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Scrapbook: How Renewable Energy Is Getting a Charge from the Hoosier Chapter

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December 16, 2011

How Renewable Energy Is Getting a Charge from the Hoosier Chapter

Indiana success -- group shot

By Steve Francis, Chairperson of the Hoosier Chapter.

While helping organize the implementation of a renewable-energy feed-in tariff in Indiana, we were able to collaborate with labor, environmental stakeholders, business leaders, and social justice groups. This is an ongoing organizing effort through a series of campaigns and events to get this program off the ground in Northern Indiana for solar, wind, and biomass power. The Chapter worked with ally organizations to craft the program in a way to set long-term contracts, prices, and small-scale set-aside which will be advantageous to collaborating with a utility and non-traditional groups, and bringing in new members and supporters.

We currently have a Green Corps organizers working the area and collaborating with an allied environmental group (Save The Dunes) in northwest Indiana. We are using existing member base to reinvigorate the Group in the area, as well as reaching out to involve labor organizations, social justice groups, and businesses to provide a broad-based effort for a successful program. Our hope is to expand this program in a broader beyond-coal-to clean-energy campaign and challenge other utilities to competitively offer this type of program in other areas. We will then use that expansion to enlarge our collaborative base.

So far, we are in the middle of the campaign, but we have held several meetings and rallies with excellent participation of dozens of people and several organizations. We will continue to hold events that will attract media attention as well as engage customers who will support the program and other efforts to expand renewable power in Indiana.

Indiana success -- Petitions

Major factors include: 1) Involving the utility from the beginning, 2) thinking beyond environmental allies to bring in non-traditional groups, and 3) leveraging those who are interested in renewable energy to spread the effort to those who will potentially benefit from the clean air and water, jobs, and investments. Having an organizer on the ground is a key component with backup volunteer and Chapter support.

In terms of challenges, there was at first reluctance to join with a utility company (Northern Indiana Public Service Corporation –- NIPSCO) and get beyond the bad relations we've had in the past. On their part, NIPSCO has accepted us as a partner and is working on resolving technical and rollout issues. This involved having an experienced person engaged in negotiations throughout. We now are in the public engagement phase, which presents challenges to notify people and get them to attend meetings and organize events. The organizer has created a sense of excitement and ease by which people can become involved at a variety of levels. Outreach to other organizations is underway where the challenge is to related to distributed power, etc.

Persistence pays off. Having good relations and building upon those, focusing on the goals we share (and not the disagreements we may have had in the past) is essential for collaborative efforts. Building out using our rather small membership base to bring in new people and organizations in an overall campaign strategy is essential. Getting buy-in at all levels –- group, chapter, membership –- along the way is critical.

So far, building out to others is going rather slowly. But having a specific program where people can see the benefit is helping in make the case for why they should get involved. Media has yet to really pick up on it, so we plan to craft some human-interest stories (schools that are becoming solar/wind generators and earning money, for example) that will bring wider public visibility.

We used flyers that explained the program clearly and simply; postcards, which make an ask to expand the program and target the CEO; press releases and story ideas targeted to media; alerts and notices to members to engage them; phone call trees for core volunteers to make sure we engage and stay in contact with those who express interest; Facebook and the website; and newsletter articles.

Have a success story to share? We'd like to hear about it. Go to the Success Stories project on the Sierra Club's Activist Network and let others learn from your experience

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