Co-op Power members.The very happy members of Co-op Power.Photo: Erik Hoffner

Co-op Power, a renewable energy cooperative, broke ground on its newest green business, Northeast Biodiesel, last week. This multi-million dollar project in Greenfield, Mass. is majority-owned by the co-op and its 375 members, so that the benefits and profits stay local. Note the smiles and thumbs in the air saying yeah, we own it!

The plant will make roughly 3.5 million gallons of liquid fuel a year from recycled oil for use in buses, tractors, cars, and in home heating systems. Such biodiesel is way better for the planet and climate than diesel made from soy or petroleum (80 percent better according to some estimates), and also does not use fresh soybeans, which are not climate friendly and anyhow ought to be feeding people.

It took countless hours over the past 5 years (with no thanks due to the banksters who crashed the global economy) to make this a reality, so everyone at Co-op Power is very happy indeed. As a volunteer board member all these years, I am especially elated.

Solar installation.Co-op Power members installing solar panels.Photo: Co-op PowerBut this is not the first cooperatively run biodiesel plant in the U.S. — Piedmont Biofuels in N.C. gets that credit. Where Co-op Power’s model is different is in how it works to create and own good green businesses of many stripes, so its members can access renewable energy products and services and benefit from owning the means of production, too.

But it’s not all about “brick and mortar” businesses. Much of the co-op’s effort is focused on helping members access products and services like solar panels for their homes which are bought in bulk. Its “member to member” solar installs and energy efficiency retrofits save everyone additional money because members do much of the work for each other.

Along with two energy efficiency businesses launched this year including Energia in Holyoke, 34 new green jobs will have been created by the co-op this year in western Massachusetts, with more to come in neighboring states in the coming years. Its successful blueprint for making change through cooperative business is now being adopted by groups across the U.S., like this one in Maryland.

Co-op Power embodies what is powerful about cooperatives of all kinds, for food, shelter, work, and more. Though not as popular in the U.S. as elsewhere in the world, co-ops are perhaps the best model for profit-making enterprises that can fully fund their missions. May there be many more!