Community solar activist starts his own ‘Occupy’ movement — on the roof

Carlo Voli on the rooftop of the Fabric of Life building Friday afternoon. (Photos by Bryan Briscoe)
Voli's solar oven cooking brown rice.

From Wall Street to the streets of Seattle, there’s been a lot of talk lately about the “Occupy” movement. On Friday, Edmonds community solar activist Carlo Voli added another concept to the list: “Occupy the Rooftop.”

From Friday through Sunday afternoon, Voli will live on the rooftop of the Fabric of Life building at 523 Main St. The goal is to both raise awareness of solar power’s benefits and grow membership in the Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative — and expand the solar-powered system now installed on the Frances Anderson Center rooftop.

The cooperative recently installed its first 4.2 kilowatt system, funded through investments from 37 co-owners/members, and is working sell additional shares — known as SunSlices — to install a larger 60 KW system on the Frances Anderson Center roof before summer 2012. There is some urgency to the effort: To qualify for the federal incentives for Community Solar, the Edmonds-based Solar cooperative needs to raise at least $30,000 in SunSlices by Dec. 17.

So Voli — a cooperative board member who purchased the project’s first SunSlice — decided to generate publicity by pitching a tent on the Fabric of Life building rooftop, an appropriate venue given that another community activist, Fabric of Life owner Carol Schillios, spent more than three months on the same roof in late 2009 to create awareness of global poverty issues.

Voli is equipped with a 123-volt solar panel connected to a marine deep-cycle battery and an inverter, which powers lights, a cell phone and laptops. He also brought a solar oven, and before our interview had just taken advantage of the sunny afternoon to cook a pot of organic brown rice. He has a warm sleeping bag and “lots of layers” for warmth while sleeping overnight, he said.

Voli, an international marine equipment sales manager and father of two, said it’s easy to explain the connection between the “Occupy” movement and “Occupy the Rooftop.”

“Just like taking money from big banks and putting it into the credit union, you’re taking power away from big banks by creating clean, renewable energy,” he said. While not everyone has $1,000 to buy a SunSlice, “many do,” he said, and often that money is invested in funds that support traditional power sources like oil or coal. “Take some of that money out and invest in a clean future,” he said.

Voli noted that a neighbor recently purchased additional SunSlices for each of his children, “as an investment in their futures,” and he encouraged those who are able to consider doing the same for their children and grandchildren.

“We want to motivate residents, businesses, and organizations in Snohomish County, to be part of the solution and join the solar co-op,” Schillios said.  “It’s time to occupy all the rooftops in our state with locally-manufactured solar panels to create clean renewable energy and jobs.”

The Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative is the first citizen-owned community solar cooperative in Washington state.

It’s estimated the system will produce 75,000 kilowatt hours annually – a significant share of the Frances Anderson Center’s electrical use. The city is leasing roof space to the solar cooperative and will buy electricity from the project at discounted rates until 2020.

For every $1,000 invested in a SunSlice purchase, cooperative members will receive $100 back each year for the remaining nine years on the Cooperative’s lease with the city.  But Voli hopes the group’s reach will extend beyond the Frances Anderson roof, to placing solar systems on many other roof tops in Edmonds. “It’s an expansion of people power,” he said. “Even if you don’t have a south-facing roof or money to invest in a solar system for your home, you can support community solar.”

More information on the Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative can be found here.




  1. I just voted for Carlo Voli as one of the most fascinating people in Edmonds through the Komo contest. Carlo walks his talk and his passion is to be admired. He not only is WSU Carbon Master but a recently White House stand-up against the tar sands participant. Solar is just ONE of his many causes and concerns. Lastly, folks should know that Carlo opened his own home as a 401c3 community center and community garden.. right in his front yard to share with all. A great environmentalist whom Edmonds is lucky to have living here to inspire us all!

  2. The Solar Gardens Institute supports this occupation! Community solar is the perfect way to move your money – and we’ll be doing this with Tangerine clear across the country.

