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Energy and Our Communities - An Excerpt from Power from the People by Greg Pahl

Energy and Our Communities - An Excerpt from Power from the People by Greg Pahl

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Over 90 percent of US power generation comes from large, centralized, highly polluting, nonrenewable sources of energy. It is delivered through long, brittle transmission lines, and then is squandered through inefficiency and waste. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Communities can indeed produce their own local, renewable energy.

"Power from the People" explores how homeowners, co-ops, nonprofit institutions, governments, and businesses are putting power in the hands of local communities through distributed energy programs and energy-efficiency measures.
Over 90 percent of US power generation comes from large, centralized, highly polluting, nonrenewable sources of energy. It is delivered through long, brittle transmission lines, and then is squandered through inefficiency and waste. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Communities can indeed produce their own local, renewable energy.

"Power from the People" explores how homeowners, co-ops, nonprofit institutions, governments, and businesses are putting power in the hands of local communities through distributed energy programs and energy-efficiency measures.

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Published by: Chelsea Green Publishing on Jul 25, 2012
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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10/30/2013

 
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Energy and Our Communities
On a hot July day in 2003, I was sitting with a number o riends and acquain-tances at SolarFest, an annual renewable energy and sustainable living airheld at the time at Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont.
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One ortwo in the group were small-scale biodiesel producers, but all o us wereconcerned about peak oil and climate change, about our nation’s addictionto ossil uels in general and to oil in particular. We were bemoaning the lack o any organized liquid biouels initiatives in the state at the time, and atera lot o complaining about the complacency o state government, someonesaid, “Well, why don’t we do something about it
ourselves
?” This was a radi-cally dierent view o energy policy, which up to that moment we assumedwas someone else’s responsibility. At the time, I don’t think any o us ullyunderstood what we were getting ourselves into.Nevertheless, two months later about twenty-ve people gathered in the basement o a church in nearby Middlebury or our rst meeting about “doing something” to start a biouels organization in Vermont. Among the partici-pants were armers, engineers, and biodiesel producers and users; MiddleburyCollege aculty, sta, and students; several local legislative representatives; andinterested members o the local community. Although the initial ocus waslocal, we soon recognized that it needed to expand to include the entire state(Vermont is so small that even a statewide initiative is still basically local). Ater several additional meetings and a lot o discussion, the VermontBiouels Association (VBA) was ocially organized in November 2003. I wasinitially a co-director o the group and later served as president o the board. Ater ve years o actively promoting biouels in Vermont, the VBA wasmerged into a larger statewide group known as Renewable Energy Vermont(revermont.org), where some o its initiatives continue to this day.
 
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 Power from the People
The VBA was my rst venture into local community-based energy activ-ism, and involved a lot o rethinking o assumptions about energy that werecurrent at the time—assumptions that let Vermont communities (and theentire state) extremely vulnerable to the ups and downs o international oilmarkets. One thing I quickly learned was that change comes slowly. But Ialso learned that once you stop waiting or someone else to “do something,”and begin to think o energy in local terms, it opens the way or a wide rangeo possibilities and opportunities.
We’re Vulnerable
We have a problem. The Great Recession has demonstrated just how vulner-able we are to disruptions in the global economy, and especially in globalnancial and commodity markets. Markets hate uncertainty, and the ongoing unrest in the Middle East and elsewhere has also shown how uncertainty cancreate havoc in oil markets—and increase price volatility at the gas pump.U.S. oil consumption amounts to about 19 million barrels (798 million gallons)per day, and two-thirds o that is or transportation. Higher oil prices unques-tionably played a role in the Great Recession, both in triggering the recession
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 and in slowing the post-2008 economic recovery—stretching many household budgets past the breaking point. Long term, the declining supply and rising costo gasoline, diesel, and aviation uels will aect the price o almost everything due to higher production and transportation costs. Oil is the lieblood o thetransport sector, the transport sector is vital to the global economy, and thereare no obvious, viable alternative uels (including ethanol and biodiesel) thatwould come close to meeting current consumption. Think about that.Without oil, due to restricted supply or unaordable prices (or both), ourcurrent global and national economies will eventually alter, leaving commu-nities everywhere stranded without the basic necessities or daily lie. That’s because we have increasingly come to depend on araway supplies or mosto those necessities. Communities that do not prepare or this eventualitywill have ew alternatives, especially in the post-2008 world we now livein where many prior assumptions are no longer valid. Unortunately, oil isnot our only vulnerability. In order to better understand our predicament,

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