The path to a more environmentally and socially just future is a complex one with the need to change the way we generate and use energy at the heart of it. In this article, we showcase 3 stories of local municipalities that are seeing great results by taking an energy democracy approach to their systems.
Renewable energy is vital as we move to eliminate the burning of fossil fuels and bring our greenhouse gas emissions as close to zero as possible. But replacing large, fossil fuel-based systems with large renewable energy ones could mean that we recreate many of the issues and injustices that we are currently facing in the present system.
Instead, we can shift our focus to energy democracy; publicly owned and managed systems that work in the interest of the communities they serve rather than generating profit for shareholders.
Below are three stories of different municipalities in Europe that are adopting energy democracy approaches successfully. You can read more about them as well as others via the mPOWER website.
With a population of 235,000, Tampere is the third-largest city in Finland. As a town, it sees very little sunlight and reaches temperatures well below zero. For this reason, public lighting and heating are of the utmost importance for its residents.
Through EcoFellows, the Tampere Energy and Sustainability Agency, it is also becoming an energy transition front runner as it aims to be carbon-neutral by 2030 and has already outlined a plan to reduce its emissions by 80%.
The agency is setting up cooperatively owned and run biogas co-ops in order to produce energy through food and agriculture by-products. Local farmers and citizens will be involved in supplying the by-products and will democratically control the way the plants are run.
Since the town requires so much light and heating, reducing carbon emissions has been a challenge but EcoFellows has worked to connect most buildings to a district heating and cooling network and invested in renewable energy to do so. There is also a big push for making buildings more energy-efficient and building owners are required to submit renovation plans for the next 5 years. They receive support through the local energy advice service (RANE) and have already managed to increase their energy efficiency by up to 30%.
The municipalities of Palma Campania, San Giuseppe Vesuviano and Striano in Southern Italy have developed the joint 2030 strategy Action Plan for Sustainable Energy and Climate (PAESC Vesuviano) which is rooted in energy efficiency and climate change adaptation with real citizenship engagement at its core.
They are in the process of setting up energy communities to tackle energy poverty in the area through locally generated renewable energy. Citizens, residents, enterprise and industry representatives, hospitals, shopping centres and public buildings will have the opportunity to produce and manage their own renewable energy. They can use this for themselves, sell it to the country’s energy grid or store it for later use. This will ensure more energy security at lower costs and, of course, much less greenhouse gas emissions.
Križevci, a municipality in Croatia with a population of around 21,000 people is the first Croatian city to have successfully crowdfunded a renewable energy project; a solar power plant that was inaugurated in 2018. Its 50 kilowatts capacity will save around 55 tonnes of CO2 every year and will be used to power a local business centre as well as feed electricity into the municipal grid.
It is a project that was kicked off by the energy cooperative Zelena Energetska Zadruga (ZEZ, or Green Energy Cooperative in English) who, together with Križevci’s municipal administration, held public information sessions and promoted the project in order to gain adequate citizen support. After just ten days, the people crowdfunded the €30,000 investment needed for a loan to make the project a reality. The power plant will be fully owned by the municipality in just ten years.
Križevci has also been very active in tackling its energy poverty problem. In 2016, it launched a pilot project which trained 13 long-term unemployed residents as energy advisors who were then able to help households struggling with energy poverty. They supplied them with equipment such as LED bulbs, window seals and extensions to save water as well as advised them on energy-saving behaviours. The 508 households that were visited have since saved around €70 annually each which has also meant 16,519 tonnes of CO2 emissions reduction every year.
These stories are perfect examples of how municipalities can achieve big changes in the quality of life of their citizens as well as tackle the climate crisis through real and effective citizen engagement and democratic processes.