conditions leads to less absenteeism, turnover and compensation claims.   (See “Social Enterprise Zero Waste Group Beats Multinationals in Twin Cities Recycling Contracts[3]” – Eureka Recycling,  June 29, 2016 and an Excerpt from Statement from Dan Knapp and Neil Seldman on the US Recycling Archive Project, 2015[4])

Eureka has been the St Paul recycling service provider for 15 years and just won a new 5-year contract for recycling collection and processing to begin January 2017.  Eureka also won the contract to expand its processing services to Minneapolis starting in November 2017, outbidding Waste Management, Inc. These new contracts allow the Twin Cities-based organization to add additional shifts, employ over 80 workers, deploy new green trucks and process more than 80,000 tons of recyclables per year from the Twin Cities. Ten years ago, Eureka built its own materials recovery facility (MRF), as it needed to become independent of MRFs controlled by concentrated hauling companies.  This move has allowed them to expand and grow their business.

eureka-Truck-Side-AngleThe community and workers have benefited from this social enterprise. Many workers, for example, have been with the company for 12 plus years. While others have been with the company for at least 3.5 years. Traditional processing companies rely on temporary workers that sidestep the responsibility to provide fair wages and working conditions. Eureka’s workers are paid a living wage plus health insurance coverage and sick leave. Eureka has won specific praise from the public because they learn that “why you recycle is reflected in the decisions about how you recycle.”

Eureka pledge to its customers includes:

Using their recycling operations as a demonstration towards changing systems that perpetuate waste, Eureka is much more than just a recycler. On October 22, 2016, Eureka will hold a Zero Waste Summit [5]focused on growing the Zero Waste movement in the Twin Cities region and exploring the potential to collaborate across sectors to ensure that waste-reduction solutions are equitable.

The social enterprise remains committed to solving problems through its focus on community service, its workers and the environment. Other cities should pay attention to the new realities of community based recycling that integrates business with education and outreach to spur increased recycling levels.


[1][6] These included Portland (OR) Recycling Team, Garbagios, Eugene, OR, Recycle Unlimited, Grand Rapids, Recycling Unlimited, St. Paul, MN, Garbage Reincarnation and Santa Rosa Community Recycling Center in Santa Rosa, CA, San Francisco Community Recyclers, Solano (CA) Recycling and Palisades Recycling, Los Angeles.

  1. [1]: #_ftn1
  2. Eureka Recycling:
  3. Social Enterprise Zero Waste Group Beats Multinationals in Twin Cities Recycling Contracts: http://Social%20Enterprise%20Zero%20Waste%20Group%20Beats%20Multinationals%20in%20Twin%20Cities%20Recycling%20Contracts
  4. Excerpt from Statement from Dan Knapp and Neil Seldman on the US Recycling Archive Project, 2015:
  5. Eureka will hold a Zero Waste Summit :
  6. [1]: #_ftnref

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November 8th: Four Key Factors for the Armchair Strategist

by David Morris | August 31, 2016 10:05 am

Two months to elections and counting. Americans will be voting for the entire House, a third of the Senate and the President, as well as all members of state legislative lower houses and usually half of their state senators.

It may be an historic election, an election in which many states will be operating under rules adopted only in the last half dozen years. These rules affect the value of one’s vote and the ease of voting. All of this is occurring in a setting where fewer and fewer federal races are even competitive. Together these impose considerable challenges for those trying to dislodge incumbents the success of which may depend significantly on the level of voter turnout.

Voter dilution, voter suppression, turnout, the dwindling number of winnable seats. These four key factors will influence the outcome of the 2016 election and determine the future composition of the federal government.

Voter Dilution

Every 10 years, by Constitutional mandate, the U.S. government conducts a Census that determines the number of Representatives allocated to each state. The Constitution largely, although not entirely, leaves the manner in which those Representatives are elected to the states.

According to Article I, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Place of Choosing Senators.”

In 1842, for the first time, Congress intervened in state elections, eliciting howls of protest from states’ righters. Congress demanded that Representatives “should be elected by districts composed of contiguous territory … no one district electing more than one Representative.”   In 1872 Congress added the requirement that districts have “as nearly as practicable an equal number of inhabitants.” In 1901 and again in 1911, Congress also required the district be “compact.”

In 1929 Congress dropped all state election requirements excepting for single member districts. For the next three decades the size and design of voting districts rested entirely in the hands of state legislatures. To protect their seats, incumbents drew wildly unequal and discriminatory election districts. Fearful of losing their legislative dominance as populations shifted to urban areas, rural legislators designed districts whose populations sometimes varied by as much as 100 to 1. Race-based gerrymandering was common.

In 1962, in a 6-2 decision, the Supreme Court finally decided[1] that federal courts could intervene to determine the constitutionality of state voting districts.  As Justice William Douglas explained, if a voter no longer has “the full constitutional value of his franchise, and the legislative branch fails to take appropriate restorative action, the doors of the courts must be open to him.” In 1964 the Supreme Court clarified and amplified this decision by ruling[2] that state Congressional districts must be similar in size so that “as nearly as is practicable one man’s vote in a congressional election is to be worth as much as another’s.” Still another decision[3] extended this requirement to both houses of a state legislature.

At the same time Congress again intervened, this time with the 1965 Voting Rights Act that banned racially based redistricting and racially discriminatory voting requirements.

Since then courts have repeatedly been asked to intervene. When faced with a clear case of racially based redistricting, they’ve often been willing to do so, but they’ve adopted a hands-off approach when the shape of a district, no matter how oddly drawn, is a result only of political partisanship, no matter how stark. (more…)[4]

  1. decided:
  2. ruling:
  3. decision:
  4. (more…):

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NSR Master Composter Course in Baltimore, Fall 2016!

by Linda Bilsens | August 30, 2016 3:45 pm

Application closed

The City of Baltimore is dedicated to establishing itself as a leader in sustainable local food systems[1] by encouraging urban farming. The City already boasts 16 farms, both for- and non-profit, and has various programs[2] in place to support local farmers. But, as is true in most old industrial cities, soil contamination is a reality[3] that must be managed to mitigate impacts on human health. The good news is that the City is also promoting simple soil best management practices[4], including amending soils with compost, that can be followed to help minimize risk factors associated with lead and other common pollutants.

Among the many benefits of composting and compost use[5] are those involving the soil[6]. Compost has the ability to filter out 60-95% of pollutants from stormwater and can immobilize and degrade contaminants already in the soil. ILSR’s Composting for Community Initiative is proud to help support the City’s healthy food growing goals by partnering with ECO City Farms[7], Civic Works’ Real Food Farm[8], Urban Farm Plans[9] and Compost Cab[10] to bring the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders[11] Master Composter training course to the Baltimore community this fall! Read on for more information:


Fall 2016 Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Master Composter Training Course in Baltimore:

When: 6:30 – 9pm on Wednesdays (weekly, 10/5 – 11/9); 10am-5pm on Saturdays (10/8, 10/22, 11/5)

Where: Civic Works’ Real Food Farm at 2801 St. Lo Drive, Baltimore, MD 21213

Contact: Linda Bilsens,[12]

Application Deadline: Monday, September 19th, 2016.

To Apply: Applications are no longer being acceptedUpon review, qualified applicants* will be contacted to arrange a brief interview for the week of September 19th, 2016.

*As one goal of this program is to cultivate sustainable community-scaled composting projects, preference will be given to participants willing to support an existing composting project, and pairs of applicants from the same community – find a friend, colleague, or neighbor to take the course with you!

Cost: The fee for this course is $200. Scholarships are available to those in need. A space for requesting financial assistance is provided in the online application. A $50 rebate will be made available to non-scholarship participants that successfully complete the four course requirements listed below.


Course Description: The Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders’ Master Composter course provides an experiential learning environment for participants: half of the course takes place in the classroom and half in the field, doing hands-on training.

This course will cover the following topics:


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

For the capstone project component, participants will support or initiate a community composting project based on their interests and the needs of the community they are serving. Participants are encouraged to collaborate on supporting an existing community composting project (such as Real Food Farms[13], Filbert Street Garden[14], and other Baltimore Farm Alliance[15] members). Other potential projects might include building and managing compost bins at community gardens, schools, churches, or compost demonstration sites. In addition, participants will provide NSR staff with brief monthly progress updates throughout the six-month, post-class period.

For the community service component, participants will be expected to log 30 hours of community composting service. Half of these hours will be spent providing hands-on composting support to a community in need.

Upon successful completion of the course requirements, participants will be eligible for receipt of a Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders’ Master Composter certificate and will be qualified to apply to the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Advanced Master Composter train-the-trainer apprenticeship.



  1. a leader in sustainable local food systems:
  2. various programs:
  3. soil contamination is a reality:
  4. simple soil best management practices:
  5. benefits of composting and compost use:
  6. the soil:
  7. ECO City Farms:
  8. Real Food Farm:
  9. Urban Farm Plans:
  10. Compost Cab:
  11. Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders:
  13. Real Food Farms:
  14. Filbert Street Garden:
  15. Baltimore Farm Alliance:

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Prince George’s County Has Officially Declined To Move Forward With Garbage Incineration

by Neil Seldman | August 25, 2016 12:35 pm

Prince George’s County has officially declined to move forward with garbage incineration as part of its future solid waste and recycling management system. On 9 August, the County notified all bidders that it has “determined that the project may not be in the best interest of the County at this time.”

Robin Lewis of Don’t Burn PG and Energy Justice Network stated to the Prince George’s County citizens’ zero waste network:

“The Prince George’s County Department of Environment (DoE) Request for Qualification (RFQ) for the Waste-to-Energy (incinerator) project has been CANCELLED!  Thanks to the hard work of all who stood up for environmental justice.

Although we won this battle, we still need you to stay engaged as the DoE will now schedule public input sessions on the County’s Zero Waste Plan.  A comprehensive Zero Waste Plan with trash disposal solutions that do not include burning will divert waste from landfills by reducing, reusing, recycling and composting materials.  This would create more jobs and reduce the waste stream by over 90% if done properly.

Please stay tune for the dates of the County’s Zero Waste Plan public input sessions.

Thanks again to those who helped make this outcome happen!!”

The zero waste network in the County includes Energy Justice Network, Community Resources, Zero Waste Prince George’s County and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

In the last few years, proposed incinerators in south Baltimore, Frederick and Carroll Counties, MD and Fredericksburg, VA have been defeated. Now activists have set their sites at phasing out the existing incinerators in downtown Baltimore and in Montgomery County, MD.

ILSR continues to work in these jurisdictions to design and implement the needed infrastructure for zero waste and economic development through implementation of unit based pricing, or “Pay As You Throw,” procurement of compost and development of a regional Resource Recovery Park for the reuse, recycling, and composting industries.

For more information about these efforts, contact Neil Seldman at[1].


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Introducing the Community Power Map

by John Farrell | August 24, 2016 6:00 am

placeholder[1]Where are communities taking charge of their energy future? Which states give communities the most power?

ILSR’s newly-released Community Power Map[2] provides an interactive illustration of how communities are accelerating the transition toward 100% renewable energy and how state policies help or hinder greater local action. You can help.

If we’re missing a state policy, grassroots energy organization, or local energy project, you can help us add it to the map!

Community Power Map[3]

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

  1. [Image]:
  2. Community Power Map:
  3. [Image]:
  5. Twitter:
  6. Energy Democracy weekly:

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SandyNet Increases Speeds, Keeps Low Prices

by ILSR Admin | August 23, 2016 5:00 am

This post was written by ILSR intern, Alex Dangel[1].
On July 4th, Sandy, Oregon’s municipal fiber-optic network, SandyNet[2], permanently increased the speed of its entry-level Internet package from 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) to 300 Mbps at no additional cost to subscribers.

The city announced the speed boost for its $39.95 per month tier in a recent press release, calling it “one of the best deals in the nation.” SandyNet customers witness blazing fast download speeds at affordable prices and benefit from symmetrical upload speeds, allowing them to seamlessly interact with the cloud and work from home.

Sandy is still home the “$60 Gig” (see price chart[3]), one of the premier gigabit Internet offers in the nation. Without an electric utility, SandyNet’s unique model can be applied to “Anytown, USA.”

Read our report on Sandy, SandyNet Goes Gig: A Model for Anytown, USA[4], for details on the community’s Fiber-to-the Home (FTTH) and fixed wireless networks and listen to Chris interview Sandy officials in Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 167[5].

Check out our video on Sandy:

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

  1. Alex Dangel:
  2. SandyNet:
  3. see price chart:
  4. SandyNet Goes Gig: A Model for Anytown, USA:
  5. Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 167:
  6. here:

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The Beginning of the End of Prison Privatization?

by David Morris | August 18, 2016 1:49 pm

The Federal Government announced today (August 18th) it will stop allowing private companies to operate federal prisons.  Currently private companies run 13 federal prisons.

“They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent[1] by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates observed[2].

Here’s hoping the states follow suit.


  1. recent:
  2. observed:

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Changing the Language of Renewable Energy, the Electric Monopoly’s Newest Ploy

by Nick Stumo-Langer | August 18, 2016 6:00 am

What happens when utility companies lose ground as their customers cut consumption and seek innovative technologies like rooftop solar? New business ventures to capture customer interest? Other new technologies?

