The twenty-first century energy transition provides an opportunity to bring more equitable property forms to our decarbonized energy infrastructure. Customary and informal laws studied by anthropologists offer creative legal possibilities.  Trust law is the oldest form of property in the English common law tradition.  It arose as a vehicle for landless peasants to get around the dominant feudal property regime that allowed only kings and lords to own land.  Trusts became a vehicle to own not the land, but the equitable title to benefits in the land. Solar Commons research adapts trust law so that the benefits of solar energy can be owned and peer governed by low-wealth communities to support their community-building efforts.

Solar Commons researchers use a “living lab” methodology to co-design, with community partners, the trust creation, agreement, and peer governance processes and tools. These formal and informal legal devices are then turned into templates, standards, DIY steps and digital dashboards that will allow Solar Commons to freely iterate throughout the US.

Current Research

Over the next five years, Solar Commons researchers are working with community partners and funders to build and study best practices for several 500kW Solar Commons in Minnesota and Arizona.

Ten Year Research Plan

Through Solar Commons templates, tools and demonstration projects, researchers and community partners will have created a robust economic institution for the “commons sector” of the United States. Fit for donors or community financing, Solar Commons will be embedded in the infrastructure of the 21st century energy transition, an engine for peer-governed common wealth that funds the reparative and life-sustaining work of commoning.

Commons Research Directions

We look forward to the diverse collaborations that communities and commons scholars will bring to our endeavors.

Selected Publications

(forthcoming, Vermont Law Review) Milun, Kathryn, Tim Walsh and Maria Pitner, “Bringing New Light to One of The Oldest Forms Of Property Ownership: An Innovative Solution for Benefiting Underprivileged and Under-served Communities Using the Solar Commons Community Trust Model” (This law review article lays out the legal foundation of the Solar Commons Community Trust Model from historical, theoretical and practical perspectives; it locates the Solar Commons model in the history of TRUST LAW as a tool of legal reform for greater equity in dominant property regimes from feudalism to capitalism; it goes through the legal steps of trust creation and agreement with the Solar Commons model; and it addresses obstacles, opportunities and the broader vision of a just energy transition with communities engaged in Solar Commoning in a renewable energy electricity sector. 68 pages_25,818 words).

(forthcoming) “Partnership and the Commons,” Themed issue of Interdisciplinary Journal of Partnership Studies, Guest Editors and feature article authors: Kathryn Milun and Jonee Kulman Brigham. Call for Papers coming in February, 2021 for Fall 2021 issue.

Milun, Kathryn. (2020) “Solar Commons: A ‘Commons Option’ for Solar Ownership on the US Grid.” American Journal of Economics & Sociology Vol 79. No 3. 

Pilar M. Thomas, Esq.  (2019) “Solar Commons and the Solar “Trust” Model: Applications to Tribes in Arizona and Minnesota” (White paper funded by US Department of Energy as part of the Solar in Your Community Challenge.)