Community based energy and the revitalization of civic culture
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COMMUNITY-BASED ENERGY AND THE REVITALIZATION OF CIVIC CULTURE. Steven M. Hoffman, Ph.D. University of St. Thomas St. Paul, Minnesota USA Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development De Montfort University Leicester, England June 30, 2004. Acknowledgements. Dr. Patrick Devine-Wright

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Community based energy and the revitalization of civic culture


Steven M. Hoffman, Ph.D.

University of St. Thomas

St. Paul, Minnesota


Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development

De Montfort University

Leicester, England

June 30, 2004



  • Dr. Patrick Devine-Wright

  • the staff and students of the Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development

America s associational life

America’s Associational Life

  • organizations offered social and political life beyond

    immediate locale

  • followed a federalist model, i.e., a national office with

    local membership

  • served as a training ground for democratic citizenship

  • explicitly political in their activities

Contemporary civic organizations

Contemporary Civic Organizations

  • based on a management ethic

  • do things for people rather than doing things with people

  • ask people and members for money to build an expert staff capable of countering the arguments and policy papers offered by an opposing set of experts

Exceptions to the rule

Exceptions to the Rule

  • the Christian Coalition, with its supporting think tanks such as the

    Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute

  • mega-churches popular in the mushrooming communities of suburban


  • self-help organizations modeled along the lines of Alcoholics


  • some organizations in the environmental movement, particularly those

    that come out of the environmental justice movement

Reviving civic culture

Reviving Civic Culture

  • Social capital, i.e., networks of civic and

    social relationships

  • Strong democracy or ‘politics in the

    participatory mode’

  • Public spaces, i.e., deliberative polling and

    citizens juries

What s wrong with polls and juries

What’s Wrong with Polls and Juries?

  • temporary and episodic, in existence only long enough to study a problem

    in a fairly shallow way

  • no sustained, on-going engagement in identifying or implementing

    community preferences

  • largely monastic process

  • not intended to create on-going connections with community institutions

    after the process is completed

What do the people want

What Do THE PEOPLE Want?

Sustained engagement, robust deliberative possibilities, and the clear ability to affect policy outcomes;


“stealth” democracy, an as-if citizenship, and non-deliberative deliberation?

Distributed generation


  • small, modular power-generating technologies

  • generally using renewable fuels

  • potentially eliminates the transmission system by linking local generation with local consumption

  • would allow the grid to serve as a source of back-up power or as a purchaser of net-metered small-scale generators

Locally owned or operated cbe systems

Locally-owned or operated CBE systems

  • more democratic

  • located closer to customer-citizen

  • therefore are more responsive to their values

  • is synonymous with a more sustainable energy system since they are based on DG technologies power by green fuels

Case studies


  • the origins of each of the selected initiatives

  • a chronology of the relevant events

  • the objectives of the initiative as understood by the principal partners

  • the challenges facing the project’s organizers

  • an overview of an initiative’s main activities

  • a technological profile

  • a detailed financial accounting of the project to date

  • the relationship of the initiative to the existing electrical system

The variety of cbe initiatives

The Variety of CBE Initiatives

  • objectives, i.e., technology-based programs such as wind, solar, biomass; energy-efficiency programs; educational programming; energy-efficiency or weatherization programs; community development

  • institutional options, i.e., volunteer-based, local utility, IOU-run, local government, NGOs or LLC

  • governance and the nature of citizen participation

  • ownership (which may or may not be the same as the institutional option)

  • scale and purpose, i.e., utility-scale, district-based, individual buildings, net-metered

  • geographic location (i.e., rural, small-town or urban center

Content analysis


  • examination of rhetoric and language to understand

    values, beliefs and core ideas animating each initiative

  • review of content that is internally generated and

    externally directed, i.e., newsletters, pamphlets, material

    on the website, speeches

  • review of content that is externally generated and

    externally directed, i.e., local print media coverage

Participant questionnaire


  • the relationship among stakeholder roles

  • the understanding that participants have about basic terms such as distributed generation, renewable energy, community, etc.

  • their understanding of the initiative and its effectiveness

  • personal priorities

  • why participants might join, remain with, or exit an initiative

Community based energy and the revitalization of civic culture

MINNESOTA: Land of 10,000 Lakes





Certs clean energy resource teams

CERTs: Clean Energy Resource Teams

  • a collaborative of the Minnesota Department of Commerce, the University of Minnesota’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships program, Rural Minnesota Energy Task Force, the Metro County Energy Task Force, and the Minnesota Project

  • teams include many stakeholders including farmers and other landowners, industry and utility reps, colleges, universities and local governments

  • the outcome of the project will be a strategic vision and a renewable and energy conservation energy plan for each region, reflecting a mix of energy sources, including biomass, wind, solar, and hydrogen

  • participant surveys particularly useful in this case

Community based energy and the revitalization of civic culture


Community based energy and the revitalization of civic culture

  • initaitive started with a “letter to the editor” in local newspaper

  • strategic plan states that the organization is guided by the values of environment, community, and social justice

  • clear emphasis on community participation

  • hosted a community wind conference to provide residents of |Northfield technical information

  • emphasis on process andtechnological shift to renewable sources of energy

  • has created an LLC to provide economic benefits to local family and for grid sales

Community based energy and the revitalization of civic culture

  • located in a large metropolitan area

  • community is a low-income, minority population

  • a cooperative whose professional staff:

  • -- delivers energy-efficiency services

  • -- is developing a waste wood-fired CHP facility

  • -- proposing a rooftop solar program for peak- shaving purposes

Other cbe projects

Other CBE Projects

  • Clean Energy Now (CEN)

  • Midway Biomass Combined Heat and Power Project

  • Moorhead Public Service’s Capture the Wind

  • farmer-owned wind LLC projects: MINWIND I and II,

    Community Wind North and Community Wind South, and

    the TRIMONT project

  • City of Bovey

Why theory matters

Why Theory Matters

  • how citizens are brought into the process

  • the kind of work that is required of them

  • the incentives they are given to remain

  • the reasons for their loyalty and or exit

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