Community power and renewable energy are a good fit. Community power is described as “decentralized generation of electricity,” in Local Clean Energy Alliance’s recently released report, Community Power: Decentralized Renewable Energy in California. Electricity generated from local sources is usually at 20 megawatts (MW) or less. The Energy Collective describes the community power movement as aiming to “decentralize electricity generation, which provides benefits to communities beyond local, clean, and more affordable energy — though those benefits would be enough.” It is a “grassroots movement,” according to the Energy Collective, that is “picking up speed around the country.”
Community power has benefits, including the fact that it is “increasingly cost-effective,” according to the report, when compared to large-scale renewable projects. Other benefits include:
- Stimulating local economies
- Minimizing the environmental impact of renewable energy (cite large scale solar projects in the desert)
- It can be brought on line quickly
- There is less risk of power disruption because community power projects are close to electrical load
In order for community power to succeed, the report points out, municipal governments, local businesses and communities must work together to “democratize electric power.” In addition there are “three main energy policy legs” that are needed for community power to take off:
- Community Choice energy: California’s 2002 legislation, AB 117 allows a city, county or combination of both to contract with a commercial service provider to buy electric power for customers in the area. “Community Choice provides a new paradigm in which energy becomes a democratically controlled resource developed and used by a local community, rather than a commodity brokered by an investor owned utility (IOU) for the benefit of its shareholders.”
- Feed-in tariff programs: Regulatory pricing is one of the biggest barriers to expanding renewable energy, therefore price structures and policies are required that require IOUs and publicly-owned utilities to purchase wholesale renewable energy at standard competitive rates, also known as feed-in tariffs, or prices fed by law for energy fed into the electricity distribution grid.
- Accountability to public interests from regulatory agencies: State support is needed. The actions of state regulatory agencies will affect the success of community power.
California contains political incentives which encourage community power, according to the report. California’s renewable electricity standard (RES) mandates that all utilities get 33 percent of the electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and that serves as an incentive for developing community power.
Photo: Timothy Tolle