Instead, investor-owned utilities (through the Edison Electric Institute trade organization) poured money into communications consultants, and the result of this “Lexicon Project[1]” says volumes about their plans for the changing electric system. Particularly prominent is an effort to re-cast entrepreneurial customers (wanting to cut their energy bills by installing solar) as doing so only for private benefit (despite evidence to the contrary[2]). On the flip side, the utilities want language to elevate their control over grid investments in renewable energy (and their traditional 10% return on equity).

The language maneuver comes at a time when distributed generation is under fire[3] in 38 of 50 states in the first quarter of 2016 alone, with no signs of slowing down. Many of these fights are led by the utilities interested in preserving market share, and wanting energy policy to reinforce that effort.

What’s in a Word?

The utilities propose a lot of language changes, many of which actually improve clarity and understanding of various industry terms. Talking about “variable” instead of “intermittent” power sources, for example, better illustrates the nature of wind or solar, and is a language change that renewable energy advocates would agree to. Switching from “ratepayer” to “customer” better reflects how customers see themselves, and can help change the discussion from electric rates to electric bills, since most customers only care about how much they pay per month, not per kilowatt-hour.

On the other hand, a number of word changes will be used to obscure or obfuscate.

Using “clean energy” instead of “low-carbon energy” might seem harmless, but when it refers to nuclear or natural gas power, the term-change intentionally hides the environmental costs of nuclear waste or extraction and leakage of gas. Calling an “advanced meter” a “smart meter” may be an exaggeration if the only “smart” part of it is that it can be read remotely. Smart meters ought to be those giving customers access to their own usage data and empowering time-of-use pricing of electricity, not just automated meters that allow utilities to reduce employment of meter readers.

The biggest language changes get to the heart of the utilities’ efforts to quash competition, however.

For example, the proponents of the Lexicon Project hope that “utility-scale solar” versus “rooftop solar” becomes “universal solar” versus “private solar.” The language change is intended to align readers with the utility view that utility-owned or utility-funded solar arrays are better than ones customers build themselves. Similarly, “net metering” (an accurate description of the policy allowing customers to reduce their energy bills with on-site generation) would become “private solar credits.” This is particularly nonsensical, since net metering applies to any kind of renewable energy generation, not just solar. These term changes obfuscate the reality of renewable energy’s benefits for energy customers.

Seeing Utility Spin in Practice

Rather than dive more into the particulars of the Lexicon Project, here’s an illustration of how the conversations around renewable energy would change if the utilities are successful, using this story from January on KNPR[4], about Nevada’s slashing of net metering reimbursement for rooftop solar:

Rooftop Private Solar Customers: NV Energy Pulled a Bait and Switch

by Joe Schoenmann, KNPR

Nevada’s Public Utilities Commission is being criticized for a decision that rooftop private solar companies say will kill that industry in the state.

They also say the PUC was largely influenced by the long relationship between Nevada and NV Energy, the state’s regulated energy monopoly.

Nevada energy regulators are meeting this week to decide whether to hold off on new rates for solar power energy customers.

The Public Utilities Commission scheduled a hearing Thursday for the rates, which took effect Jan. 1.

Under the new rate bill structure, current and future rooftop private solar customers will get less credit from NV Energy for excess electricity energy produced by their solar panels, which is known as net metering private solar credits.

They will also pay more per month in fees. The changes would raise the base service charge for southern Nevada solar customers from $12.75 to $17.90 per month, and from $15.25 to $21.09 for northern Nevada customers.

The service charge will rise and the reimbursement will drop every year until 2020.

We’ve heard a lot about the decision from officials, such as Governor Brian Sandoval. Sandoval even did something unheard of: he issued a statement before the PUC ruling, saying the decision could be challenged.

Ok, but what does this mean for those who have invested thousands in rooftop private solar, or who lease panels from one of the state’s rooftop companies?

Support comes from Las Vegas attorney Phil Aurbach has spent $36,000 to install solar in his home because he also had to install a patio to put the solar panels on.

He said the change will cut seriously into his budget. Before he invested in solar, he said, he paid about $60 a month for energy on his 1,900-square-foot home. After, it fell to $3 a month.

Now, he will be paying more as the fees go up.

“It’s going to be more and ratcheting up more and more, which is kind of ridiculous from my perspective to spend all that money and then have Nevada Power say ‘hey install solar, hey we’ll give you credits, we’ll help you out’ and then turn around and screw you when they realize it may cut into their profits,” Aurbach said.

Charlie Catania also invested in solar energy power. He leased a system, which means a rooftop private solar energy power company installed the system and he pays them for the equipment.

He is now frustrated and not sure what he is going to do about escalating costs.

“You have to understand that I did my due diligence, after the statute was passed and felt that who would renege on something like this?” he said, “This came from the state and Nevada Power. And so I entered into a contractual agreement and low and behold it didn’t stand up. I don’t know what I’m going to do quiet frankly.”

Catania said he feels abandoned by the Legislature and violated by the PUC.

State Sen. Patricia Farley, Republican, called in to talk about the issue. Farley was part of the effort to figure out private solar credits net metering in last year’s legislative session.

At issue was the cap on net metering private solar credits, which was 3 three percent, but supporters of solar energy power wanted moved to 10 percent. After several months of back and forth[5], the Legislature decided to put the question of rooftop private solar into the hands of the PUC.

According to Farley, all parties involved agreed the PUC should make the decision. However, she does want to talk to the commission about the controversial decision.

“I have made phone calls into Commissioner [David] Nobel to make sure the legislative intent was followed through,” she said, “I was the one that added the amendment to make sure the grand fathering, that PUC had the ability to look current folks that were on the net metering private solar credits programs and make sure we were regulating their rates correctly.”

Attorney Tim Hay is a former Nevada Consumer Advocate. He helped write the 1997 law that put net metering private solar credits into place in Nevada.

He said the decision by the PUC raises a number of legal questions and there could be some effective challenges against it.

One of the biggest problems he has with the decision is the retroactive nature of it.

“The retroactive aspect of this decision is particularly pernicious because it in effect has devalued the investment customers had made from the very beginning in solar,” Hay said.

He also disputes NV Energy’s reasoning that non-solar customers rate payers are subsidizing solar users. He said it is essentially a wash, especially in Southern Nevada, where peak power energy capacity generation hits at the same time there is peak demand.

For Bryan Miller with the rooftop private solar company Sunrun, the problem is jobs. Miller said the commissioners legacy would be the loss of thousands of jobs.

“The most important thing about this story is that there are real jobs here that have been lost already, thousands of jobs,” Miller said.

Miller pointed to the decisions by SolarCity to cease operations and Vivint Solar stopping its efforts to set up shop as examples.

Hay agrees that the decision will cost jobs in the state. He believes the PUC did not take economics into consideration and he believes lawmakers would have wanted the commission to include it.

“I believe part of the issue is that we had a number of freshman legislators in both chambers who were not familiar with the state’s history,” Hay said.

State Sen. Farley took issue with that characterization and said many veteran lawmakers were involved in the process. She also stood by the decision to put private solar credits net metering in to the hands of the PUC.

“Every year the Sunrun and the solar folks were coming back to the Legislature asking for increasing in private solar credits net metering and it is a very complicated situation and our job as legislators is protect every customer rate payer not just the SolarCity,” Farley said, “A lot of states have found that the net metering private solar credits program is a subsidy and that on average the customers rate payers are paying for people to have solar on their rooftops and the cost of solar has come down but not significantly.”

Miller responded strongly to that comment.

“Anyone listening today, you just heard the problem,” he said, “Anyone listening if you want to do something about this incredibly anti-business climate that Nevada has created the first thing you can do is vote against politicians like Senator Farley. You just heard her completely parrot NV Energy’s talking points and we’re going to make sure everyone of her constituents hears interviews like this and understands she’s the problem.”

Playing the Word Game

Of course, renewable energy advocates could learn to play the word game, too. Here’s a few ideas, without the high cost of a consultant.

Instead of… Use…
Utility Incumbent monopoly
Fixed charge Monopoly protection fee
Cost-shift Non-monopoly benefits
Baseload generation Inflexible generation

Some of these terms may seem ridiculous, but no more so that “private solar.”

Keep your eyes open and mind ready. The Lexicon Project may play games with words, but the utilities are deadly serious. The simple fact of the matter is that customer-owned energy is competitive,[6] and monopolies ought not to be allowed to quash it by language or by practice.

This post originally published at[7]. Subscribe to our weekly Energy Democracy update[8] or follow us on Twitter[9] or Facebook[10].

Photo Credit: Nic McPhee, Flickr[11] via CC 2.0[12]

  1. Lexicon Project:
  2. evidence to the contrary:
  3. distributed generation is under fire:
  4. this story from January on KNPR:
  5. After several months of back and forth:
  6. customer-owned energy is competitive,:
  8. Energy Democracy update:
  9. Twitter:
  10. Facebook:
  11. Nic McPhee, Flickr:
  12. CC 2.0:

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Major Media Outlets Cover 6th Circuit Decision Limiting Local Authority

by Rebecca Toews | August 15, 2016 11:40 am

Various Sources, August 10-11, 2016

A circuit court decision this week means the digital divide in Tennessee and North Carolina will be allowed to continue. This week, the 6th Circuit Court of appeals decided to dismiss the FCC’s decision to encourage Internet investment by restricting local authority to build competitive Internet networks.

In February, ILSR and Next Century Cities filed an Amicus Brief in support of the FCC’s position. Here is a selection of media stories which cite ILSR.

MEDIA COVERAGE – “Court of Appeals Overrules FCC Decision”

washingtonpostlogo.gif[1]Cities looking to compete with large Internet providers just suffered a big defeat[2] – by Brian Fung: The Washington Post, August 10

There are signs, however, that municipal broadband proponents were anticipating Wednesday’s outcome — and are already moving to adapt. One approach? Focus on improving cities’ abilities to lay fiber optic cables that then any Internet provider can lease; so far, only one state, Nebraska, has banned this so-called “dark fiber” plan, said Christopher Mitchell, who directs the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative.

“We’re pursuing strategies that are harder for the cable and telephone companies to defeat,” said Mitchell.

fiercetelecom[3]Circuit court nixes FCC’s effort to overturn North Carolina, Tennessee anti-municipal broadband laws[4] by Sean Buckley: Fierce Telecom, August 10, 2016


However, pro-municipal broadband groups like the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which filed an amicus brief in support of the FCC’s position, said they are “disappointed that the FCC’s efforts to ensure local Internet choice have been struck down.”


POLITICO NO LINES[5]Court Deals FCC a Big Blow in Municipal Broadband Ruling[6] by Alex Byers, PoliticoPro August 10, 2016 (subscription needed)



For now, proponents of the FCC’s order said they would work state-by-state to change laws restricting municipal broadband networks. Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute For Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks program, said the FCC order highlighted the issue and inspired other communities.

“The FCC may have lost the case but they’ve still done a service for America,” Mitchell said. “In making the decision that was later overturned, they certainly elevated the issue.”

2000px-Chicago_Tribune_logo.svg[7]Analysis: The government just lost a big court battle over public Internet service[8] by Brian Fung: Chicago Tribune, August 11, 2016



motherboard[9]Congress Should Support Community Broadband Networks, Advocates Say[10] by Sam Gustin: Motherboard Vice, August 11, 2016




“I would love to see renewed enthusiasm around this bill, and I would love to see it pass,” Christopher Mitchell, Director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, told Motherboard. But with Republicans currently in control of both the House and the Senate, Booker’s bill has virtually no chance of becoming law, especially given the tremendous amount of political influence wielded by the likes of Comcast and AT&T, Mitchell said. He warned that even if the legislation moved forward, industry-friendly lawmakers could try to weaken the bill or insert anti-community broadband provisions… “With the GOP in control, Marsha Blackburn would crush this legislation,” Mitchell said. “That’s why she gets more money from the cable and telecom industry than anyone else. She would make sure it doesn’t go anywhere.”

Daily_Dot_logo[11]U.S. court rules FCC lacks authority to upend state bans on community-run broadband[12] – by Aaron Sankin: Daily Dot, August 11, 2016


Last year, the FCC made a bold push to let cities and counties around the county make significant investments in their high-speed internet infrastructure. On Wednesday, a trio of federal judges dealt that effort a major setback…

“We thank the FCC for working so hard to fight for local authority and we hope that states themselves will recognize the folly of defending big cable and telephone monopolies and remove these barriers to local investment,” Mitchell said in a statement. “Communities desperately need these connections and must be able to decide for themselves how to ensure residents and businesses have high quality Internet access.”

statescoop ss-black[13]Federal court blocks FCC efforts to protect municipal broadband expansion[14] by Alex Koma: StateScoop, August 11, 2016




Indeed, Chris Mitchell — director of the community broadband initiative for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance — argues that “states have gotten away with pulling a fast one in terms of lying about their intentions,” claiming that the matter isn’t so easily dismissed as a question of federalism.

“The challenge is understanding whether these states are regulating their cities or regulating interstate commerce, as the FCC argued, and I think that these states are clearly trying to regulate internet access, as opposed to just what these cities could do,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think the court really got that.”


broadcasting and cable logo[15]Next Steps Pondered After Muni Cable Ruling[16] by Gary Arlen: Broadcasting and Cable, August 11, 2016





“Once there’s light shined on those laws, enough state legislators will decide it’s time to stand up to the incumbents,” said Mark C. Del Bianco, an attorney who represented Next Century Cities and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, two advocacy groups that supported the efforts of Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C., to build competitive high-speed networks for their citizens.”


