Challenges and Opportunities of a Solutions Economy

By: Timothy Den-Herder Thomas
Location: Twin Cities, MN

I’ve been spending a good part of the last five years imagining, developing, and implementing an energy cooperative, Cooperative Energy Futures, that will help Twin Cities communities take our energy economy into our own hands. For months now, I’ve been waiting eagerly for the final step in a series of projects that will allow us to hire a full-time staff person and start scaling up. I’ve been excited to announce our success to the world. And I’m still waiting.

Making a successful, financially self-sustaining venture is hard, even when the basic economic seem self-evident. Basic investments in energy efficiency are no-brainer deals, a few thousand invested now can save tens of thousands of dollars in energy costs over the coming decades, but it’s still hard for most people to afford the upfront cost. Even more importantly, the current process of delivering efficiency programs hasn’t made the transition from knowledge to action click for most folks – nationwide, an energy audit program is considered successful if 5% of the people who receive audits act on the recommendations. While it is clear that over $200  billion/year in potential energy savings is sitting untapped in United States communities, it’s nearly impossible to get at it. cropped logo

In 2007, I started researching this challenge and learning home energy system science. In 2008, I helped convene a team of youth leaders and community experts to start evaluating what to do about it. In 2009, we incorporated Cooperative Energy Futures as a 308B Minnesota cooperative, a member-owned business. 2009-2010, we worked to develop our outreach strategy, educational approach, and network of community groups and energy service providers, and in 2011, we started launching our programs in full. We coordinated a series of workshops with a local neighborhood organization, training 30 residents, many of them renters and Spanish speakers, in energy conservation practices. We launched an insulation bulk buying program in late 2011 into Spring 2012, insulating 7 homes in our neighborhood. We launched a solar bulk buying program in summer and Fall 2012, securing 24 letters if intent from community residents to install solar (a total of 83kW) on their homes, pending Xcel Energy rebates. And we piloted a series of three commercial solar arrays financed by an equity investor, a first step towards community solar. As we closed up 2012, Cooperative Energy Futures was positioned to take it to the next level. Continue reading

Hope4Green uniting to help restore northeast Detroit

Northeast Detroit is an area stricken with environmental degradation, illegal dumping, and an unreliable trash management system. Because of this, months of trash and debri starts to pile up in our communities leaving the health and safety of our residents at risk.

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However the team of HOPE4GREEN Detroit is pushing to restore Northeast Detroit with community clean-ups, urban gardening, and boarding up abandoned homes that are open and dangerous.

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Lighting up Highland Park!

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The news is breaking: Highland Park has a solar-powered streetlight.

On Thanksgiving, we gathered together at dusk. The sunset was particularly beautiful that evening. The glow lasted in a sky with few clouds. As darkness fell, we filled the empty street, forming a ring around the light. It was like watching water to boil – we knew it would happen, we didn’t know when. It got quiet. Moments became hours. All the work, the stress, logistics, arguments, fundraising, became compressed. We’d scrambled for funding and footing, scheduled and rescheduled, and hashed and rehashed. And just when it seemed like we’d have to postpone, the money came, the logistics became logical, and on Tuesday, Craig from SolarStreetlightsUSA drove out here to put it in the ground. AJ was up in the cherry-picker with him, wiring the wires and connecting the connectors. The press, the city, and the people were all present. By Thursday, the news had already broken, and this ceremony was effectively unimportant. But it was Thanksgiving. This was what we’d waited for. It was a small crowd – Andre, AJ, Lawrence (dressed as St. Nick), my family, a few people from the neighborhood. In the shadows of the original Model-T factory, we waited to see our work come to fruition. Continue reading

Building Solar Energy in Highland Park

My name is Jackson Koeppel. This is my first blog post about my work through Grand Aspirations for solar energy in Highland Park this year. For those who don’t know, Highland Park (known locally as HP) is its own city, entirely surrounded by Detroit. It was the center of the Ford manufacturing economy, and was built to house affluent autoworkers who were once upon a time paid a fair wage. The place I live now, two rows of red apartments with a courtyard between them, used to be hospitality suites where Henry Ford housed distinguished guests to his Model-T factory, located three blocks away. Most of them no longer have electricity or running water. Keith and Diane Hoye, the current owners, housed the Green Economy Leadership Trainees last summer. Continue reading