Investing in solar energy: follow the unusual example of a Belgian cooperative

By Béatrice Karas on 26 July 2018

It is a first in Belgium! At a time when citizens’ initiatives are mushrooming across Europe , in Mouscron the community energy cooperative COOPEM was launched …. by the municipality!

Meet Emmanuel Fontaine, one of its directors and an energy adviser to the municipality of Mouscron (58,000 inhabitants).

In France and Germany, citizens are often behind the creation of energy cooperatives. How did you come up with the idea for this initiative?

The municipality of Mouscron had been considering ways of making PV installations accessible to its citizens. Thanks to the POLLEC programme, we were able to carry out an alternative financing study for renewable energy projects. That is how the idea of a cooperative came into being.

This initiative also enabled the municipality of Mouscron to meet its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.

Several public meetings, strong involvement by citizens and a partnership with two companies, Energiris and Aralia, led to the establishment of COOPEM on 4th May 2017, once the cooperative’s corporate articles and future lines of action were drawn up.

How does COOPEM operate?

Although it is a municipal initiative, COOPEM’s equity is mainly owned by citizens (55%), 15% being owned by the municipality and 30 % by the two private partners Energiris (a Brussels citizens’ cooperative) and Aralia (a third-party investor in PV projects) providing experience and expertise to COOPEM. Representatives of these three groups of stakeholders are also members of the organisation’s Board.

The cooperative provides two types of packages, for citizens and for local businesses.

Thanks to bulk purchasing and the government’s Qualiwatt subsidy (still in place in the first half of 2018) citizens benefit from a reduction on the cost of the installation, with the COOPEM taking responsibility for the administrative aspects and the work, using local installers to carry it out.
Residents get advice and support throughout the process.
When residents use energy from the grid, their meter runs normally but conversely, when their PV panels generate electricity, the meter runs backwards.

What financing system do you offer to businesses?

You are familiar with “leasing” contracts for cars … the same system can be used for PV installations!
COOPEM asks businesses to pay a 10% fee as a contribution to the cost of the installation, with savings on the electricity bill rapidly paying back the investment (2 to 3 years). After 10 years, ownership of the panels passes to the company which then derives the full benefit from the energy savings.

What is the situation one year after setting up COOPEM?

After one year in operation, COOPEM has installed almost 90 PV units, the 3rd wave ending in June 2018. Public awareness is increasing and word of mouth is much more efficient than advertising campaigns, but now COOPEM has to face a new challenge with the end of the Qualiwatt subsidy offered by the government to all households planning to install new PV panels on 30th June 2018.

The example of Mouscron is part of a collection of best practices on the deployment of renewable energy in Europe. Read more about them on:

Mouscron signed the Covenant of Mayors in 2012 and has been a member of Energy Cities since 2013.

More information about the COOPEM on our website

©photos: coopem

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