Want Clean Energy? Invest in Co-ops

I watched the clean energy movement fall short in 2009 as climate policy failed to pass in the US Senate by one vote. After over a decade of work in energy analysis and procurement, I believe this movement failed because it did not have a clear understanding of how the utility sector works.

One of my first jobs out of Notre Dame was for an elite energy consulting company in Boston. In anticipation of new federal climate policy, I worked with utility companies to imagine their future in a carbon constrained world. It was a thrilling time: I was helping utility companies figure out how they would evolve, how they would adjust, what the technology learning curves would be with broader adoption of solar and wind. But when the policy did not pass the Senate, it was back to the drawing board again.

That disappointing vote was nearly 10 years ago, and I am now an executive director of a thriving cooperative in DC called The Community Purchasing Alliance. We work directly with the people who pay utility bills and equip them with a more developed sense of the energy sector — so if they want to make changes they have some initial footholds on a climbing wall that will allow them to pioneer a new route to their goals and ideally a more fair, just, and sustainable energy future.

We are building and organizing vehicles for people to work together with both people power and market power. And with 80,000,000 kWh per year under contract and the pipeline to add 20,000,000 kWh more each year, CPA Co-op is well on its way to demanding a noteworthy share of the energy market in our region. Unlike my work in 2009, CPA co-ops efforts put pressure at the state and local level.

Our energy future is largely in the hands of state regulators, Public Utility Commissions and state legislative bodies. While the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Congress have a few powers — most of the important market-changing levers are at the state level. By building co-ops across the country we can develop the infrastructure needed to transform energy. Our approach is to be relational and be transparent; to share real understanding of how things work. We equip decision-makers with leverage and insights so that they may become more informed and savvy energy users and purchasers. So that when another major campaign is waged — they have context and understanding for how to decide whether they want to weigh in or not.

This post is part one of a three part blog series on investing in clean energy. You can read Part 2 of our series here.

If you would like to join our movement, simply fill out this form or send a quick email to Boris@cpa.coop with your most recent bill to explore this opportunity with our cooperative. While at present our co-op only services DC, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and Connecticut, we welcome insights and interest from across the country.