Policy brief: BU(E)RGER ENERGY

By Claire Roumet on 8 February 2018

by Claire Roumet, Executive Director of Energy Cities

No, it is not a cheesy offer from the latest trendy burger restaurant. It is German for “energy community organisations”, which have made the reputation and success of the energy transition in Germany. How many times have we heard that for the transition to be acceptable and accepted it must be based on citizen participation as in Denmark and Germany?

In her novel Unterleuten, German author and essayist Juli Zeh cuttingly depicts the advent of wind turbines in a village south of Berlin. For the Mayor, it is manna from heaven that will pay for the crèche and basic local public services from the taxes on the electricity produced. There are also the bird lover, who opposes everything on principle, the capitalist from the West who sees in them a source of extra revenue after having bought up half the agricultural land in the area, and a whole series of characters caught between envy and outrage. Not to mention the representative from the Ministry who, using the argument of the necessary implementation of the Paris agreement, will have the turbines erected where the government wants them to be, no matter what. Once in place, the turbines will change the balance of power between the inhabitants, and there will be winners and losers.

And this is precisely where we stand today: the energy transition is already arousing suspicions whereas it could be a powerful driver for social cohesion and for converting local areas. Suspicions that the same old players will be the only ones to benefit. Today in Germany, community projects « Bürgerenergie » are much criticised and have lost the confidence of citizens. Large producers have been smart enough to take advantage of the lack of clarity in the definition of community projects to propose packages, including having their own employees play “local citizens” , which ensure they will win bids. Once the main driver behind the transition, energy cooperatives are now losing ground.

This trend has a strong impact on the EU negotiations of the “Clean energy for all” package, which, precisely, seeks to define “local energy communities”. To thwart the offensive of the large groups, some German MPs would like to restrict the definition to municipally-owned companies, or Stadtwerke. But they too are part of the conventional group of players. In many countries, the emergence of hybrid stakeholders – a unique alliance of citizens and local authorities that creates new relationships between players as well as new forms of local governance – will only be able to transform the energy systems if these partnerships are legally recognised (and therefore protected).

This month, the European Parliament’s Energy Committee will adopt its position on the regulation of the electricity market. The mandate of the Parliament for the future negotiations with the Commission and the European Council must be crystal clear: Yes, local players need to be supported and to do so, a clear definition and recognition of “energy communities” is more vital than ever. So as the means that could be allocated to them in the EU Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) post 2020.

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Events to come
EU Sustainable Energy Week
From 17 to 21 June

Covenant of Mayors training on project financing
Monday 17 June

Capacity-building workshop - Providing energy retrofit packages to private homeowners – business models and project implementation
Wednesday 19 June

10 years of ELENA - Supporting investments in energy efficiency and sustainable transport
Thursday 20 June 15:30-18:30

Designing smart and efficient energy policies with citizens
Friday 21 June 13:30-16:30

Rénovation énergétique des bâtiments et ensembles d’immeubles - Voyage d’étude, région de Lille
From 25 to 26 June

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