Neighborhood Solar-Energy Co-ops: Seeds for a livable future
If we are to succeed in our effort to heal our wounded Mother Earth from the effects of global scorching, there are two complementary things we need to do:
We need to dissolve the top-down pyramidal power of the Carbon Pharaohs, and we need to bring into full being a new economy, a new society -- based on renewable energy, loving care for the web of life, and joyful celebration of YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh – the Interbreathing Spirit of the world.
I have written recently about strong challenges to the Carbon Pharaohs, including the March for a Clean Energy Revolution that will take place in Philadelphia on July 24, the day before the Democratic National Convention. We at The Shalom Center have been actively engaged in organizing for the Faith Contingent of that March.
Today I want to share with you the work The Shalom Center has been doing to create the alternative -- to embody the future we imagine in the actual present. And we welcome you into that work as well – both by assisting our efforts and by undertaking your own, in your own communities.
We are pursuing the creation of neighborhood solar-energy co-ops.
We decided to pursue this work for several reasons:
1. What made the sit-in and Freedom Ride movements such a powerful form of social action is that they did not begin with seeking new laws or by attacking desegregated businesses. They began by direct nonviolent action: “We want public places to be racially integrated. So here we are, integrating these places. You will have to decide what to do with us: arrest us, beat us and kill us, or change your ways.”
That way of embodying the future in the present created great waves of social change.
What, we asked, would it mean to do that in the face of the climate crisis? If we want a world of renewable energy, then we must actually create the pieces of that world. As the sit-ins began with specific places, and with clusters of people, not only lonely individuals, so must we.
2. That meant neighborhoods. Neighbors could work together to create new islands of renewable energy use, could face opposition together when it came, could become centers of broader social change -- and even shape resilient networks of caring that could if necessary cope with the floods and droughts and superstorms and new diseases brought on by global scorching.
3. Solar co-ops could both actually lessen the destructive CO2 let loose upon the planet by burning fossil fuels, and lessen the asthma epidemics caused by coal-burning power plants and oil refineries. (In Philadelphia, one fourth of the children have asthma!)
4. The cost of installing solar collectors could be greatly reduced by buying wholesale, through co-ops. Then solarization would pay back its own cost and save households money over a five-to-seven-year period after installation.
As we explored this approach, we discovered that in Washington DC and its suburbs, there had emerged a growing number of effective Neighborhood solar co-ops
So last fall, to begin this work we brought together for a day-long consultation the director of the Community Power Network and DC Solar United Neighborhoods (DC SUN); the director of the NAACP’s Environmental Justice program; several members of The Shalom Center’s Board; and several climate activists in Philadelphia.
Their advice, after a full-day exploration, was that The Shalom Center begin working with progressive synagogues, churches, and mosques in a progressive neighborhood, and involve both middle-class and working-class neighbors, Black, white, and Hispanic, in a multiracial alliance. They recommended that we treat this as a model, drawing on its experience to multiply the effort.
We decided to begin with Northwest Philadelphia, exactly the kind of neighborhood our gathering had recommended. It had the additional value that Philadelphia is now poised at choosing between becoming a fossil-fuel energy hub for refining and exporting and oil from destructive fracking, and becoming a green-jobs-and-energy hub. If Northwest Philadelphia could make a go of neighborhood solar co-ops, that could help the whole city choose a healing path, rather than a destructive one.
So we began to gather the core of a neighborhood effort. We soon realized there could be three legs to such an effort: the Philadelphia chapter of Interfaith Power and Light , bringing together a number of synagogues , churches, and mosques already working to heal our planet from global scorching; a large and strong neighborhood grocery co-op committed to broaden the co-op movement; and local suppliers of solar collectors who would cut prices a great deal for wholesale installations.
We began with a Planning Committee of five. One member offered ten hours a week of volunteer organizing work. The planning committee called a broad meeting of neighborhood organizations, and 26 people showed up, from every sector and constituency of the neighborhood. The meeting was filled with so much energy and enthusiasm that after it had been formally adjourned, 15 of the participants stuck around for another 45 minutes in animated conversation.
Out of that meeting, the planning committee grew, and adopted a guiding statement toward the organization of a Northwest Philadelphia Solar Co-op. The statement follows.
As the organizing continues, we will keep you in touch. And in the meantime, we welcome inquiries, invitations, and suggestions from you, the members and supporters of The Shalom Center, about what you can do in your own neighborhoods.
We have already begun to reach out to communities outside Philadelphia. Duing the past two months I have been invited to speak and teach in multireligious settings in the Claremont/ Los Angeles region of California; in South Carolina; and in Seattle and three Oregon cities, where in fact I am right now. In each place, I have found enthusiasm for the notion that religious communities renew their deep moral commitments by becoming sparks and seeds for neighborhood solar co-ops. I welcome such invitations from others; write us to begin a conversation along those lines.
And I invite you also to help us nourish the seeds we have sown by making a contribution to sustain our work. To do this, please click on the "Contribute" banner on the left-hand margin of this page. Thanks!