Local and Regional Renewable Energy Resources

The climate challenges of the twenty-first century demand that we harness renewable energy resources on both the local and regional level.


| January 2013



Power From The People

Using examples from around the nation, Greg Pahl explains how to plan, organize, finance, and launch community-scale projects that harvest renewable energy resources from the sun, wind, water, and earth.

Cover Courtesy Chelsea Green Publishing

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 harness their own local, renewable energy resources. In Power from the People (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012), author Greg Pahl 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. In the following excerpt from chapter 3 “Rethinking Energy,” Pahl explains why local ownership of renewable energy is necessary to meet the ever-growing threats of climate change.  

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As we move farther into the uncertainties of the twenty-first century, rethinking energy has shifted from an option to a necessity — and it involves taking a fresh look at how we produce and consume energy at every level, from the home to the community, region, and beyond. Critically, it also means rethinking how decisions are made about our energy system — and who makes those decisions.

Because most of the elected officials in Washington, DC, can’t see past the next election cycle, it’s become increasingly obvious that waiting for Congress or the president to “do something” productive about our fossil fuel addiction and climate change isn’t enough. And the problem isn’t just our elected representatives. National governments everywhere tend to be reactive rather than proactive, particularly with such crucial, complex issues. That’s why getting organized at the local level is so important. Fortunately, we don’t need permission from Congress to proactively begin addressing long-term energy issues from the ground up. And best of all, we can start immediately. This is an opportunity to rethink many of the basic assumptions about how our society and economy function from an energy standpoint. Those assumptions have led to many unsustainable patterns in our daily lives that we need to reassess before we can come up with an alternative plan that has a better chance for success in an extreme energy future.

Cheap fossil fuel energy has given us decades of economic growth, most visibly in the form of economic globalization: Most every U.S. household now enjoys the benefits of cheap imports like electronic gadgets from Asia, out-of-season fruit from South America, and trendy apparel from just about everywhere. But cheap energy has also had many negative consequences. Cheap oil spurred the phenomenal growth of interstate highways and automobile-dependent suburbs, and all those cheap foreign goods (sold in megastores accessible only by car) have decimated domestic manufacturing. Cheap coal and natural gas led to poorly designed housing (especially tract housing in suburbia) that is enormously inefficient to heat or cool.

If we start to seriously rethink energy, this leads to some pretty basic questions about other aspects of our “normal” lifestyles. Is it sensible to have a lifestyle that requires piloting a giant, expensive vehicle many miles every day to meet even the most basic needs of getting to work, acquiring food, and meeting up with friends and family? Does anyone truly need a five-thousand-square-foot, three-car-garage McMansion that requires hundreds of dollars’ worth of natural gas (or oil, or electricity) every month just to keep it habitable?