Help a youth-led community energy solutions business grow

Seven years ago, I had a big question: “How do we help people understand that climate and clean energy solutions won’t hurt their lifestyles, jobs, and the economy, they will transform and revitalize them while responding to the greatest threats we face?”

The pursuit of the answer that question has helped birth a national network of youth leaders working locally across the country to create community-based climate and energy solutions, many of whom are working to create community-driven enterprise to address joblessness and build wealth in marginalized communities. It also helped birth a community energy cooperative here in the Minneapolis that’s been working out the hard process of growing green jobs from the grassroots.

Cooperative Energy Futures (CEF) is a cooperative that has co-developed with the Twin Cities Summer of Solutions program over the last five years. Developing the legal structure and community organizing for CEF was one of the three projects that participants in the first Summer of Solutions collaborated on. The cooperative is currently in the running as one of the finalists for Green America’s People and the Planet Award with a $5000 prize. Read about the project  and then vote for CEF once during the month of November! The top three vote-getters win.

If this is the first time you’re hearing about CEF, it’s an energy efficiency cooperative helping Minneapolis neighbors work together to make energy efficiency and clean energy accessible, easy, social, and fun. CEF helps communities make the biggest positive environmental impact possible by working together to lower energy bills, generate energy revenue, improve home comfort, create a healthier community and drive climate and energy solutions.

CEF’s primary services are bulk buying programs for solar and insulation, home energy workshops, and community owned renewables. If you are interested in learning more, please check out the links to the relevant pages.

If CEF wins this award, they will combine this funding with the revenue from the bulk buying projects and neighborhood workshops to create a green job, employing a community member from South Minneapolis to organize more local energy projects in the community. This would be a huge step in expanding capacity and getting CEF’s programs to scale on a consistent basis.

Don’t forget to check out their pagevote for them, and then please tell a friend!

Since you get three votes in the competition, please also consider voting for Solar Mosaic, a business co-founded by Billy Parish – who helped start the Energy Action Coalition.  Like Cooperative Energy Futures, Solar Mosaic is doing great things to advance community participation in the clean energy economy. For your third vote, check out the other great Green America finalists, which are all sustainable small businesses focused with a focus on clean energy.

Then please share your own stories of how we help people see and feel that climate and energy solutions are the way we revitalize our struggling economy, fight monsters like Hurricane Sandy, the epic drought, and all those other products of puffing carbon, and create stronger communities equipped for whatever the future will hold.

Minneapolis Energy Options: Energy, Markets, and Democracy

Cross-posted from referencing a Minneapolis Star Tribune opinion piece published May 23:

Last November, I sat down with a couple of long-time Environmental Justice organizers in Minnesota and had a conversation about Minneapolis’s energy future. I had been notified by an lawyer that the franchise agreements (20 year agreements that allow the major local utilities to use the public right of way to distribute electricity and natural gas to Minneapolis energy users in exchange for paying Minneapolis about $24 million annually) were expiring in 2014. In our conversation, we figured we should do something about it to ensure the next 20 years of energy development was founded on energy efficiency, clean energy, and community ownership of our energy system.

Fast forward six months and we have a coalition of a dozen groups leading the Minneapolis Energy Options campaign, support from many of our local elected officials, and insight into the many ways that state regulation partners with utilities to limit the options cities have taking steps towards more affordable, efficient, clean, and community-based energy development. We’ve learned of the work of dozens of other cities that have moved to take control of their energy purchasing, generation, and/or distribution, whether through innovative franchise agreements with cooperative utilities, community choice aggregation (which allows a local governments to choose what power they buy, distributed by the local utility), and forming new municipal energy utilities. We believe Minneapolis should keep its options open rather than locking in 20 more years of business as usual – we want to enable the city to explore the option of municipalizing while evaluating negotiations of the franchise with an eye towards enabling Minneapolis residents and businesses to take charge.

