"Wealth inequality has reached obscene levels just as the planet is choking on carbon.”
- Terry Hokenson co-leader of MNIPL's Solar Team
Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light (MNIPL) has held a press conference Wednesday March 18th on their statement of values for community solar project development to be done in an inclusive and egalitarian manner both socially and economically.
Community solar gardens (CSGs) present an ideal vehicle for MNIPL, a coalition of faith groups that value our fundamental interconnectedness with the natural world.
One of the specific values mentioned is for CSGs to help increase congregational involvement in the climate movement and the development of renewables and energy efficiency.
What MNIPL is offering is not just another values statement of feel-good self-assurance. It is crucial for movement building at this time for this reason. Fossil fuel interests and energy monopoly groups like the Edison Electric Institute are attempting to play divide and conquer with the very groups MNIPL and Community Power are trying to bring together.
They are trying to pit low-income and minority communities against solar energy options like net metering by unfairly and inaccurately accusing households that produce their own solar-based electricity of raising electricity costs for non-solar households, and chiefly those struggling to pay their energy bills.
The easier policies make it for low-income residents to participate in solar energy, the greater our ability to fend off these divide and conquer techniques. The ability able to join a community solar garden with minimal up-front costs and with the financial risk spread out in monthly payments is a great example.
Conversely, if the only people who have access to clean energy were those who can afford to install their own solar panels on their own property, then that restrictiveness takes away a powerful tool for the democratization of energy.
That is why the one value that seemed to rises above all at the press conference is for the solar revolution of the next few years to tell a new story of economic equity and prosperity for all.
Meeting the strategic goal of having clean energy to be seen as a pathway out of energy poverty means doing specific and focused work so that the low income to have access to the jobs it creates.
This fits hand-in-glove with another important key point mentioned in MNIPL’s value statement is for CSGs to promote economic development that is local and recirculates through the community so that we can own the clean energy transition.
For much the same reason, there was a big interest in innovative and flexible financing such as on-bill repayment, pay-as-you-go, and revolving loan fund. The end goal is a situation where the monthly amount CSG subscribers pay is less than the amount it displaces on their energy bill.
Community Solar Developer Dustin Dennison pointed out how Minnesota has a $12 million per year energy assistance program to help the low income afford their energy bills. But it is essentially a subsidy to the big utilities. He pointed out how liberating it would be if we could get ahold of just 10% of that amount and build a clean energy infrastructure that helps people get back on their feet such as CSGs?
Community Power's work on the Clean Energy partnership came into a coalition with neighborhood engagement, racial equity and economic justice groups because of a series of attempted cuts in the city budget last December. This resulted in dozens of people speaking in front of City Council on December 10th with a surprisingly consistent theme of on making Clean Energy Partnership programs accessible and relevant to low-income communities and groups from many cultural backgrounds that need them most. The values statement MNIPL is offering is a step toward honoring that vision.