A moment in the Sun: People Power Solar Cooperative

People Power Solar Cooperative is leading an effort in Oakland, California, to demonstrate community-owned solar’s feasibility and meaningful benefits. This type of community solar allows residents to own a system of solar energy collectively. These member-owners invest directly in solar projects and earn money while it sells power. This solar system is a way for the community to share their wealth.

Members receive a credit on the electric bill for other community solar subscription models. People Power members share in the financial benefits of the sun by receiving collective dividends. These are usually cash payments. They also can control how solar projects are designed and installed. Project groups have been formed to oversee similar projects in California.

People Power Solar Collective was established with $150,000 of startup funding from the California Sustainable Energy Entrepreneur Development Initiative to become a cooperative corporation. California law permits the creation of this type of corporation, provided it is organized solely for the mutual benefit of its patrons. According to the National Cooperative Business Association, similar laws are found in at least 18 other states.

People Power’s first project was built at the Oakland home of Lora Jo Foo, a long-standing clean energy activist. Foo, a labor rights lawyer, was thrilled to find a community-owned solution. Foo offered to host a 7-kilowatt solar array at her home. This will help her family save money on their monthly electricity bills.

People Power set this system up with foo as the sole user. Foo pays People Power a monthly fee for the solar panel power they produce. This is similar to a power purchase agreement (PPA). People Power then divides the monthly payment for receives from People Power among its members.

People Power is a model where members-owners, who may need the ability to install solar systems on their homes, invest in a portion of the solar panels for foo’s home. They will receive a return of 3% and more financial benefits if People Power has enough taxable income to qualify for the Federal Investment Tax Credit.

In just two weeks, the project had received enough contributions from members to fund its solar array fully. People Power attributes the success of the pilot project’s popularity to a need for community ownership and governance in Oakland of renewable energy.

Crystal Huang, the co-founder of People Power, says, “To build wealth, health, and resilience with energy in communities, it’s about how we govern, use, and relate to energy – that is energy democracy.”

People Power Solar Cooperative has been a member since May 2020 of the National Community Solar Partnership and one of the Partnership’s Financing Community Owned Solar Community Of Practice organizers. Learn more about People Power Solar Cooperative and the installation at lorajo foo’s house.

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