This is a summary of a section in Elinor Ostrom’s Rules for Radicals by Derek Wall, Pluto Press, 2017. 28-32.

The idea is that looking at laws of the commons, may help community renewable energy survive if it can get established.

1) Commons need to have boundaries and belong to a community that takes responsibility for conserving them. They are not open to people from other groups without permission. This reduces the freeloading problem described by Gareth Hardin, in the famous Tragedy of the Commons, and Hardin’s later recognition that well-managed commons could escape the tragedy.

  • In terms of renewable energy, this means that there has to be a way of ensuring that the community gets access to the energy first, and it is stored for use by the community. Only when the community is satisfied is the energy sold on. This might be impossible, without decent weather prediction capacity. A problem might be that some people use more than others forcing others to buy in energy. This may suggest people have agreed on allocations of energy.
  • I’m not sure what happens if people elect to be outside the community energy gird, or even if that would be a problem.

2) Commons rules should be adapted to local circumstances, especially local environmental circumstances, rather than have uniformity imposed upon them. Different environments call for different uses.

Rules often involve limits- such as you may only gaze so many animals, take so much water, and at certain times of year.
We might note that these rules are often ritualised. Opening the commons on Lamas, coordinating the waters by phase of the moon, or divination… this all makes the commons part of the cosmos.

  • The community energy field and source has to be chosen with respect to land use, and environmental features. This is to be done by residents. Perhaps people have to have limits as to what they can take from community energy and storage – perhaps by time of day – to help avoid overconsumption? Making the energy commons part of the cosmos may be difficult in a non ritualised society.

3) Participants in the commons should participate in the rules decisions and rule making. The hope is that rules will be adjusted to changing circumstances, and that people will respect their own rules decisions. Participants will also regulate access to the commons so that it does not get exhausted. Again local decisions, enforced by local people, are more likely to be respected.

  • It may not be community energy without participatory governance by the members. However, not everyone may have the time to participate.

4) Commons use must be monitored. Some commons hire a person to be a monitor (for each type of commons available),to make sure it is all working and that people are not freeloading. With a small measurable commons, this may be done by the community as a whole. Records need to be kept.

  • With community energy there will need to be meters of some kind for costing and payment, or recognising export to the grid. It may be that nothing else needs doing. But it maybe good to have the meter reader as a recognised position, which gives a person in the community something back in return

5) Sanctions are gradated so that soft abuses do not get the same restrictions as hard or repeated abuses. Someone might not be served in the local pub for example. The idea is to bring the person back into using the commons as agreed, not endanger them.

  • Probably not an issue, but people should be prepared.

6) Low cost easy and local conflict resolution – This may require people to be equal so that the more powerful do not take advantage.

  • It doesn’t matter how well intentioned everyone is, there will be dispute and an effective and recognised dispute settling process needs to exist. This may be an occasion in which State governments need to legislate for communities, and recognise local variations in custom, so that people cannot just ignore them.

7) Recognition of the rights of commoners to organise themselves free of takeover from the State. Recognition of a right to exist easily. There is a general suggestion that commons should not be top down, or regulated at a distance, but they can be enabled from a distance.

  • Community Energy in Australia is currently hampered by regulation and its right to exist freely and easily, needs to be part of the way it is managed.

8) Commons may need to be interconnected or nested, possibly so that they reinforce one another or can be co-ordinated over a larger area.