Friday, May 22, 2015

Community wind, blow by blow

Last week Earth to Philly chatted with Ed Rendell about his appointment to the board of OwnEnergy, a community wind energy initiative. This week we go more in depth into the model OwnEnergy has worked on, with the company's founder, Jacob Susman.

Community wind, blow by blow

Last week Earth to Philly  chatted with Ed Rendell about his appointment to the board of OwnEnergy, a community wind energy initiative. This week we go more in depth into the model OwnEnergy has worked on, with the company's founder, Jacob Susman.

First Susman wants it clear that despite the Governor's memory of their meeting, he wasn't a student in Rendell's political science class, but did "sit in on it a couple times" as a Wharton student. He also wants all his Philly peeps to know he attended Masterman and Central High School prior to that.

It was later while working for Goldman Sachs that he began moving in the direction of clean energy: "We had a group internally - a project finance group - that made investments. We realized this was an exciting opportunity to grow" and Susman and others created the Alternative Energy Investing group there. "We started investing in the alternative-energy companies themselves" instead of into financial partners, he said. "I also worked in Spain at AES Corporation, cut my teeth there, working on an idea that became OwnEnergy."

That idea is facilitating local involvement in establishing wind farms, "smaller projects on average," chiefly finding "a local entrepreneur that we get to know, someone savvy, basically people who are business and community leaders" to serve as a liaison between OwnEnergy and local groups.

"When you have a local partner it's easier," he says, because it mitigates the NIMBY phenomenon. "Now, in one of our projects we're working with a local partner, and his job is to get other landowners on board. In this case, he came back to us with folks in the community about wording they didn't like [in the agreement]. Instead of digging in we were able to adapt our land document. It's just a matter of listening  - you have to make a project amenable to the community."

There are two main selling points to this approach: One is that farmers who join the program have a profit-sharing role rather than just renting their land to outsiders. "There have been land wars," Susman says, "between large scale energy companies - some developers make promises and lock up the land just to keep someone else from getting it. This is a different model."

But with a financial partnership instead of a straight payout, don't farmers have more risk? "We'd never claim it's zero risk," he says."Most of the people we work with say I'd like a bigger share of the upside with ownership and development process. They've decided the risk/reward equation works out better for them than the other way, and usually they want to  help keep the capital in the local community. We're creating 2 to 3 times the amount of local jobs within an industry that is already a great job-creator."

So is it catching on? OwnEnergy is a national company, but already here in Pennsylvania "we have a 60-million-dollar wind farm in Cambria County that can start this year, with two more ready to go in the 2013 time period. One of our team members," he adds, "is based in Pennsylvania."

As far as future plans, "We're hellbent on getting wind established" as a viable energy source, but "We do see expansion into other alternative energy areas like solar and biomass in next couple years. We have this community model and we want to roll that out across different technologies." In the meantime, "we are empowering a network of clean-energy entrepreneurs around the country."

As for Rendell's involvement, Susman said that "This is an industry that relies on the regulation picture coming into place in a certain way, so having someone who's as astute as the Governor working with us is going to be incredibly helpful. He's a great person to work with, he is a leader and knows how to get the job done."

About this blog
Earth to Philly is a weblog focusing on earth-conscious technology, trends and ideas, from a Daily News perspective. We look at the "green" aspects of your home, business, food, transportation, style, policy, gadgets and artwork. If you have a Philly-related story, Click here to let us know about it!

The experts at Philadelphia's Energy Coordinating Agency answer your energy questions in our regular feature Stay Warm, Stay Green. Send in your question or questions to

Look for Jenice Armstrong to supply tips on green living as well as occasional columns on the subject of Green. She also blogs at Hey Jen.

Becky Batcha stays tuned for the here-and-now practical side of conservation, alternative energy, organic foods, etc. - stuff you can do at home now. Plus odds and ends.

Laurie Conrad recycles from her ever-growing e-mailbag to pass along the latest travel deals, fashion statements, household strategies, gadgets, cool local events and other nuggets of interest to those who appreciate a clean, green world.

Vance Lehmkuhl looks at topics like eco-conscious eating, public transportation and fuel-efficient driving from his perspective as a vegetarian, a daily SEPTA bus rider and a hybrid driver, as well as noting the occasional wacky trend or product. Contact Vance with your 'green' news.

Ronnie Polaneczky sees the green movement through the eyes of her 12-year-old daughter, who calls her on every scrap of paper or glass bottle that Ronnie neglects to toss into the house recycling bins. Ronnie will blog about new or unexpected ways to go green. She also blogs at So, What Happened Was...

Sandra Shea and the DN editorial board opine on any green-related legislation or policy. And we'll pass along some of the opeds on the subject that people send us.

Jonathan Takiff will be blogging mainly about consumer electronics - those things that we love to use and that suck too much energy. He'll spotlight green-conscious gizmos made in a responsible fashion, both in terms of materials used and the energy it takes to run them.

Signe Wilkinson draws the comic strip Family Tree, which follows the Tree family as they try to live green in the face of nattering neighbors, plastic-wrapped consumer products, and the primal teenage urge to spend vast quantities of money on hair care products of dubious organic quality.

In addition to these updates from our newsroom bloggers, watch for an occasional feature, Dumpster Diver Dispatches, from Philadelphia's original "green" community of artists, the Dumpster Divers. You'll learn about creative ways to reuse and recycle while you reduce, and about the artists who are making little masterpieces from what others throw out.

  • Dispatch #1: Margaret Giancola's rugs from plastic bags
  • Dispatch #2: Dumpster Divers in City Hall (Art in City Hall series)
  • Dispatch #3: Wild wood, New Jersey
  • Dispatch #4: Dumpster Divers award winners announced
  • Dispatch #5: From sweaters to colorful cuddling
  • Dispatch #6: Green artists retake South Street Sunday
  • Dispatch #7: Isaiah Zagar: He's a Magic (Gardens) Man

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