I left off as I was contemplating starting a for-profit business based on my experience in advocating for clean energy in Annapolis from 2001-2006. I was shocked by the missed opportunities from the business world.
So, Charles Segerman and I formed Clean Currents. He had executed a large REC purchase for the Tower Companies and was interested in how the incipient green building movement and clean energy could come together. I dedicated all my mental and most of my emotional energy into building Clean Currents. Yes, we had the typical never-ending work hours, the moments of joy and abject fear, the pressure of needing to grow the company. But we also made a difference. Clean Currents was connected to every clean energy innovation that came to Maryland. I’m proud of the list of “firsts” we brought to the state. First company that exclusively sold green electricity. First B-Corp in the retail energy space. First Benefit LLC. First company to create a community around a brand (some stores still have our stickers up on their doors). First clean energy company to lobby for environmental legislation, even if it didn’t help our bottom line.
We experimented and were willing to try new ideas. We sponsored a cycling team, played softball together, hosted a solar picnic for customers. We trained and mentored talented young people who have gone on to places like SolarCity, Nextility, Oceana, OPower, and who have opened their own businesses or earned MBA’s.
We created arguably the most loyal customer base in the industry around a brand that was authentic, customer-centric, and stood for something. Though our expansion into Philadelphia was not a success, our innovative program, “Lots of Power”, inspired young people from underprivileged backgrounds and even got one young woman to try her hand at getting a college degree.
Our product, technically, was wind power, either national wind RECs or “local” wind electricity. They, like every single green electricity product in the market, were both based on adding RECs to electricity to “green up” the power. This made a difference in reducing carbon emissions, but the biggest difference was in the community we were able to create. See, our product was not an end to itself. It was a vehicle to bring the consumer into the “green” world even further. We liked to think of ourselves as the “front door to sustainability.” Signing up for wind power through Clean Currents was an easy first step for many people into a more eco-friendly lifestyle. It was also a step into a community of like-minded people, businesses, organizations, and governments all trying to make a cleaner, greener future in our corner of the world.
We had a great run, and we had a large impact in the region despite our abrupt end in January 2014. I’ve learned many lessons on how to run an organization from my experience at Clean Currents. I don’t consider myself a “serial entrepreneur,” but for the past two years I certainly kept my eyes and ears open for any new opportunities that I could run with. A few ideas came and went without inspiring me to action. But when I had the opportunity to work on, and help pass the community solar bill in Maryland in early 2015, I saw something special on the horizon.
Community solar offers us as a movement the chance to complete the work many of us started more than a decade ago. We can now finally have clean energy for everyone, not just the select few. Community solar takes rooftops out of the equation and significantly moves the credit bar downward. The Maryland program incentivizes projects for low to moderate income people, giving them a chance to join the solar revolution that’s been sweeping the region. That’s why I’m so excited about my new venture, Neighborhood Sun.
With Neighborhood Sun, I’m going to apply everything I learned in my decade plus fighting for clean energy whether through a non-profit advocacy group or through Clean Currents. Now, however, we’ll be able to combine a “local first” approach with the environmental/clean energy agenda. Imagine the power of producing clean energy at the local level, providing each community a cause to rally around. The impact can be far beyond anything we achieved at Clean Currents and hits on solutions in two areas of need – community building and clean energy development. That’s why our company motto is “turning consumers into communities”. We are taking “sustainability” to the next level, moving it beyond people buying green products into the realm of people forming concrete connections, supporting local businesses, creating local assets, and buying local clean power. That’s what excites me about Neighborhood Sun and the possibilities of the work we can do in the community solar space.
After more than a decade in the business, I don’t want to just sell clean energy, I want to help create clean energy communities.