Book Review: Power from the People
Power from the People by Greg Pahl is yet another release in the “Communitiy Reslience Guide” series.
The book focuses on tangible information, which can guide communities, regions, and individuals into a stable future.
Pahl first focuses on the myriad problems that we face today. With rising energy costs come increased food costs, increased cost of living, and the ultimate breakdown of our economic systems. However, all hope is not lost. Pahl believes that holding yourself accountable for the solution is the fastest and best way to achieve energy resilience. He starts his book with the broad ideas and moral arguments for energy resilience in the 21st century, but follows it up with a solid framework of concrete facts and examples to guide you to action.
The book also provides a thorough analysis of all sides of the debate, from arguments for fossil fuels to renewables. Pahl recognizes the benefits and drawbacks of just about any energy scheme while realistically noting that there is no “silver bullet.” His book and his solutions all require compromise and patience to overhaul the deeply entrenched energy systems of today.
Pahl drives his point home through an almost overwhelming amount of details and case studies. These include examples of energy disasters such as Fukushima 2011 to the 2012 Deepwater Horizon oil explosion while countering these doomsday reminders with concrete alternatives and case studies.
Pahl’s language does feel repetitive in the first few chapters, but the book provides a watertight and comprehensible picture of today’s energy problems and subsequent solutions. Power from the People is not geared toward those just beginning to understand renewable energy, but is primarily for those who have interest but perhaps not enough knowledge for enactment.
Pahl also makes clear that it is the layperson’s responsibility to make these changes due to the heavy involvement of government in retaining the status quo; hence his emphasis on local, diverse production and ownership of renewable energy schemes.
This book is chalk full of examples. The diversity of examples also proves his belief in the diversification of energy production. The schemes he outlines range from local to interconnected regional productions, which use varying types of renewable energy to meet their specific needs.
Other more practical information is included in the book such as “how to” and “getting started” sections which include information on two very important, yet rarely understood aspects of renewable energies: legal and financial framework.
The finance options explained here include traditional methods (loans), tax credit options, Business Energy Investment Tax Credits, New Market Tax Credits, Clean Renewable Energy Bonds, Property Assessed Clean Energy Programs (PACE), and many more. Legal options are outlined through an explanation of varying ownership structures; community based, individual, LLCs, partnerships, co-ops and others. Pahl provides plenty of well-explained options for his readers.
Following these sections, Pahl describes how to make these new renewable energy systems fit into the larger existing grid system (via net metering, distributed generation, smart grids and feed-in tariffs), which is an important transitory position to understand.
Especially useful is one of Pahl’s final sections, “Exceptional Community Energy Initiatives,” which provides examples of three cities that successfully implemented Pahl’s holistic framework of local, diverse, and renewable energy resilience initiatives.
Not only does the book provide a detailed explanatory framework of the possibilities, but also gives its readers varying models, ideas, and examples to draw upon. With such an array, it is bound to help virtually any community accomplish its energy resilience goals.
Although it might feel easy to get bogged down in all the details of this book, the organizational structure makes for easy navigation and comprehension. It is, after all, a guide.
Lastly, there is no scolding in Pahl’s guide, minimal preaching, and tons of credibility. Pahl is an ideal mentor for such projects as he has enacted his beliefs in his own community.
Greg Pahl is a founding member of the Vermont Biofuels Association, the Addison County Relocalization Network, former military intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, and freelance journalist. He is the author of five other books, including Natural Home Heating: The Complete Guide to Renewable Energy Options, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saving the Environment, and Biodiesel: Growing a New Energy Economy.
The book also provides many pages of recommended resources for readers.
Power from the People by Greg Pahl, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012, is available here.
Anna Jaffray is an international freelance journalist specializing in politics, energy, and international relations. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Economy and currently resides throughout Europe.
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