Why I Started the Greater Phila. Renewable Energy Society

Greater Philadelphia Renewable Energy Meetup

Philadelphia, PA
247 Members

Making the clean energy transition: it’s going to take all of us!We are a social/networking Meetup/social/networking for folks who work in the region on renewable energy and …

Check out this Meetup Group →


In January 2016, while working in sales for SolarCity, I started a new group in Philadelphia to promote renewable and clean energy based on a very successful organization I had seen in Colorado, called CRES.

The Colorado Renewable Energy Society is a statewide, volunteer-run catchall organization with the broad-brush mission of promoting clean power. I volunteered with them in 2015, and was inspired. Large enough to have multiple chapters with well-attended meetings, CRES is a collection of tinkerers and DIYers, clean energy technical, sales, and entrepreneur types, political advocates and government officials, quietly radical utility employees, videographers, writers…It was a curious, fertile, and energetic mix. Jargon-heavy conversations were balanced with the notes of visionaries, and the personality types bounced off each other well.

CRES had been around for a long time, and had been one of the primary drivers behind the passage of Colorado’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard of 30 percent, the then-highest in the nation and one of the greatest impetuses to clean power development in Colorado. Like Pennsylvania, Colorado is one of the most heavily loaded fossil-fuel “energy states” in the country, but unlike Pennsylvania, it has taken advantage of its renewable resources as well, and has developed a thriving clean energy economy.

It was a real-life example of what I’d read in Richard Lester and David Hart’s very good book, Unlocking Energy Innovation: How America Can Build a Low-Cost, Low-Carbon Energy System. Written in 2012, it spelled out the social conditions for development of an “innovation system” in clean energy, similar to the systems that American policy and industry historically colluded to promote information technology, oil and gas, nuclear power, or healthcare technology.

According to Lester and Hart, a clean energy innovation system does not arise spontaneously from consumer will or popular interest – it is fostered through institutional arrangements that make it possible, each taking a role in an extended period of time diagrammed into four stages of energy innovation:

lester and hart one

They identified a number of these institutions and social arrangements (some you already know, like government research funding, and some that are “under discussion”, like utility regulations) that made this possible, but also some of the current obstacles to advancement at each stage of the process:

lester an d hart two

Developing the innovation ecosystem in Philadelphia and the region – seeing which obstacles we could address – is why I started the Greater Philadelphia Renewable Energy Society. Working for a solar company at the time that was only allowed to interconnect with the electric company in the suburbs, I knew that regionalism was needed for this to cohere (hence the “greater.”) I also knew that there were solo clean energy fans floating around out there like spare electrons. I was hoping GRPES would be a nucleus for them.

Philadelphia has very different resources than centers of energy innovation in the country. Our social resources are different, our economic resources are different, our history and knowledge are different. We don’t have Massachusetts’ liberal state government, or the earnest billionaires of Silicon Valley. To develop our regional clean energy economy, it is important for us to determine what those resources are, and build a popular movement to support them. Clean energy innovation is a vast field, with needs as diverse as its potential. Our fossil-fuel twin, Texas, is the nation’s largest oil and gas producer, and a place one would expect to be hostile to renewables – but it’s also our nation’s largest producer of wind energy*.

Mapping the statewide resources of Pennsylvania onto an innovation schema is beyond the scope of this post, but GPRES is continuing to develop this community under the leadership of Mark King and Leslie Craigmyle with new meetups promoting Solarize Philadelphia and National Drive Electric Week. If you are in the Philadelphia region, join them here. Or just read our posts on our Facebook group. So far, the group has turned out to precisely what I had hoped: engineers, financial analysts, sustainability professionals from related fields like college-campus sustainability. With organizing help from Robin Xu and Thomas Flaherty, we’ve already hosted meetups on:

  • Electric Vehicles (with test drives!)
  • Solar home tour
  • Energy Retrofits as a Anti-Poverty Strategy
  • 350 Philadelphia’s clean-energy SEPTA campaign
  • The State of Sustainability in Higher Education
  • Clean Energy at the Democratic National Convention and the 2016 election

..And there is so much more to talk about!


