Jonathan Scott’s new documentary focuses on the fight for clean energy, but the Property Brother’s star says the filming process was surprisingly emotional. Below, Scott, 42, details how he got the idea for Jonathan Scott’s Power Trip which premieres on PBS’s Independent Lens on November 16 at 10/9c, and why he hopes his film can help make real change.
People: How did you first get the idea for the documentary?
Scott: Years ago, I was putting solar on my home in Vegas because I thought it was the right thing to do for the environment. I didn’t really know a lot about solar, but the install was straightforward. However, the local utility had all of these crazy rules that limited how much solar I could install and how long it would take to activate. It seemed frustrating and unnecessary. Eventually, I got the system activated, and not long after the local utility managed to convince the public utilities commission to end net metering in Nevada, which essentially put all the solar companies out of business. That was the “holy beep” moment for me. I immediately dug in and started researching, hired a researcher to work with me and that’s when I realized other states had it even worse. There was a concerted effort to stifle solar innovation and prevent people from harnessing the power of the sun for themselves. Fortunately, in Nevada there was a big uproar and we won back our net metering rights, for now. But they seem to keep trying different tactics all over the country so they can keep control.
People: At what point did you decide to take action?
Scott: When I discovered that these fossil fuel utilities were intentionally pumping out misinformation and doing all of these shady things to hold onto their profits, that’s when I decided to pull the curtain back. Especially when I found out that the negative effects of fossil fuel impact low-income communities that do not have the political or financial means to fight back the most.
People: What were your first steps?
Scott: It’s funny, I initially hired a researcher and thought, oh, eventually I want to do some social media videos or something. But the more we uncovered, the more I realized that this is a film that needs to be seen. And it morphed into more of a journey and a human story because of all the people I interviewed across the country — from coal miners in Kentucky, to farmers in Georgia, to a single mom in DC, and even the people of the Navajo Nation. They all wanted the same thing. They want to leave this planet healthier for their children and grandchildren, and they want to ensure that their communities are not struggling. Well right now, with the ever-rising costs of energy and the human health effects from fossil fuels . . . we need to stop arguing, stop letting for-profit companies dictate our legislation that ends up being for their benefit, and we need to take a stand. I had doors slammed in my face, I had very notable politicians booked for interviews in Washington for a good month. And when I landed and was headed to the hotel an hour before the first interview, several senators and congresspeople called and canceled their meetings as they did not want to be a part of the film. That was disappointing, but only made we want to dig deeper and fight harder.
People: How long did the project take you?
Scott: I filmed the documentary for more than three years. Over that time, there were some maddening rollbacks in the protections put in place surrounding pollution and greenhouse gases. But there have also been many incredible stories of hope. There are dozens of cities in the country that are already 100% on renewable energy. The cost of solar panels has plummeted, and now that it’s good for business, you do see a lot of utilities that are investing in utility-scale solar. The old myths are busted, this film sheds light on what’s really happening, and I think people will finally stand up and say they’ve had enough.
People: How is this type of work different from Property Brothers?
Scott: On one hand, it’s completely different—I’m not interviewing senators and congresspeople on Property Brothers: Forever Home, after all. But on the other hand, it is an extension of what we try to do on our shows, which is to create a home that people love, and that reflects their values. There are a lot of people who would love to create their own electricity, have that energy independence and do it in a better way for the environment, and yet they can’t. It would be like if Drew and I told a homeowner that they couldn’t paint a room a certain color simply because we didn’t like it.
People: Do you have plans to do more?
Scott: Oh, for sure. I’m a really curious person—Drew and I both are—and we have lots of interests and questions about all kinds of topics that we’d like to explore. This particular issue matters a lot to me because it’s both critical to our future and easily solvable if we put the good of everyone ahead of the profits of a few.
People: What did you learn about yourself throughout the process?
Scott I already knew this about myself, but I don’t respond well to bullying. I never have. When I spoke with people in neighborhoods that had been polluted and endangered by utility companies and then was told they would charge those same residents for the cleanup, that really made my blood boil. Everyone deserves the opportunity to live in a safe, healthy community without the fear that some giant company will poison them and make them pay to fix it.
People: What do you hope people take away from the film?
Scott: That we can win. Voters in Florida were able to see through the misleading statements of the utility companies to reject a constitutional amendment that would have ended solar net metering there. Utility companies might have the money, but the people have the power and the voice to fight back and win. I have even included a lot of practical steps people can take no matter where they are on my website at powertriptruth.com.