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Power from the People (Book Review)

 
It had me at “foreward by Van Jones.”

Greg Pahl’s book Power From the People, how to organize, finance, and launch local energy projects starts off with a punch as Jones makes the case that the world is in dire straights, both in energy and economy matters. Jones calls on all of us to create a “social uplift environmentalism that can fight poverty and pollution at the same time.”

Now that we’re all pumping our fists to Jones’s sermon, enter Pahl (stage right). Pahl leads readers on a journey through the how-tos of local energy projects and what the implications have been for those communities. Spoiler alert: Communities that source their own energy through clean means end up with green jobs and greater energy resilience.

The book’s 14 chapters are partitioned into four parts. These four parts are straightforward, logical, and — most importantly,  (in my opinion) — interesting.

Part one, “Setting the Stage,” is as exactly as it sounds. Pahl takes us on a mini time traveling trip, reviewing American energy policy as it has been applied to renewable and nonrenewable sources over the last few decades. If I would’ve been told the first three chapters were going to be a numbers-heavy, policy examination, then I’m ashamed to say I would’ve glossed over it. But, I didn’t know it beforehand, so I didn’t skim my way into chapter four and — to my shock and awe — I was not bored to tears in the least. Quite the opposite, actually. Pahl walks us through the realities of what the policies have done to our economy and makes some estimations as to what’s in store for us if we don’t dramatically shift towards renewables, with an emphasis on conservation.
 

 
I appreciated the unpretentious (and speedy) way Pahl overviewed all the sources of energy, including oil, coal, and natural gas. He simply notes the advantages and drawbacks to each source, forecasting what the next 20 or 50 years looks like for each of those. After reading the quick descriptions of each, I feel much less embarrassed to throw my two cents around about renewable energy at the next cocktail party where I’m looking to impressive eco-conscious guests.

Part three is the meat of the book. Pahl gives us a good number of case studies for each renewable resource that is successfully operating in communities across the US, along with a shout-out to the little German village that could, Wildpoldsreid.

My major quibble with “Power From the People” is when Pahl oscillates between providing readers with a brief explanation of funding options and then, in other situations, bogs readers down with financial mumbo-jumbo. (Confession: I was known to scan portions that seemed dense on financial aspects.)

Part four is the swan-song of “Power From the People” — a reminder that desperate times are ahead if we don’t pony up to renewables pronto, but with a little of a (not quite as elegant) Van Jones–style call to action.

After finishing “Power From the People,” are you going to be prepared to present the ins and outs of financing a biogas project to your local city council? No way. Is it still a worthy read? Definitely.

Image courtesy of Chelsea Green Publishing

 
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Written By

is a former newspaper reporter who has spent the past few years teaching English in Poland, Finland and Japan. When she wasn't teaching or writing, Chelsea was traveling Europe and Asia, sampling spicy street food along the way.

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