Can a State’s Solar Party Start Without It?

In about half of U.S. states, an individual or business can have solar on their roof owned by someone else, and either buy the power or lease the array from that third party. These power purchase or lease models drastically simplify the process of going solar (at a price). It also appears that a state’s solar party doesn’t really start until solar gets simple.

Let’s look at the top 10 states in solar per capita.

State Capacity (MW) Population (Millions) Per Capita PV (MW/Millions of People)
Arizona 776 6.7 115
New Jersey 845 8.9 95
Nevada 214 2.8 76
New Mexico 152 2.1 73
Delaware 61 0.9 65
Vermont 39 0.6 62
California 1893 38.8 49
Massachusetts 267 6.8 39
Connecticut 106 3.6 29
Colorado 134 5.4 25

If you guessed that every single one allowed third-party ownership, you’d be right.

But it’s not just the top 10. If you look at the 26 states above the national median––2.3 megawatts per million persons––21 of the 26 allow third party ownership. In the map below, you can see the clear overlap of third party ownership rules with solar capacity. Note: the “Top 25″ is actually the 26 states at or above the median capacity per million persons.

top solar states 3rd party

These “Top 25″ states also account for 99% of all solar capacity in the country.

In other words, people will go solar if it’s simple and––with the possible exception of Indiana––not before.

Third party ownership––via a solar lease or power purchase agreement––makes solar simple, and this simplicity is necessary because financing solar remains so complex. In contrast, 75% of Americans choose ownership over leasing when acquiring a new car, because there’s financing available at the dealer and few, if any, federal, state, and utility-based incentives to manage. If solar ownership can be made as simple as owning a car (or even a home), expect solar ownership to swell.

It’s easy to open the solar market to third parties, but there are also substantial advantages to states in simplifying solar ownership. Ownership means more of the economic value of of a solar array stays local, whereas the third party market for solar is dominated by a few national firms. These firms are less likely to tap the in-state supply chain for everything from legal services to panel manufacturing.

The data shows that states that want solar have to make it simple. And so far, the key seems to be third party ownership.

This article originally posted at For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter or get the Democratic Energy weekly update.

Photo credit:  Matthias Friel via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license)

Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Advanced Composter Training Course

The Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders training program is a community composter training program with a community service component. This program was developed by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and ECO City Farms.

Dates and Times: We will meet March 20th-22nd and April 24th-26th, from 9am-6pm on Fridays and Saturdays (with a 1-hour break for lunch), and 1pm-5pm on Sundays.

Location: We will meet at ECO City Farms at Bladensburg at 6100 Emerson Street, Bladensburg, MD 20710.

Cost: The fee for this course is $200. However, a sliding scale is available to those in need. A space for requesting financial assistance is provided in the online application.

To Apply: To apply for our spring 2015 training in DC-MD (March 20th-22nd, April 24th-26th), fill out the online application by Monday, March 9th. Upon review, qualified applicants will be contacted to arrange a phone interview.

As one goal of this program is to provide trained composting operators to community, school and educational gardens in the DC-MD area, applicants working in these environments will be given preference. Preference will also be given to pairs of applicants from the same community – Find a friend, colleague, or neighbor to take the course with you!

Application Deadline: The deadline for applications is the end of the day on Monday, March 9th.

Course Description: The Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders’ Advanced Composter course provides an integrated experiential learning environment: half in the classroom and half doing hands-on training. The course also includes a compost site tour and a compost bin build day.

This course covers the following topics:

o the small-scale composting process
o vermicomposting (worm composting)
o how to use finished compost
o how to design and build on-site compost systems
o techniques for teaching others about composting
o techniques for engaging community participation

Course Requirements: The Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders’ Advanced Composter course has three main requirements: attendance of all classes; implementation of a capstone project; and the completion of 30 hours of supported community composting service. Participants will have six months from the last class to complete the capstone project and community service components.

For the capstone project component, participants will initiate or support a community composting project based on their interests and the needs of the community they are serving. Potential projects might include building and managing compost bins at community gardens, schools, churches, or working at compost demonstration sites. In addition, participants will provide NSR staff with brief monthly progress updates throughout the six-month, post-class period.

For the community service component, participants will be expected to log 30 hours of community composting service. Half of these hours will be spent providing composting-related support to a community in need – this is the minimum amount of time we expect you to dedicate to your capstone project. The other half of these hours are required to be spent composting with one of our approved composter mentors.

