What role will European citizens play in the Green New Deal

Unleashing the transformative power of Community Energy in Europe

How energy communities operate and what is needed to unleash the full potential of community energy in Europe was  discussed among some 25 Parliamentarians and experts during a breakfast at the European Parliament on November 5, 2019

Addressing climate change and socio-economic inequalities need a complete overhaul of today’s energy system. The current system is dominated by a small number of large utilities but must transform into a system that is publicly owned and controlled by local communities. Only then, the energy system can be sustainable, carbon-free and socially fair. To achieve all this, it is “important to be innovative”, said Pernille Weiss, Member of the European Parliament (MEP), EPP. What’s more, involving citizens in renewable energy projects increases the overall acceptance of the energy transition: “highlighting the bigger benefits of community energy projects and re-investing into services for the public good, adds personal value to the energy transition”, highlighted Jutta Paulus, MEP Green EFA.

The European Commission has recognised the importance and innovative character of energy communities in its Clean Energy Package. Both, the Renewable Energy Directive (2018/2001) and the Electricity Directive (2019/944) contain definitions for energy communities. While the definitions vary in scope, and one might be classified as a sub-set of the other, they generally describe ‘energy communities’ as a way to “organise” citizens that want to cooperate together in an energy-sector related activity based on open and democratic participation and governance (REScoop.eu, July 2019).

To underline the importance of community energy for the energy transition of Europe, its socio-economic benefits and positive impact on local development have to be highlighted, said Bob D’Haeseleer, Alderman of the municipality Eeklo, Belgium. The city of Eeklo is considered a pioneer of community energy in Europe and greatly benefits from it. Around 3.25 million EUR are gained locally each year. The energy bill of the average citizens decreased by up to 300 EUR per household per year. Keeping these figures in mind, it is surprising that community energy has yet to be taken up widely throughout the EU. Thus, D’Haeseleer reminded people to “keep your friends close and your energy closer”.

Efforts in this regard seem to be lacking within state policy-making. The National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs), which every EU member state is required to develop by 31. December 2019, often lacks detail and innovation when it comes to citizen’s involvement in the energy value chain. Only three member states included some kind of stipulation for prosumers, highlighted Kristian Petrick, eco-union, PROSEU (Prosumers for the Energy Union) project. Even more so, according to an assessment of the first draft by REScoop.eu, only 5 member states (Austria, Greece, Netherlands, Croatia, Ireland) stood out in demonstrating their intent to support energy communities. Positively noteworthy is the NECP of Greece, added Petrick. Greece’s plan includes a quantitative target of 500 MW installed capacity for renewable energy communities by 2030 and also stipulates a detailed plan on how to do so. Nevertheless, most member states have not incorporated such targets in their plans. Four countries (Estonia, Germany, Malta, and Sweden) even failed to reference energy communities or to explicitly reject their development.  Therefore, the PROSEU project proposes to stipulate a mandatory target for rooftop PV – 50%  of all new renewable energy installation by 2030 should be rooftop PV  and that energy communities represent 30-50% of the total national renewable energy target of a member state.

A similarly grey picture is painted by the transposition of the Renewable Energy Directive and Electricity Directive in EU member states. A general understanding of what energy communities are, how they operate and what advantages they have, seems to be lacking. Definitions are often copy-pasted from the original text of the Directives, explained Josh Roberts, REScoop.eu. What’s more, auctions -were found to often disadvantage energy communities. This is mainly because they do not have the necessary up-front money for the numerous bureaucratic stipulations such as feasibility study, environmental impact assessment, etc. Jutta Paulus emphasised that auctions literally “broke the neck of many energy communities in Germany”.

Good examples on how to integrate community energy and auctions do exist though: Ireland has a proposal that puts 10% of auctions aside just for community energy projects. These are also allowed to buy-into other projects. Such schemes must be allowed by DG competition.

Jutta Paulus, MEP Greens/EFA

Jutta Paulus agreed that ensuring market competitiveness of community energy initiatives is crucial, and the development of new and innovative business models becomes ever more important. Paulus urged organisations such as REScoop.eu to play a vital role in connecting those initiatives, to share their ideas and business models. The development of such models however needs to be rooted in local communities, in order to ensure flexibility and adaptability according to local circumstances, added Pernille Weiss. EU-regulation needs to leave the required space to ensure this flexibility. What parliamentarians can do is to urge the European Commission to keep an extra eye on the detailed transposition of the two Directives and for Members of Parliament in member states to ensure adoption of the necessary legal frameworks to scale up community energy initiatives within and across border. Ensuring sufficient structural funds are available for citizens to start and maintain initiatives, thus needs to be a priority, finished Manuela Kropp.

The Global Renewables Congress, with its partners, is committed to take this task forward and support parliamentarians in democratising the energy system.