  3. Thanks for your support Joy. The more people who realize the importance of community solar and participate in it, the better.
    Edmonds, and all the other cities in Snohomish County, have an incredible opportunity with the Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative. I’m sure trusting more and more people will see the “sun”.
    And it’s not only individuals and families who can be part of the solar co-op, it’s also businesses (PCC being the first one), and organizations, associations and non-profits. The Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Church is a great example. The church itself bought a SunSlice as an entity, and 6 individual members of the church also bought SunSlices. This is a great example of the role religious congregations in our area can support a cleaner, healthier, and more economically vibrant future for our region.

  4. It is absolutely amazing that Mr. Carlo Voli and Mr. Rick Steve’s would want to associate thier causes with the “Occupy” movement. What about it is positive?

    I’m not saying either of their causes are directly associated with the “Occupy” protesters. But, it appears to be a complete lack of judgement to associate any legitimate cause with this movement. – Occupy Land, Demand Hand Outs By Breaking the Law, Interrupt Commerce (that provide millions of real jobs), Rape, Steal and Refuse To Follow Law Enforcement Direction. How does one come to the conclusion that these are things that will help promote a cause?

    Rememer there are 51% of us that pay the taxes for the remaining 49%. How about the 49% pay their fair share of the burden they’re demanding be provided.

  5. Thanks for sharing your perception of the Occupy movement Ed. I choose not to enter into a discussion of what you mention above. There’s plenty of other people and places having those discussions. My intention is to give it another twist by focusing on solutions and positive alternatives, rather tha focusing on the problems. “Being for”, rather than “being against”. By supporting the Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative you are supporting local clean energy production, stimulating our local economy and creating jobs, as the solar equipment used is manufactured in Washington State. It also brings together a varied group of citizens from our communities in an innovative system of co-ownership. With the added benefit of bringing federal grant money to our area, as well. It’s a win-win situation. Hope you can join the co-op yourself and be part of the solution.

  6. Mr. Voli,

    I believe you may have missed my point.

    The legitimacy of your cause nor benefits of its success are not in question. I have nothing against your goal of more clean, renewable energy resources.

    My question centers on why would one associate their cause (no matter how legitimate or beneficial) with a movement that has the kind of crime and business disruption statistics, the “Occupy” movement has achieved.

    As of Nov. 16 the wrap sheet for the “Occupy” movement is as follows;
    Murders = 2
    Rape = 10
    Theft = 500
    Arrests = 4000
    Property Damage/Cleanup = $10,000,000
    * and these numbers have not gone down since being published.

    To me it seems if one is running a business, charity or garnering support for a co-op, one would be looking for support from customers/people that do not contribute to the kind of statistics above.

    Good luck with your effort.

  7. Thanks once again Ed. You make some very good points and I understand where you are coming from.
    Once again, I’d prefer to continue focusing on the benefits of people in our community coming together to generate clean renewable energy that will benefit our children and grandchildren, as well as our local economy.
    We all make a choice of whether to focus on the problems and the negatives, or to focus on the solutions and positives. I choose the latter.

  8. What we have here is a noble cause that won’t work well in the Puget sound area and on the other hand a very misguided off track cause unfortunately encouraged by our President. I see no legitimate comparison between the two subjects.

    Concerning solar power I speak with experience. Sometime around 1980 I had a then current state of the art solar water heater installed in my house (building since torn down and reolaced) complete with 4 big panels, a 200 gallon holding tank, and lots of piping. The initial cost was covered fully by Sno Cty PUD, somewhat over 3K. The overall results were disappointing.

    The summer months produced the only notable positive results, and especially so if the sun was visible all day. In those afternoons I would then have 200 gallons of hot water.

    As I recall, I was responsible for the cost of maintenance. With so little benefit I chose to not maintain it properly so it died after several years.

    Puget Sound and also the Pacific coast have to be among the areas of our country that can profit least using solar power, due to theclimate. For example, New York City has about the same amount of annual rainfall with half the number of cloudy days.

    In conclusion, solar power may have more positive potential in the southern part of our country. Unless the state of the art has improved drastically, solar power is not going to be practical in the Puget Sound area for sure.