Upon successful completion of the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders’ Advanced Composter course requirements, participants will be eligible for receipt of a certificate and will be qualified to apply to the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Master Composter train-the-trainer apprenticeship.

Questions? Contact:


Redesigning an Ecosystem: Connection, Opportunity, and Love in New Orleans

Local Economy Fellow Adele London has found that her life’s path is about creating equity and inclusion in her life-long home of New Orleans. Read more about Adele’s journey to Localism and her love for NOLA in this, the first of a three-part series featuring Adele and her work with the Good Work Network.

Strength in Numbers, February 2015

Cable Companies Lose Big at FCC, Barriers to Community Broadband Struck Down

Two southern cities today persuaded the Federal Communications Commission to recognize their right to build their own publicly owned Internet networks where existing providers had refused to invest in modern connections. The 3-2 FCC vote removes barriers for municipal networks in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina, to extend their high-quality Internet service to nearby areas.

The FCC decision sets an historic precedent for towns working to offer municipal broadband networks in twenty states that have enacted limits or bans on local governments building, owning, or even partnering to give local businesses and residents a choice in high speed Internet access. Three-quarters of Americans currently have either no broadband or no choice of their Internet provider.


Said Christopher Mitchell, Director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance:


“Cable companies lost their bet that millions spent on lobbying to stifle competition was a wiser investment than extending high-quality Internet to our nation’s entrepreneurs, students and rural families.


“Preventing big Internet Service Providers from unfairly discriminating against content online is a victory, but allowing communities to be the owners and stewards of their own broadband networks is a watershed moment that will serve as a check against the worst abuses of the cable monopoly for decades to come.”


Christopher Mitchell, the Director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, has traveled to over 20 states and spoken with over 100 community groups looking to provide high-quality Internet for their residents. He has also advised members of the FCC on related telecommunications issues in the lead-up to the decision.

For interviews around the FCC decision, please contact Rebecca Toews at 612-808-0689 or, or Christina DiPasquale at 202.716.1953 or at To view a map tracking local government investments in wired telecommunications networks and state laws that discourage such approaches, please visit:

Municipal broadband networks (munis):

  • Create thousands of new private sector jobsA collaborative muni effort in Georgiabetween five towns, is credited with bringing over 6,000 new jobs to the region by building and sustaining their network. The muni in Springfield, MO convinced online travel company Expedia to move to the town and has 900 local jobs because their network allowed the company to stay and expand.
  • Protect consumers by offering competitive pricing. During the period of 2007-08, Time Warner Cable increased rates up to 40 percent in some of the areas in Raleigh, NC, while not increasing rates in nearby Wilson—which has a strong muni. Chattanooga’s muni grew from a basic connection of 15 Mbps, when it was first founded, to 100 Mbps today–without raising prices once. The slowest connection available in Chattanooga from the utility is 10 times faster than the average American connection.
  • Provide higher speed Internet that allows for increased business activity. The largest employers in Wilson, NC rely on the municipal broadband network for their transactions. The muni in Springfield, MO, attracted John Deere Remanufacturedand the McLane Company to the area.
  • Do not rely on taxpayer financing, like large private telephone companies. Most municipal networks are financed through methods that do not involve raising taxes: revenue bonds, interdepartmental loans and savings created by ending expensive leased services. Dakota County in MN has saved $10 million over 10-15 yearsby building their own network and ending leases. Over $2 million in revenues from the Thomasville, GA network contributed to the town’s ability to eliminate its local fire tax.
  • Receive broad support from voters, regardless of party affiliation. Roughly 3 out of 4 cities with citywide munis reliably vote Republicanand polling shows that 2 out of 3 Republicans, Independents, and Democrats prefer that decisions about how to best expand their Internet access be made by local governments.
  • Foster the strength of local businesses. Politically conservative communities in Chanute, KS, and Lafayette, LA, have munis that are working on the deployment of fiber networks to encourage economic development by allowing businesses to market themselves and compete online in the global marketplace. Lafayette has added over 1,000 tech jobsin 2014 alone.
  • Expand educational opportunities. The muni in Longmont, CO, is now providing 10 times the bandwidththat their school district previously received from a private provider at an annual savings of $100,000. Munis in Carroll County, MD, and Chanute, KS, have both allowed schools they service to offer new distance learning classes in multiple locations via video streaming. The city of Rockport, ME, partnered with a nonprofit college to bring students upload speeds 200 times faster than Time Warner Cable’s package for the area.