And recently, we opened that discussion in an Op Ed in the Star Tribune:

Read more about what we could achieve and what this means for energy action, democracy, and how movements relate to markets:

Continue reading ‘Minneapolis Energy Options: Energy, Markets, and Democracy’

Iowa City promotes environmental education in local high schools

Cross-posted from by Kerri Sorrell

Focus often eludes high school students with seven different classes covering seven different subjects and too much homework to jam in their backpacks at the end of the day – but on Thursday, April 5, EcoCentric and Envirocity, environmental clubs at two Iowa City high schools, teamed up with Iowa City Summer of Solutions to concentrate class discussions on one issue: the environment.

The daylong event, Focus the Classroom, encouraged teachers to relate the subjects they teach to current environmental issues. Last summer, Zach Gruenhagen, Bailey McClellan and Noelle Waldschmidt from the Iowa City solutionary team worked to complete a website with sustainability-focused lesson plans for every subject area, to help teachers more easily integrate the environment into their classes. In addition, presentations ran all day from environmental leaders in the Iowa City community, including Tim Dwight – a Iowa City High graduate and former professional football player.

Dwight, a popular speaker at both high schools, co-founded a renewable energy company called Integrated Power Corporation after retiring from the San Diego Chargers. At the Focus the Classroom event, he gave presentations extolling the virtues of solar energy.

“This shift [to renewable energy] that I’m going to talk about is your generational shift, and it’s going to be massive. Producing energy with wind and solar will change the world because those resources are available anywhere, and you’re going to see it,” he told students at West High school.

Read more …

Continue reading ‘Iowa City promotes environmental education in local high schools’

Thoughts following Midwest Powershift

Cross-posted from by Ruby Levine

I spent the weekend at Midwest Powershift in Cleveland. Among the rallies, trainings, and speeches, I was able to catch some downtime with fellow Summer of Solutions program leaders and participants from around the Midwest. Especially valuable was a conversation I had with members of other Midwestern programs on Saturday night.

500 young people applaud Joshua Kahn Russell's keynote poem at Midwest Powershift in Cleveland. Photo credit Ben Hejkal.

This conversation helped me articulate two things: one, the “good environmentalists vs. the evil polluters” framing I saw a lot of other places during the conference makes me deeply uncomfortable, and two, if the green economy is going to work it needs to be the whole economy, not a side industry.

Continue reading ‘Thoughts following Midwest Powershift’

Apply to Start a Summer of Solutions Program in Your Community!

Cross-posted from by Ruby Levine.

The Summer of Solutions is a program for young people who want to build just, sustainable economies in their communities.

We want to invite YOU to be one of those young people building those solutions. Apply here by October 22 to start a program in your community or to join an existing program leader team.

Running a program gives you the opportunity to create and support green economy projects that build power for people who currently don’t have as much access AND to empower young people from your community and beyond with the skills and strategies they need to do the same thing wherever they go next.

Past Summer of Solutions programs have:

  • Built community gardens and farms on vacant lots
  • Taught neighbors how to use bikes as an effective form of transit
  • Run summer camps for children to help them learn about healthy eating and growing their own food
  • Founded and partnered with energy businesses to create a community-based clean energy system
  • Created community spaces, from mini-golf courses in the coal fields of West Virginia to a playground in Detroit, MI
  • Designed and organized for green manufacturing at a closing car factory in Saint Paul, MN
  • Continue reading ‘Apply to Start a Summer of Solutions Program in Your Community!’

The View from Four Years Out

Cross-posted from, where you can find more stories of young people building the green economy.

When I helped close the 2011 Twin Cities Summer of Solutions three weeks ago, I knew something amazing was happening, but in the flurry of it all I wasn’t really able to identify it. I started to get a sense of it when I first sat down at the Grand Aspirations August Gathering two weeks ago, when forty people from all over the country streamed in with wondrous stories of their work creating the green economy. By the end of the Gathering, last week, the full depth of the change was starting to dawn on me and was brought to the front of my attention when Ethan Buckner, a friend and Oakland Summer of Solutions Program Leader, said smiling at the end of a big group hug, ‘you know, we’ve created something really remarkable in the past few years’. Now, after a week of catching up and taking the next steps forward back in Minnesota, I’m finally seeing the view from four years out.

