Recent geopolitical tensions, and its culmination in end of February 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine, confronted us with soaring gas, oil and electricity prices and more people in energy poverty than ever. The EU’s response is encouraging – but leads to no solution if it doesn’t act beyond the energy sector. Lasting peace and stability requires a step change in the way we do business. If competition is the beginning of any war, our long-term response is a more cooperative society and economy.
EUROPE’S ENERGY CRISIS – CITIZENS AND BUSINESSES ARE SUFFERING
For the EU, in addition to the human tragedy, the impacts are evident particularly in the energy sector. It is clear that our dependence on Russian gas and other external energy sources is making us feel the impact of geopolitical crises in our own homes. For many households, the energy bill has doubled or tripled over the past months, creating an important financial strain.
A WAKE-UP CALL FOR THE EU
Coming on top of the climate crisis, the Ukraine war is forcing the EU to rethink how we ensure our energy supply. The EU rightfully wants to speed up its response, and we agree that renewable energy is crucial for it to become a success.
Though, it is important to remember that it is in times of crisis that the spirit of ‘cooperativism’ comes alive and citizens come together to tackle problems in solidarity.
For REScoop.eu – the European federation of citizen energy cooperatives - this crisis also shows that if we want peace and stability for the EU and the world, we need to go beyond thinking of this issue as a geopolitical one.
In the words of Maria Montessori: “Everyone talks about peace, but no one educates for peace. In this world, we educate for competition, and competition is the beginning of any war. The day we educate to cooperate and owe each other solidarity, we will be educating for peace.”
When looking at the energy sector, this means: Renewable energy production and its returns should be largely in hands of local stakeholders, privately by individuals or collectively by energy communities. Across the EU, more than 4 000 bottom-up initiatives show the way. The EU has taken some great first steps in supporting such an effort, via the revised energy Directives of the Clean Energy for all Europeans Package and revised State Aid Guidelines.
TRANSITION TO ENERGY DEMOCRACY – REPOWEREU FOR ENERGY CITIZENS
If we are going to take switching off Russian gas seriously, we need to make sure that Russian fossil energy doesn’t simply get replaced with someone else’s fossil fuels. Much more ambition and political vision for rolling out renewables and energy savings is needed in the Commission’s recently published REPowerEU Communication. That is where citizens come in.
We would like to propose a REPowerEU for energy citizens.
At its centre, the EU needs to define local renewable energy ownership as a matter of security of energy supply. Our Plan consists of a number of actions the EU and Member States should take to empower local public authorities, citizens and community initiatives to take ownership and responsibility in the face of today’s challenge – which is to accelerate the phaseout of all imports of fossil gas, while replacing it with renewable energy.
1. Locally owned renewable energy production should be encouraged and supported
Local communities that can secure renewable energy production are able to shield themselves from the impacts of high wholesale electricity and gas prices and volatility. If we want to ensure consumer-owned suppliers can set up a sustainable business model, ownership of production is precondition.
2. Ensure full implementation of the Clean Energy Package’s provisions on renewable energy communities
Full implementation of existing EU legislation on renewable energy communities will be a precondition for empowering citizens to achieve their full potential in contributing to Europe’s move away from fossil gas.
3. Prioritise access to solar for energy poor, vulnerable and otherwise lower-income households
It is fine and good to say that no one should be left behind in the energy transition. It is becoming clear, however, that the poorest are likely to be disproportionately impacted by higher energy prices. As a matter of equity, it is not enough to ensure these people are not left behind. Rather, we should be reframing this as a need to prioritise access to solar for vulnerable, energy poor, and lower-income households.
It would be the best for the Climate, energy security, and ultimately Europe’s citizens if the EU would move from market-based to citizen-based solutions in its attempt to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
In other words, we need a REPowerEU for energy citizens!
About the author:
Dirk Vansintjan, President of the European Federation of Citizen Energy Cooperatives, REScoop.eu.
As a student (1977-1982) he was active in various progressive student movements in Flanders (Belgium). He was involved in founding the Green Party in Flanders (1977-1985) and has been a member of the council of the municipality Rotselaar for 12 years.
Apart from other initiatives, he co-founded the citizen energy cooperative Ecopower in 1991 and the Organisatie voor Duurzame Energie Vlaanderen (ODE-Vlaanderen, the sectorial organisation for renewable energy in Flanders) in 1996. Ecopower now has almost 70 000 members and supplies 1.7% of Flemish households with its own green electricity. Dirk is a board member.
REScoop.eu is now a sector member of Cooperatives Europe, the European branch of the International Cooperative Alliance, ICA. Dirk Vansintjan is a board member.
Disclaimer: This article is a contribution from a partner. All rights reserved.
Neither the European Commission nor any person acting on behalf of the Commission is responsible for the use that might be made of the information in the article. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) only and should not be considered as representative of the European Commission’s official position.
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