  1. [Image]:
  2. Cities looking to compete with large Internet providers just suffered a big defeat:
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  4. Circuit court nixes FCC’s effort to overturn North Carolina, Tennessee anti-municipal broadband laws:
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  6. Court Deals FCC a Big Blow in Municipal Broadband Ruling:
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  8. Analysis: The government just lost a big court battle over public Internet service:
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  10. Congress Should Support Community Broadband Networks, Advocates Say:
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  12. U.S. court rules FCC lacks authority to upend state bans on community-run broadband:
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  14. Federal court blocks FCC efforts to protect municipal broadband expansion:
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  16. Next Steps Pondered After Muni Cable Ruling:

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For Rural Pinetops, Being A Gigabit Community Means Business In North Carolina

by ILSR Admin | August 12, 2016 5:00 am

Unless you live in a rural community, you probably assume becoming a Gigabit community is all about the miracles of speed. Speed is important, but so is Internet choice, reliable service, and respectful customer service. It’s also about being excited as you consider future economic opportunities for your rural town.

Businesses Struggling With Old Services

Before Greenlight began serving Pinetops, the best community members could get was sluggish Centurylink DSL. Suzanne Coker Craig, owner of CuriosiTees, described the situation for her business[1]:

Suzanne used to be a subscriber to Centurylink DSL service at her Pinetops home, but years ago she just turned it off. “We weren’t using it because it used to take forever; it just wasn’t viable.” She now has Greenlight’s 40 Mbps upstream and downstream service. “It’s just so very fast,” she said.

Her business, a custom screen printing shop, uses an “on-time” inventory system, so speed and reliability is critical for last-minute or late orders:

“We work with a Charlotte company for our apparel. If we get our order in by 5 p.m. from here, the next day it will be delivered. That’s really important for business.” Before Greenlight, Suzanne described how “We had been sweating it out.”  Suzanne’s tee-shirt store only had access to 800 Kbps DSL upload speed. She would talk to the modem. “Please upload by 5 p.m. Please upload.” Now she can just go home and put her order in at the last minute. “We are comfortable it will upload immediately….It’s just so much faster. Super fast…Having Greenlight has just been very beneficial for our business.”

She also subscribes to Greenlight from home and her fiber connection is able to manage data intense uploads required for sending artwork, sales reports, and other large document transfers. As a Town Commissioner, Suzanne sees Greenlight service in Pinetops as more than just a chance to stop “sweating it out.”

“I just see a brighter future for our town now,” she reflected. “It’s a neat selling point. It’s difficult in small rural areas to get good technology-based companies. This now opens the door for us to recruit just those kinds of businesses…It’s hard to imagine a business that does not need Internet access.”

Without Reliability, Speed Is Nothing


Brent Wooten is a sales agent and Manager for Mercer Transportation, a freight management business with an office in tiny, rural Pinetops, North Carolina[2]. Pinetops is now served by Wilson’s community-owned[3], Gigabit fiber network, Greenlight[4].  Brent’s work, moving freight across the country via trucks, requires being on time; he’s an information worker in a knowledge economy.  “I am in the transportation business,” said Brent. “Having reliable phone and Internet are critical to running my businesses.” Being off line means losing businesses and never getting it back.

Before Greenlight came to town, Brent’s business paid Centurylink $425 per month for a few phone lines, long distance, an 800 number, and Internet access at 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1.5 Mbps upload. He was also wasting hours and even days each month trying to get his Internet fixed. “Every time they would tell me the problem was my equipment. It was always my fault.” But Brent had an IT expert on hire. “Never once was the problem actually my equipment.” He described long waits to reach customer agents whose heavy foreign accents made communication difficult and about the company’s unresponsive office hours. “I was told they could send someone the next afternoon, but I needed the network to work now….”

Brent’s experience with Greenlight was the complete opposite. When Brent’s corporate office changed the location of their backup servers, Greenlight staff were helping him at 6:00 a.m. and at 10:00 p.m., and were on the phone within seconds of his call. “It is a very refreshing situation for me — the consistency of service, and the responsive and respectful customer service by local workers.”

Internet Choice

When Greenlight came to the community, Centurylink changed their tune. Within hours of his business phone being ported to Greenlight, a Centurylink representative called him. “He offered to cut my current prices in half and double my Internet speed, from 10 to 20 Mbps…My Centurylink 10 Mbps speed never tested at more than 6 Mbps.”

Brent chose to keep his Centurylink phone service, but he kept his 25 Mbps symmetrical Greenlight Internet service because upload speed is critical to his business. “My computer screens don’t freeze up anymore. Greenlight service is flawless. The sheer speed of fiber is amazing and they are available 24 hours a day, I am served by local workers, it is saving me money and I get better service.”

Greenlight brought Brent residential telephone and internet choice for the first time in more than a decade. “Greenlight saves me $140 a month at home,” he bragged. When Greenlight’s marketing director first arrived at Brent’s house, he learned Brent was being charged twice for his internet service. Brent had an in-law suite attached to his house where his mother used to live. “The Centurylink representative on the phone said I needed to have a second DSL account.” Not with Greenlight.

An Odd Way Of Competing

Brent described how he had been a Centurylink residential customer since 1989. “When I called to cancel my home telephone service, the woman just gave me my confirmation number and told me to have a nice day.” No attempt was made to keep Brent’s residential business.  “They did the same thing on my mom’s phone line. She had telephone service since before 1968.” When she passed away, Brent called to disconnect her line. “The person on the other end of the line did not even offer condolences.” He compared that to the human touch that originates from a service company that is community owned: “Greenlight’s installers even cared enough about my welfare to tell me they had discovered a water leak under my house when doing the installation. They told me they would have tried to fix it for me but they did not have the right tools.”

The Intangibles

How do you put a value on the intangibles?  For Brent Wooten, Greenlight fiber service has not only strengthened his ability to do business, but has given the community a sense of hope that didn’t exist before access to fiber.


“As a citizen and Town Commissioner, I am extremely excited to have the opportunity to have access to this service, and super excited about future opportunities that it will make available to us. It is an example of hometown people who care about serving you and bringing a higher quality of living to the community…It gives a sense of hope for Eastern North Carolina … not just lip service.”

Will It Last?

On August 10, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the FCC ruling[5] that permitted Greenlight to expand to its fiber-optic service to Pinetops. What this means for these businesses and residents who now rely on fast, affordable, reliable Internet access remains to be seen. Along with Suzanne, Brent, and the rest of Pinetops, we hope Greenlight is able to continue to serve this rural community. They are using fiber to reach for new economic development opportunities and in only a few months, the community of 1,300 is optimistic about a future with better connectivity.

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

  1. described the situation for her business:
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  3. now served by Wilson’s community-owned:
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Monopoly Power and the Decline of Small Business: The Case for Restoring America’s Once Robust Antitrust Policies

by Stacy Mitchell | August 10, 2016 6:57 am


Monopoly Report Cover Image[1]

Click to download the full report.

The United States is much less a nation of entrepreneurs than it was a generation ago. Small, independent businesses have declined sharply in both numbers and market share across many sectors of the economy.  Between 1997 and 2012, the number of small manufacturers fell by more 70,000, local retailers saw their ranks diminish by about 108,000, and the number of community banks and credit unions dropped by half, from about 26,000 to 13,000.  At the same time, starting a new business appears to have become harder than ever. The number of startups launched annually has fallen by nearly half since the 1970s.

As stunning as these figures are, there has been remarkably little public debate about this profound structural shift taking place in the U.S. economy. We tend to accept the decline of small business as the inevitable result of market forces. Big companies are thought to be more efficient and productive; therefore, although we may miss the corner drugstore or the family-owned auto repair shop, their demise is unavoidable, and it’s economically beneficial.

But our new report[2] suggests a different, and very troubling, explanation for the dwindling ranks of small businesses. It presents evidence that their decline is owed, at least in part, to anticompetitive behavior by large, dominant corporations.  Drawing on examples in pharmacy, banking, telecommunications, and retail, it finds that big companies routinely use their size and their economic and political power to undermine their smaller rivals and exclude them from markets.

These abuses have gone unchecked because of a radical change in the ideological framework that guides anti-monopoly policy. About thirty-five years ago, policy-makers came to view maximizing efficiency — rather than maintaining fair and open markets for all competitors — as the primary aim of antitrust enforcement. This was a profound departure from previous policy and America’s long-standing anti-monopoly tradition.  Over time, this ideological shift impacted more than antitrust enforcement. It infused much of public policy with a bias in favor of big business, creating an environment less and less hospitable to entrepreneurs.

This report presents three compelling reasons to bring a commitment to fair and open markets for small businesses back into antitrust enforcement and public policy more broadly:

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Composting Will Help Flint Recover From Its Water Crisis

by Linda Bilsens | August 9, 2016 2:00 pm

It would be an understatement to say that Flint has been in the news a lot lately—one of the most recent stories has to do with a lapsed trash collection contract[1] that left residents without service. The city still has a long road ahead before it can fully heal from the water contamination crisis that started in 2014: more than 8,000 children[2] are thought to have been effected; 6 city officials have just been charged[3] in connection; and Flint’s Mayor, Karen Weaver[4], used the podium at the recent Democratic National Convention to remind the nation that “The water is still not safe to drink or cook with from the tap”. Like many older industrial cities, Flint also has lead and other heavy metals in its soils[5], exacerbating the effects of the water crisis. As is often the case, low-income communities are more likely to be exposed to the highest concentrations.

In addition to lead contamination, Flint faces other challenges common to Rust Belt communities: declining industry, rising poverty, falling population, and rampant urban blight. Poverty is a problem throughout Michigan, with 1 in 10 people[6] using emergency food programs. But, more than 40% of Flint’s population is considered to be poor and more than half is black—fueling claims that the water crisis is a clear case of environmental racism[7]. Flint has more than 20,000 vacant lots resulting, at least in part, from the overwhelming loss of manufacturing jobs that once fueled the local economy. In order to prevent further damage to property values and to protect public health, these building must either be demolished[8] or otherwise managed[9] by the community.


      flint highrise

The 2016 Edible Flint Food Garden Tour featured 15 of the 300+ gardens that Edible Flint and other area organizations support


But, behind the devastating national headlines exists another Flint—one that embodies community self-reliance and neighborly collaboration. According to Terry McLean[10], Michigan State University Extension educator, “In my experience, Flint residents have a great track record of volunteerism, resilience and community pride. I feel that we will be a stronger community as a result of the recent water crisis.” Despite the hole that losses like that of the auto manufacturing industry have left, Flint residents are increasingly relying on a different, well-developed local skillset to put food on the table—and because of the work of a number of dedicated organizations and individuals, its fresh and healthy food. Michigan’s second largest industry is agriculture, and it is the second most diverse[11] agricultural producer in the nation. Flint alone boasts more than 300 gardens[12], both personal and community.


Edible Flint Tour - Uni-Corn Garden      Edible Flint Tour - Uni-Corn

Uni-Corn Community Garden, featured in the Edible Flint Tour, is managed by a dedicated team of Master Gardeners and grows fresh produce for the surrounding sub-division and apartment complexes


On July 27th, ILSR staffers, Linda Bilsens and Joshua Etim visited with various food growing and access groups working in and around Flint to lay the groundwork for bringing ILSR’s Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Composter Training Program[13] to the area. ILSR staff were hosted by local friend and fellow community composting trainer and advocate, Amy Freeman, who coordinated meetings with some of the area’s most active and influential healthy food advocates and educators.


“This is a different Flint than the one you hear about on the news. These are not just poor people. There is good stuff happening here. It’s not a dire situation.”

-Erin Caudell, healthy food access advocate, farmer and co-owner of Flint-based The Local Grocer


Michigan State University is providing applied research, education and outreach to develop regionally integrated, sustainable food systems through its Center for Regional Food System[14]. MSU professor of Horticultural Sciences, Dr. John Biernbaum, provides educational programs and technical assistance for small-scale organic farmers and manages the school’s on-site vermicomposting project. Michigan Food and Farming Systems[15] connects beginning and historically underserved farmers (particularly women, veterans, and migrant populations) to each other and resource opportunities to cultivate social justice, environmental stewardship, and profitability. Edible Flint[16] works to support Flint residents in growing and accessing healthy food in order to reconnect with the land and each other, including hosting an annual garden tour, which ILSR staff were happily able to attend during their visit!


MIFFS WIA high tunnel      MIFFS WIA Vermicompost

The Michigan Food and Farming Systems’ Women in Agriculture educational farm is hosted by the Genesys Health Systems’ at their Health Park Campus and features an in-ground vermicomposting system


The work of groups like these are critical to Flint’s road to recovery. Healthy foods, particularly those rich in Vitamin C and Calcium[17], are needed to minimize the impacts of lead on human health. Recent studies also show that there is limited absorption of lead when ingested with food[18]. The impact of lead contamination is further minimized when soils are amended with compost—a practice that several studies[19] have shown significantly dilute lead concentrations and reduces its availability. Increasing composting in Flint will have many benefits: healthier soils for food production, pollution mitigation for contaminated soils, more opportunities for neighbors to come together, and greater community self-reliance. ILSR is actively fundraising alongside its local partners to bring the benefits of the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders program to Flint in 2017 and is thrilled to help support Flint’s homegrown revival.


