Churches. Retirement Communities. Franchise Businesses. At first glance, it doesn’t seem as though they have much in common. But look more closely. All of these institutions make long-term investments in real property. Driving down the road, these assets are easily spotted at intersections: Church buildings. Multi-level senior living and care facilities. Drive-in restaurants and chain grocery stores. In every case, their architecture and logos are readily identified.
Because all of these groups own property, their interests intersect in promising ways. Property becomes a better investment when owners can reduce the costs of maintenance and management. Wise managers understand that their operations become more sustainable whenever they can cut budget items that seem fixed. In the past, utility bills seemed inevitable, but the declining price of renewable energy is changing that assumption.
So, within all of these groups, some forward thinking people have begun to consider renewable energy sources as a way of cutting costs and maximizing the value of their investments. At churches, senior facilities and franchises, local and regional managers are starting to ask the kind of What-if? questions that are at the heart of intentional imagination. “What if we didn’t have to pay utility bills? What if we could generate the energy we need?”
Local property managers are necessarily concerned about short-term maintenance. The trustees at the church may focus on cleaning, snow shoveling and lawn care. The manager at a senior residence will plan for a fresh coat of paint and plumbing or electrical repairs. The franchise owner will see to it that the parking lot is properly paved and the kitchen is kept clean.
All of these efforts are necessary to protect the investment that property represents and, in some cases, there may be cost savings if local managers can coordinate their efforts. Perhaps the snow plowing service will offer a discount if they can plow two or more adjacent properties. Perhaps there will be a price break if the parking lot paving company can resurface several lots on the same street on the same day. Some local people are beginning to apply the same thinking to energy costs. Perhaps a community solar installation could help everyone save on their utility bills.
At the next level of management, there may be other possibilities. Church denominations, senior residences and franchises are likely to have MBA’s and Vice Presidents in charge of sustainability. Their specialized perspective is a little different. Even if an investment in renewable energy production doesn’t make sense for an individual church, senior center or franchise, it might be very feasible if the costs could be distributed among all the churches, centers and franchises in a region.
Cooperation always opens up possibilities so it’s worthwhile to be creative about looking for cooperative partners. In some cases, the intersection of interests will be obvious. People who have invested in the same franchise or belong to the same religious denomination have clear reasons to work together. In other cases, alliances may be a simple matter of geography. The church is down the street from the fast food restaurant and around the corner from the senior facility.
Simply looking for places in which needs intersect often stimulates What-if? thinking. That’s certainly the case for community solar. What if a consortium of companies and organizations found available land and arranged for a solar array to be built there? What if they arranged for the local utility to be their delivery service? What if they could negotiate lower rates for energy transport because the distance between production and consumption would be smaller?
Reputable solar panel producers warrant their products for a full 20 years. And, in most cases, panels are productive for 30 years. Companies like American Renewable Energy are already designing, constructing and managing solar arrays for communities across the nation. Suddenly, it seems entirely possible to enjoy years and years of fully amortized electric production for the small cost of maintenance and delivery.
Benefits like these are more likely when people can identify promising cooperative partners by spotting intersections of interests. Some partnerships seem easy and obvious because the groups have many overlapping concerns. Often, however, the greatest benefit is to be found in partnerships with those who don’t, at first glance, seem like allies.
Churches, retirement communities and franchise businesses may have very different goals. But when they explore their intersecting concerns as property owners, they open up opportunities to invest in community solar in a way that makes all of their enterprises more sustainable. That’s Cooperative Wisdom in action!