  9. Wow… Teresa must be grinning like a Cheshire Cat right about now. A civil exchange between two good people that was thoughtful, devoid of acrimony, and interesting to all of us. A hats off to Carlo for enduring the cold and continuing his yeoman efforts to call attention to renewable energy; a hats off to Mr. Peterson for making some points on the downside of associating with the Occupy Movement. I applaud both of you for demonstrating a model exchange, acknowledging where you agree and where you see things differently, and doing so in a constructive manner. Good citizenship.

  10. Carlo- Thank you on behalf of the health of mankind and hope for our children’s clean energy future on this fragile earth. Clean air and water are taken for granted, and the status quo of using brown fuel to secure America’s energy dependence is unrelenting.

    Community generated renewable energy systems has a future in every city in America. We just need to continue pressing forward, learning from each experience, adjusting and improving.

  11. Carlo,

    Thanks for the good PR work. I’m not sure how you got tagged as part of the Occupy movement. But frankly, even if you were, it’s not a problem to me. As one of the 51% referred to by Mr. Peterson, I actually am sympathetic to the Occupy movement. Things aren’t black and white, and the movement, it seems to me, is not asking for handouts as much as a more level playing field.

    I also hope that someone more knowledgeble than I can speak to the point made by Ray Martin. I believe I have heard statistics showing that the PNW is actially a good candidate for solar, because it lacks the searing heat of the southwest that saps the efficiency or solar conversion.

    Carlo — keep up the good work.

  12. @ Ray Martin. Solar water heating technology and it’s efficiency has come a long way in the last 30 years. With the new evacuated tube technology you can have solar hot water almost year round.
    Regarding electric solar power in the Pacific NorthWest:
    “Yes! Solar power works in the Northwest!
    Although higher latitudes receive fewer annual hours of sunlight, solar panels operate at greater efficiency in cooler climates making the Northwest an excellent place for solar. In addition, the Northwest has long summer days with many months of high solar hours. Although the Northwest does have long, overcast winters, solar makes a lot of sense because it still works on cloudy days. Even in areas that have long, rainy winters like Seattle and the greater Puget Sound area, solar power is still a very attractive solution to today’s energy problems. Even though it might not seem like it during the winter, most of the Northwest actually receives up to 70% of the sunlight that Los Angeles does!
    Germany, which actually gets less sunlight than we do here in the Northwest, has installed over 50% of the world’s solar photovoltaic panels and is expecting to be 100% green in its national energy use by 2050. Germany has approximately 10% fewer annual hours of sunlight than Portland and Seattle and most of the country is actually north of the Puget Sound’s latitudes, yet over half of the world’s solar energy is being generated there. If Germany can produce that much solar energy with less sun, there is no reason not to go solar here in the Northwest.
    In addition, Washington has one of the best incentive programs in the country. The incentives make solar more financially attractive here than in the majority of the southern states”

  13. Kudos to Carlo and the Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative. Though living in Everett, my wife and I enthusiastically bought a SunSlice as a means of participating in local renewable energy. (A solar array on our house is out of our price range, though we do have a five year old solar hot water system which countinues producing with almost no maintenance.)

    We hope to see the Solar Co-op replicated in our community in the not-too-distant future. Then maybe we can “Occupy” a few Everett roofs with Washington made solar arrays. That’s what I call job creation!

  14. Ed: Your view of the OWS movement is distorted at best. Clearly some unsavory types have associated themselves with ows. I agree, that’s a bummer. The same can be said of just about any group these days. We have coaches and clergymen raping children in this country! But let’s not throw stones. The ows movement is much larger than a few bad eggs within groups of protesters on the street. They won’t go away until the problems facing this country are addressed in an ongoing fashion.

    Do you think Americans will just forget?:
    -that those responsible for the Wall Street debacle have not been prosecuted
    -that corporations and special interest groups are able to buy government representation thanks to Corporate Personhood
    -that we are dumping billions of dollars and thousands of lives into manufactured conflicts
    -that we continue to subsidize dirty energy at the rate of over 10 billion dollars a year?
    -that we have the highest incarceration rate in the world and untold billions of dollars thanks to the misguided and failed war on drugs
    -etc, etc, etc.