Four years ago was about 6 months after the events that got Cooperative Energy Futures and the Alliance to Reindustrialize for a Sustainable Economy off the ground – the seeds of my green economy work in the Twin Cities. It was about 6 months before the vision for the Summer of Solutions and Grand Aspirations emerged. Four years ago, there had been no national gatherings of thousands of youth activists, candidate Barack Obama was barely a competitor, and the economy had not yet tanked. The dream of a green economy was barely starting to be voiced, and the idea that we could sustain ourselves, our communities, and the future of our world by creating new ways to feed, house, power, and transport our society was an exciting but utopian ideal.

So what has changed?
Continue reading ‘The View from Four Years Out’

Where the Youth Climate Movement Needs to Grow

This blog post was written by Elana Bulman – I’m cross-posting from her PowerShift 2011 blog. If you’re interested in building the climate movement this summer, please check out all the summer programs including the Summer of Solutions at
The youth climate movement has become very good at articulating what we don’t want. At Power Shift, we fully exercised our ability to condemn dirty energy. We demanded that Lisa Jackson put a ban on fracking. We marched on big polluters and their allies like the Chamber of Commerce and the Department of the Interior. We heard Tim DeChristopher put out a call for thousands of activists to collectively shut down coal plants.
Power Shift demonstrated the energy and passion the youth climate movement brings to stopping the polluters who are creating chaos on our earth. But we as a movement have a long way to go in promoting what we do want, and more importantly, knowing how we are going to get there.
Its one thing to shut down a coal plant, but it’s only going to hurt the neighboring community if we don’t have an alternative energy system ready to take its place. Its one thing to know that Monsanto is “evil” but it’s a whole different level if you know how to produce sustainable agriculture. Its one thing to chant “Clean energy now!” but you’re going to be much more convincing if you understand how to make renewable energy economically viable.
That’s where programs like Summer of Solutions come in. Summer of Solutions is a 2-month program that trains participants how to develop the green economy by creating hands-on, community-based solutions to climate change. Throughout the summer, participants learn not just what is wrong with the current system, but also how to make changes that integrate climate and energy solutions, economic security, and social justice.
At Power Shift, Summer of Solutions leaders and past participants, known as “Solutionaries”, ran around with jumbo sunglasses that we called the “Solutionary Lens”. We encouraged people to look through the Solutionary Lens to discover how it feels to use an actively participatory approach to create holistic solutions that confront a broad range of local and global problems through people power, rather than addressing individual issues. The Solutionary Lens views economic collapse, global development, local inequalities and global justice, environmental sustainability and personal fulfillment as not only linked, but sharing the same root causes and transformative solutions.
This summer, there will be 15 programs across the country engaging in their own green economy development projects. We will pioneer urban agriculture ventures, retrofit homes and businesses, create distributed renewable energy opportunities, make biking more accessible, and work towards green manufacturing facilities. Each program engages in its own solutions, which you can learn more about at
The final deadline to apply as a full-time participant for Summer of Solutions is THIS SUNDAY, April 24 at midnight, PST. Part-time volunteer participants can apply up until the summer.  The application is available at There are need-based stipends available for participation, and we will do our best to support you this summer. With just a few days until the deadline, don’t wait to apply for a transformative experience that will provide you with the tools you need to bring the youth climate movement to a new level of understanding not only what the problems are, but how we can create solutions.

Youth Forge Solutions Nationwide – All Are Welcome

At a youth climate meeting in Minnesota in January 2008, a neat idea emerged from discussion:

‘We need to start training young people, not just FOR green jobs, but TO CREATE green jobs. We should start in the Twin Cities this summer.’

Fast-forward three years, and over 250 young people have been trained over three years in Summer of Solutions programs around the country to create innovative and self-sustaining solutions around energy efficiency, green industry, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and smart transportation and design that advance job creation, social justice, and community empowerment. A network of over 70 youth leaders has coalesced to launch a national organization from nothing and develop 2011 Summer of Solutions programs that will support hundreds of youth in creating the clean energy economy in 15 cities nationwide. These programs have expanded rapidly in number, quality, and sustainability over the years without grant support, and with a major influx of funding and leadership in late 2010, we’re just hitting our stride.

