A Cooperative Helping Hand

As Europe, much like the rest of the world, is undergoing a radical shift from a fossil to a renewable energy mix, the status quo is shaken. New power structures and actor coalitions are emerging which require renewed critical analyses and attentiveness. (Renewable) Energy is still treated as a commodity, powerful oligopolist lobbies are carving out new frontiers of profit extraction, whilst rampant social and ecological abuses are being recorded across global renewables supply chains. But the future of energy is still contested.

Millions of citizens, organized in thousands of cooperatives and community structures, are seeking to change the energy system from the bottom up. Following the 2018 Clean Energy for all Europeans Package, the EU has finally given institutional backing to community energy. This has bolstered the community energy movement in the continent both in countries with a long history of energy cooperatives (like Germany or Denmark), as well as in countries which are only now beginning to experiment with these structures (like Greece or Albania).

In the spirit of mutual solidarity and following the 6th cooperative principle (cooperation among cooperatives) the Portuguese cooperative Coopérnico, has recently helped finance one of the first not-for-profit solar energy communities in Greece, Hyperion, through the crowd-investment platform Genervest, powered by Greenpeace Greece. Interestingly, Coopérnico itself was set up through the help of another energy cooperative from Belgium. This practically signifies that community energy groups can work towards a clean, just and decentralized energy system, even in the absence of governmental support. It also goes to show that even when traditional institutions turn their back on energy communities (as was the case with for-profit banks and Hyperion), new institutions like Genervest can address this ensuing critical gap.

Following the transposition deadline of the Clean Energy Package by the end of June 2021, most EU Member-States are still in the process of creating enabling frameworks for community energy. Even in countries that created a progressive framework early on, such as in Greece (law 4513/2018), energy communities still lack adequate support measures and face insurmountable legal, financial and political barriers, as well as continuous backlash and cooptation from powerful market actors. In lieu of a coordinated, institutional backing energy communities are organizing in national and trans-national networks of solidarity. A characteristic example is Rescoop.eu, the European federation of energy cooperatives, which facilitates the transfer of capacity and resources between citizen energy groups.

As the (renewable) energy transition accelerates, energy cooperatives must seize this unique window of opportunity and keep organizing in these networks of mutual solidarity. And this does not just mean financial support, but also capacity building, collective visioning, political advocacy and conflict-resolution. We must present an alternative to the aggressive commodification of renewable energy; this is the only way to ensure that the clean energy transition will be truly just.