    The movement is strongly supported by the public and for good reason. The one group that gets it wrong also happens to be one of the reasons the ows movement is so important – the media. It’s not difficult to follow the dollar and find that mainstream US news coverage is for entertainment purposes only.

    It’s up to individuals to decide whether they would like to continue like sheep as our way of life needlessly erodes for 99% of us. Personally, I would much rather encourage the OWS in their call for attention, analysis and correction. The current situation cannot be sustained. All of us benefit from increased light on our countries real issues. The media and our government representatives are for all practical purposes bought and owned.

    But please do keep trying to marginalize OWS. The positive change that comes as a result of this action will benefit you either way.

    Ray: Much like solar, computer processors were sub-par in the 80’s too. Good thing we didn’t decide they were a dead end back then. Fortunately for that form of tech, it did not face the same unfair battle that clean energy faces as it competes with the massively subsidized oil and coal industry.

  15. You are right Paul. I can’t believe how wrong and distorted my thought process has become.

    I must have missed the businesses, charities and co-ops piggy backing upon the clergy and teacher rapists to promote their causes.

    You are right about the OWS movement being widely supported by the public. That’s why 300 people out of the whole Seattle metro area showed up to battle with police at the port of Seattle yesterday.

    I’ll do my homework in the future.

    I wish you the best of luck trying to convince people that tactics of OWS are the best way to inspire change.

  16. Excellent keynote speech by Arnold Schwarzenegger when recently honored as the renewable energy leader of the decade. Just as California has become the green energy leader in the country, so can Edmonds and Snohomish County become the green energy leaders in Washington State if enough of us make a committment to making it so. And community solar is a great means to get there right now at the grass roots level. Please join the Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative.

    Here are some excerpts from Arnold’s speech:

    “California is now a remarkable 40% more energy efficient than the rest of the US. If the rest of the US had the same efficiency as California, we could close 75% of our coal-fired power plants.

    Because of our commitment to thinking big, California has consistently moved forward toward a green energy future.

    While other states have been paralyzed and are waiting for a big international agreement, California has been using more and more renewable energy.

    Remember that the biggest movements in history didn’t start at the top. They started at the grassroots level.

    We should work in two directions – from the top down, and from the bottom up. One day, those two approaches will meet in the middle.

    Despite the warnings of naysayers, California’s policies – from tailpipe emissions reductions to the Million Solar Roofs to our historic climate change law, AB 32 – didn’t lead to a new recession. Not at all. In fact, it was just the opposite.

    Today, the brightest spot in California’s economy is our green sector. One-third of U.S. clean tech venture capital flows into California. One in every four solar jobs in the U.S. is in California. A recent report showed that California’s solar industry has doubled over the past five years. California generates more solar power than either France or China.

    It is time for a level playing field for renewable energy and fossil fuels. Let’s treat our energy sources equally and not pick winners. Now, I don’t want to demonize fossil fuels. America got to be where it is today in large part because of those energy sources.

    All I propose – and I am speaking to Congress and to all of the candidates running for president – is that all our energy sources play by the same rules.

    The United States has always invested in developing new sources of energy. From the land grants for timber and coal in the 1800s / to the tax expenditures for oil and gas in the early 20th century / to the federal investment in developing nuclear energy… Support for energy innovation has always been a critical part of the American strategy.

    The tragedy is that somehow we lost our way. We lost our vision. The subsidies given to the U.S. oil and gas industries during their first 15 years of development / in the beginning of the 20th century are 5 times greater than those available to the renewable energy industry now. Why?

    From 2002-2008 fossil fuels got $70 billion and renewables got $12 billion. Why?

    When I see the innovators / entrepreneurs / and the geniuses in this room, I know we can do it. I promise to be your cheerleader and carry our message around the world. I will do everything in my power to make this happen. I won’t stop promoting green energy.

