Emily Stiever, CPN’s program director, is one of four full-time staff. “We’ll talk or meet with people interested in starting a project to help them figure out a strategic approach or organizational structure,” says Stiever. “For instance, I recently spoke with a group in Missouri that wants to organize a neighborhood solar group purchase. I shared our experience organizing this type of project in D.C., and I suggested that they operate as a community organization rather than a business. I also suggested that they start with a pilot project before incorporating, since their approach and mission may change once they have some experience.”
The CPN connects organizations via its membership directory, and uses its weekly newsletter, website, Listserv, and social media platforms to share information and ideas. “Often our members will read about a project that another group is doing and contact us. We’ll then put them in touch with one another, so they can share information or work together,” Stiever adds.
“The CPN gave us great exposure. I’ve had great conversations with members, and I’ve made valuable connections,” says Andreas Karelas, founder of San Francisco-based RE-volv. A member since July 2012, Karelas credits the lessons he learned from fellow members and the publicity he received through the CPN for helping RE-volv raise the funds to complete its first project this spring—a 10-kilowatt PV system for the nonprofit Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, California. In a little more than one year since its launch, RE-volv has gone from being virtually unknown to receiving national attention for its unique nonprofit model, which pools donations into a revolving “solar seed fund” to provide leases for community solar energy projects at schools, universities, hospitals, and places of worship.
“There are many community power groups out there—renewable energy groups, energy efficiency groups, energy conservation groups, and the like. These groups often share common goals but find themselves pitted against one another competing for local funding. The CPN is serving a critical need, helping these groups find allies and build successful coalitions,” says Robert Robinson, an activist with DC SUN.
A key function of the CPN is helping member groups develop campaigns and strategies to advocate for local policy changes. This may include anything from hosting petitions and managing email lists of supporters to taking “an insider’s baseball” approach, says Stiever.
Currently, Schoolman and her team are helping DC SUN activists lobby the District Council for net-metering legislation that would allow “virtual” access to PV systems for renters, condominium owners, and people whose rooftops aren’t suitable for solar electric systems. They also helped launch SUN groups in Maryland and Virginia. Both groups are in the process of organizing solar bulk purchases in several neighborhoods throughout the region.
Schoolman says her best advice came from her son: “’You don’t have to know what you’re doing before you start. The key is just starting,’ he told me,” says Schoolman. “So much of our success has been a process of learning by doing.”
To become a member, visit communitypowernetwork.com