Gaskin: Community Solar powers up for energy ownership – Boston Herald

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The Boston Community Solar Cooperative recently held a ribbon-cutting ceremony, marking a potential turning point in the renewable energy sector: community ownership of an electricity generation source. BCSC’s innovative model empowers communities to own and benefit from the solar energy they use. Members make money every time the sun shines.

BCSC, organized as a cooperative under Massachusetts law, offers community ownership to employers who become Worker Members or for mission-aligned investors, with a $1,000 investor member share. For those who cannot afford it, a solidarity fund aims to purchase shares on their behalf. Through the acquisition of an ownership share, community members access a source of passive income generation for years to come.  By leveraging base and bonus Investment Tax Credits created by the Inflation Reduction Act, BCSC reduces its reliance on debt financing by utilizing the Inflation Reduction Act’s new credits to fund further development.

Transitioning to a net-zero carbon future necessitates trillions of dollars in investment across various sectors, including utility-scale solar farms, rooftop or ground mounted solar panels, grid upgrades, and energy storage. While numerous funding options exist, like government initiatives, green bonds, private equity, and renewable energy investors, a crucial question remains: who will own and control the renewable energy systems we need to decarbonize buildings, transportation or power generation?

Cooperatively-owned community solar offers a compelling alternative, placing ownership of the very power systems we rely on directly in the hands of the communities. This model promises clean, affordable energy, good-paying jobs, and income from electricity sales, all while fostering local control and environmental responsibility.

Historically private companies have economically benefited by providing energy solutions to low-income communities.  BCSC’s view is that community members should receive more than a 10 or 20% discount on the energy they consume, they should earn income from the sales of the electricity that can be used for energy, housing, food, and education.

There is no reason why private developers should profit from development of solar projects in environmental justice and/or communities of color, given that there are alternatives like BCSC who are focused on building Black wealth.

Imagine for a moment that the solar infrastructure was owned by the community and not by something similar to oil robber barons such as J. Paul Getty of Getty Oil Company, Andrew Carnegie, or John D. Rockefeller. Rockefeller became one of the richest men in the world as the founder of the Standard Oil Company. In 2018 dollars, Rockefeller’s net worth is said to eclipse $400 billion — nearly three times the 2018 estimated net worth of Jeff Bezos, the founder of and the wealthiest individual in the world.

Community ownership fosters a shift in priorities, prioritizing responsible resource management and environmental stewardship over profit maximization. Additionally, it empowers communities through economic benefits from energy production, reinvested locally to support infrastructure, education, and social programs.

Community ownership could help reduce if not eliminate the numerous predatory solar leasing schemes, some of the barriers such as upfront investment, and help reduce the high energy burden often experienced in lower-income communities.

Now what is needed are potential solar sites on rooftops o vacant lots, parking lots or other types of structures.  The Boston Community Solar Cooperative serves as a beacon of hope, showcasing the potential of community ownership to transform the energy landscape. By empowering communities to take control of their energy future, we can move towards a cleaner, more just, and sustainable world together.

Ed Gaskin is Executive Director of Greater Grove Hall Main Streets and founder of Sunday Celebrations.

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