Building a Cooperative Energy Business, One Neighbor At a Time

As we wrap up the Twin Cities Summer of Solutions program, I’ve been reflecting on how far the team this summer has taken the dream of community-powered energy.
Back in 2008, members of the Summer of Solutions helped launch Cooperative Energy Futures (CEF), which I have been working to grow since then. Over the years, they have gone on to help create such wonderful peer ventures as Worcester Energy Barnraisers, Appalachian Alliance for Renewable Energy, and the Community Power Network. Here in the Twin Cities, the models we have used for multi-lingual home energy savings trainings, bulk-buying of home energy products, and group insulation have been greatly aided by the waves of support Summer of Solutions has provided. This year has been no different.
Last winter, CEF ran a bulk purchase program for home insulation in Minneapolis, helping a team of neighbors hire qualified installers of home insulation at a lower cost.  Working together and buying in bulk makes the process easier, cheaper, and fun. This summer, CEF has formed a partnership with Applied Energy Innovations to create a parallel program called Grow Solar Minneapolis for buying solar electric panels ’s. You can learn about all the bulk-buying opportunities at

SoS Participant Christian Bangert tabling at a farmer market

Launching an integrated program that offers bulk buying of many services makes it easier to promote them and attracts a broader audience. Many people get excited by the very tangible example solar provides, but either can’t afford it or end up needing more investments in energy efficiency first. We’re promoting the following neighborhood energy bulk buying together:

CEF Board member Brianna Besch and Fred, an enthusiastic Corcoran neighborhood resident at a National Night Out block party.

Beyond creating the outreach materials and lining up the contract, it’s been all about outreach. We’ve hit the farmers markets (22 scheduled by mid October), attended community events, got in City Council and neighborhood newsletters, and gone door to door to meet and talk with folks in our neighborhood. We even had 14 of us going around to over 30 National Night Out events (an August 7th block party day that has several thousand local block parties in Minneapolis) letting people know about ways to get involved. As these neighbors are going about shopping for local produce, meeting, and having fun, some have stopped for information, others have gotten excited to tell their friends, and some have been simply overjoyed to learn what we’re doing.

The most exciting thing for me about this is the process of linking people-to-people community outreach with the process of growing a thriving business. As we line up the contracts, I can see the seeds of long-term employment positions for neighborhood residents in the revenue flows we are building even as we help folks save money. At the same time, the inspiration and excitement I hear from more and more neighbors as we present what we’re doing is infectious. I’ve been dedicated to making this dream a reality for over four years now, and at times it has been slow going, but I’m starting to see a wave of community support that is building CEF into a success.

As we leave the summer and head towards Fall, I look forward to seeing the cooperative growing, one neighbor at a time.

This entry was posted in Local Programs, Summer of Solutions by timothydenherderthomas. Bookmark the permalink.

About timothydenherderthomas

Timothy is the General Manager of Cooperative Energy Futures and a member of the Community Power Steering Committee. He's all about people power, and being the changes we actually want to see. Timothy has been heavily involved in community development and using climate solutions as incredible opportunities for local economic activity, collective empowerment, and self-determination. He does lots of network building with buddies in the youth movement as well as labor, faith, agricultural, small business, and neighborhood groups.

3 thoughts on “Building a Cooperative Energy Business, One Neighbor At a Time

  1. Sounds like SOS was very productive this summer Timothy! I support y’all but I still haven’t bothered with the webinar things, that are waiting for me. Too bad the ARISE thing didn’t work out; don’t know why St Paul wants to make the Ford Plant into a shopping mall instead of anything practical. Hmm…

  2. Thank you so much for a great article and even better initiatives, which I think will play an important role in the strengthening of the community power sector not only in the US, but worldwide. We need these best practices and success stories to inspire communities worldwide to take their energy generation in their own hands.

    If you want to find out more about project and policy updates regarding community-owned power generation and consumption, you may visit The Community Power Report at look it up on Twitter ( and Facebook (

    Let’s stay in touch!

  3. I’m delighted to read that your dedication on this project is paying off and continue to be in awe of the work accomplished by all solutionaries.

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