Renewable energy projects tend to require large up-front capital investments and yet they bring many positive long-term benefits, both financially and in other ways (e.g. less pollution, lower carbon footprint, greater local resiliency and independence) to their communities. The seeds of the Co-op started in July 2013 as a "community solar circle" within the non-profit Sustainable Energy Education and Development Support (SEEDS) of Northeast PA. The initial goal was to demonstrate renewable energy projects at the community scale and to invest in their community to generate a positive 'return' for everyone. Activities soon stretched beyond what SEEDS (as a non-profit) could do and in May 2014, the group became a fully independent, separate legal entity – formed as a cooperative.
Co-op members have adopted the Seven Cooperative Principles as part of their Bylaws. They believe in the one person, one vote model with the community benefits taking priority over profits. The Clean Energy Co-op is using a "slow money" business model, where long-term and modest returns are acceptable because the money circulates locally, is managed by trusted individuals, and the investment provides other (non-financial) benefits back to the investors and their community.
For the Co-op, the initial project is a solar electric generating system – a grouping of solar panels used to generate electricity. It is looking for local organizations who are excited about clean, renewable energy and who have a significant roof or land area. The benefits from obtaining a solar photovoltaic system from the Clean Energy Co-op includes no cash up-front -- it's paid for over 20 years and all (or a portion) of their electricity will be produced on-site.
Jack Barnett, President of Clean Energy Co-op, said, “We are excited about launching the business after over a year of effort. We expect to sign our first host agreement before fall and to then raise money for the project. The installation of the system is planned for early 2015.”
The cooperative model as a vehicle for community investment is relatively new. The most well-known success story is the NorthEast Investment Cooperative (NEIC). It was formed to allow the people of Northeast Minneapolis to pool their resources and collectively buy, rehab, and manage commercial and residential property in the neighborhood. NEIC has nearly 200 member-owners and has raised over $270,000 in member capital. Both individuals and local businesses have joined as members.
KDC has been involved with the Clean Energy group since the beginning. Initially we helped them understand the cooperative model and how it would work. We then provided support in basic organizational development including reviewing policy formation, bylaws, and the business plan. KDC also assisted the group with understanding various legal issues along with the incorporation process.
By: Cathy A. Smith