MSU vermicomposting     

Last year, Michigan State University diverted 200,000 pounds of food scraps generated on-site through its low-tech, mid-scale vermicomposting system

  1. lapsed trash collection contract:
  2. 8,000 children:
  3. just been charged:
  4. Karen Weaver:
  5. in its soils:
  6. 1 in 10 people:
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  10. Terry McLean:
  11. second most diverse:
  12. 300 gardens:
  13. Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Composter Training Program:
  14. Center for Regional Food System:
  15. Michigan Food and Farming Systems:
  16. Edible Flint:
  17. Vitamin C and Calcium:
  18. when ingested with food:
  19. several studies:

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“YES!” RS Fiber Wins More Recognition

by ILSR | August 9, 2016 5:00 am

Yes! Magazine[1] – August 3, 2016
Minnesota’s RS Fiber Cooperative[2] is getting well-deserved attention from a variety of sources far beyond the Land of 10,000 Lakes. In addition to kudos from experts in the telecommunications industry, their story was recently shared in YES! Magazine.

Innovative Partnership

On August 1st, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) announced that RS Fiber Cooperative[3] had received that 2016 Community Broadband Innovative Partnership Award. NATOA President Jodie Miller said of this award and the other 2016 distinctions: “These pioneers were selected based on their extraordinary efforts, achievements and innovation in community-based approaches to broadband technology.” NATOA will present the awards in September at their 36th Annual Conference in Austin, Texas.

Earlier this summer, the communities that belong to the co-op were honored with an award[4] from the Minnesota League of Cities.

YES! Magazine Profiles RS Fiber

Ben DeJarnette from YES! Magazine[5] spoke with our Christopher Mitchell about the cooperative:

“I don’t want to say that everyone can do this, but a lot of places could do it if they had this effort,” Mitchell said. “And I don’t think anyone’s going to have to go through the same level of challenge again, because now there’s a model.”

DeJarnette’s article described some the struggles of rural life with poor or absent Internet access based on our report, “RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative[6]”: farmers unable to share crop data with business contacts; local businesses with no access to online commerce; and school children with no way to complete online homework assignments. The article explains how the RS Fiber project is helping this collaboration of small rural communities overcome the rural digital divide.


The article also dedicates sufficient coverage to the way the RS Fiber Cooperative is funding their infrastructure build. With no federal funding, and investment from community banks, this project is truly locally grown. From the article:

As long as local demand meets projections, revenue from the broadband network will more than repay government loans, and taxpayers won’t owe a dime.

“That’s the win-win,” said Chris Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative, who has studied the project. “It’s a model in which local governments can take on the risk if they’re willing, and local banks can get a very reasonable return.”

The Fifth Utility

Lisa Skubal, vice president of economic development for the Cedar Valley Chamber of Commerce spoke with DeJarnette about the roll that high-quality Internet access plays in Cedar Falls, Iowa. “From an economic development standpoint, fiber optic high-speed Internet is the fifth utility…We live in such a globalized society right now that having broadband connectivity is imperative for businesses.” Last year, President Obama visited the community to highlight the potential of publicly owned Internet infrastructure.

The RS Fiber Cooperative network has already attracted a new endeavor to the region. The Minnesota College of Osteopathic Medicine, attracted by the new fiber network, will be operating out of a building in Gaylord, one of the communities that belong to the co-op.

More On RS Fiber

Learn more about how farmers use this new utility and how the co-op has changed life in rural Minnesota in a recent PBS News Hour video[7], which features RS Fiber and a similar project, in Massachusetts, Wired West.

Get the details on the RS Fiber Cooperative from our report, free to download[8] and to share.

You can also check out our other coverage, including Christopher’s interview with Mark Erickson, City of Winthrop Economic Development Authority Director, and Renville-area farmer Jake Rieke in Episode #198[9] of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We also spoke with Mark and Coop Vice-Chair Cindy Gerholz early in the process during Episode #99[10]. You can find more at the RS Fiber Coop[11] and Sibley County[12] tags.

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

  1. Yes! Magazine:
  2. RS Fiber Cooperative:
  3. announced that RS Fiber Cooperative:
  4. were honored with an award:
  5. from YES! Magazine:
  6. RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative:
  7. PBS News Hour video:
  8. free to download:
  9. Episode #198:
  10. Episode #99:
  11. RS Fiber Coop:
  12. Sibley County:
  13. here:

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Missoula Wins Right to Own Its Water Supply

by David Morris | August 4, 2016 10:59 am

In a major victory for the commons, the Montana Supreme Court, by a 5-2 decision, has upheld Missoula’s right to buy its water system from a private company, Nadia Prupis reports[1] in Common Dreams. @commondreams

“The city desired to own the water system that serves its residents because city officials believe a community’s water system is a public asset best owned and operated by the public,” the judges decided[2]. A jubilant Mayor John Engen declared, “Long after people have forgotten any of our names, they won’t have to worry about who owns their water.”

  1. reports:
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The Next President Will Likely Appoint 4 Supreme Court Justices: Who Do You Want Picking Them?

by David Morris | July 27, 2016 10:25 am

The future of the Supreme Court is at stake in the 2016 election.

We know the numbers. The death of Scalia split the Supreme Court between four Conservative Justices appointed by Republican Presidents (Roberts, Alito, Thomas and Kennedy) and four Liberal Justices appointed by Democratic Presidents (Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan and Sotomayor.) The Republican Senate, in an unprecedented stance, has refused to call a vote on President Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia.

During the next 4 years the new President will likely nominate not only Scalia’s replacement but also an additional 3 new Justices. Since 1971, the average age[1] of retirement for a Supreme Court justice has been just under 79 years. Ginsburg is 83, Kennedy is 80, and Breyer will be 78 in mid August.

The new Justices will set the direction of the Supreme Court and the values that guide it for the next generation. Scalia, after all, was on the court for 30 years before he died. Thomas has been on the court for 25 years and is still only 68.

We know the numbers, but many don’t seem to truly grasp their central importance. The Supreme Court can enable or disable our work. In the last decade the Justices have made it much harder to challenge wealth and power, to nurture the weak and assist the poor, to extend social justice to minorities, to reduce violence, stop discrimination, and defend the right to vote.

One could write a book about the recent work of the Supreme Court but to make concrete the crucial impact of the court on a progressive future, here is a small sample of what the Court has wrought.

Democracy: The Supreme Court’s most infamous and widely discussed intervention occurred in 2010 when it overturned[2] a corporate campaign spending ban first advanced by Teddy Roosevelt. The infamous Citizens United decision allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money, much of it “dark money”, hidden from public scrutiny.

Citizens United changed the nature of American democracy. In the first five years after the decision one billion dollars poured into super PACs, $600 million of which came[3] from just 195 donors and their spouses. Between 2006, before the Court decision, and 2014, after the decision, independent expenditures increased 25 fold.

In 2014 the Court allowed unlimited individual contributions. Both decisions were by a 5-4 vote. Dissenting Justice Breyer predicted[4], “If the court in Citizens United opened a door today’s decision may well open a floodgate.”

And so it has. In 2012 the Republican National Committee and its two Congressional campaign committees spent a total of $657 million. In early 2015 the Koch brothers announced[5] that they and their friends would spend $889 million on the 2016 election. That is buying an awful lot of dirty tricks, non-profit front organizations, lawsuits and, dare I say, candidates.

There is much talk about the need to reverse Citizens United, but that can’t be done through Congress. Only a Constitutional Amendment or a Supreme Court reversal can. The chances of the former are infinitesimal. (more…)[6]

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What if…Your Electric Utility Was a Benefit Corporation?

by Matt Grimley | July 21, 2016 6:00 am

The misunderstandings that from time to time occur between communities and the managers of electric-lighting companies will, to my mind, disappear entirely if the relations between the two are correctly founded on the basis of public control, with corresponding protection to the corporations operating this industry.

More than 100 years ago, standing in front of a crowd of investors, Samuel Insull articulated his vision[1] for a responsive and responsible electric utility.1[2]

Fresh from building his own electric utility empire from Thomas Edison’s companies, Insull wanted his electric industry recognized as a natural monopoly with competition viewed as a threat the public good. Public regulation, he argued, would provide a reasonable and steady profit to the monopoly utility, while economies of scale of power plants would allow the utility company to deliver increasingly inexpensive electricity in service of the public good.

A century later, only half of Insull’s rough vision has come true. Most of today’s investor-owned electric utilities retain their century-old monopoly, but insufficient regulation has often left the public good by the wayside. Instead, investor-owned electric utilities (IOUs) have kept a laser focus on shareholders’ returns. They have built large, unnecessary fossil-fueled power plants[3] when more energy-efficient approaches would cut consumers’ costs. They try to change electric rates in ways that harm the poor and elderly[4], then use public funds to help the indigent pay their bills. They spurn rooftop solar[5] and customer-owned power generation.

In some sense, this behavior is no surprise. The regulatory scheme Insull imagined shaped two key profit motives[6] for utility companies: selling more power and building more infrastructure. But neither makes sense any longer. Electricity demand has leveled off, and distributed, non-utility power generation is often less expensive[7] than relying on utility shareholder capital.

Adding insult to the injury of the public good, investor-owned utilities frequently lobby against legislation in the public interest, from renewable energy[8] to energy efficiency standards[9] to community solar programs[10]. They use their publicly-granted monopoly profits to oppose the public interest.

One new model is emerging, however, that offers an alternative to the traditional investor-owned utility, and aligns with fantasy of Insull’s original vision to simultaneously protect the public good. It’s the B Corp.

Green Mountain Power B-lines into a B Corp

In 2014, one electric utility in Vermont shuffled away from historic investor-owned electric utility trends. Green Mountain Power transformed itself into a B Corp, a designation that cements its commitment to sustainability, transparency and accountability. The certification, administered by nonprofit B Lab, mirrors legislation in most states allowing businesses to become “benefit corporations” that uphold similar goals.

A benefit corporation is an alternative corporate structure[11]. Essentially, it changes the for-profit corporation, which may consider the public interest, into one that legally must pursue greater social goods[12] and regularly report to shareholders on its progress. Failure to do so could trigger a shareholder lawsuit.

It was an easy decision for Green Mountain Power to join the well over 1,000 corporations publicly committed to working toward the public good. The company wanted to “become the Ben and Jerry’s of the utility world,” according to CEO and President Mary Powell[13]. The ice cream giant, also a B Corp based in Vermont, won praise in the late 1980s for putting its social mission on par with its economic goals.

More than anything, Green Mountain Power’s move reflected its embrace of changes (and threats) to the outdated, centralized business model still used by many electric utilities.

But unlike many of its counterparts, Green Mountain Power helped expand net metering across its home state[14]. It also fronts the cost of retrofitting homes with solar and energy efficiency products (paid back via the utility bill)[15] in a program that generates substantial cost savings for households. Green Mountain Power also built one of the nation’s first all-solar microgrids[16], and finances energy storage for customers.

The utility, has mapped out its distribution circuits[17] (shown below) to help solar developers see where’s there’s room to grow. Even while adding more renewable energy to its fuel mix, Green Mountain Power has lowered its electric rates three times in the past four years.

GMP Solar Map[18]

As a vertically-integrated utility, Green Mountain Power controls everything from power plants to the distribution wires that connect to homes. But it decided to turn its gift of monopoly control into the “un-utility,” Powell says[19], to “really become an organization that was fast, fun, and effective.”

It was a culture shift that enabled the change.

Powell works in the same “colorful Costco” of an office as everyone else. Workers can come and go as they please. Everyone understands that the customer is at the core of the business model — a far cry from the conservative culture of most monopoly, investor-owned utilities, which prioritize shareholder value over the public interest in a decentralized renewable energy future.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast every day,” says Powell.

Like what you’re reading? Listen to our podcast[20] with Mary Powell!

The numbers tell part of the story.

Since Green Mountain Power sealed its B Corp status in late 2014, its net income — a central metric used to gauge the utility’s financial success — has not wavered from its general upward trajectory. The leadership at Green Mountain Power doesn’t expect that to change.

Gaz Metro, the Canadian energy firm that bought Green Mountain Power several years ago, has enjoyed a healthy run so far, Dorothy Schnure, a spokesperson for the Vermont utility, told ILSR in June. But those benefits have not shortchanged customers or the public interest.

“We want to keep a very stable rate path, and we want to earn healthy and stable returns for our investor, which we have done,” Schnure said. “Our approach has been if we serve our customers really well and we delight our customers and we look out for our customers, our investor’s going to be OK.”

GMP Net Income[21]

Green Mountain’s leap to B Corp certification was a natural one. For years before, the utility had focused on policies supporting its customers and their communities. Company leaders insisted on upholding this corporate philosophy through acquisition talks with Gaz Metro a decade ago, when they made clear that the Canadian company’s parent — pipeline operator Enbridge, hotly contested for its environmental impact — needed to stay on the sidelines.

