On Wednesday I was hosted by Lynn Benander at Coop Power in western Massachusetts. I gave a talk to a great bunch of coop members and active citizens in the local Climate Action Now chapter. It was very interactive – we all like to hear inspiring stories from other regions and be reminded that many people all over the globe are grappling with an energy transition in their own ways.
I have written previously about my summary of Australian community energy for my presentation in Fort Collins. By contrast, this time I spent much more time summarising the global initiatives that I am visiting on my Churchill Fellowship. You can see my slides for the CoopPower presentation here.
The most inspiring stories have a history. When communities made key energy decisions in the 70’s or 90’s – say in the case of Burlington and Schonau – they are now held up as examples for change. Community initiatives certainly take time to mature.
Coop Power has been working at energy democracy for a decade. Climate Action Now are also very active, having recently won an initiative against a substantial gas pipeline through their region. I was privileged to visit Coop power’s new biodiesel plant. The members have raised $10m over the past decade to build this facility which will use waste vegetable oil and make the region more energy self sufficient. We also talked about the spin off businesses that Coop Power has created. A number of solar installation businesses have spun off from the parent group. Many of these sold out to larger installers so Coop Power has kept a stake in more recent businesses such as Energia.
This energy efficiency business is a success story on a number of levels. It is staffed largely by young Latino men who have dropped out of high school. The skills and confidence has been so important to these guys, especially when they are among the few in their communities who have a job. I spoke with one of their first recruits who explained that the trainers from Coop Power had kept challenging him, setting high expectations that they knew he could reach. He now sits on the board and Energia is actively talking about becoming a worker-owned Coop. Energia also introduces energy efficiency to whole communities that might not readily reach out to government programs. (most energy efficiency in the USA is backed by some sort of state government energy efficiency obligation).