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What Is Energy Democracy?

The Solar Settlement is a 59 PlusEnergy home housing community in Freiburg, Germany.

The Solar Settlement is a 59 PlusEnergy home housing community in Freiburg, Germany.

"Energy democracy" marries energy and the public good. It builds an energy system by listening to a community’s needs instead of focusing on business profits. Many people participate in energy democracy, including local communities, labor unions, think tanks, local municipalities, and NGOs.   

The current energy model

Most of the energy we use today is delivered to our communities by a utility company, a profit-driven energy industry. These utilities purchase fuel from companies who drill for oil and natural gas or mine for coal and uranium. Companies invest a significant amount of money into this economy in order to earn a profit, their primary goal, while the health and welfare of the communities they serve are a secondary concern.   

Many scientists and governments are discovering today that this way of delivering energy comes with a big price tag, and not only a financial one. Carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels or the waste nuclear power plants produce damage the environment and health of communities. Increased carbon in the atmosphere contributes to climate change. The effects of climate change include an increase in severe climatic events in regions where many people live, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Ultimately, we will not be able to live as we are today if we continue to rely on fossil fuels for our energy. We are already seeing evidence of a warming planet: 2015 was the Earth’s warmest year in human record.

Energy democracy addresses both problems: the financial and the environmental. It means overcoming our dependence on fossil fuels by making communities more energy-secure at the local level.

The local model for energy

Below are three basics of the energy democracy vision.
  1. The promotion of renewable energy sources: Energy democracy advocates for a wider adoption of energy generated from renewable sources like solar power, wind, or water.
  2. A focus on the generation and distribution of power locally: It also looks to help local communities move away from a reliance on private utility companies for their energy needs and to develop more local, independent power grids. These may be municipally managed or cooperatively owned through a community energy system, such as Community Choice Aggregation (CCA).
  3. An effort to remove economic barriers to clean energy: Renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, and water power, are potentially unlimited and their fuel costs can be zero. By installing clean energy technologies, like solar panels or wind turbines, right where people live, a community can access reliable electricity regardless of household income levels.

Want to learn more about energy democracy?

Check out this great video from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation: 

With so many voices in the conversation on clean energy and climate change, it can be hard to get your head around just what it all means. The EESI blog puts the sometimes complex issues surrounding sustainability and renewable power into simple, plain language. Take part in the discussion–share your opinion in the comments section.