*The Texas Renewable Portfolio Standard was originally created by Senate Bill 7 and signed by Governor Bush in 1999, which helped Texas eventually become the leading producer of wind powered electricity in the U.S. The RPS was part of new laws that restructured the electricity industry. The Texas RPS mandated that utility companies jointly create 2000 new MWs of renewable energy by 2009 based on their market share. In 2005, Senate Bill 20, increased the state’s RPS requirement to 5,880 MW by 2015, of which, 500 MW must come from non-wind resources. The bill set a goal of 10,000 MW of renewable energy capacity for 2025, which was achieved 15 years early, in 2010.


They could stop another Muslim ban: don’t forget the judges!

Tomorrow is Election Day, and as I have spent more time than the average bear with all the judge candidates, I offer my perspective. I’m always impressed and inspired by the judges that run for office in Philly. They are usually deeply committed public servants and it’s hard to say which ones are right for this time and place.

If there is any doubt that judges have the capacity to make positive change, then look at those who have fought the Trump travel ban on the federal level.
Here’s three I recommend, in case you haven’t had time to look into it:

Dan and his family have devoted their practice to healing families and getting women out of domestic abuse situations. He is one of the only judge candidates endorsed by Philadelphia NOW and I am proud to support and campaign for him. He was appointed by Gov. Wolf to his seat last year (this election is a retention election) and is also endorsed by Liberty City, AFSCME and all the other local heroes.

Mark B. Cohen for Court of Common Pleas – Usually you have to guess at the political leanings of judge candidates – not so with Mark. As a Democratic state rep., Mark had the commitment to social justice that we all wish the national Democratic party still had. His exhaustive Wikipedia page spells out everything he’s ever stood for, and it’s a laundry list of every fight against oppression: raising the minimum wage, protecting labor against GOP tactics, advancing civil rights, reforming the criminal justice system through drug law reform, and more. He was awarded a “Hero for the Environment” award from PennEnvironment for his 100 percent voting record.

ellenEllen Ceisler for Commonwealth Court – If you don’t know Ellen, you should. She is remarkable. She’s been on the municipal bench for ten years and is now the first woman to run for statewide Commonwealth court since the last century! There are a lot of reasons I recommend her, but here are two reason: for eight years, Ellen was director and deputy director of the Office of Integrity and Accountability at the Philadelphia Police Dept., a concern very much in the news. After that, she then served as the Director of the Special Investigations Unit of the Philadelphia City Controller’s Office where she initiated and oversaw investigations into municipal waste and fraud. Apparently, she doesn’t take easy jobs.
Here’s a nifty graphic about why Commonwealth Court is important – she’ll be up in November too in the general.

How is shoveling snow like supporting Krasner for D.A.?

Being a good neighbor is one of the most important things you can do in life. More than the practical activities of shoveling the sidewalk or keeping an eye on the street is the underlying commitment. You watch out for your neighbors and they watch out for you. If you feel that there is someone hurt or in trouble you do something about it, because what happens to one of us, happens to all of us.

Racial relations in this country feel so dismal right now because of the seeming breakdown of this commitment. Black children are being shot or thrown in prison on a daily basis, and faced with overwhelming evidence of this problem, many white people are looking the other way. Most of us are horrified but just have no idea what to do. Police culture seems incapable of transforming itself from within, and the Left is still rubbing its sore ass after the last election. Structures in our society keep us disempowered, segregated, and isolated from each other, and although social media has given us a thorough education about police brutality, it has also made us all millions of powerless bystanders, watching helplessly as men, women, and children are murdered for being black in the wrong place and at the wrong time. Many of us already know about the prison industrial complex and the devastation wrought on communities by the “war on drugs,” but this vast edifice seems immovable, cruel, and accountable to no one.

However, there is an opportunity right now for significant change and transformation in the district attorney’s race. Larry Krasner has pretty much put his life on the line to run for office as an unapologetically anti-fascist candidate for top cop. This happens unbelievably rarely (never before in Philadelphia) and his campaign has come at a time when people are desperate for the kind of leadership he has shown throughout his career.