    And from his editorial in the Washington Post:

    Federal support for development of new energy sources is lower today than at any other point in U.S. history, and our government is forcing the ­clean-energy sector into a competitive disadvantage. To bring true competition to the energy market, ensure our national security and create jobs here rather than in China or elsewhere, we must level the playing field for renewable energies. In this presidential primary, Americans need to hear where the candidates stand on this critical issue.

    Renewable energies, however, have not been treated the same way. When the oil, gas and nuclear industries were forming, federal support for those energies totaled as much as 1 percent of federal spending. Subsidies available to the renewables industry today are just one-tenth of 1 percent.

    Federal investment is critical to the success of the renewable energy industry. That’s not a new idea. The same was true for coal, which would not have been economically feasible without tax exemptions and incentives. It was also true for offshore oil drilling, which was deemed unprofitable without royalty waivers and favorable packaging of federal leases.”

  17. Let us all pray that my critics on this subject are indeed correct in their thinking, and not just another foolish followup to the Solyndra disaster! Our country simply cannot afford more of this!

  18. I sense a real note of fear in those that oppose ows and alternative energy, including solar. Not being a social anthropologist I don’t understand where this fear is coming from. Maybe the thought of not having petroleum based fuel makes some folks think there is not a viable replacement makes them this way.
    It is past the time when our world must find sustainable non-polluting energy sources. That means not just solar but tidal, wind and other sources. I have 18 solar panels on my roof and have been enjoying free electricity for a year. Cloudy days are only about 7% less efficient for the panels than are sunny days. We are in the same latitude as Germany which produces 20% of power needs from solar, so the argument that the Pacific Northwest is too cold and cloudy to create solar energy is just not true. Think how free Edmonds would be if every building had panels- we could produce more than enough for our town and provide power for many others in our area. I produce 166% of what I use and get paid in cash for what I put back into the grid. Solar energy is the future, coal and diesel is the past.

  19. “I must have missed the businesses, charities and co-ops piggy backing upon the clergy and teacher rapists to promote their causes.”

    Nobody is piggybacking on the criminal activity involved in OWS. Just as nobody is piggybacking the criminal activity happening in schools and churches. Supporting the positive aspects of a movement does not require supporting the negative outliers. The negative element of OWS is a small subset of a larger group of concerned citizens. I will always support an effort to bypass the broken media and political system in order to affect change for the good of the majority of Americans. Obviously, anyone would prefer it was a cleaner effort, but this will do for now. The good news is that it continually evolving and not currently controlled by a particular special interest group.

    “National polls over October and November 2011 were mixed, with agreement/approval ratings for Occupy Wall Street varying from 59% to 22%, but approval was fairly consistently larger than disapproval, with large numbers often not giving an opinion. The age group that most strongly supports OWS are 50 to 64, rather than under 35. OWS has the strongest support among those making $50,000 to $70,000 a year, rather than under $30,000, with 27% of people making over $75,000 a year backing the movement. Managers and other professionals support the movement more than blue-collar workers, and men over 50 show the strongest support”

  20. Ray, was Solyndra really the disaster some are making it out to be? Looking at the fact’s it’s far too soon to tell.

    – part of the 2009 economic stimulus package Congress approved.
    – The program has $36 billion worth of loans outstanding, about one-third of which are devoted to solar technology.
    – The single largest piece in the DOE loan portfolio is an $8.3 billion loan guarantee to the Georgia Power Co., to back the planned addition of two nuclear reactors at an existing nuclear power plant in Waynesboro, Georgia.
    – Of the program total, $13.3 billion is devoted to loan guarantees for 16 solar enterprises, including Solyndra.
    – $535 million as a percentage of its loan guarantee portfolio it represents 1.4 percent.

    We need to wait and see how the rest of the portfolio plays out. Compare that failure rate to that of the venture capital community. The most optimistic of VCs will tell you that if one in three of their investments succeeds, that would be a home run, and traditionally the success rate is not much better than one in 20 — a 95 percent failure rate.

