Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Warming Wednesdays: a locally owned electric coop?

They sat at a table outside a supermarket, hawking memberships in an electric power cooperative. Their motto, from the Vineyard Power Cooperative website:

"Own your power -- take control of your energy future."

Their hope:

to produce electricity from local, renewable resources while advocating for and keeping the benefits within, our island community. 

Our host on Martha's Vineyard bought into this alternative utility company at its beginnings; she paid a $75 fee, she thinks. Today the buy-in price is $150; it will rise to $975.

What do you get for your money? Not electricity, yet. You get the satisfaction of trying to launch a replacement to the greedy energy behemoths. You are helping to demonstrate that clean(er) renewable electric generation is possible. You are doing the right thing and maybe your investment is a sign of things to come. You show you understand the limits of our climate-destroying energy system and you are willing to do something. There are a lot of less socially useful things you could do with your money.

solar array & parking lot.JPG
Vineyard Power's most visible project to date is this solar array at Cronig's (a supermarket) parking lot in the town of Vineyard Haven. According to their website,

This 210kW photovoltaic installation - to be built in two stages - will produce over a quarter of Cronig's electricity, equal to the combined usage of about 35 average Vineyard homes. 

The cooperative is bidding on blocks of offshore ocean area in which to build wind turbines. Their target blocks are far further away and probably less controversial than those being developed by Cape Wind.

just plug that car in.jpg
For the moment, what you can do in Cronig's parking lot is plug in your electric car, if it uses this kind of connector.
I'm something of a skeptic about the world-changing potential of small cooperatives. I've seen organic vegetable coops come and go, popularizing better food, but ultimately succumbing to the market power of huge competitors. Likewise, back in the days when women were frequently denied credit, I helped start a couple of credit unions oriented to doing business by and for women. These thrived for awhile, them died of poor management and small scale. It's really hard for niche marketers to survive in the big bad capitalist world, though they can popularize good ideas.

If I were a Vineyarder, I'd buy in to Vineyard Power. But I'd consider it an ideological donation --worth the current low price, but not much higher. Joining up would make a statement about where we need to go to produce safe energy. That's one among a multitude of initiatives that need to be done.

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