Providing Renewable Energy Resources with Local Clean Energy Alliance’s Al Weinrub

November 27, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored to have with us today Al Weinrub. He’s the Coordinator for the Local Clean Energy Alliance, LCEA. You can look him up at LocalCleanEnergy.org. Welcome to Green is Good, Al. AL WEINRUB: Well, thank you very much. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Al, can you tell us a little bit about the Local Clean Energy Alliance? How and why was it even formed? AL WEINRUB: Well, the Local Clean Energy Alliance was put together because we felt the need to really bring local clean energy resources into communities in a way that would be beneficial to those communities so it sort of poses itself, in a way, against a big centralized model, big solar power plants in the desert, big wind farms, and looks at the renewable energy resource, which is distributed across every place it’s located to harness that energy source locally as a source of wealth for the community, as a way of addressing questions of sustainable community and resilient communities and in a way that’s very equitable so that’s the basic thrust of the Local Clean Energy Alliance to bring together the notion of locally developed energy resources with the needs of communities, especially urban communities, in a way that’s pretty much controlled by those communities so it very much has the notion associated with it of really democratizing energy, taking it away from the big energy producers and putting it in the hands of communities, whether those be small neighborhoods or cities or sort of more locally based and locally sized energy production. The Local Clean Energy Alliance is an alliance of about 70 or 80 organizations that sort of agree with that in concept and was formed about four or five years ago around a notion in California called community choice energy, which according to California law, passed in 2002, allows a city or a group of cities or a county or some jurisdiction like that to basically take over the procurement of electricity from the investor owned utilities so it sort of allows the community to be in the driver’s seat of deciding where electricity is going to come from while the utility continues to maintain the distribution system and do the billing and so on and so forth so it’s sort of a hybrid system but it’s really important because it can allow the community control where electricity will come from and that means it doesn’t necessarily come from somewhere else remotely but it would be electricity resources and energy efficiency that are actually built locally so that’s the basic idea of the Local Green Energy Alliance and the thrust. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Perfect, and for our listeners out there that want to join along, I’m on your beautiful website right now. It’s www.localcleanenergy.org. It’s wonderful. There’s lots of information and lots of ways to get involved and lots of resources and information about all the great work you do. How’d you get involved, Al? AL WEINRUB: Myself personally? JOHN SHEGERIAN: Yeah. AL WEINRUB: Well, that’s sort of a long history, but most recently, I was working for a high-tech company as the technical writer and I got finally laid off after a number of years of layoffs and so I looked around and I said, ‘Well, what needs to be addressed in the world today?’ and so it’s sort of like a liberation kind of thing and I saw the climate justice is the preeminent issue of our time and by climate justice, I mean that the impact of the climate disaster that we’re seeing is really not borne equally by people across the planet and it’s not caused equally by people across the planet so there’s a very strong inequality in the whole notion of what’s happening with the climate where poor people, people of color, across the world, in our country and in our communities are on the one hand, those who are most directly impacted the hardest by what’s going on, whether it be climate disaster or increased prices because of the resource issues that are going on and so on and that is the population that is least responsible for having brought this to bear so we don’t look at greenhouse gas reductions as simply a technical thing where if we just get rid of carbon, if we take some of the carbon out of our economy and out of our environment that everything is fine. We have to deal with al the social inequalities and who controls these basic resources if we’re ever going to survive as people living on the earth. JOHN SHEGERIAN: If you were to point to some of the alliance’s accomplishments, can you share with us some of the wins? I know you said one of the missions is democratizing energy, which I love it. Energy democracy makes sense in this world. Talk about some of the accomplishments and wins that your organization is getting. AL WEINRUB: Well, it’s a little tougher to talk about that because you know, it’s a very big struggle against very powerful interests to move anything in this direction so for the most part, our wins over the last number of years has been that we’ve changed the whole conversation around renewable energy so that we’re not the only ones but we’ve had a significant impact in getting people to think there’s renewable energy and there’s renewable energy and not all renewable energy is equal. Some is under the control of big large corporate interests and other is getting the community more involved so we’ve been really tracking and encouraging communities to get involved. If we had a win, I would say that in the biggest win or the thing that we would take the most credit for happened two years ago when there was a proposition put on the ballot in California that would have made it impossible to pursue community choice energy programs of the type that I mentioned before and we had just had our big clean power healthy communities conference, which we have every year that brings together people who are interested in this notion. We had just had that