Snow shoveling is excellent for your heart! (Brewerytown during the great blizzard of 2016)

His campaign has union support, 500 volunteers, thousands of small donors, and, surprisingly and fortunately, air support from billionaires who don’t want to see our country trend any more towards Nazism. I am supporting Krasner for DA because he is the only candidate who would upend an unbelievably corrupt criminal justice system built on profiteering and exploitation for profit. Justice makes us safer, as his campaign slogan goes, but what makes us really safe is trust. I support his campaign because I believe black lives matter, and I believe that they are not being treated as sacred. This is our chance to get off the sidelines.

There are so many candidates in the race that Krasner could conceivably win this campaign with as little as 17,000 votes, although I am sure they have a higher goal than that. If activists in this city can’t get 17,000 votes together to fight the prison industrial complex, then what the hell have we been doing all these years?

Just give one day next weekend, or take a day off next Monday or Tuesday and help out at the polls. Or phone bank! Or email your friends and remind them. Or tell someone under age 30 about what this race means, and make sure they know where to vote. 

All the hours and locations for volunteering for the next week are on Facebook here.

The phone banks are run out of 1221 Locust, and there are canvasses in the NW, South Philly, and West Philly (GO WEST PHILLY!!!) Please join the campaign. Your help is still needed, even a week out.

As important as skepticism is, we can never lose our ability to recognize authenticity and opportunity when we see it. The moment we lose that, we are done for. Krasner has never changed his stripes, in a long career of fighting for the powerless. I think Michael Coard said it best, in this very thoughtful and honest video:

“Larry believes in prosecution, not persecution. For the first time in my entire life, as a voter, I’m not voting for the lesser of two evils. I’m not voting and hoping that this guy will do the right thing…He’s going to do the right thing for everybody.”

Nicetown Gas Plant is a Terrible Deal for this City

My testimony at SEPTA’s board meeting, Nov. 19, 2016. Good coverage of the meeting – thanks to Meenal Raval – is here at the 350 Philadelphia blog. 


Hello. My name is Hannah Miller; I’ve covered the energy industry as a journalist for several publications, and worked in operations and sales for two solar companies. I live in South Philly and ride SEPTA daily.

As a civilization, we are way past the point where new fossil-fuel infrastructure should be considered a possibility. From the local health impacts to the global, from the economic burden these plants will be on SEPTA riders, to the agency’s betrayal of democratic processes, there are far more reasons to cancel these plans than to go forward, and I hope that the agency remembers its public-service mission.

There are many questionable development projects proposed in this city, but the idea of putting a gas-burning power plant smack in the middle of a poor neighborhood really takes the cake. With the respiratory-disease epidemic already faced by this part of Philadelphia – where a reported 1 in 3 children have asthma – it is morally wrong to build a gas power plant in Nicetown. It’s morally wrong to build one anywhere, but this location – doubtlessly picked by someone in Harrisburg who doesn’t have to live here – just reinforces the oil and gas industry’s utter disregard for life.

Why SEPTA – one of the cornerstones of Philadelphia’s claim to fame as a ‘green’ city – would participate in building this is beyond any logical or economic explanation, especially when the agency is building out a very successful battery-backup-storage system elsewhere. If SEPTA wants an answer to resilience concerns, it needs to look no farther than its own successful storage program, which generate revenues as well as provide peak-time power.

If SEPTA were concerned about the health of its ridership, it would be looking to clean and renewable energy to supply 100 percent of its power needs. And if it were interested in its own financial future, it would not be building gas-burning power plants. They burn a commodity that will only become rarer and more expensive for the entire life of the plant. And if it were genuinely aware of the impact of environmental racism, it would never think to put this plant in Nicetown – or in any of the other possible places they are rumored to be building plants.

So what is actually driving this decision? What is SEPTA doing? So far, the neighborhood most impacted is unanimously against this proposal. This won’t help SEPTA provide better bus service at Midvale, or train service at Wayne Junction. In fact, because of the flawed contract that SEPTA has agreed to, SEPTA is going to lose money and be paying higher prices with this than they could be if they invested in renewable energy. If SEPTA really wants to lower energy costs, there are numerous renewable energy experts, companies, contractors, and enthusiasts who could find ways for SEPTA to power its system effectively, at benefit to the whole community.

