How we won a climate game-changer
A new horizon is opening for energy
ownership and democracy in Europe. After a five-year-long campaign for
community energy, pioneered by Friends of the Earth Europe, communities and
households have won new EU rights to generate, consume and sell their own
This golden nugget is hidden amidst an otherwise mixed,
jumbo-package of EU legislation on clean
energy. The legislation lifts some major constraints hampering community
renewable energy in many EU countries. If put fully into practice, these new
rights could help unleash a more diverse, democratic and decentralised
renewable energy system. This could be a game-changer for Europe’s fossil-free
energy transformation - and the climate.
1. Why fight for energy democracy?
Our current profit-driven energy system
is in the hands of big energy
companies that are keeping us hooked on a high-consumption, fossil-fueled
economy. The growth of renewables so far, though
significant, has not been enough to stop the rise in fossil fuel use. To
prevent climate breakdown, we need to break free of the power of the fossil
fuel industry - which means putting energy in the hands of communities.
All over Europe, this decentralised
revolution has started. Europe now has 2,500 renewable energy cooperatives. In
Germany, 1.5 million citizens generate electricity on their roofs - helping to
make German citizen energy Europe’s 14th biggest energy
‘retailer’. Cities, citizens, and communities have
been at the cutting edge of renewable energy for years - investing in renewable
generation, energy storage, and energy savings solutions to reduce their
consumption. But it needs to grow massively.
Community and citizen energy bring
diverse benefits. Not only are these projects cutting carbon emissions, they
have solidarity as a central value, often involving disadvantaged members of
their communities. When people get involved in determining their energy, they
make the choice that is best for their community and the planet: they save
energy, fight energy poverty, and invest in renewable solutions. They are
showing us the way forward.
However, these projects have in recent
years faced growing obstacles. This is why, since 2013, Friends of the Earth
has been putting all of our strength behind this movement.
2. What we won
Buried within the EU’s ‘clean energy package’
that has just wrapped up, are laws that acknowledge the special value of
EU lawmakers have recognised the
benefits of community energy for green job creation, community development,
local value creation, energy savings, energy poverty alleviation, and promoting
renewable energy. And they have put in empowering measures to help communities
unlock the potential.
The laws grant rights for all Europeans
and communities to set up their own energy projects, and to consume, store and
sell the energy they produce. They require countries to assess any legal and
administrative obstacles that prevent their development - and to start
dismantling them. This is a huge step for countries where community power has
in recent years been hindered by backwards laws, like in Spain or Poland.
Now, everyone in principle has the means
to participate in the energy revolution we need.
3. How we won
With big energy, vested fossil fuel
interests and political inertia blocking our way, this community power victory
is no small feat - and could never have been won alone.
What started off as a small fringe
voice, ended up becoming well recognised fact - and now established law. We
knew that the big 2030 clean energy package that emerged from the European
Commission in 2016 a year after the Paris climate agreement, would be a key
opportunity to win political backing for citizen and community renewable energy
solutions - and to lift some of the many obstacles in their way. People power,
collective organising, cooperation, and persistence were what allowed us to
In Friends of the Earth Europe, we have
been working tirelessly with our network of
national members, to engage energy cooperatives, municipalities, cities,
renewables developers, environmental and social organisations, researchers,
engaged individuals and trade unions to discuss energy ownership.
A first step was awareness. Many people
in Europe still do not know what community renewable energy is, and there are
great differences in context across the continent. There still is a perception
that community projects are only a small part of the solution. A lot of our job
was simply to share stories and knowledge, to spread the word.
A second step was building a movement.
Our work involved building bridges to new organisations, getting more people in
the room to start thinking about how to make the energy transition happen. Our
coalition brought together many diverse organisations, and together, we
imagined the future we want.
Finally, thanks to the publicity, policy
advocacy and networks we generated with allies in Brussels and across Europe -
despite the resistance of some governments - we were able to build support for
community energy at each step of the way.
Our work will not stop. The energy
revolution will not be won overnight.
Having won this huge legal step, a new
chapter of our campaign must open, to spread the news, and ensure every EU
country makes the most of these new possibilities and puts them into practice.
We need to educate ourselves,
communities and build people power to make it happen. This is crucial, long
term work, that we need to keep scaling up, with our member groups all over
Europe and in partnership with our allies.
Climate change impacts are getting
worse, but the movement to halt this crisis is also gaining strength. The only thing
we have to fear is hopelessness.