In order for communities to use the commons models to achieve impacts of equitable wealth, integrated climate mitigation and a just energy transition, they need supportive infrastructures. Communities lack economic institutions to support locally governed common good work. Solar Commons Project (SCP) creates civic tools to gather the sun’s common wealth and direct it to a community-governed social wealth fund that supports neighbors helping neighbors for the two decades plus lifespan of the solar technology. These legal and economic interconnections form an infrastructure for commoning.
Commons Infrastructure Tools, Templates, and Models
State agencies raise capital for public good through taxes; market actors finance private activity through banks. But civic communities in rural and urban areas lack institutions to sustainably fund and locally govern their community-building and repairing work. Solar Commons Project (SCP) creates civic tools to gather the sun’s common wealth and direct it to a community-governed social wealth fund that supports neighbors helping neighbors for the two decade plus lifespan of the solar technology. These legal and economic interconnections form an infrastructure for commoning. By owning and governing solar savings in community trusts with simple, flexible rules, community partners can support local homeless shelters and food banks for neighbors in crisis or they can fund the growth of a local healthy food economy bringing entrepreneurial skills in food growing, eating, celebrating and value-added preparations.
Solar Commons legal and governance tools build on the scholarship of Elinor Ostrom who won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics for her studies of “commons,” resource-sharing and community rule-making around the world. Solar Commons researchers are the first to apply Ostrom’s work on trust governance and commons to solar energy. With a small 14.5kW Solar Commons prototype in Arizona that brings approximately $3,000 a year to a community beneficiary, the Solar Commons Project was a finalist in the US Department of Energy’s Solar In Your Community Challenge in 2019. Awarded as a US Greenbuild Legacy Project, Solar Commons researchers are taking their next step to design, build and test digital dashboard tools that will make their forthcoming 500kW Solar Commons community trust a public-facing, transparent, and accountable community infrastructure that can deliver $70,000 annually to its community beneficiary in Minnesota in 2021.
Solar Commons Community Trust ownership model is an “infrastructure for commoning:” it funds and self-governs social equity work at community scale. As SCP researchers further co-develop Solar Commons with community partners, it will become a robust institution with open-source legal templates and shareable platform tools. As it scales with larger solar arrays that allow greater common wealth to be captured and owned by low-income US communities, it will help build a 21st century commons sector for the US economy, recognized by state and market sector institutions but impactful as a tool of civic ownership, governance and economic empowerment.