Climate change and air pollution are not things that just happen. They are the result of thousands of decision made by cities, companies, and transit agencies.

SEPTA has put forward a goal of being sustainable, and we applaud that; this goal is absolutely incompatible with building new fossil fuel infrastructure. If anything, SEPTA should be lowering its use of fossil fuels. For all the children and adults who live in the area, as well as those traveling through the bus depot or Wayne Junction, this plant is death and disease. There is no political tradeoff anywhere that will make this worth it, especially given that the plant is being shoved down SEPTA’s throat by the gas lobby, which has at least one lawyer on the board.

I used to sell Power Purchase Agreements for solar companies – similar agreements to what SEPTA is signing here. With a PPA, a customer agrees to a multi-year contract in order to lock in a low price. With solar, it was very easy for us to do this – once the equipment was in place, the fuel was free. The reason that solar has exploded in many states around is the US is comparatively, the cost of all fossil fuels is going to go up. Most of the easily fracked gas in the Marcellus Shale has already been burned, and we are in a post-peak period; the technologies required at get at more “extreme” energy will make these fuels more and more expensive as time goes on. SEPTA is buying into this game when it knows it’s going to lose. I believe the commissioners already know this.

SEPTA – and our region – have a responsibility to the future. With every bit of new fossil-fuel infrastructure we build, we put off the transition to clean energy by decades. Utilities simply don’t have the money to build gas plants and pipelines, then turn around 3 years later and junk all of this in favor of solar and wind. Once infrastructure is built, it’s there for the long haul, or at least until the cost of building it is recouped.

With almost 70 percent of its ridership and funding coming from Philadelphia, SEPTA needs to stand up to the gas companies who have a lock on Harrisburg. There are Philadelphians who develop respiratory illnesses and worse from this – it is a statistical inevitability that people will die. This is a bad deal for SEPTA, a bad deal for Nicetown, a bad deal for SEPTA riders – and the worst part is, there are perfectly feasible clean options available.

350 Phila Face to Face with SEPTA and the gas industry

From the 350 Philadelphia blog, authored by Meenal Raval –

“Yesterday,  8 of us met with 12 people to discuss SEPTA’s gas power plant project at the Midvale Bus Depot. We expressed our frustration, that our concerns have been ignored for 6 months. We referr…

Source: Face to Face with SEPTA and the gas industry

Thank God: for once, Bill McKibben is wrong!

Let’s face it. The identity politics that was so glowing and triumphant when Obama got elected has, eight years later, gnarled into a political dynamic about as joyous as waterboarding.

This transmogrification (and the simultaneous rebirth of America’s long-lost class consciousness) has masked the fact that identity politics still exists because it’s still relevant. It’s not fun, or charming, and especially when it comes to gender, it leads to an inordinate amount of bitter, personal divisiveness.  Like most other women in this country (and around the world) I am as thrilled to be electing the first woman president as I am eager for this merciless election to be over.

But there’s something that happened this week that made me realize just how wonderful it is to be voting for Hillary Clinton for president. I’ve been a 350.org organizer in Colorado and I generally agree with everything Bill McKibben says – except for this week. This week, McKibben, who has to be a professional optimist despite overwhelming odds, said that electing Hillary Clinton isn’t going to do anything for the climate movement. This I have heard repeated by angry non-participants or frustrated Sanderistsas about a number of other policy areas – but they’re wrong. Clinton may not have much value as a corporate Democrat, but she has almost atomic value because she’s a woman.

Regardless of Clinton’s future performance as a policymaker, having a female President is going to be a seismic shift in consciousness for this country. The impact of having visible female leadership – the most visible leader in the world – for four or eight years is going to dramatically shift the ground under American politics (and society.)

More women will indeed run for office because of her, and more women will take leadership positions in their organizations, their lives, their companies. Clinton knows this, and has said often in interviews that she is running so that women who come after her can see what is possible. We all learn by example – that is the basic nature of human identity. The election of Clinton as president will lead to the empowerment of millions of women, some in the subtlest of ways, because of sheer symbolism.