“Before we agreed to that purchase, we did a lot of due diligence in making sure that Gaz Metro’s philosophy would align with ours and that we would be able to continue working as a deeply conscious and socially-conscious entity,” Schnure said. “That’s how we operate and it’s part of what makes us so successful.”

Green Mountain Power might have been well-positioned to pounce on the B Corp process, but that doesn’t mean the utility’s work is done. To keep the certification, it must submit annual reports that support its status — a motivator, Schnure said, for Green Mountain Power to deepen its focus on sustainability and accountability.

B-coming a B Corp

Though Green Mountain Power is still the only utility to secure B Corp status, the path is open to other utilities doing the same. A utility can become a B Corp in any state, and most states offer legal “benefit corporation” designations.

Benefit Corporation State Policy Map.001[22]

Depending on the type of structure a company has, the process for solidifying a commitment to social good may include:

  1. Seeing if its home state has the legal framework to incorporate benefit corporations. To date, 30 states and the District of Columbia[23] have adopted such legislation.
  2. Following the state process to become a benefit corporation. This usually includes amending its governing documents, then sealing support from a majority of shareholders to ratify the change.2[24] State filing requirements for these amendments are usually identical to tweaks related to any other corporate structure.
  3. Seeking the rigorous B Corp certification from B Lab[25], with or without the legal structure of a benefit corporation. The differences between a benefit corporation and a B Corp are listed here[26]. Hint: the legal structure and certification are complementary.

There are more than 3,000 benefit corporations in the world. Of those, there are more than 1,600 benefit corporations registered as B Corps, spanning 42 countries and 120 industries.

B-lieving the Difference a B Corp Makes

Benefit corporations must do things differently than their brethren. If every utility were a benefit corporation, a number of utility actions over the past year might have played out differently. Note that this is not a wish list — benefit corporations must consider public goods.

Structuring as a B Corp or a benefit corporation isn’t a perfect antidote, even for companies considered beacons in the movement like Green Mountain Power. The Vermont utility has fielded blowback in the spring from people who live near an industrial wind project that one critic said[27] is noisy enough to drive down their quality of life and erode home values.

In a letter to the editor[28] published in the Manchester Journal, she questioned whether Green Mountain Power was responsibly building wind infrastructure, or if the the company was simply expanding its power-producing assets to boost its bottom line — a familiar strategy for investor-owned utilities.

Still, the B Corp and benefit corporation designations send a notable message and carry an unmistakable upside that — if widely adopted in the entrenched energy industry — could improve the way utilities engage with consumers.

For example, under a benefit corporation structure, it would have been tougher for NV Energy to lobby the Nevada Public Utilities Commission in 2015 to cut net metering rates[29], including a controversial retroactive measure that reduced reimbursement rates for already-installed projects.

Beyond triggering smaller payments for more than 17,000 Nevadans, the move pushed several solar developers out of the state. The utility justified its campaign by pointing to costs of net metering, but as a benefit corporation, it would have had to also factor in widely acknowledged benefits. Instead of lobbying to cut solar energy, the utility could have fought for it.

Then, in spring 2016, the Public Service Commission in Washington D.C. voted 2 to 1 to approve Exelon’s merger with Pepco — a decision that defied the mayor, numerous stakeholders and even its own prior order[30]. Mergers aren’t unusual in the utility world, especially after the past two decades of unraveling anti-monopoly legislation.

But the consolidation trend exposes conflicts between public and private interests[31], showcasing the toll these deals can take on the public. With Exelon and Pepco, most criticism boiled down to Exelon needing to support its own generation with Pepco’s captive customers. Still, after a two-year fight, the transaction was finalized in June. Opponents plan to sue[32].

Given a benefit corporation law such as the one in play in Delaware — the most common place for U.S. businesses to incorporate — Exelon and Pepco directors would have had to consider all corporate constituencies[33] in their merger application, not just stockholders and the highest bidder.

And then there’s Xcel Energy. After more than three years, and with almost 1,000 applications in the queue, the utility’s community solar program[34] has only three solar garden up and running[35].

Calling it a “slow start” is understatement that sidesteps Xcel’s delay tactics. First, the utility rejected a value-of-solar pricing program[36] intended for the community solar gardens. Then it refused to answer developer questions about grid location and muddied co-location rules of projects. Even after it started approving applications, Xcel continues to keep technical and financial information[37] from community solar developers.

A community solar law took effect in 2013, but has been slowed down by Xcel Energy ever since. A benefit corporation likely wouldn’t have waited this long. By force of its structure, it could have prioritized the public benefit of the value-of-solar methodology. It could have treated the grid as a commons, freeing up information to solar developers — like Green Mountain Power did[38] — instead of flexing its monopoly power.

It’s not that slapping a B-Corp label on a utility will make it good, but it will give the public additional leverage to demand the utility consider broader interests than its own.

Digging B-low the Surface

A shift toward the B Corp mindset aligns with a swell of public support for rules that favor energy efficiency and increased reliance on renewables. Largely over the past two decades, lawmakers in states nationwide have adopted standards for efficiency and renewable production — both key tools in the fight against climate change.

state energy efficiency[39]

In recent years, Maryland regulators boosted energy savings targets[40] for utilities in their state while California agreed to double its energy efficiency savings[41] goals by 2030. Plus, a recent report[42] from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory shows states’ aggressive renewables policies — increasingly popular nationwide — deliver distinct benefits without driving up costs.

state res[43]

But it’s not just the public that want electric utilities to change. In the last year, there has been a rash of electric utility shareholder initiatives, all directed toward making their companies more sustainable:

According to a report from the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change[48], electric utilities and their business models face a growing number of liabilities, shown below:

Source: Inves[49]

Source: Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change

Customers and shareholders of electric utilities want them to change in the public interest to address these risks. Regulators want them to change. Legislators are tired of the utilities’ pushback.

Most electric utilities are culturally and structurally reluctant to consider anything beyond shareholder returns, but they don’t have to be. Green Mountain Power shows that there’s a way to reconcile shareholder and the public interest, and that retaining a utility monopoly could make sense even if it’s no longer a natural monopoly[50].

Maybe it’s time for a Plan B.

This article originally posted at[51]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[52] or get the Energy Democracy weekly[53] update.


More Information:

  1. Bradley, Robert Jr., “The Insull Speech of 1898: Call for Public Utility Regulation of Electricity (The origins of EEI’s support for cap-and-trade in today’s energy/climate bill),” Master Resource, April 29, 2010,[54].
  2. The important text added to the governing documents usually includes: “… [The Director] shall give due consideration to the following factors, including, but not limited to, the long-term prospects and interests of the Company and its shareholders, and the social, economic, legal, or other effects of any action on the current and retired employees, the suppliers and customers of the Company or its subsidiaries, and the communities and society in which the Company or its subsidiaries operate, (collectively, with the shareholders, the “Stakeholders” ), together with the short-term, as well as long-term, interests of its shareholders and the effect of the Company’s operations (and its subsidiaries’ operations) on the environment and the economy of the state, the region and the nation.”
  1. articulated his vision:
  2. 1: #Insull
  3. unnecessary fossil-fueled power plants:
  4. in ways that harm the poor and elderly:
  5. spurn rooftop solar:
  6. shaped two key profit motives:
  7. distributed, non-utility power generation is often less expensive:
  8. renewable energy:
  9. energy efficiency standards:
  10. community solar programs:
  11. alternative corporate structure:
  12. pursue greater social goods:
  13. according to CEO and President Mary Powell:
  14. expand net metering across its home state:
  15. retrofitting homes with solar and energy efficiency products (paid back via the utility bill):
  16. all-solar microgrids:
  17. mapped out its distribution circuits:
  18. [Image]:
  19. Powell says:
  20. Listen to our podcast:
  21. [Image]:
  22. [Image]:
  23. 30 states and the District of Columbia:
  24. 2: #governing
  25. B Corp certification from B Lab:
  26. here:
  27. one critic said:
  28. a letter to the editor:
  29. cut net metering rates:
  30. defied the mayor, numerous stakeholders and even its own prior order:
  31. conflicts between public and private interests:
  32. plan to sue:
  33. consider all corporate constituencies:
  34. community solar program:
  35. only three solar garden up and running:
  36. rejected a value-of-solar pricing program:
  37. keep technical and financial information:
  38. like Green Mountain Power did:
  39. [Image]:
  40. boosted energy savings targets:
  41. double its energy efficiency savings:
  42. a recent report:
  43. [Image]:
  44. submitted a proposal:
  45. for the to company consider sea level rise:
  46. voted for a resolution:
  47. 40 percent of Entergy shareholders:
  48. report from the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change:
  49. [Image]:
  50. no longer a natural monopoly:
  52. Twitter:
  53. Energy Democracy weekly:

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California Weighs Fair Pricing for Distributed, Centralized Energy

by John Farrell | July 18, 2016 6:00 am

This article published with the substantial assistance of ILSR intern, McKenna Eckerline.

Everyone hates paying for something that they don’t use (how many cable channels do you have?). In California, local electricity customers may finally get satisfaction about paying for the transmission grid capacity that they don’t use.

At issue is an obscure pricing mechanism known as Transmission Access Charges[1]. These charges are meant to capture the cost of delivering power to customers, but the fees don’t distinguish between distant or local energy sources. So a customer pays a transmission fee on all the power they consume, whether it was produced next door or 500 miles away.

With this problematic pricing mechanism, the charges don’t decline when a customer’s on-site or nearby power generation increases, even though such distributed power generation doesn’t use the greater transmission system. The fees are substantial, adding as much as 3¢ per kilowatt-hour to the cost of distributed energy. Plus, the more Californians install solar technology and reduce demand for long-distance power transmission, the less these charges make any sense.

Getting Traction for Fair Pricing

Beginning in 2009, Southern California’s Clean Coalition began fighting the economic disparity between transmission use and transmission costs, and the seven-year campaign has finally garnered the attention of the Golden State’s transmission manager, or Independent System Operator, CAISO. For the first time, the system operator is inviting[2] stakeholder[3] comments[4] on the issue.

Instead of basing access charges on the amount of electricity a customer consumes (end-use metered customer load [EUML]), the Clean Coalition proposes that California utilities derive transmission assessments on Transmission Energy Downflow (TED), a measure of how much electricity actually travels on the transmission system to reach the customer. Switching to this more accurate measure would result in immediate savings for customers that rely more on distributed energy resources, and it would also bring about institutional change. In grid planning, the current charge discriminates against distributed energy projects that can lower grid costs by delivering power with technology like solar, for example, near demand. The following graphic illustrates this phenomena.

On the left, a centralized project has a lower bid in the “least cost best fit” analysis because the system operator is ignoring actual transmission costs and instead applies the charges to all customers regardless of their usage. On the right, the fair application of transmission fees means that the distributed energy project wins along with customers.

Graphic Courtesy of Clean Coalition[5]

Graphic Courtesy of Clean Coalition[6]

Big Savings from Fair Pricing

The fair playing field would reduce demand for unnecessary and expensive transmission expansion in the long run, saving California customers as much as 3¢ per kilowatt-hour, an average of about $200 per year. The reduced demand for transmission would also mean better utilization of existing grid capacity, more distributed energy (like solar), and fewer fights over the use of eminent domain to take private land for transmission towers.

Apart from reaping benefits for consumers, the proposed switch to more accurate transmission pricing would also remove perverse incentives where investor-owned utilities that are choosing between centralized and distributed projects are financially rewarded for expanding transmission infrastructure (by getting a return on their investment for building more transmission).

Fair and Consistent Pricing

The change to more accurate transmission pricing isn’t novel. Already, California municipal utilities and others that do not own transmission lines are billed for transmission access based on actual instead of aggregate use. Adopting the rule for utilities that own transmission would advance accounting accuracy and align policy across utility service territories.

The policy change many also help remedy a national bias toward transmission building, encouraged by incentives provided by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for transmission expansion[7], even when more cost-effective alternatives are not considered.

Transmission Access Charges may be an obscure pricing concept, but getting it right is a golden opportunity for the Golden State to use fairer pricing to make the most efficient use of its electric grid.

Want to stay informed or get involved?

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

Photo Credit: Dennis Wilkerson via Flickr[14]

  1. Transmission Access Charges:
  2. inviting:
  3. stakeholder:
  5. [Image]:
  6. Clean Coalition:
  7. incentives provided by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for transmission expansion:
  8. Subscribe:
  9. Josh Valentine:
  10. Katie Ramsey:
  12. Twitter:
  13. Energy Democracy weekly:
  14. Dennis Wilkerson via Flickr:

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Montgomery Co. MD Bill Requires Distributed Composting

by Brenda Platt | July 14, 2016 2:25 pm

On June 28, 2016, Montgomery County Council (Maryland) Vice President, Roger Berliner, introduced legislation to require the development of a comprehensive composting and food recovery strategic plan. The bill might be the first in the country to stipulate a diverse and distributed plan that considers food rescue, backyard composting, community scale composting, on-site institutional and commercial composting, on-farm composting, local use of compost to support soil health and the County’s stormwater management program, and more.

ILSR worked closely with Council member Berliner, his staff, and the Montgomery County Food Council in crafting the bill. The “Strategic Plan to Advance Composting and Food Waste Diversion” (Bill 28-16[1]) requires the Director of the Department of Environmental Protection to develop the strategic plan by July 1, 2017, and to submit an annual report each year documenting progress towards achieving the goals of the plan.

