Public Comment

A Modest Way Forward for Climate Action

By Spencer Veale
Friday January 03, 2014 - 08:11:00 AM

In 2010, the Cap and Trade bill died in the Senate. That same year, Republican incumbent Bob Inglis lost his seat to a Tea Party challenger in a landslide, after publicly admitting he believed the scientific consensus on man-made climate change was correct. Since then, Republican politicians have viewed it as political suicide to talk about climate change as anything other than a liberal hoax. As a result, those concerned about climate change have largely put their hopes for meaningful national climate legislation on the back burner. While many wait for a break in the clouds when large scale climate action once again becomes plausible, communities across the country have found a way to move forward, however modestly, to address the climate crisis without waiting for legislation. 

This way forward is called “Solarize,” a model for organizing community bulk purchases of solar installations. Pioneered in Portland, Oregon, in 2009, the Solarize model’s success has been replicated in communities across the country as disparate as Plano, Texas, and Washington DC. Led by grassroots community organizers, Solarize projects leverage community networks and bulk purchasing power to help facilitate the spread of the adoption of solar energy in communities across the country. With solar already able to provide immediate savings in many cases even without a bulk discount, the Solarize model both simplifies the process of going solar and makes the savings from from doing so larger and therefore more difficult to pass up. The discounts Solarize projects have been able to get typically amount to thousands of dollars in savings per home on top of the standard savings that can come from going solar without a bulk discount. 

My hope is to help the East Bay join the growing number of communities that have employed the Solarize model to help do what can be done at this point to contribute to the global effort to mitigate the climate crisis. It may feel insignificant when it is just your house going solar alone. It may not even feel like anything significant when you and 100+ other houses in your community go solar at once. But if you and 100+ houses in your community go solar at once as part of a growing movement across the country, and the success of your community’s project helps to enable the success of future projects in other communities, as is surely the case, it becomes no longer absurd to feel you are making a meaningful contribution toward mitigating the climate crisis. 

Each time another Solarize project succeeds, it makes the viability of other Solarize projects more plausible, encouraging organizers to invest their time and energy into these projects. Further, it adds to the number of successful organizers who can serve as a resource to others considering initiating projects of their own. The Solarize East Bay project has benefitted hugely from enlisting the willing support of several Solarize organizers from around the country. I hope to be able to play this same role for other organizers in the near future. 

The model itself is fairly simple, yet effective. First, the organizer must form a committee of participants to select a contractor for the bulk purchase. It is important that the selection be made by such a committee so that the selection process is transparent. This serves to assure participants that the project is independent of any solar company and due diligence has been performed in selecting one. This generates confidence that the deal you get by participating is genuinely better than what you could get otherwise, and provides the wider group of participants the option of trusting the committee’s due diligence so that they do not have to do that legwork themselves. This simplifies the process for those who wish to go solar with as little hassle as possible, while preserving the option of checking the committee’s work for those who prefer to take a more hands-on approach to their decision. For those would like to be even more engaged, the option is still available to join the selection committee. Once the committee is formed, the organizer drafts and issues a Request For Proposals to interested solar companies based on criteria of the selection committee’s choosing. Once interested solar companies submit their bids, the committee assesses these bids and makes a selection.  

The RFP asks contractors to submit bids with a tiered pricing structure. Each tier is based on the number of households participating and each successive tier provides a larger discount. This means that the more households to participate, the bigger the discount. This is meant to further incentivize participants to help spread word of the project to their friends and neighbors. The more we all pitch in to help the project succeed, the more we all benefit, both in terms of our contribution to mitigating the climate crisis as well as in terms of savings on energy costs.  

If you have an average monthly electricity bill of $80 or more and an unshaded roof, please have a look at the project website: I also encourage you to fill out the sign-up sheet and questionnaire. Doing so does not represent a commitment to participate in the bulk purchase, it merely signs you up for updates on the project and helps to determine whether participating in the project will make sense for you. Once we select a bid, which will not be for a few months, you will have the option to sign up pending the project reaching whatever tier necessary for you to be willing to participate. Other next steps you can take are laid out on the website. 

Last, if you are not in a position to participate, but would like to help the project succeed, there are a number of things you can do. You, of course, can tell friends and neighbors whom you think might be interested, or better yet, contact me with community networks to tap into, to get the word out. If you rent, it can make financial sense for landlords to get solar installations for their properties, and in effect become the utility for their tenant. I encourage renters to talk to their landlords about the project if they wish to help it succeed. All it will take for the project to achieve this success is a decent number of people making a small effort on its behalf.