And what could our world possibly need more than millions of empowered women? All the traits required to transform our brutal, mechanistic, and terminally-ill society – empathy, compassion, self-sacrifice, service, kindness, connectedness – are just those traits that women have for so long been told disqualify them from leadership. Whether Hillary Clinton herself exemplifies these traits does not matter – although it’s a miracle that she, a Democrat from suburban Chicago, got there before a Margaret Thatcher conservative. What matters is that more women will be leading – in the environmental movement, in education, in business, and elsewhere. That will change everything.

We have two weekends left to campaign in Philadelphia – please come knock on doors or make phone calls if you haven’t already.

You can sign up here:


For questions, please call organizer Zach Taylor at 404- 862-0200 or email ztaylor@paforvictory2016.com.And let me know when you are coming so I will be there!

Here are the shifts:

Saturday, October 29th






Sunday, October 30th






Saturday, November 5th






Sunday, November 6th






Monday, November 7th






ELECTION DAY: Tuesday, November 8th








I Don’t Ask/For Much These Days

Hey Hey, My My.

Went to a panel on Design and Social Change last week at Moore College. It was the triptych of what people think of as design – probably what students are taught – graphic design, tech, consumer goods. Moderator Jeremy Avellino is a sustainability expert and part-time hero, and wore a t-shirt crying ‘RESPECT THE LOCALS’ – a product of Philadelphia Print Works, whose president Maryam Pugh sat on the panel. It was lovely, a underpopulated room of rabble-rousers.

“The first time I saw someone spraying foam into a building I’d designed, I freaked out! I said, “I BUILT THIS?!” and never did it again,” said Jeremy. “Now I am a spray-foam abolitionist. How boring is that. People on city council get really excited about ending spray foam, and then also immediately say it’s completely impossible.”

I’d run into Jethro Heiko there – the only word for this is the Chinese syllable translated as ‘auspicious’ – and, sitting next to each other, we just rolled our eyes. Jethro helps people confront death and dying for his day job. Compared to that, zoning disputes are merely fun, but as I am beginning to understand, they shape the city for hundreds of years.

Design is more than furniture, more than buildings. Design is the whisper through every field. Through most of the panel I sat thinking about Fish 2.0 and water innovation and Farm Hack and how to apply biomimicry to human political systems.

Anyone troubled by the divergence of “solving for poverty” from “solving for environmental destruction” can rejoice in that when it comes to food, they are often the same solution. It’s different here in Amerikkka, of course. “I think when we solve for poverty, we will solve for sustainability,” says Jeremy. But solving for poverty in Philadelphia often means buying plastic kitchenware at Family Dollar. What we need designers to do is figure out how to grow soybeans in the desert with 2 percent of current resource use.

“A farm is a built environment!” as Mat Davis pointed out later, driving home in his dirty, gloriously paint-splashed Tacoma. The architecture firm I work at builds universities, and the architecture firm  next door builds Walmarts. We might as well be throwing bombs at each other across the alley. I tried to read Vitruvius this year and couldn’t get through the fanboy introduction – an ode to Rome’s record of innovation in carnage and oppression. Someday humanity will be building beautiful houses out of reclaimed materials, and they will be both agonizingly unstandardized, and shockingly easy to source. The glory days of “sustainable architecture” haven’t even begun yet. Postmodernism can also be – wait for it… about materials.

PhiladelphiaPrintWorks.com – for all your holiday shopping needs!

I try not to get distracted. I haven’t even figured out what to do about energy yet in my hometown. The pilots of sustainability here are already charting new courses – this is a lively place for green initiatives- but I am still trying to spot the “chink in the armor,” as Mio Culture’s Isaac Salm terms it.

The only thing I am going to do now is look up “human-centered design.” Until Jethro used the phrase to describe what he does, I had no idea this existed: the design of human interaction. This is intriguing. When Mat Davis taught architecture, he’d have his students read a short story, and then draw a zoning map of the plot. I have a quivery feeling, like I’ve graduated to a higher level of magic. In 2007, Casino Free had a bigger volunteer GOTV operation than any of the campaigns -including the mayoral campaigns – for a ballot initiative that was legally nothing. But symbolically atomic.