Distributed generation (DG) technologies are defined as a variety of small, modular power-generating technologies that can be combined with energy management and storage systems and used to improve the operation of the electricity delivery system. While useful, this understanding of DG overlooks the social implications embedded in a distributed generation system. The California Energy Commission, for instance, says that DG is electric generation located at or near the intended place of use and can be used as a primary source of electricity, essentially reducing or even eliminating reliance on a utility for the provision of electric service. Considered in this light, DG can facilitate the creation of community-based energy (CBE) systems that would fundamentally reshape the structure of the electricity system and make technological choice an important but hardly dominant issue. Instead, the question of how to power society becomes primarily an issue involving social norms and values, rooted in issues of democratic governance and community empowerment. For local power advocates, community-based energy would also be a major step in bringing about a necessary transition to a more environmentally-benign electricity system. While appealing, the claims offered by CBE advocates are hardly self-evident. That is, there is very little evidence to show that a distributed energy path necessarily requires or even recommends decentralized or participatory decision making, beyond allowing citizens to express an ambiguous and hard to operationalize environmental preference. Nor is it self-evident that more robust and broader forms of public participation will yield more environmentally benign energy decisions. The research described in this presentation tests the validity of the claims offered by CBE advocates and examines the variety of social organizations that are most likely to bring about the transformations envisioned by CBE systems.