Municipal utilities and electric cooperatives in the United States: Interpretive frames, strategic actions, and place-specific transitions

Stephanie Lenhart, Gabriel Chan, Lindsey Forsberg, Matthew Grimley, Elizabeth Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Renewable energy and social justice advocates are organizing around the potential for community-based democratic organizations to promote more decentralized, sustainable, and just societies. Within this movement, consumer-owned electric utilities are often seen as central actors. Yet, there has been little systematic investigation into why integration of distributed energy resources (DERs) varies across these utilities. We explore this question using literature on sustainability transitions and strategic action fields. Choices about when and how to integrate DERs are shaped by new interpretations of long-standing principles, existing institutional relationships, and a utility's political power. We identify how four divergent strategies shape distinct technology configurations with differences in physical scale, concentration of political authority, and distribution of economic benefits. These differences suggest that local technology ownership may not be sufficient to motivate change in some contexts. Policy addressing political processes and ownership scale may be needed to accelerate more sustainable and just energy transitions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-33
Number of pages17
JournalEnvironmental Innovation and Societal Transitions
Volume36
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2020

Keywords

  • Community solar and customer-sited solar
  • Distributed energy resources
  • Interpretive frames
  • Municipal utilities and electric cooperatives
  • Strategic action fields
  • Structuration of sociotechnical regimes

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