The bill already has the endorsement of six of the nine Council members. Joining Council member Roger Berliner in supporting the bill are: Marc Elrich, Tom Hucker, Sidney Katz, Nancy Navarro, Hans Riemer.

A public hearing on the bill will take place Tuesday, July 19th at 1 pm. The hearing will be held in Rockville, Maryland, in the Third Flooring Hearing Room of the Council Office Building (1000 Maryland Ave). Go to public hearings webpage[2] for information on how to submit written testimony to the County Council or to sign up to testify in person.


  1. Bill 28-16:
  2. public hearings webpage:

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The Secrets Behind Partnerships to Improve Internet Access

by Rebecca Toews | July 14, 2016 11:15 am

placeholder[1]A growing number of US cities have broken up monopoly control of the Internet marketplace locally. They’re promoting entrepreneurship, and giving residents and businesses real choice in how they connect and reach new audiences. They’ve brought a new wrinkle to an old model: the public-private partnership.

“Communities desperately need better Internet access, but not all local governments are bold enough to ‘go it alone,'” says Christopher Mitchell with Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “Here, we’ve outlined a few remarkable cities who have demonstrated how smart strategies are helping them help themselves.”

A city that builds its own fiber and leases it to a trusted partner can negotiate for activities that benefit the public good, like universal access. It may even require (as Westminster, Maryland did) that the partner ISP have real human beings answer the phone to solve a customer’s problems.

The term “public-private partnership” has been muddied in the past. This report clears up the confusion: public entities and private companies must both have “skin in the game” to balance the risks and amplify the rewards.

Inside “Successful Strategies for Broadband Public-Private Partnerships”[2]

VIDEO: Westminster & Ting: The How and the Why[3]



Read the guide to implementing successful public-private partnerships for fiber.




  1. [Image]:
  2. Inside “Successful Strategies for Broadband Public-Private Partnerships”:
  3. VIDEO: Westminster & Ting: The How and the Why:
  4. [Image]:
  6. (more…):

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How to Make a Political Revolution

by David Morris | July 5, 2016 9:13 am

On June 14th, North Dakotans voted to overrule their government’s decision to allow corporate ownership of farms. That they had the power to do so was a result of a political revolution that occurred almost exactly a century before, a revolution that may hold lessons for those like Bernie Sanders’ supporters who seek to establish a bottom-up political movement in the face of hostile political parties today.

Here’s the story. In the early 1900s North Dakota was effectively an economic colony of Minneapolis/Saint Paul. A Saint Paul based railroad tycoon controlled its freight prices. Minnesota companies owned many of the grain elevators that sat next to the rail lines and often cheated farmers by giving their wheat a lower grade than deserved. Since the flour mills were in Minneapolis, shipping costs reduced the price wheat farmers received. Minneapolis banks held farmers’ mortgages and their operating loans to farmers carried a higher interest than they charged at home.

Farmers, who represented a majority of the population, tried to free themselves from bondage by making the political system more responsive. In 1913 they gained an important victory when the legislature gave them the right, by petition, to initiate a law or constitutional amendment as well as to overturn a law passed by the legislature.

But this was a limited victory for while the people could enable they could not compel.

In 1914, for example, after a 30-year effort, voters authorized the legislature to build a state-owned grain elevator and mill. But in January 1915 a state legislative committee concluded[1] it “would be a waste of the people’s money as well as a humiliating disappointment to the people of the state.” The legislature refused funding.

A few weeks later, two former candidates on the Socialist Party ticket, Arthur C. Townley and Albert Bowen, launched a new political organization, the Non Partisan League (NPL). The name conveyed their strategy: To rely more on program-based politics than party-based politics. According to the NPL its program intended to end the “utterly unendurable” situation in which “the people of this state have always been dependent on their existence on industries, banks, markets, storage and transportation facilities either existing altogether outside of the state or controlled by great private interests outside the state.”

The NPL’s platform contained concrete and specific measures: state ownership of elevators, flour mills, packing houses and cold storage plants; state inspection of grain grading and dockage; state hail insurance; rural credit banks operating at cost; exemption of farm improvements from taxation.

In his recent book, Insurgent Democracy[2] Michael Lansing explains, “Small-property holders anxious to use government to create a more equitable form of capitalism cannot be easily categorized in contemporary political term.” The NPL “reminded Americans that corporate capitalism was not the only way forward.” Supporters of the NPL wanted state sponsored market fairness but not state control. They wanted public options, not public monopolies. (more…)[3]

  1. concluded:
  2. Insurgent Democracy:
  3. (more…):

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Liberty and the Farm: Internet Access

by ILSR | July 2, 2016 5:45 am

The 4th of July invites us to celebrate the accomplishments of our country. But, 23 million people in rural areas[1] remain without high-speed Internet access.

Rural areas cannot stay unconnected. Agriculture has become a high-tech endeavor, and high-speed Internet access is necessary. Cooperatives, those democratic institutions formed by rural farmers years ago, are becoming an answer.

The Founding Fathers considered rural communities the life-blood of the country. In 1785, Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to John Jay[2], stated that:

“[C]ultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. they are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, & they are tied to their country & wedded to it’s liberty & interests by the most lasting bands.”

High-Speed Internet Access Supports Agriculture

The Missouri Farmer Today recently wrote of the sorry state of rural Internet access[3] for one family-owned business in Missouri, the Perry Agricultural Laboratory[4]. They process soil samples and perform other agricultural testing for both local and international customers but the best connections available are via satellite. The lab constantly goes over its data cap and sometimes cannot send their reports to customers across the globe if the weather interferes with their signal. A high-speed cable runs along the edge of the property, but the company would have to pay $40,000 to connect to it.

The cost to build high-speed networks in rural areas is a familiar one. By banding together, members of cooperatives – whether electric, telephone[5], or Internet[6] co-op – strengthen their position and gain the leverage to build networks that will ensure they aren’t left behind. The Missouri Farmer Today also interviewed Jim Gann, the director of business development with the University of Missouri’s office of the Vice Provost for Economic Development. Gann spoke to the success of Co-Mo Electric’s Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project:

“We believe that in the economy of the future, where you are physically located is less of an issue than it’s ever been before.”

Co-Mo Electric Cooperative Brings FTTH to Rural Areas

At MuniNetworks, we have followed the story of Co-Mo Electric Cooperative[7] since the beginning of their project in 2012. After being passed over for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding twice, Co-Mo Electric Cooperative decided that its members in the rural Ozarks of Missouri could no longer wait for high-speed Internet access. They began a FTTH project, Co-Mo Connect[8] that is now nearing completion. The project will ensure that all the electric cooperative’s members have high-speed Internet access. Co-Mo Connect is now on its 4th and final phase[9]. You can listen to Christopher interview Randy Klindt from the co-op in episode #140[10] of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Watch this video featured by the Co-Mo Electric Cooperative about the importance of electric cooperatives for rural communities and democracy. Electric cooperatives now have the potential to bring next-generation, future-proof infrastructure to rural communities across the U.S.



Photo credit: woodleywonderworks[11], Creative Commons license[12]

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

  1. 23 million people in rural areas:
  2. in a letter to John Jay:
  3. the sorry state of rural Internet access:
  4. Perry Agricultural Laboratory:
  5. telephone:
  6. Internet:
  7. we have followed the story of Co-Mo Electric Cooperative:
  8. Co-Mo Connect:>
  9. its 4th and final phase:>
  10. episode #140:
  11. woodleywonderworks:
  12. license:
  13. here:

Source URL:

Local Utilities Have Lost Local Control

by John Farrell | June 23, 2016 6:00 am

This post made possible by the tireless efforts of ILSR intern Abbigail Feola. She dug up the data, identified the story worth sharing, and wrote the following piece below.

Historically, the purpose of both municipal and cooperative utility agencies has been to bring energy services to communities that for-profit corporations thought unprofitable to serve. This philosophy of self-reliance shifted the focus from profit margins towards social goods, and persists today. Municipal utilities are owned by and located in the cities they serve; their primary interest is not the welfare of their investors, but of their city or town. Likewise, cooperatives are owned and run by their members, people with strong social, environmental, financial, and cultural stakes in the activities of the cooperative.

But the ways in which municipal and cooperative utilities procure power undermine this ethic of community service and self-reliance.

Most municipal utilities have long-term contracts to purchase power from joint action agencies, and cooperative utilities from generation and transmission cooperatives. Utilities pursue these long-term contracts to obtain favorable interest rates and credit ratings from the finance industry. Even the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association states[1], “Since the wholesale power contract serves as the basic foundation for G&T [generation and transmission cooperative] financing, and since a multiplicity of stakeholders (such as lenders, regulators, or trustees, for example) have approval rights on any modifications to the contracts, it is nearly impossible to side-step the provisions of all-requirements wholesale power contracts in accessing and using power from sources other than the G&T.” In other words, financiers give better deals for financing big, new power plants when the local utilities are legally obligated to buy the power on a very long-term contract.

Click here to see an example of one of the long-term contracts[2]

The more restrictive and longer the term, the less costly it will be to fund energy infrastructure. But the result of this system is a major restriction of utilities’ abilities to operate flexibly and independently. In many cases, small, local utilities are tied into contracts for increasingly-expensive fossil-fuel power for decades, even when they may have options to procure local, renewable electricity at low cost, or with additional local economic benefits.

The loss of local authority, flexibility, and freedom can be solved in whole or part by shifting decision-making authority back to the local level, including expanding options for self-supply.

To understand the current state of the industry and how it could be changed, ILSR contacted various cooperative and municipal utilities, the latter under the Data Practices Act, to collect information on their contract lengths and the costs of electricity paid by utilities. The findings show that decades-long contracts and past and current heavy investments in dirty energy are dramatically limiting utilities’ use of cost-efficient and environment-friendly power sources.

Unwise Investments

The electric industry has always made enormous investments, in the billions of dollars, to generate and transmit electricity. Rising investments in transmission and distribution technology[3], among other factors, have contributed to rising electricity costs. Prior to the last 10 years, rising energy demand allowed utilities to spread these costs over greater sales.

But in the past decade, costs have risen while general demand for electricity (measured in kilowatt-hours, or kWh) has been either unchanging or declining.

The result is higher costs for consumers. For example, Great River Energy, one of Minnesota’s largest generation and transmission cooperatives, made massive investments in coal plants over the past decade, resulting in rising electric costs. (x[4])These include nearly 500 million dollars spent constructing the Spiritwood coal-fired plant, which was shut down due to lack of demand[5].  The Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency has a similar cost problem. Due to the low costs of wind and natural gas power and the inflexible operating system of its coal plant Sherco 3, according to its 2015 annual report[6], it is having difficulty recovering the costs of operating the coal plant.

Wholesale Contracts.001[7]


Costs are also rising to comply with environmental regulations, rules that utilities have known about for decades. U.S. environmental policy has steadily been progressing towards stricter air quality control since the 1963 Clean Air Act[8]. This trend continues today, as represented by the impending Clean Power Plan (CPP), a shift towards renewable and carbon-free energy sources which Minnesota has already begun putting into action.  Because of their past heavy investments in coal (in some cases mandated by the federal government) and current investments in natural gas, municipal and cooperative utilities are at a disadvantage. For example, 78% of the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency’s (SMMPA’s) power[9] is from the coal-fired plant Sherco Unit 3, which was built in 1987[10].  Already, utilities have submitted plans to close Sherco units 1 and 2 in 2023 and 2026[11], respectively. Unit 3 may not be far behind.

These stricter governmental regulations mirror shifting consumer preferences and changing economics[12]. Clean energy technologies (such as wind and solar) are currently outpacing coal in economic efficiency[13], and are projected to continue[14] to do so, as the price of coal continues to rise. For the North Dakota and Minnesota generation and transmission company Minnkota, rising coal prices were responsible for ten million dollars[15] (or 11% of the total cost increases) of the company’s rising operating costs in just one fiscal year.  Such cost increases caused electric prices to rise by 60%.

Wholesale Contracts.004[16]

Such rising costs are symptomatic of the continuing conflict between large power providers (with huge sunk costs into aging and costly power plants) and the autonomy and flexibility of local utilities. Increases in demand for renewable and distributed generation, accompanied by unpredictably rising costs of coal and other fossil fuels, make long-term contracts that support centralized generation increasingly burdensome.

Contract Rigidity and Length

These lengthy and demanding power purchase contracts are increasingly a millstone around the necks of utilities in the sea of rising costs and dropping sales.

Power agencies or generation and transmission cooperatives require decades-long contracts to ensure that they recover their costs for building massive new power plants. These restrict utilities’ choices in power supplies for the duration of the contract; a very, very long duration. The Northern Municipal Power Agency, for instance, has contracts with its members extending as far as 2055[17], including with the cities of Chaska, Anoka, and Moorhead.  The Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, Western Area Power Administration, and the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency all also have contracts extending through 2050. The majority of Great River Energy’s contracts end in 2045 (source: conversation with utility representatives).  Not only are such contracts unreasonably lengthy, but generation companies can and often make attempts to stretch them out even further than was originally agreed.  For instance, the Florida Municipal Power Association (FMPA) auto-renews its 30-year contracts[18] with its members each year.

