Three Habits of a Successful Community Energy Program

Photo credit: "Moss Community Energy Launch,” flickr user  tentenuk  

Photo credit: "Moss Community Energy Launch,” flickr user tentenuk 

Community energy programs are popping up all over the world. Many villages, towns, and cities have successfully put in place plans to transition to renewable energy while also reducing the overall cost of power. Many more still are considering strategies to do the same. 

For example, San Diego, California, has launched a community choice aggregation (CCA) plan that seeks to have the city on 100 percent renewable power by 2035. Other urban areas, like Toronto, Canada, and Boston, Massachusetts, are currently funding extended research to identify neighborhoods to implement community energy programs. Community energy is also a growing movement in the United Kingdom, where 5,000 community energy programs have been active since 2008. The town of Feldheim in Germany has built its own power grid that is fed by wind turbines and bio-gas. The Rocky Mountain Institute reported that Feldheim’s residents now pay 31 percent less for electricity than they did before. Another source cited that the village now produces 321 percent more energy than it needs. 

So what are some common features that these programs share? Here are three things that we found:

1. They don’t rely on just one renewable energy source.

All of these plans use a mix of renewable energy sources in their plans, including solar, wind, hydroelectric, and some third generation technologies, like bio-gas. Relying on just one source may reduce the benefits a program could have, like cost reduction or achieving 100 percent reliance on renewables. 

2. They have extensive planning and research behind them.

Taking the time to research a region’s unique needs and challenges will inform a plan that is more likely to be effective. For example, the Boston Community Energy Study has identified neighborhoods where a community energy program would benefit residents, offset high carbon emissions, and lower electricity and heating costs. Check out their interactive map to see their results. 

3. They work with local government and partner with nonprofits.

When it comes to community energy, going it alone doesn’t seem to pay off. The programs that are thriving or that have the right momentum for getting off the ground involve a healthy mix of local government offices, local residents, neighborhood groups, and nonprofit organizations that offer academic or scientific expertise on sustainability. A strong program involves diverse stakeholders who are unique to each project. 

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.