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Community energy: From buzzword to paradigm change?

By Alix Bolle on 3 November 2016

“Energy citizens”, “community power” and “energy democracy” have all become buzzwords EU policy makers and representatives make repeated use of across their power point presentations, keynote addresses, twitter accounts and the like. But what is the gap between statement of intent and actual legislative change? Between the nice acknowledgement that “citizens should be at the core of the energy union”, and the expectation for a definition of the community energy concept in the renewables directive due end of this month, can we expect a turning point for cooperative energy projects?


Photo credit: World Future Council

According to political intelligence gathered by Energy Cities, the enabling policy and regulatory framework for community energy projects is far from being secured. Among the set of legislative proposals planned in the “winter package”, new provisions in the Market Design Initiative could pose a specific threat to citizen and community projects if, as the Guardian reports, the Commission decides to phase out priority access to the electricity grid for renewable energy installations. In a coalition meeting Energy Cities attended last month, Dirk Vansintjan from REScoop - the European association of renewable energy cooperatives - basically said such a move would put into question the business model of cooperatives. And as if that were not bad enough, an impact assessment mandated by the Commission itself also found that it would increase carbon emissions by up to 10%.

Beyond this particular stumbling block, Energy Cities is working hard within the community energy coalition to ensure that Europe designs an energy market where citizens and cooperatives can participate actively without being discriminated against by incumbent operators or having to compete on an unfair basis with large suppliers. According to a study commissioned by the community energy coalition, about half of European citizens could produce their own energy by 2050 if they were given the appropriate framework. If the EU wants to reaffirm its leading position on the climate arena and become “number one in renewables”, it might be a sensible idea to count on the support of is citizens and communities!

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