Many of these contracts are “all-requirements,” mandating that utilities buy the entirety of their power supply from the power agency or generation and transmission cooperative (or the maximum amount that the company can supply).  These contracts keep local utilities tied to large investments in dirty power sources, and prevent them from increasing the role of locally-owned and/or locally-procured power generation.  Of the twenty-eight cooperative utilities contracted with Great River Energy, twenty were all-requirements[19], with a five percent allowance for locally owned energy. Other utilities featured smaller allowances or none at all, as was the case with all the Minnesota municipal utilities whose data was available.

Wholesale Contracts.003[20]

The Fruits of Freedom

Although most local municipal and cooperative utilities are tied into long-term contracts, a few had the foresight to avoid being tied down. The Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO), which has no contracts with a generation and transmission cooperative, has installed or is in the process of installing a total of 15.5 MW of solar[21]. In 2002, the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) purchased the utility[22] from for-profit Connecticut-based Citizens Communications.  Due to the import costs of coal, gas, and other resources on the island, Kauai has faced unique pressures in finding alternative sources of energy.  KIUC has set a goal of 50% renewable energy by 2023, and in 2016 reached the mark of 38% renewable energy[23].  The municipal utility in Denton, TX, reached 40% renewable energy supply [24]in 2015.  And after the expiration of its contract in 2012, the town of Georgetown, TX, signed contracts for 100% wind and solar electricity[25] to start in 2017.

Other municipal utilities are taking similar, self-initiated steps towards renewable generation.  The town of Minster in Ohio has utilized its partial-requirements contract to build a solar/storage system consisting of a 3 MW array and a 7 MW battery[26], which is owned by Half Moon Ventures[27].

Rochester Public Utilities (RPU), the largest municipal utility in Minnesota (footnote 1), has opted not to renew its 1978 contract[28] with the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (SMMPA) when it expires in 2030.  Concordantly, Rochester has set a goal of[29] 100% renewable energy by 2031[30]. Encouraging member leadership and participation in renewable generation is a major part of RPU’s plan: the proclamation states that[31] “[a]t the heart of a successful 100% renewables strategy, it is fundamental to allow open participation in the development and financing of energy infrastructure….”.  Rochester’s new arrangement interweaves its freedom to choose with renewable energy accessibility, with each motivating the other.

Farmers Electric Cooperative is an Iowa cooperative utility that generates 1,500 Watts of renewable power per customer[32], more than any other utility and more than double the next utility’s solar capacity per customer. Customers with their own solar arrays receive between 12.5 cents (the retail price) and 20 cents per kWh produced, depending on the amount produced and how it compares to their own consumption. The cooperative has also constructed a 750 kW solar array[33]; only 20% of their power[34] comes from coal.  This success has been possible because only 30% of FEC’s power[35] is sourced with long-term contracts; the rest is purchased from local generation sources on the spot market.

The Potential of Cooperation

Since few cooperative or municipal utilities can exit their long-term contracts easily, flexibility in the short term may require cooperation with their generation and transmission cooperative or power agency.  Such cooperation can allow utilities to  reap the benefits of economies of scale and coordinated action without sacrificing the needs and desires of their members and communities.

For example, generation and transmission cooperative Great River Energy recently helped twenty of its member cooperatives construct small solar arrays[36] in their communities.  On the other hand, GRE constructs and owns[37] these arrays and may be able to use that ownership in future contract extension negotiations.

In another case, three local Minnesota utilities — the Freeborn-Mower Electric Co-operative, People’s Cooperative Services, and Tri-County Electric Cooperative — jointly built a solar array that sells power to Dairyland[38], their generation and transmission cooperative.  As economies of scale are usually optimized around the 500 kW[39] to 1 megawatt[40] for solar arrays, planning around designing solar to connect to the distribution network can save wholesale power utilities and their members[41] time and money.

Cooperation between local utilities can also achieve cost savings.  The Michigan Energy Optimization Collaborative[42] was created by eight cooperatives and four municipal utilities in response to a 2008 law mandating an annual 1% reduction in electricity usage. The Collaborative has streamlined and lowered the cost of compliance through rebates for energy efficient appliances, energy audits, and agricultural programs.  With more local negotiating power behind negotiations with power providers, cooperatives are more able to increase renewable energy and efficient usage — or, as in the case of the town of Niles, to break out of a contract early.

Niles, a town of 7,000 people located in Indiana, estimates that it has been spending 20-30% above the market cost of power in its current contract.  This spurred Niles to partner with ten other utilities to end their contracts with Indiana Michigan Power[43] six years early — in 2020, instead of 2026.   By joining forces, these utilities are managing to renegotiate their contract with a large power agency that may have run roughshod over a single utility’s attempt to renegotiate.


The International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), an organization founded in 1895 which works to unite cooperatives worldwide, lists autonomy and independence[44] as key principles through which cooperatives can fulfill their commitments to their members. It does so with good reason.  The achievements of utilities such as Rochester Public Utilities and the smaller Farmers Electric Cooperative show the abilities of local utilities to act in financially and environmentally wise manners when freed from lengthy, restrictive contracts.  The cases of I&M-contracted utilities joining forces to leave their contracts early, as well as three Minnesota utilities’ joint project to sell renewable power back to their power provider, show the successes and potentials of cooperation between local utilities to take on widespread problems.  Local utilities, including their members, must continue to work against financial and legal entrapment by power agencies and generation and transmission cooperatives.  Despite these mentioned successes, there remains much work to be done for the majority of local utilities, still chained to contracts with steadily increasing costs and few means to mitigate them.

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

Notes on Municipal Utilities, the Data Practices Act, and Transparency

Under the Minnesota Statutes Chapter 13[48], the Data Practices Act, members of the public have rights to access public data free of charge (in certain forms) and in a timely and accessible manner.  These rights [49]include the right to have public data explained and presented in an accessible form; to see and have copies of summary data; and many others, including the most basic and essential right to view public data unless there is a law classifying that data as protected, trade secret, or otherwise non-public. While cooperatives are not subject to the Data Practices Act, municipal utilities, as government organizations, are.

Unfortunately, we found that there was little to no compliance with this act among municipal utilities.  Despite Data Practices Act requests sent to multiple positions (including city clerks, general utility contact addresses, utilities staff members, city council members) associated with more than twenty-five municipal utilities in Minnesota, we received only six responses.  The Data Practices Act was explicitly cited in the majority of these communications, and the reasons for rejection included not knowing the inquirer’s political beliefs.  We regret this inaccessibility and hope that compliance with the Data Practices Act in the future would allow more thorough research on the energy industries in Minnesota.

Here is a link to download the municipal utility contracts that we obtained[50]. It’s worth noting that the barriers we faced may not be unique to Minnesota. Nebraska public utilities are claiming such information is a “trade secret.”[51]

  1. National Rural Electric Cooperative Association states:
  2. Click here to see an example of one of the long-term contracts:
  3. investments in transmission and distribution technology:
  4. x:
  5. shut down due to lack of demand:
  6. according to its 2015 annual report:
  7. [Image]:
  8. has steadily been progressing towards stricter air quality control since the 1963 Clean Air Act:
  9. 78% of the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency’s (SMMPA’s) power:
  10. in 1987:
  11. in 2023 and 2026:
  12. shifting consumer preferences and changing economics:
  13. are currently outpacing coal in economic efficiency:
  14. continue:
  15. ten million dollars:
  16. [Image]:
  17. as far as 2055:
  18. auto-renews its 30-year contracts:
  19. twenty were all-requirements:
  20. [Image]:
  21. installing a total of 15.5 MW of solar:
  22. purchased the utility:
  23. reached the mark of 38% renewable energy:
  24. reached 40% renewable energy supply :
  25. signed contracts for 100% wind and solar electricity:
  26. 3 MW array and a 7 MW battery:
  27. owned by Half Moon Ventures:
  28. its 1978 contract:
  29. has set a goal of:
  30. 100% renewable energy by 2031:
  31. the proclamation states that:
  32. 1,500 Watts of renewable power per customer:
  33. 750 kW solar array:
  34. 20% of their power:
  35. only 30% of FEC’s power:
  36. member cooperatives construct small solar arrays:
  37. constructs and owns:
  38. built a solar array that sells power to Dairyland:
  39. 500 kW:
  40. 1 megawatt:
  41. save wholesale power utilities and their members:
  42. Michigan Energy Optimization Collaborative:
  43. partner with ten other utilities to end their contracts with Indiana Michigan Power:
  44. autonomy and independence:
  46. Twitter:
  47. Energy Democracy weekly:
  48. Minnesota Statutes Chapter 13:
  49. These rights :
  50. link to download the municipal utility contracts that we obtained:
  51. Nebraska public utilities are claiming such information is a “trade secret.”:

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Compost Combats Desertification: Download New Poster

by Brenda Platt | June 17, 2016 7:25 am

June 17th is World Day to Combat Desertification. In 1994, the United Nations declared June 17th the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought[1] to promote public awareness of the issue. While the UN focuses on those countries experiencing serious drought or desertification, particularly in Africa, the United States is not immune.

“The dust storms and floods of the last few years have underscored the importance to control soil erosion. I need not emphasize the seriousness of the problem and the desirability of our taking effective action, as a Nation and in the several States, to conserve the soil as our basic asset. The Nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Letter to all State Governors on a Uniform Soil Conservation Law, Feb. 26, 1937

With almost 30% of U.S. cropland eroding above soil tolerance levels – meaning the long-term ability of the soil to sustain plant growth is in jeopardy! – these words ring as true today as in 1937. FDR was responding to the devastation wreaked by the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. Today, much of the West remains under severe drought conditions. In the East, we’ve had our share of droughts but extreme storms seem to be reigning lately. Enhancing the ability of soil to retain water, slow stormwater run-off, and resist erosion is vital to life on this planet as we know it.

Fortunately we have one fairly simple solution: amending soil with compost. Compost-amended soil enhances soil properties, stems soil erosion, and protects against soil desertification. In addition, compost converts wasted food and resources into a valuable asset.

In honor of World Day to Combat Desertification, we are re-releasing our popular compost infographic as a series of 13×19” and 18×24” posters.

Composting Enhances Soil and Protects Watersheds[2] Poster (18×23”)


Compost Infographic_FULL

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]


  1. World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought:
  2. Composting Enhances Soil and Protects Watersheds:
  3. HERE:
  4. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  7. [Image]:

Source URL:

Ammon’s Model: The Virtual End of Cable Monopolies

by Rebecca Toews | June 15, 2016 11:04 am



The city of Ammon, Idaho, is building the Internet network of the future. Households and businesses can instantly change Internet service providers using a specially-designed innovative portal. This short 20 minute video highlights how the network is saving money, creating competition for broadband services, and creating powerful new public safety applications.

We talk with Ammon’s Mayor, local residents, private businesses, and the city’s technology director to understand why a small conservative city decided to build its own network and then open it to the entire community. We explain how they financed it and even scratch the surface of how software-defined networking brought the future of Internet services to Ammon before any larger metro regions.

Ammon’s network has already won awards, including a National Institute of Justice Challenge for Best Ultra-High Speed Application, and spurred economic development. But perhaps most important is that most communities can replicate this model and bring these benefits to their communities.

For more information, see our in-depth coverage on Ammon[2].

Read ongoing stories about these networks at ILSR’s site devoted to Community Broadband Networks[3].  You can also subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks[4].

ABOUT COMMUNITY BROADBAND NETWORKS[5] works with communities across the United States to create the policies needed to ensure telecommunications networks serve the community rather than a community serving the network. We publish original news, reports, multimedia, and fact sheets.

Christopher Mitchell[6], the director of our Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance works on telecommunications issues — helping communities ensure the networks upon which they depend are accountable to the community. He has consulted the White House and FCC on publicly owned networks speaks at conferences across the United States on the subject, occasionally to directly debate opponents of public ownership.


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. [Image]:
  2. Ammon:
  3. Community Broadband Networks:
  4. subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks:
  6. Christopher Mitchell: https:/

Source URL:

To Lease or To Own Your Solar Array (Infographic)

by Nick Stumo-Langer | June 10, 2016 6:00 am

placeholder[1]Is owning your solar array your best option, or is leasing right for you? Along with our existing Solar Calculators (both complex[2] and simplified[3]), we have this new infographic.

This graphic details the two different ownership structures based around a number of important categories. Please note that solar panels typically carry a 20-year warranty, but most panels are expected to continue producing electricity for 30 years or more.


To Lease or To Own - Final[4]

This article originally published at[5] Sign-up for our newsletter updates[6] and follow us on Facebook[7] and Twitter[8].

  1. [Image]:
  2. complex:
  3. simplified:
  4. [Image]:
  6. newsletter updates:
  7. Facebook:
  8. Twitter:

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Minnesota Broadband Grant Program Gets Funded, Issues Remain

by ILSR | June 2, 2016 9:22 am

The Minnesota Legislature has just approved $35 million for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program for fiscal year 2017, the largest annual appropriation in the initiative’s two-year-old history.

But the Legislature’s action still falls short of dramatically helping bring universal, high-speed Internet connectivity to all non-metro Minnesotans. Try to find a Representative or Senator that doesn’t talk about how important rural Internet access is, but compare that list to those who are actually voting for solutions. The Blandin on Broadband website captured a glimpse of this dynamic in a recent post[1].

