Energy Democracy!

Feb 2014 Update: We are currently exploring possibilities for organizing a national conference on Energy Democracy in Fall 2014 or Spring 2015 with our partner organization Local Clean Energy Alliance and several other organizations concerned with the advancement of Energy Democracy in North America.  Stay tuned for details!

Energy Democracy is..... 

a new concept in the US, but one whose time we believe has come.  It expands the vision of the localization/Transition movement and highlights the need for fundamental change within our increasingly destructive and monopolistic energy sector. 

We first wrote about Energy Democracy in 2011 after hearing an interview with Germany's solar champion Hermann Scheer by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! shortly before his death.

Scheer zeros in on the importance of decentralization and wrestling the power over energy out of the hands of entrenched energy interests and into the hands of the people.  The statement galvanized our own thinking and continues to inspire our efforts to spark an Energy Democracy movement, American style. Scheer emphases:  

“We’re in a race between centralized and decentralized, energy monopoly and energy democracy. The mobilization of society is most important and once people realize they can’t wait for the government or utilities, but can do it themselves, it will change." Most importantly, Scheer said, "people need to act to overcome administrative and bureaucratic barriers that hinder renewable energy. The rules favoring conventional energy and blocking decentralized renewable energy need to be exposed and dismantled.”

If we are to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change, a rapid transition to a clean, efficient renewables-based energy system that meets essential social and environmental priorities must happen. Especially in the US, renewable energy use is not growing fast enough to appreciably slow down the rise in fossil fuel use. 

The growth in renewable energy merely supplements the use of fossil fuels, which continue to increase at an alarming rate. More than 50% of new energy demand is being met by coal. Fossil fuels are still set to meet more than 3/4 of total energy needs in 2035 assuming current policies are unchanged. [2][3] According to the International Energy Agency, if all government commitments to clean energy were met, and all proposed plans were actually implemented, by 2035 renewable energy will still only comprise 16% of all energy consumed globally.[4]  Clearly, the current regulatory and market approach to promote renewable energy and energy conservation are inadequate.  

Carlo Voli, Occupy rooftops, Edmonds, WA
A New Energy Democracy Framework is Needed 

As Scheer suggests, the necessary energy transition can only occur if there is a decisive shift in power towards people: communities, small business, workers and the public—energy democracy. A transfer of resources, capital and infrastructure from private hands to a democratically controlled public sector is needed to transition to a truly sustainable energy system in the decades ahead. 

Energy democracy offers perhaps the only feasible route to a new energy system that can: 
  • Rapidly scale up renewable energy and other low–carbon energy options,
  • Aggressively promote energy conservation across all sectors, 
  • Create an energy system based on sustainable methods of energy extraction, transport and use that protects valuable public lands and cultural resources,
  • Generate quality, long-term employment and protect workers' rights,
  • Respond to the needs of local communities,
  • Control and quickly reduce emissions and harmful pollution,
  • Make serious progress towards ending global energy poverty.

[1] United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Keeping Track of Our Changing Environment: From Rio to Rio + 20, 2011,
[2] US Department of Energy, International Energy Outlook, 2011,
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[3] Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, Renewables 2012 Global Status Report, p. 21,
[4] International Energy Agency (IEA), World Energy Outlook 2012, p. 83,

Additional social, environmental and economic benefits of energy democracy: 

(1) expedites a transition to a fair and just renewable energy economy
(2) averts worse case scenario effects of climate change
(3) de-escalates domestic and global energy wars reducing chaos and instability, 

(4) puts power in the hands of real people, as opposed to utility monopolies and Wall Street investors like BP, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and NRG, currently some of the largest investors in remote solar/wind energy in the US, 
(5) generates revenue, savings and skilled jobs right in our communities instead of funneling profits to absentee global corporate coffers, 
(6) gives many more people a stake in the game, vastly expanding political support for renewable energy,
(7) incentivizes and maximizes point of use energy efficiency, 
(8) avoids long distance transmission costs and line losses (5-15%), 
(9) protects public lands, ecosystems, biological diversity, prime agricultural lands and our cultural heritage. 

The road to energy democracy can be built around three broad objectives: 

- The need to resist the agenda of monopolistic energy interests; 

- The need to reclaim to the public sphere parts of the energy economy that have been privatized or marketized; and 

- The need to decentralize and restructure regional, state and national energy systems in order to rapidly scale up renewable energy and other safe low–carbon options, implement widespread energy conservation measures, and ensure sustainable, economic development that benefits people and communities  while protecting our cultural and biological heritage.

Essential Energy Democracy resources:
Al Weinrub, Local Clean Energy Alliance - Community Power: Decentralized Renewable Energy in California

Collaborative Roundtable on Energy Democracy Are communities benefiting from the development of renewable energy in the US?   Is large scale, centralized renewable energy sustainable?  What is Energy Democracy and why is it important?  These and other topics are explored in this Spring of Sustainability collaborative roundtable on sustainable energy.


Democratizing the Electricity System: a vision for the 21st Century Grid, by John Farrell, Institute for Local Self Reliance

The Community Power Network (CPN) is a grassroots network of local, state, and national organizations working to build, and promote locally based renewable energy projects and policies.  Their mission is to help people start their own community-based renewable energy projects by providing resources, technical assistance, case studies, and connections to other practitioner, help local groups influence policy and build power by providing support for strategic planning, fundraising, list building, petitions, and create a network for existing community groups to connect, collaborate, and grow. In addition to providing up-to-date information on community-based renewable energy, CPN offers a set of tools and resources for CPN partners to use.

Cornell 2012 Conference on Energy Emergency, Energy Transition. Organizers from more than 18 countries gathered in New York City to discuss how to build a broad social movement for a truly sustainable and democratically-controlled energy system at a time when the world’s climate is in turmoil due to the burning of fossil fuels, and emissions continue to rise. Participants considered ways to respond to the fact that the oil, coal and gas corporations are on course to bring more and more fossil fuels into the global energy system, including ‘extreme energy’ such as shale gas harvested through ‘fracking’ and tar oil.  View conference documents here.

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) is a global, multi-sector trade union initiative to advance democratic direction and control of energy in a way that promotes solutions to the climate crisis, energy poverty, the degradation of both land and people, and the repression of workers' rights and protections. 

Center for Social Inclusion, Energy Democracy Initiative. 
The Center for Social Inclusion works to identify and support policy strategies to transform structural inequity and exclusion into structural fairness and inclusion. We work with community groups and national organizations to develop policy ideas, foster effective leadership, and develop communications tools for an opportunity-rich world in which we all will thrive no matter our race or ethnicity.

In the media:

Energy Democracy TV with Kirsten Hasberg and This Week in Energy (TWiE) Podcast
The promise of the Energiewende: energy democracy, Craig Morris, Renewables International

Energy Democracy and Community Owned Power, a discussion with Solar Times editor and Progressive Radio talk show host Sandy LeonVest.

In the first popular media mention of Energy Democracy in the US, David Roberts "Energy democracy: Three ways to bring solar to the masses" explores the social benefits of spreading renewable energy around then lays out three strategies (leasing, community solar and power purchase agreements) that ostensibly do that. Roberts fails to point out the down side to leasing (but see here) or identify the most insidious barriers to Energy Democracy in the US (See John Farrell's summary here) but it's a start (Grist, Sep 13, 2012).

Let us know your thoughts, interest and needs for additional information on Energy Democracy in the comments section below!

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