Belgian pensioner Bernadette Vandercammen is one of an increasing number of Europeans paying less for energy because she belongs to one of Belgium local energy cooperatives. Cooperatives have become increasingly popular as the energy crunch hits consumers.
Vandercammen’s provider, Ecopower, supplies households at production cost topped up by grid fees and taxes, as well as the cost of running itself, Reuters reports. Set up in 1991, Ecopower is now Belgium’s biggest energy cooperative, with wind turbines and solar panels producing 80 million kWh last year and providing electricity to some 55,000 households.
A household using 2,000 kWh per year pays about 570 euros per year at Ecopower – half of the cheapest commercial provider. Members can buy a maximum of 20 shares at 250 euros each, get dividends capped at 6% from surplus sales and co-decide on where to invest next. But high demand has forced it to stop accepting new members for now.
About 40 energy cooperatives supply power to some 2% of Belgium’s households, but for that number to grow, laws that facilitate a move towards a more decentralized energy model are needed, said Oscar Guell of REScoop.
REScoop is a federation of 1,900 European citizen energy cooperatives representing more than 1.25 million citizens who are involved in creating their own energy, either as members, investors or customers of community energy cooperatives. By 2050, that could be as many as 260 million people, generating up to 45% of Europe’s electricity, REScoop says.
Community energy is a system where citizens produce their own renewable power and share the proceeds amongst the community. The cooperative installs a renewable power system, such as solar panels. All members can buy the energy, share in the profits, and collectively decide where to invest and how to set prices.
On the Italian island of Sardinia, Ussaramanna mayor Marco Sideri invited the local community to a meeting to discuss a plan to put photovoltaic panels on a local school in January 2021. Residents were astounded to learn that every household was likely to make €130 a year from power sold to the grid. Within three months, 55 households and five local businesses had signed up.
Some of the energy Patagonia uses in its European shops and offices is bought directly from community energy providers in Italy, Germany, Ireland and France. “We know that the predominant model of big energy companies and fossil fuel production must be changed if Europe is to have any chance of getting to the net zero CO2 emissions level required by 2050, in order to stabilize climate change at 1.5°C,” it says.
REScoop helps energy cooperatives to implement cities’ sustainable energy and climate action plans. They share best practices from energy cooperatives around Europe. Their guide to reclaiming power, produced with Friends of the Earth and Patagonia, is available in nine languages.
Renovating homes and buildings is part of creating energy efficient communities, Rescoop says, and citizen energy cooperatives are starting to offer renovation services to their members and communities.
Thirty-three of the Belgian coops have come together in SeaCoop, a cooperative society established by Belgian energy cooperatives to let citizens participate in new offshore wind projects planned in the North Sea.
Community energy is a solution to the eye-watering rise in energy bills – here’s how Sardinia did it. Euronews Green, Aug. 12, 2022
Italy’s Renewable Energy Communities Fight Energy Poverty, And Climate Change. Next City, Mar. 15, 2023