European community energy groups could be on the cusp of some big-wins

On 20 May 2016, the great and the good of community energy came from across Europe to San Sebastian for the General Assembly of REScoop – the European...

On 20 May 2016, the great and the good of community energy came from across Europe to San Sebastian for the General Assembly of REScoop – the European federation of renewable energy co-operatives. I was privileged to attend in my role as sustainability adviser to Co-operative Energy, who are full members of REScoop.

The meeting was not short of inspiration given it took place at the high-tech, zero-carbon Orona Foundation campus, which is part of the famous Mondragon federation of worker co-operatives.

The Spanish setting coloured proceedings further still given that no country has blown quite so hot and cold on renewable energy: not only have feed-in tariffs been curtailed going forward, a retroactive cap has been imposed that means people now get paid half of what the feed-in tariff had promised, leaving thousands of families in ruin.

But the resilience of community energy organisations in Spain has been remarkable. Som energia has continued to grow (to 35,000 customers), although it no longer pays any returns on share capital and instead offers access to green energy and reduced prices for a €100 investment. In the Basque region, goiener co-op and I-ENER are emerging; whilst in Valencia, Cooperativa Electrica de Alginet has secured 18,000 customers, has its own grid and is an exemplar of smart meter use.

The United Nations’ COP21 conference on climate change took place from 30 November to 11 December 2015
The United Nations’ COP21 conference on climate change took place from 30 November to 11 December 2015

The need for resilience at the level national level was a theme throughout the Assembly, but so was the need for collaboration at a European level. REScoop and its members are now progressing a range of projects together: everything from CITYnvest (which focuses on supporting and replicating successful innovative financing models for energy efficiency renovations in public buildings) through to Nobel Grid (which aims to develop, deploy and evaluate advanced tools and ICT services for distribution grid operators, production co-operatives and medium-sized retailers) and REScoop Plus (which will develop energy savings as a new activity for renewables co-operatives).

A collective co-operative voice is now even making real headway in the corridors of power in Brussels and Strasbourg, where there is much to play for as the EU’s Energy Union and Energy Market Reforms progress.

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Working with REScoop, Co-operative Energy and others have been providing evidence at both the European Parliament and European Commission on the impact and opportunity of community energy.

In a significant development, the recent EU consultation on a new renewable energy directive (REDII) for the period 2020-2030 suggested that community energy support should be much more central to any emerging strategy.

Then in March, an EU analysis of views submitted to the REDII consultation singled out the significant participation of energy co-operatives, and noted that: “the vast majority of replies (84%) support stronger EU rules guaranteeing that consumers have the possibility to produce and store their own renewable heat and electricity and participate in all relevant energy markets in a non-discriminatory and simple way, including through aggregators.” 

Furthermore: “involving the general public through investments and co-ownership (e.g. co-operatives) is also widely mentioned as a driver to increase public acceptance alongside decreasing costs of renewable energy technology.”

The highs and lows of community energy across Europe

Perhaps most encouraging of all was the fact that the European Commission sent a representative from DG Energy to attend and address the REScoop event. It was pointed out how the EU has moved from having a treaty that says nothing on energy to a position wherein they are now looking to develop an Energy Union and integrated EU-wide energy market.

Moreover, the vision for this EU Energy Union includes the aspiration of: “citizens taking ownership of the energy transition.” We were informed that DG Energy is now drafting a new Renewable Energy Directive for the consideration of EU Commissioners, the European Parliament and member states and that they anticipate it will empower consumers and remove administrative barriers. They also want to see:

  • Definitions progressed of prosumers and energy communities
  • A citizen right to generate and store
  • Continued access to feed-in tariffs as opposed to feed-in premiums
  • A waiver of the balancing obligation of energy co-operatives.

All of which is wonderfully welcome, but will require community energy groups to lobby their national governments to ensure such provisions are supported and taken forward. At this stage they are merely emerging draft proposals.

The collective might of the hundreds of thousands of community energy members could be brought together to lobby for good and effect real change

In other developments, excitement was generated by the pending launch of Citizenergy – a new cross-Europe crowdfunding web-portal that brings together seven platforms from six countries (including the UK’s Abundance).

There was even talk of a movie! Polish producer Adam Dzienis is looking to develop a film to highlight the vital and thriving contribution of co-operative energy across the continent, with Human Energy soon to launch a crowdfund of its own on Indiegogo.

All in all, there was a palpable sense of optimism at the sector’s prospects – especially if the collective might of the hundreds of thousands of community energy members could be brought together to lobby for good and effect real change.

  • Paul Monaghan is sustainability adviser to Co-operative Energy
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