Introduction to Community Power

Definition

 

Renewable energy projects can be developed by different ownership models, which leads to vastly different results. Currently various definitions of community ownership are being used around the world. In this projet, community ownership is focused on the objective of using the income generated by renewable energy projects to benefit the residents of local communities, i.e. the main objective is achieving the common good. In contrast, the main objective of commercial ownership models is to generate private profit.

According to those definitions, for-profit companies −including local cooperatives (guilds)− are categorised as commercial owners, whereas non-profit local cooperatives, municipal companies and community foundations are considered community owners. It is important to highlight that renewables for individual use are not considered as community owned.

 

Community Power of Renewable Energy Projects

 

  • Community ownership of renewable energy projects reduces electricity prices for consumers, supports local development, promotes energy democracy and increases local acceptance.
  • Excess power has to be handled by integration of electricity, heat/cool, gas and transportation systems in order to reduce the merit-order-effect and the use of fuels that can be stored and emit greenhouse gasses.
  • Achieving local acceptance is of extreme relevance for consumers and environment.
  • Distribution of benefits of renewable energy projects through local development is a must to achieve local acceptance.
  • National and local governments should support community ownership for renewable energy projects.
  • Authorities should designate areas for renewable energy installations with community ownership and determine requirements of community benefits for commercial energy projects.

 

Energy Democracy

 

Renewable energy is growing fast. Technological development and support strategies have advanced promising solutions. However, to continue sustained growth it is imperative to develop          community-focused organisational and support structures. Profit-driven development can be a workable procedure in the pioneering stage of implementation, but for achieving a long-lasting renewable energy society local residents must be the foundational focus of renewable energy projects.

Communities that live nearby renewable energy projects too often have been left apart and their needs and interests have been neglected to maximise the benefits of investors −sometimes even when projects are part of local cooperatives− leading to strong local opposition to renewable energy.

It is time to start developing all renewable energy projects in a democratic way to ensure local community support and the maximisation of local benefits. This project promotes a refocus of the current energy system in favour of citizens, local communities and environmental protection. To achieve a quantum leap in renewable energy, which is imperative to solve climate change, we need renewable energy ownership models that favour local communities.

 

Local Acceptance

 

Most people realize the liabilities of climate change are vast and are therefore supportive of renewable energy solutions. However, at the local level a growing movement refuses to have renewable energy installations near their homes. In many areas around the world local protests are preventing the development of renewable energy –especially onshre wind power and biogas- which ensures that fossil fuels continue to be burnt allowing climate change to grow.

Many local residents opposing renewable energy projects cite impacts in their surrounding environment as a reason to stop the projects. However, evidence shows that arguments based in aesthetics, noise and other local impacts are not the main reasons for opposition. For example in Hvide Sande (Denmark), wind turbine projects faced strong local opposition and were cancelled in the past but recent projects have been fully accepted by the same residents that opposed them –even though the new wind projects use bigger machines and have similar technical characteristics to those wind projects that were originally rejected. Read more about Hvide Sande

The key to addressing opposition and increasing community support is local ownership of reneable energy energy initiatives using a development approach that clearly shares the benefits of projects throughout the local community. This is community ownership.

 

Community Development

 

Often when we speak about renewable energy projects supporting local development we refer to the creation of new jobs (usually related to the construction and maintenance of the installations) or, less frequently, to economic benefits for shareholders of local cooperatives. However, renewable energy projects can do much more for the development of the local communities where they are installed.

Practical experience shows that renewable energy projects can support local development when appropriate ownership models are applied. Community ownership models reinvest the income generated from selling renewable energy to satisfy the needs of local communities −e.g. through improvement of infrastructure, creation of new jobs, finance for local schools in rural areas, to take care of elder and/or ill people, to address poverty and limited energy access, to provide support for local organisations, for environmental projects, local public e-transport, etc. In short, to provide benefits not just for a few investors but for everybody in the community so they can all see renewable energy as a local improvement.

Rural regions, with the lowest per capita income and high rates of exodus to urban areas, can significantly benefit from the new income stream of renewable energies, as the case of Hvide Sande shows. Strong local support of community ownership models is essential for the growth of renewable energy to its full potential worldwide.