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Department of Energy to Fund Community Energy Programs

January 26, 2010

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced last week its commitment of $20.5 million to support community energy programs this year. The money, which is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will be used to fund five renewable energy projects; two in California, one in Vermont, one in Wisconsin, and one in Colorado. The projects include biomass, wind, and solar infrastructure development and energy generation. This is welcome news to the renewable energy sector, coming as it did in the wake of recent reports of stalled stimulus funding for green projects due to the credit crunch.

The project also represents an increased commitment by the DOE to community-based energy. Critics of recent energy policy trends see this move toward locally-produced energy as both welcome and overdue. Many in the renewable energy field feel that embracing a bottom-up approach to production is the best path to reducing carbon emissions and breaking American reliance on OPEC nations.

The benefits of community energy are multifaceted, and go far beyond the apparent environmental dividends of utilizing renewable sources of energy. The comprehensive deployment of community energy establishes an entirely different economic system from the big utility-dominated one that operates in most cities. The community model creates and retains more local jobs, and reduces the profits of outside stakeholders while increasing benefits for residents within the community through lower energy costs. A community that produces its own power is no longer subservient to the constant fluctuation of the highly speculative energy marketplace. Pricing is stable and competitive. And such empowerment leaves communities more willing to attempt broader energy initiatives and set more ambitious environmental goals.

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