conference and that was the springboard for a grassroots movement against what was called Prop 16. At the time, we called it the PG&E Power Grab because PG&E is our investor on utility here. We actually won that battle. We defeated that Prop 16 proposition. Fifty-million dollars to us and that was a great victory. It kept the door open for the effort to democratize energy so our accomplishments have been on the ground in terms of various legislation and things that happen but more, I think, the work that we do tends to really broaden the notion and help spur this movement so all across the country right now, and we can’t take full credit for it, but there are initiatives of people trying to say, ‘Look, we need to take electricity production into our own hands,’ and people forming cooperatives and people trying to in some way create collectives, energy resources for the community, neighborhoods, churches, and so on and so forth so there’s a big movement out there of people trying to do that. We’re part of those movements and we’re part of city efforts at the level of a city to try to bring about more local renewable energy development and a lot more attention to energy demand reduction, energy efficiency and conservation and all that. After all, the cheapest and most direct way to deal with the question of greenhouse gas emissions is to stop wasting energy, period. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Right. When people talk about environmentalism and the green movement, some people even say it’s just a middle and upper class issue. Is that true or is it really spread across everybody now? AL WEINRUB: There’s no question that this has mostly been an issue of working-class people. A great majority of the folks, the 99%, however you want to say it, mostly poor people and people of color because those are the people who’ve basically been subjected to the worst impacts of the economic system we have, the dirty power plants, the refineries, all that stuff. There’s a whole environmental justice movement that has risen out of that so there have been various currents within what you would call the environmental movement but the real environment is the environment we all live with every day at work and within our communities and the fact is that those communities have not had the kind of resources that more middle class white or upper class people have had and certainly not the orientation of trying to preserve the environment like in the level of parks and natural habitat and whatnot but it’s all very important because you destroy the ecological system, you’re making life miserable for everybody and the people who are increasingly becoming aware of the importance of the ecological and environmental issue are people of color. If you look in California politics, for example, there have been attacks of California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, which is the landmark legislation that was passed a number of years ago and those attacks have been beaten back mostly because people of color have gone to the polls and voted and so it’s people of color more than any other grouping within the society that actually recognized the importance of dealing with environmental issues. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We were talking about some of your more recent accomplishments and stuff. What’s your goals now for the next months ahead and the next couple of years? What would wins look like for the Local Clean Energy Alliance and successes look like that you want to happen now? AL WEINRUB: Right. You would measure that by the extent to which communities are really building and developing local renewable energy resources in their communities and that would be sort of the measure of achievement and I think that we’re not on the cusp of seeing a lot of that. We have a struggle, for example, in San Francisco right now where they’re on the cusp of instituting a community choice energy system that would call for hundreds of megawatts of local renewable demand reduction and new energy production in the city of San Francisco, efforts in Sonoma that are going that way. We have citywide efforts that are being launched by Sierra Club and others to make it easier for local energy resources to be built through standardized permitting procedures. We have efforts on energy demand reduction through efficiency and multifamily residential buildings and so on and so forth so there’s a lot of things that I think are wins. They’re going to be incremental but the ultimate thing is we have to see a society and communities where people are basically creating a sustainable economy based on a sustainable energy resources and that has to be a kind of local community resource if it’s going to succeed. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Al, we’re down to two minutes. For our listeners out there that want to get involved or volunteer or donate, what do you tell them? How do you engage them so they can help with this great movement that you’re part of? AL WEINRUB: Well, I encourage people to get on the email list, which they can do from the home page right at the top of our website, to check out our publication called Community Power: Decentralized Renewable Energy in California, which is downloadable and it’s sort of focused on California data, but it has relevance all around. Certainly, a donation would always be welcome and they can do that by just sending me an email director at Al.Weinrub@comcast.net or you know, I’m in touch with people all around the country so people don’t have to get involved in California per se. There’s initiatives all over that sort of mirror the kind of notions I’ve been talking about. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Perfect. Well, thank you, Al, and we’re so thankful you came on today. For our listeners out there that want to get more involved, www.localgreenenergy.org. Al Weinrub, you are a clean energy leader and truly living proof that green is good. AL WEINRUB: Great. Thanks a lot.