  21. Imagine this news headline:
    “Edmonds Mayor and all City Council members join solar co-op in support of a clean energy future for Edmonds:
    The newly elected Mayor of Edmonds, Dave Earling , and all the members of the Edmonds City Council have each purchased SunSlices of the Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative and have publicly declared that by doing so they are showing their support and commitment for the clean energy future of Edmonds and it’s community.” We live in Edmonds and were elected by the people of Edmonds. The least we can do is lead by example and show our support in a concrete manner for a clean and independent energy future. We are encouraging all the citizens of Edmonds and other cities in Snohomish County, who are willing and able to, to do likewise.”
    Impossible? Not at all. Community solar is not a political issue. It is simply common sense. People coming together and pooling financial resources to generate local, clean, renewable energy, stimulating the economy, and creating new jobs in our State.

  22. I’m trusting that someone from his circle of friends might suggest it to him. That would be a great way of starting his new job.
    By the way, the maximum number of SunSlices that can be purchased by each individual person is 10.
    Another concept that can be useful for store and business owners who are thinking of joining the solar co-op is that their SunSlices can be seen as a “Carbon Offset”. We can calculate the amount of CO2 that is not released into the atmosphere on a yearly basis per SunSlice, and that can offset the amount of CO2 that their business operation does release into the atmosphere.

  23. Great job, Carlo!

    I heartily endorse your cause (from the warmth of my hotel room in DC), but more importantly, I applaud the positive manner in which you approach making your proposals.
    I bear no ill will to any of your detractors – I believe they are only trying to put out their opinions, but I can find absolutely nothing wrong with endorsing the generation of energy right here in Edmonds, with solar panels made in Washington, and installed by Washington workers.

    The impacts are many-fold:
    – We reduce the amount of energy that has to be imported into Edmonds
    – Reduced energy imports reduce the loading on our electric infrastructure
    – Reduced infrastructure loading means less maintenance, fewer upgrades required, and a more robust system
    – Energy made by solar panels is all paid for up front. This means that the cost of power is a given, not subject to fluctuations in commodity prices or consumer demand. There is certainty, absolute certainty, about the future costs. Having certainty in future expenses frees up “what if” capital for other uses, which can support additional local jobs.
    – “green” power is called green for a reason. While I still hold that energy efficiency efforts have a greater impact, using renewable energy sources is a close second. Reduced pollution improves air quality, and mitigates the global impacts of pollution.
    – and finally, the amount of energy to be generated (we are talking about electricity generation by solar here, not hot water), is a very well-known quantity. Panel performance is known, and our annual sunshine, despite my memory of not having much of a summer last year, is remarkably consistent. So the numbers are not a mystery.

    The idea of having a Solar Co-Op is an important subject as well, as this model lowers the financial hurdle to adopting renewable energy. A full system for my house would cost upwards of $30k. I can’t eat that elephant, but I did save up and buy one slice of the array atop Frances Anderson, and I hope to buy a few more in the near future. People who live in condos and apartments, or who have shady lots, could also get their own part of the Frances Anderson array. Pool our resources as a community, and pool the payback – brilliant!

    Thank you Carlo, for raising community interest, and for your steadfast devotion to positive solutions!

  24. Thank you Todd. Your make some great points about the additional advantages and benefits of expanding the solar energy generation capacity of Edmonds.
    By improving our energy efficiency through weatherization of buildings and homes, more energy efficient appliances, vehicles and machinery ( and other shifts in personal lifestyle habits such as hang drying our clothes in the dryer months of summer and not idling our vehicles unnecessarily), plus increasing our renewable energy production through individual solar system installations (both for electricity and water heating) and community solar, we can vastly reduce the external energy input requirements of our community. All of these are very doable. We just need the commitment of our elected officials and the citizens in general.
    And going back to community solar, and addressing anyone else reading this comment: Please go to and purchase anywhere between 1 and 10 SunSlices so you can help grow and be part of the Community Solar Revolution for a Clean Energy future of Edmonds and Snohomish County. Thank you!

  25. Carlo, Paul and Todd, thank you so much for responding so accurately and effectively.I couldn’t have made the point about the solar resource being relatively good better than Carlo, except maybe to add a footnote. The National Renewable Energy Lab has all the data accessible for comparing insolation resources online at

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