As you read on, I’d encourage you to think of any young people (individuals or groups) who might be interested in a summer program based on community-based innovation in the clean energy economy. If so, please invite them to apply to any of our 15 programs nationwide by April 24th at

Continue reading ‘Youth Forge Solutions Nationwide – All Are Welcome’

Apply Now for the Summer of Solutions

In just three years, the Summer of Solutions program has expanded from a single site in Saint Paul, MN, and a partner program in Portland, OR, to fifteen programs across the country. As an emerging leader in youth empowerment and green economic development, we are excited to open the opportunity to work with Summer of Solutions to creative, dedicated young people who believe in improving their communities, advancing social justice, and improving the environment. We believe that together, people hold the ideas and inspiration for change. By tapping the vision and skills of individuals, Summer of Solutions programs work in collaboration with community partners to create self-sustaining green economy projects that will continue to have a direct positive impact.

We welcome all participants ages 14-30 regardless of race, culture, class, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. Positions as volunteer participants (up to 20 hours a week) and full-time participants (40+ hours a week) are open. The program is free, and full-time participants are eligible to receive need-based financial support, the application for which is here. We are currently working to generate funding to support participants with all levels of need.

To learn more about Summer of Solutions and find a program, visit Grand Aspirations, the host organization of Summer of Solutions, at The page for applications can be found at The priority deadline for full-time applicants is Sunday, March 13th at midnight PST, and the final deadline for full-time applicants is Sunday April 24th at midnight PST. Volunteer applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

We look forward to receiving your application, and working together, hands-on, to create stronger, self-sustaining communities across the country.


It’s Our Power

I believe in Energy Democracy.

Energy is 10% of the entire economy, powers and makes possible everything we do in the other 90%, and is the most centralized and tightly controlled of all economic sectors – just a handful of giant oil companies and electrical and natural gas utilities control the vast majority of the wealth. Every year, the average American household puts 5% of their income into the hands of these energy companies, and reaps a return in asthma, traffic congestion, war, destruction of communities in places where energy is extracted, reduced economic security in the face of volatile energy prices, and dramatic and unpredictable changes in our climate as well as the ability to heat, light, and power their homes, schools, and workplaces, and drive between them. For families below the poverty line, this portion of their income is more like 15%, and these proportions get still higher if you count the energy costs embodied in the prices of our food and other products. Every day, our communities are pouring these dollars outside, to massive, centralized energy producers. Every day, we’re pouring these dollars towards the problems that are fracturing our communities, attacking our health, threatening or security, and devastating our climate and ultimately our economy.

What if we reversed this flow? What if we poured this vast channel of wealth – over $1 trillion across the United States alone – back into our communities and towards energy solutions that reconnect us with ecology, create bonds between neighbors, and revitalize our economy my cutting our costs and creating jobs building and servicing smart energy systems in our communities. What would this change do for our society? First, it would send a huge pulse of resources and capital back into our communities to improve the efficiency of our homes, upgrade our infrastructure to local smart grids, and help capitalize a massive wave of localized community-owned energy. Second, it would put these resources into local job creation serving local needs, and require people getting together with their friends and neighbors to learn how to make the transition and work together to do it. Finally, it would eviscerate the dirty energy industry by removing its greatest cash flow (which, let’s remember, is not investors or the government, but us, energy users). We could do all this if only we (collectively, individual consumer choice makes little difference) redirected the money we spend on dirty energy and invested in a better energy.

In 2007, I began a journey to figure out how to turn this big concept into a reality. Read on to learn the what, the how, and the why.

Continue reading ‘It’s Our Power’


Timothy is a youth climate leader based in St. Paul. He's all about people power, and being the changes we actually want to see. I've been heavily involved in community development and using climate solutions as incredible opportunities for local economic activity, collective empowerment, and self-determination. Timothy is a recent graduate of Macalester College, where he did exciting work on revolving funds, carbon neutrality, and cross-campus sustainability leadership development. He now helps run a community energy efficiency and community-based energy cooperative and is core driver of Grand Aspirations and the Summer of Solutions. He does lots of network building with buddies in the youth movement as well as labor, faith, agricultural, small business, and neighborhood groups.

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