The Role of Public Art in Solar Commons Institution-Building: Community Voices from an Essential Partnership among Artists, Community Solar Researchers, and Activists
Keywords:just energy transition, community solar, community economy, commons, technology-community partnerships, public art
In this urgent decade when American democracy faces the challenge of decarbonizing the U.S. electric grid and assuring that the economic benefits of our energy transition are equitably shared, many solar energy researchers and activists are searching for new ways to partner with the civic sector. Instead of treating energy users as passive customers, experts understand the importance of engaging community as active decision-makers, beneficiaries, and communicators for a just energy transition. Distributed solar technology offers more democratic potential than small savings on individuals’ electric bills. Energy experts working on the Solar CommonsÔ community solar model at the University of Minnesota are piloting demonstration projects with community partners in Arizona and Minnesota. These solar commons aggregate savings through power purchase agreements that create 25-year peer-governed revenue streams to support mutual aid and reparative justice work in neighborhoods. This article describes a Solar Commons research project in Arizona, with a conversation among the public artists who partnered with the legal research team to co-create communication and peer governance tools that will allow DIY Solar Commons to iterate throughout the US as a new institution in our civic sector. Images of the Solar Commons public art demonstrate how the artists helped expand the vision of solar energy from the iconic individual solar panel to a technology embedded in community justice and in a complex human-more-than-human environment.
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Copyright (c) 2021 Kathryn Milun
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