Who Decides?

Who decides? Conservative Republicans in Texas are split on the issue. Darren Hodges, a Tea Party councilman in the West Texas city of Fort Stockton, fiercely defends his town’s recent decision to ban plastic bags. City officials have a “God-given right” to make that decision he tells the New York Times.

James Quintero of the conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation disagrees, “What we’re arguing is that liberty, not local control, is the overriding principle that state and local policy makers should be using.” He apparently would strip communities of the right of local control, at least to regulate commercial behavior. Quintero is Director of TPPF’s Center for Local Governance. Perhaps they should change the “for” to “against.”

The new Republican Governor of Texas Greg Abbott stands with Quintero. In a speech last month to the TPPF he condemned how democracy run amok threatens Texas with becoming “California-ized.” “Large cities that represent about 75 percent of the population in this state are doing this to us,” he declared. Huh? Who does Abbott think are “us?” Might not 75 percent of the population more accurately be described as “we the people?”

Despite the Governor’s comments the debate about local authority in Texas appears vigorous.   The demise of local democracy is by no means foreordained. About a dozen Texas cities already banned plastic bags before Fort Stockton. The Times reports that many Texas cities restrict texting while driving. Twenty Texas cities approved identical ordinances that curb the interest payday lenders can charge.

In other Republican states the debate has been far less robust and public. In state after state a clear pattern has emerged. Cities legislatively address a local problem. Big business complains. State legislatures clamp down. And as Republicans become more conservative and gain control of more state governments the pace and intensity of those clamp downs have increased.

Nineteen states currently preempt local minimum wage laws: Half of these laws were enacted in the last 5 years. Nineteen states restrict or abolish the right of communities to build municipally owned broadband networks. At least five states have preempted local regulation of e-cigarettes.

These efforts to circumscribe local authority often have been led and coordinated by the non-profit conservative organization, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC insists it does no lobbying but if it walks like a duck…

Consider ALEC’s role in fostering state preemptions of municipal ordinances demanding that private businesses offer employees sick leave. A few months after Scott Walker shepherded a bill through the Wisconsin legislature in 2011 repealing a Milwaukee sick leave law approved by a 2008 ballot initiative supported by 69 percent of the voters, ALEC passed out copies of the bill at its Annual Meeting. Legislators were handed a target list and map of state and local paid sick leave policies. In the next three years 10 more states had replicated the Wisconsin law. (In the next few weeks Missouri may become the 11th.)

The fight for sick leave is in city councils and state legislatures because Congress continues to refuse to act despite polls that find more than 80 percent of Americans, including 70 percent of Republicans, approve mandatory sick leave laws. Will states allow cities to reflect the popular will?

2015 may be a pivotal year. Mark Pertschuk, director of Grassroots Change explains, “The debate over sick leave this year may turn into a race to see if advocates can build enough awareness and support for such laws before legislatures that oppose the benefit act to ban them.”

Sometimes courts will step in to protect local authority from state tyranny. After the federal government abdicated responsibility for regulating the fast growing fracking industry communities began to step in. Pittsburgh became the first to ban fracking within city limits. The Pennsylvania legislature stripped it of the right to do so but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reinstated Pittsburgh’s authority. New York courts also have upheld local authority over fracking. The resulting proliferation of cities and counties banning fracking in New York ultimately persuaded a reluctant Governor Andrew Cuomo to impose a statewide ban in 2014.

On the other hand, after the citizens of Longmont, a suburb of Denver approved a ballot initiative to ban fracking, the Colorado Attorney General sued and a Colorado court overturned that law. (Longmont is appealing.)

Overall it is highly unlikely the judiciary will prove an ally when communities attempt to exercise their authority in the face of state opposition.   The U.S. Constitution does not mention municipal corporations. U.S. courts have given states very wide latitude to limit or even eliminate local authority. In one admittedly extreme example, in1907 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the power of the Pennsylvania state legislature to consolidate the city of Allegheny into the city of Pittsburgh, against the wishes of the majority of Allegheny residents.

The reach of local authority will be fought in the political arena, not the courts. Regrettably but understandably the fight may be viewed as partisan because the election map increasingly is comprised of red states and blue cities, at least larger cities.

