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Community-scale renewable energy, Energy districts


Energy and Utilities Law | Environmental Law | Land Use Law | State and Local Government Law


As the movement toward cleaner energy has gained momentum within the United States, a growing number of scholars and policymakers have made the case for community-scale renewable energy: mid-sized energy sources supported by resources pooled from several private parties in close geographic proximity. When built and utilized at the community level, these energy facilities may allow for economies of scale that their owners could not achieve working individually. Individual distributed generation, such as solar infrastructure on the roofs of homes, involves high transaction costs and creates relatively small impacts. At the same time, community-scale renewable energy has advantages over large-scale projects, which are sited beyond our central cities, leading to energy sprawl and inefficiencies in transmission. Furthermore, in many neighborhoods, installing relatively new on-site distributed generation is still a bold leap even for the most innovative of consumers; those adopting new technologies benefit from the mutual support and understanding of other nearby adopters. Community projects ensure the presence of this type of shared support and understanding, thus lowering individual risks. Substantial legal and structural barriers must be overcome if community-scale energy is to become a widespread reality. Building from previous work, this essay provides a framework of the three core legal changes that must occur in order to support widespread community-scale renewable energy. First, communities must be able to form business enterprises that govern the purchase, installation, operation, and maintenance of generation infrastructure and that manage the sale of energy produced. Second, communities must facilitate the construction of physical infrastructure, including homes, public spaces, and streets, that house renewable generation. Finally, the utility-consumer relationship must be redefined if community-scale generation is to become a reality.


This article predates Prof. Bronin's affiliation with Cornell Law School.