It is one of the great promises of the sun and wind as an energy source. Because this energy can be generated decentralized, on each person’s roof, garden or pasture, revenues from solar panels and wind turbines can more easily benefit local residents.
The energy transition can ensure greater self-sufficiency and less dependence on large multinational corporations and governments. There are now about 600 energy cooperatives in the Netherlands, with citizens often generating their own energy.
But one Norwegian Refugee Council-Search in Birkeland municipality A dilemma appears. Belgians, Germans, Chinese, Portuguese – they all profit from solar energy in Birkeland. The profits from the solar energy it produces do not go to the municipality and its residents, but to external parties. The landscape is full of solar panels, but if you ask many residents and local officials, they would rather get rid of them.
It’s an example of what not to do. Yes, the plans seemed sympathetic at first: a cooperative created by residents would ensure that Berkeley residents would work together and gain from the energy transition. But it turned out that the conditions and legal protections for the cooperative were so weak that it could quickly fall prey to investors without regard to local interests. “It’s been said in effect: ‘Just come to Birkeland and we’ll see,’” councilor Paul Knofers said last week. Norwegian Refugee Council.
Surely it could be done differently. This is demonstrated by many other energy cooperatives that succeed in returning a significant portion of the proceeds to the community. Take Enerzjy Koöperaasje Garyp. Thanks to legal construction, it has been arranged that the profits from the Frisian energy cooperative’s solar panels will be spent locally. For example, the tennis club was able to obtain LED lights, the Skûtsje Museum Earnewâld received a donation for sustainability, and a bee meadow was created. In recent years, more local initiatives have been able to rely on financial support, which is paid for by solar panels. The cooperative also runs “Enerzjyhûs”, a kind of store for all the sustainability questions residents have. They keep the big money out so they can continue to invest money in the neighborhood.
The contrast between Gariep and Birkeland shows that energy cooperatives deserve more space and more protection from local and regional governments. The idea of energy cooperatives is worth pursuing for its great promise for energy transformation, but too much naivety may lead communities to sell their natural spaces to parties who have no interest in local interests.
In this regard, it is hoped that many election manifestos will contain ideas about energy cooperatives. The VVD wants to “amend the laws and regulations” so that it becomes easier to set up a cooperative. Parties from the BBB to the NSC to Volt want more space for community initiatives. GroenLinks-PvdA wants to make “50 percent local ownership of renewable electricity on land” mandatory.
This will be a balancing act in the coming years: on the one hand, governments can do more to facilitate community initiatives such as energy cooperatives, and on the other hand, they must provide adequate guarantees and guidance. This largely determines the success of the transition process.
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