Today Republicans control 24 states outright and a record 69 state legislative chambers. But in 2012, 27 out of the nation’s 30 most populous cities voted Democrat.  Every one of Texas’ major cities — Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio — voted Democrat. Other blue cities in red-state include Atlanta, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Birmingham, Tucson, Little Rock, and Charleston, S.C. In states like Nevada, the only blue districts are often also the only cities, like Reno and Las Vegas.

Josh Kron in the Atlantic bluntly and observantly writes, “The voting data suggest that people don’t make cities liberal — cities make people liberal.” I think he’s right but the fact is that thousands of smaller cities vote Republican and they can and should be strong allies in any fight to defend local authority. Fort Stockton, for example, has a population of only 8400. When Colorado enacted a ban on municipally owned telecommunications networks the legislature also allowed for an exemption if voters approved a network through a referendum. Last November seven cities and one county overwhelmingly voted for publicly owned networks. Voters in each just as lopsidedly elected Republican legislators.

Certainly those who believe in state rights should even more strongly believe in local rights. Local government is the most accessible and accountable of all governments, the most responsive to the popular will.  Alexis De Tocqueville described local government as “the great school of democracy”.  If we don’t like what our city councilors or county commissioners do we can vote them out of office.  That is not very difficult. Most serve for only two years and while money certainly matters in local elections, it is not determinative.

The primary justification used by those advocating for is the need for uniformity. A hodgepodge of local laws burdens business (or at least big business). Gordon Lafer, an associate professor at the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center points out the hidden refrain, “we want a state standard, and the state standard should be nothing,’”

In any event consistency is a poor excuse for undermining a fundamental principle of democracy.  Indeed, one of the compelling reasons for allowing local control is the resulting diversity of practice and the innovation and learning experiences that result.

Even the argument that local ordinances burden business is suspect. Tobacco companies pioneered the use of state preemption in the mid 1980s when cities began demanding smoke free restaurants (or smoke free sections of restaurants). Tobacco companies argued that such ordinances would hurt business. Thirty years later almost all states that preempted local laws now boast their own statewide smoke free laws and restaurant revenues have not been negatively affected while the medical and economic benefits to the nation have been immense.

As I mentioned, 19 states now prohibit their localities from raising the minimum wage, but in the last year big box stores like The Gap, TJ Maxx and Walmart have announced they will voluntarily pay above the minimum and justified it as a wise business decision because it will reduce turnover and absenteeism and raise worker productivity.

The arguments for stripping people of their right to protect and enhance the health and vitality of their communities are weak. They reflect a fundamental distrust in the intelligence and capacity of the American people. Whether one supports or opposes plastic bag bans or mandatory sick leave or fracking or texting while driving one should support the right of those most intimately affected to debate and decide the issue.





Apply for a BALLE Conference Scholarship

Every year BALLE awards Prosperity for All Scholarships to Localist Leaders across the U.S. and Canada to attend our annual conference. Last year, we awarded more than 110 full and partial scholarships, and we’re currently accepting applications to join our 2015 conference through this program. What to join us in Phoenix? Apply now!

Benton Foundation Article Dives Into Upcoming FCC Decision and Section 706

Kevin Taglang, recently published an excellent explanatory post for the Benton Foundation entitled What Section 706 Means for Net Neutrality, Municipal Networks, and Universal Broadband. He provides just the right amount of detail to get one up top speed on the upcoming decision and why it promises to be so influential. Additionally, he summarizes many federal programs relating to Internet access.

We already know that February 26th will be an historic day in telecommunications. On that day, the FCC’s decision on new network neutrality rules and municipal broadband networks has the potential to literally change millions of lives. The decision will impact education, economic development, jobs, healthcare, communications, utilities – you name it. 

Taglang fittingly describes the series of findings from the FCC as a three act play. Read the text of the play, anticipate the conflict, see how the characters clash, and you will be the dramaturge. 

Act I: The FCC Considers U.S. Broadband and Finds It Lacking:

In addition to other factors, the FCC looked at the way we defined broadband (4 Mbps/1 Mbps), what capacity is needed to align with the way households use broadband (as in multiple devices simultaneously), and how ISPs market their services (25 Mbps as a minimum downstream acceptable). 