Nice Gains And Noticeable Failures

The Legislature headed in the right direction this year to increase overall funding for broadband development. But we believe the Legislature’s action, which is moving at a snail’s pace, won’t help thousands of residents and businesses in Minnesota’s non-metro communities hurdle over the connectivity chasm.

The state’s elected leaders also made changes to the program – some good and some bad – in the way projects are selected and the challenge process.

Funding Fizzle? 

First, the funding fizzle. In its first two years, the state awarded about $30 million to 31 Border-to-Border projects. But that has been a miniscule appropriation compared with the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband’s estimate that Minnesota’s unmet broadband need is $900 million to $3.2 billion[2].

And the Legislature’s $35 million funding for the broadband grant program for the upcoming fiscal year seems particularly paltry given that the state has a projected $900 million budget surplus. [3]

“We are disappointed with the [broadband funding] number and the incredibly restrictive language” on eligibility for grants, said Dan Dorman, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership, [4](GMNP), a non-metro economic development group established in 2013 that successfully lobbied for the creation of the Broadband Development Grant program.


During the 2016 legislative session, the GMNP supported Gov. Mark Dayton’s recommendation that the broadband program receive $100 million. The DFL-led state Senate favored $85 million for 2016-17 while the Republican controlled House supported spending $15 million. The House wanted to invest far less and argued for keeping most Greater Minnesota Cities ineligible for grant funds. GMNP’s support was contingent on language changes in the statute that would make grant eligibility easier for non-metro cities.

“Without major reforms to the eligibility for funding we assumed it would be difficult to get to the $100 million that Gov. Dayton and Lt. Gov. [Tina] Smith wanted,” Dorman said in an end-of-the session update website post [5]to his members.

Language Issues

Second, the ongoing language challenges with the Border-to-Border Program. “With 85 percent of people living in cities not eligible for [Broadband Development Grant] funding, it’s hard to get people excited [about the program],” Dorman told us. The Partnership; a 90 member group of economic development authorities, foundations, cities, nonprofits, businesses, and Chambers of Commerce; maintains the broadband program’s rules and criteria inadvertently harm the very cities that conceived the program.

Established in 2014, the Broadband Development Grant program was designed to[6] “bring high-speed Internet access to unserved or underserved areas of the state” and help provide opportunities to help existing businesses and attract new ones. The Legislature, in its 2016 legislation, reaffirmed that an unserved area is one where households or businesses lack access to wireline broadband service at speeds that meet the FCC definition of broadband which is 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

Because the grant program has focused heavily on unserved areas, it has largely ignored the majority of cities that are “underserved,” those that have some Internet service, albeit poor, Dorman said.

This has created what the Institute for Local Self-Reliance described in our policy paper “Minnesota’s Broadband Program: Getting The Rules Right”[7] as “donut holes,” where a city has much poorer service than its surrounding rural areas.

Our fear is that towns with a moderate level of current business investment could lose that as businesses flock to more rural areas where the Internet infrastructure is better. Other investment would follow and the small cities in Greater Minnesota would find themselves at a disadvantage. It’s an unintended consequence that policy makers need to consider.

Fortunately, lawmakers listened to the GMNP, the Star Tribune, and us[8] as they established rules for funding this session.


In our policy paper, we recommended that the Border-to-Border fund should set some portion – less than half – of its funds aside for applications that would target the underserved population centers and blend them in with nearby unserved areas. Those business and industry centers are the economic heart of many regions and they need modern connectivity for Minnesota to thrive.

Dorman said one significant victory in the newly-passed state broadband grant law is that $5 million of the $35 million appropriation will be set aside for areas that currently have speeds greater than 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up but less than 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up. That $5 million will be available to communities that need better broadband service to boost economic development.

In a statement to, officials from state Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) said:

“Given the increased interest in the [grant] program, we expect to see a very competitive pool of applications this round, and using the results of previous rounds, expect to see over 12,000 homes and businesses served with wired service as well as increased wireless coverage in some areas of the state.”

“Still,” DEED officials admitted, “It is difficult to estimate how many will be left unserved after this round, given that there is private and federal investments also being made across the state. DEED continues to gather data from the providers and federal sources and will have an updated estimate of the gap in July, 2016.”

The federal “investments” are largely from the Connect America Fund, which has is effectively wasting billions of dollars [9]on antiquated DSL service.

Disappointing “Challenge Process”

On the downside, the Partnership was disappointed in a provision in the broadband law pertaining to a “challenge process” that allows a telecom company to stop a project from receiving a grant if that company currently provides or even promises to provide service at the low state speed goals, Dorman said. This legislative language is a slight reform of the previous “right of first refusal” language, which had been included in the House broadband bill.

“This [challenge language] provision in the bill could make it difficult, if not impossible, for projects seeking to upgrade existing broadband service to receive a grant,” Dorman said[10]. “We will have to see how this all plays out.”

Dorman sees the “challenge process” language as a tool protecting telecom companies “that don’t want to invest” in their Internet networks.

“Any broadband provider in the area can object” to an applicant’s request for grant funding, Dorman said. This is potentially more open-ended than the old language that gave this challenge authority only to incumbent providers in an area, he said.


In a statement, DEED officials told us:

“The current challenge language was introduced to more accurately reflect the process that is already part of the program and to clarify that it is the state that will determine whether or not a challenge to an application is valid, not a provider.  This process was modeled after a federal system that was used in the distribution of the ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] broadband stimulus funds to address the desire to avoid making public investments where private investments are already being made that meet or exceed the goals of the program. The new aspect that has been added to the process is the allowance of near-term construction plans that meet state standards as a valid basis for a challenge. This is to account for the added presence of CAF (Connect America Fund) II investments. Added protections were also introduced so that if construction commitments aren’t met as outlined in the challenge, the provider may be barred from issuing future challenges. DEED retains the authority to determine the validity of any challenge.”

Whatever the reasons for the legislative changes, Dorman decried the lack of opportunity for public comment on the “challenge” language.

“It is a major change from current law and people had very little time to react interpret and comment on the House bill and no opportunity to comment on the agreed-upon language that made it into the final bill.”

Meanwhile, Dorman blamed industry telecom lobbyists for convincing state lawmakers not to support the language changes sought by Partnership. “This [new Broadband Development Grant law] was written with the help of the [telecommunications] industry,” he said.

Speed Goals Lagging 

In another area, GMNP leaders also believe the state’s connectivity speeds goals are not aggressive enough. Under the law, the state’s goal is that “no later than 2022,[11]” all Minnesota businesses and homes have access to minimum speeds of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up and the minimum service goals in 2026 should be 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up.

“To say 25 Mbps / 3 Mbps is an acceptable standard is ridiculous,” Dorman told us. “This is equivalent of 1990s dial up service.  We need to step this up.”

That position resonates with us. In our policy paper we said:

“When it comes to its goal, Minnesota should recall the danger of aiming low: you might hit the target. Minnesota should establish a stronger goal and then actually fund the program to achieve it. 100 Mbps symmetrical by 2022 would be both ambitious and worthwhile.”

Moving forward, Dorman said his organization may have to re-evaluate if there is a better and faster way to get high-speed Internet connectivity to greater Minnesota if dramatic improvements don’t come soon to the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[12]

  1. in a recent post:
  2. unmet broadband need is $900 million to $3.2 billion:
  3. has a projected $900 million budget surplus. :
  4. Greater Minnesota Partnership, :
  5. an end-of-the session update website post :
  6. was designed to:
  7. “Minnesota’s Broadband Program: Getting The Rules Right”:
  8. the Star Tribune, and us:
  9. effectively wasting billions of dollars :
  10. Dorman said:
  11. the state’s goal is that “no later than 2022,:
  12. here:

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Video: Break the Chains, Build Local Power

by ILSR | June 1, 2016 7:00 am

placeholder[1]Since our founding in 1974, we have worked to rewrite the rules and empower communities to choose their own future. Across several vital economic sectors, we help break the corporate stranglehold that extracts wealth from local economies and undermines democracy.

We give communities the tools to build a strong local economy themselves.

From banking to energy, healthy soils to community-owned Internet networks, time and again we have shown that when we level the playing field for individuals and businesses, we improve our economy and the quality of life for all citizens.

To many, ILSR is one initiative that they have followed, learned from, and tried to embody. But we are much more than that. We are a network of initiatives with a coherent philosophy and strategy that link all things community – utilities, internet, shopping, banking, trash, recycling, and – the most important part piece – YOU.

We need your help to expand our reach and multiply our successes.

Donate to our campaign[2] to help us Inspire, Advocate, Empower, Create, and Champion local solutions:

This video illustrates our work, and explains how all of our unique and distinct initiatives, together, build a holistic philosophy of local self-reliance.

  1. [Image]:
  2. Donate to our campaign:

Source URL:

Being Black Still a Barrier to Rural Cooperative Board Membership

by John Farrell | May 23, 2016 6:00 am

placeholder[1]In 1984, the New York Times ran a story highlighting the almost universally white boards of directors[2] among 300 Southern electric cooperatives serving populations with thousands of African American member-owners:

According to Oleta G. Fitzgerald, a staff lawyer with the [Southern Regional Council], a survey of 300 cooperatives in Southern states showed no more than 30 blacks among 3,000 board members elected at annual meetings by members to oversee, among other things, the co-ops’ operations and rates. [emphasis added]

Exempt from state regulation in 33 states because they purportedly offer democratic and local control, new data on the nation’s rural electric cooperatives suggests that skin color is still a major barrier to their democratic representation.

Scant Improvement in Three Decades

In 32 years, little has changed for electric cooperatives in the South. A recent study published by The Rural Power Project shared results of a similar survey (of 313 cooperative boards) and found just 90 blacks among the 3,000 board members[3]. This 4% proportion of African American board leadership is in states where the black population represents more than  22% of the total. The disparity is even higher between men and women, with men representing 90% of board members but only half the population.

The following map (created by ILSR, based on the report data[4]) illustrates the disparity between the racial composition of electric cooperative boards and their respective state populations, ranging from 8% in Kentucky, to over 30% in Mississippi and Louisiana.

Racial Disparity in RECs[5]

Representation by people identifying as Hispanic was similarly low relative to population: just 0.3% of board positions were filled by a person identifying as Hispanic, in states with an average population share of 10% Hispanic.

Largely Unregulated

As mentioned previously, rural electric cooperatives are largely exempted from state oversight because their legal structure implies that members have a say in the governance of the organization. The following map, based on data from the federal GAO, illustrates how few states have any form of state regulation (red), and several that have only a limited form (in yellow):

We updated this map based on 2015 data from the Government Accountability Office. You can still see the 2008 version here.[6]

The above map is somewhat deceptive, because rural electric cooperatives were for many years subject to (minimal) oversight by the Rural Utility Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, due to their reliance on federal financing. n recent years, however, cooperatives have increasingly used their own financing, reducing even that small level of scrutiny.

The parallels across time are striking. The 1984 New York Times story includes a tale of a rigged election (where the board rescheduled the annual meeting to another time, and proxy votes were used to re-elect the entire all-white board), eerily similar to one shared in ILSR’s recently published report on Re-Member-ing Rural Electric Cooperatives[7], where Randy Wilson of Jackson Energy Cooperative found his campaign drowned by proxy votes. Low member engagement reinforces an ailing system of local democracy, with three-quarters of rural electric cooperatives having less than 10% turnout for their board elections.

A Potentially Costly Loophole

The issue of democracy at a utility company would normally be an internal matter, but rural electric cooperatives are notable for their particularly deep reliance on coal-fired electricity[8] and on very long term contracts tying them to this resource. Through these contracts, the smaller, local cooperatives have often ceded nearly all their power to generation and transmission cooperatives, giving them little leverage to embrace the changes wrought by inexpensive renewable energy or smart, two-way technologies. As the country begins to account for the enormous health and environmental costs of coal in its electricity prices, many rural residents may be left holding the bag of the utilities that have been exempted from typical regulator oversight.

The racial disparities unearthed by the Rural Power Project put a new light on an old problem. Many rural electric cooperative members ought to ask about the value of “democratic, member control.”

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

  1. [Image]:
  2. highlighting the almost universally white boards of directors:,1%5D
  3. just 90 blacks among the 3,000 board members:
  4. the report data:
  5. [Image]:
  6. [Image]:
  7. Re-Member-ing Rural Electric Cooperatives:
  8. particularly deep reliance on coal-fired electricity:
  10. Twitter:
  11. Energy Democracy weekly:

Source URL:

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:

What Should Bernie Do Now?

by David Morris | May 11, 2016 6:00 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]

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Infographic: Compost Impacts More Than You Think

by Brenda Platt | May 6, 2016 7:03 am

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



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

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[2] ([3]), 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:[4] 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[5]


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!

Below are the web-optimized versions of all of the graphics we created.

Compost Infographic_FULL


  1. HERE:
  2. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
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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.


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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:
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  6. Community Broadband Networks:
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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:
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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:

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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:

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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:
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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:
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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]:

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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[3]

Cooperatives have a history of serving local needs[4]. 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[5] include savings on your energy bill and a chance to own a slice of the sun whether or not you own a sunny rooftop[6]. This option is a popular one, with many community solar arrays “selling out”[7] 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[8] 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[9] 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