Creating an energy democracy
This Commentary originally ran in the
Laura Mistretta of Burlington Vermont is a member of Rights & Democracy.
Vermont has a lot to say for itself when it comes to building a sustainable future.
The facts speak for themselves: We rank second in the nation for clean energy momentum and are near the top of the heap when it comes to the growth of clean energy jobs. It is clear that we’re on our way to creating an energy independent Vermont and even meeting our ambitious goal of generating 90 percent of our energy from renewable sources by 2050.
However, the time has arrived when we need to bring more Vermonters to the table — we need to come up with solutions that meet our renewable energy goals, the needs of our communities and our planet. We must work to truly empower citizens to make decisions about energy sources and how the benefits are distributed. This isn’t a call to allow towns veto power over specific projects; this is a call to fundamentally change our energy system and forge ahead with an approach that breaks us out of our polarized camps that focus solely on “siting” or “technology” when it comes to any project or policy.
So how can we do this?
Currently, Rights & Democracy is launching a campaign calling for a new energy system, one that will disrupt the status quo of how we produce, own, and use energy by putting the power in the hands of the people. We believe it’s time for Vermont to move towards energy democracy — an open, democratic approach to determining our future and creating sustainable, livable communities that empower people to have a stake in their energy.
So what is energy democracy? What does it look like? What are its goals?
Put simply: It’s an energy system that is low carbon and local as well as ecological and equitable, and abides by some straightforward principles:
- Allow for diverse voices to make key decisions for Vermont’s renewable energy future, not just utilities, lobbyists, and regulators.
- Improve access not only to renewable power, but also to the ability to own it, with a goal of 75 percent of energy used in the state being owned locally and/or by communities or cooperatives.
- No renewable energy source should be off the table for a community to evaluate.
- Lower the financial barriers to participating in renewable energy investments and ownership so that all Vermonters, regardless of income or property ownership status, have a stake in the transition. — Keep the benefits of renewable energy generation local, including renewable energy credits.
- Guarantee that no family has to spend more than 5 percent of its income paying for energy.
Based on my experience, I feel that not only is it possible for Vermont to adopt these principles, it may very well be necessary. In 2015, I was working as an organizer for the Energy Independent Vermont campaign to put a price on carbon pollution. I spent my days meeting with activists from the Northeast Kingdom to Windham County to discuss our transition away from fossil fuels and towards energy independence.
In these face-to-face conversations with these folks, I quickly learned that although most Vermonters support transitioning away from fossil fuels, there is a large spectrum of opinions on how we get there. And these opinions when fanned are dividing communities, pitting neighbor against neighbor, and at times slowing down or halting renewable energy projects.
More than that, during the 2016 campaign, disagreements over how our transition to renewable energy is happening led some longtime environmental activists and progressives to support Republican Gov. Phil Scott. This may come as a shock, since Governor Scott is clearly no champion for environmental, economic or social justice issues and could seriously undermine years of momentum to transition to a clean future in Vermont.
Instead, we have seen organizations and activists who should be united under the common goal effectively turn on each other, when there are much larger and systemic issues of climate change to be working on.”
I know beyond a doubt that we need to take bold action to ditch fossil fuels and generate our power from clean, renewable and sustainable sources, and we need to act in unity to ensure those benefits are felt by all Vermonters.
Vermont deserves energy policies that put the future of Vermont’s power in the hands of the people, not politicians and corporations, whose interests aren’t rooted in freeing our communities from the grip of out-of-state, multinational power companies..
It’s time to bring the power to the people, and keep it there.