For the past several months, I have been working with a team of energy activists to advance legislation in Washington, D.C. that would significantly expand access to renewable energy to more residents of this city. The bill is called the Community Renewables Energy Act of 2012 (also known as the “Community Solar Bill”) and is just one part of a renewable energy access movement that is building momentum nationwide. Currently, renewable energy generation – in most cases, solar energy – is a luxury reserved for those who are homeowners or building owners. Under current law and utility regulations, home or building owners are eligible to receive a credit on their monthly utility bill for the electricity which they generate and do not consume. This mechanism is known as “net metering” – the effect of which is the benefit of reduced energy bills. The Community Solar Bill seeks to bring this benefit to the masses.
The Community Solar Bill opens the door for renters, condominium owners, low-income residents, and even owners of homes in shaded areas or with poor roof orientation to subscribe to a portion of a large array of solar panels remotely and receive a similar benefit on their monthly energy bill, through “virtual net metering.” In short, when this legislation is passed, home or building ownership (in a sunny area) will no longer be a prerequisite for solar energy generation.
At its core, the Community Solar Bill is about democratizing renewable energy. And the goal of making renewable energy available to all, rather than a few, has required an inclusive legislative advocacy strategy. In addition to the groundbreaking provisions of this legislation, the engagement of a multitude of stakeholders to move the bill forward has been similarly innovative. The core planning group that I have been involved in has made a special effort to receive input from a variety of groups from different sectors who have an interest in this legislation. Our strategy has involved soliciting input and coordination with organizations like secular non-profit, faith-based institutions, solar energy industry representatives, environmental and energy studies professors, consumer rights advocates, civil rights and environmental justice advocates, government agencies, and neighborhood civic associations. And, this is hardly an exhaustive list.
Our legislative advocacy strategy and process has by no means been perfect and we have surely noted several ways to improve our outreach as the bill moves forward in D.C. Council. However, the process has strengthened community relationships and alliances and has conveyed a powerful lesson. When working towards democratic ideals, we must use democratic tools and strategies in order for our results to have a lasting impact and credibility.
Of course, there is a price tag attached to engaging a diverse choir of voices in the legislative outreach process. We must be able to balance the varied points of view regarding details in the legislation. Engaging different and sometimes divergent voices has led to the challenge of receiving critique and incorporating ideas that we had not considered. When this happens, keeping a tight grasp on the common theme and mission of expanding access to renewable energy is vital. We continuously remind ourselves of why we are working on the bill while addressing assorted views on how this objective should be achieved.
Without question, an “unsectored” legislative strategy can be overwhelming and messy, but it is indispensable. In order to persuade public officials to pass a law which will benefit “everyone,” as has been our refrain, we must demonstrate that “everyone” wants the law to pass. No small feat. If, and when, this legislation is passed, however, the end will undoubtedly justify the means.
Photo credit: noboundariesorg
When working towards democratic ideals, we must use democratic tools.