Energy Democracy!

Resources on Energy Democracy from Local Clean Energy Alliance 

Energy democracy is a way to frame the struggle of working people, low-income communities, and communities of color to take control of energy resources from the corporate energy establishment and use those resources to empower their communities. It means a decentralized energy system, one characterized by social and community-based control and ownership of energy resources. Democratizing energy is a central aspect of just transition from a fossil-fuel economy to a new renewable energy economy grounded in economic and social justice.

Important Documents on Energy Democracy

From the Local Clean Energy Alliance:

Toward a Climate Justice Energy Platform: Democratizing Our Energy Future, June 2015 Lays out a vision, political framework, strategies, and principles of democratized energy development as the basis for a proposed platform to advance energy democracy in the U.S.  Includes model policies and programs and snapshots of climate justice energy advocacy from around the country.

Expressions of Energy Democracy: Perspectives on an Emerging Movement, August 2014 Looks at a few of the explicit expressions of energy democracy, some of the related programmatic approaches, and some of the leading proponents of democratizing energy in the U.S.

From the Center for Social Inclusion:

Energy investment Districts - A Racially Equitable Solution, June 2014
Policy concept paper on how communities, particularly communities of color can develop local renewable energy generation and energy efficiency programs that are accountable to the community and produce healthier neighborhoods, reduce energy costs, create good jobs, build the local economy, and combat climate change.

Energy Democracy - Community-Led Solutions: Three Case Studies, October 2013
A compilation of three case studies highlighting the work of communities of color developing community-scale renewable energy projects to improve their neighborhoods. The case studies identify obstacles that these projects encountered and recommend policies that would help bring all of our communities into the renewable energy economy.

Community-Scale Energy: Models, Strategy and Racial Equity, October 2013
From superstorms like Katrina and Sandy to wildfires across Colorado, we are losing homes, businesses and lives. In the face of these threats, how are communities, particularly frontline communities, innovating, adapting and mitigating the impacts of climate change? We created this scan of community-scale energy projects to document strategies and models that communities are using to fight climate change by reducing our reliance on dirty energy.

From Trade Unions for Energy Democracy:

Power to the People: Toward Democratic Control of Electricity Generation, June 2015
Discusses the main “fronts” on which the struggle for democratic control of power generation is currently expressing itself: cooperatives in the renewable energy sector  and recent attempts to reclaim electrical power generation at the municipal level. It also examines the historical experience of the “public works” approach to energy transition during the New Deal in the U.S. and proposes that a “Renewable Energy Administration” is needed today.

Climate Change and the Great Inaction: New Trade Union Perspectives, Sept. 2014
Provides historical background on the international labor movement's engagement in the UN climate talks and makes the case for a 'programmatic shift' away from market-based approaches and toward expanding the public sphere

Resist, Reclaim, Restructure: Unions and the Struggle for Energy Democracy, Nov. 2012
This paper served as a framing and discussion document for a 3-day global trade union Energy Emergency Energy Transition roundtable in October 2012. It frames the struggle for a global energy transition as an issue of democracy, and lays out a strategy for democratizing energy built around the need to resist the agenda of the fossil fuel coprporations, to reclaim parts of the energy economy that have been privatized, and to restructure the global energy system.

Videos on Energy Democracy
Envisioning Energy Democracy, June 2015  (5 minutes)

Highlights of the Clean Power, Healthy Communities Conference, March 5, 2015. A sampling of powerful perspectives from clean energy leaders across the U.S.

Clean Power, Healthy Communities Conference Program and Videos, March 2015.
Clean energy leaders from across the U.S. gathered in Oakland, California to discuss how to organize and strengthen the movement to build decentralized, community-based energy resources that empowers our communities. The diverse set of speakers, over half of whom were women and people of color, provided for inspiring deliberations on how to organize for energy democracy.

This is what energy democracy looks like,  February 2015 (5 minute animation)
With climate change looming, we are facing an energy emergency. How can unions fight for change? 

Community Choice, Community Power, November 2014 (3 minutes)
Shot at various events in 2014, this video showcases the grassroots movement in the East San Francisco Bay to democratize energy. It shows how a growing movement is working to bring Community Choice energy and community power to the East Bay and to California!

Articles on Energy Democracy
1.  Ceal Smith, Confronting Energy Tyranny: Grassroots activists defend community, democracy, and the planet (7/2012)

2.  Sandy LeonVest, Energy Democracy: A Movement Born of Necessity (12/2012)

3. Craig Morris, German Energy Freedom: Moving beyond energy independence to energy democracy (2/19/2013)

4. Jon Queally, Renewables Not Enough: World Needs Democratic, Decentralized Energy, says Report (10/9/2014)

5. John Duda, Energy, democracy, community (8-3-15) 

Organizations Promoting Energy Democracy
Coming soon....


Clean Power, Healthy Communities, March 5 2015
Hosted by the Local Clean Energy Alliance, this 5th annual Clean power, Healthy Communities Conference promoted the development of lcally-contrlled clean energy economies as a necessary path to a sustainable future.

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.
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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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