Accessibility rates showed divergent results based on urban and rural geography. The agency reassessed what is needed in schools for students and staff. The result was a decision to redefine broadband as 25 Mbps/3 Mbps and, once the agency determined that, the landscape changed dramatically. In January, the FCC adopted the Broadband Progress Report for 2015 [PDF], which asked what is advanced telecommunications capability now and are all Americans able to access that capacity?

From the arcticle:

Given these gaps in availability, the FCC concluded that advanced telecommunications capability is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. And, in light of this finding, the FCC must “take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.”


Act II: Major Federal Efforts to Expand the Reach of Broadband

Taglang documents the many programs, funds, orders, and initiatives at the federal level aimed at promoting broadband. The White House, the FCC, and the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce have been particularly active. Nevertheless, broadband in the USA is not moving fast enough.


Act III: Notice of Inquiry on Immediate Action to Accelerate Broadband Deployment

In addition to the progress Report, the FCC established a Notice of Inquiry to find ways to remove the barriers to infrastructure investment and promote competition. Taglang writes:

The FCC’s NOI asks for comment on additional actions it can take to increase competition, remove barriers to market entry or stimulate the offering of innovative services. For example, are there efforts in addition to those we have taken that would encourage providers to enter the market or expand their reach to unserved or underserved areas, including Tribal lands?

The FCC also seeks comment on how to address the disparity in broadband availability between Americans living in urban areas with those living in rural areas and Tribal lands. This gap, the FCC notes, is, by itself, the basis for a determination that broadband is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.

Finally, the FCC asks if there are additional actions it could take to reduce the number of schools that lack high-capacity broadband.

With these three major acts in mind, the expected result will be a timely implementation of ubiquitous broadband in the U.S., writes Taglang. He is sensible, however:

There are no silver bullets or single efforts that can get us there on their own. It will take pragmatic policy choices and sustained policy attention in a variety of areas — from new policies around lowering barriers to pole attachments, deployment of fiber, improved access to programming, access to spectrum, a vigorous competition policy agenda, and policies that continue to enable innovation in the content and services that broadband can deliver and that can transform the way we work, the way we live, and the way we learn. Ultimately, that is the challenge that is before us. And the reason that Congress gave us Section 706 in the first place.

Statement on Walmart’s Progress on Sustainability

Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), issued the following statement on Walmart’s sustainability progress:

“Despite making a public commitment to sustainability nine years ago, Walmart’s efforts have failed to tackle substantive changes that will help consumers and the company reduce waste and protect the environment. Walmart’s sustainability announcement today – by the company’s own admission – will not address the environmental impact of products, leaving consumers without real tools to make meaningful decisions about their purchases. As a result, the portal showcases many products that are not sustainable, including paper towels that are made from non-recycled, virgin fibers and plastic bubble wrap that falls behind the standard set by environmentally-friendly packing materials already available in office stores and grocery stores across the country. By relying on supplier surveys, rather than third-party evaluations, Walmart is not giving shoppers the information they need to choose products that protect the health of their families and the environment.

“Meanwhile, our research shows that Walmart continues to consume large quantities of coal-fired electricity and lags behind on renewable power, even while other large companies and small independent retailers are making the switch to a cleaner energy mix.”


Walmart’s own disclaimer on the sustainability portal announced today reads “the Sustainability Leaders badge does not make representations about the environmental or social impact of an individual product.”

Over the last few years, environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club,, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network and Energy Action Coalition, have called on Walmart to take real steps to reduce carbon pollution. In April 2014, Environmental Action and the Green Life, a consumer protection group, named Walmart the worst greenwasher of the year.

ILSR has found that since Walmart launched its environmental campaign in 2005, the company’s self-reported greenhouse gas emissions have grown by 14 percent. ILSR studies released last year found that the Walton family – the majority owners of Walmart – are funding nearly two dozen anti-solar groups that are waging state and national fights to roll back clean energy policies while the company remains one of the nation’s largest users of coal-fired electricity, contributing to nearly 8 million metric tons of carbon pollution each year.


What Works: Opportunity for All, March 19

BALLE’s 2015 series of monthly webinars dives deep into What Works, bringing Local Economy Leaders to the table for in-depth conversations on what’s happening in the movement as well as on the ground in their places. In March, we focus on Opportunity for All, featuring BALLE Fellows Crystal German, Adele London, and Jay Bad Heart Bull.