Energy as a Common Good

Energy as a Commons is a video produced during the first public meeting of the European Commons Assembly in Brussels, 15-17 November, 2016. Cecile Blanchet reflects on how the energy system is designed to please the needs of constant growth of the markets and opposes it to a community-managed paradigm that is inclusive and accessible .

The video is part of our series of video presentations on the different thematic work areas of the ECA. We are also sharing our proposal on the Urban Commons in the text below. Finally, you can also read and comment on the proposal on the Commons Transition Wiki.

Energy Commons

As a basis, EU energy policy should consider energy a common good in order to provide all citizens with access to clean and affordable energy. This encompasses electricity production, transportation and efficient use as well as mobility and heating systems.

Background and context

EU energy programmes such as the Energy Union must change their focus from constraining energy generation to respond to market demands towards a more citizen-based, decentralized and efficient energy system. Giant gas pipelines, international grid connections and the support of large centralized energy companies and infrastructures are contradictory with the construction of a democratic energy system. By treating energy as a commodity, the EU creates a production-driven system, unable to respond to the urgent need of saving it (one of the key pillars to reduce CO2 emissions).

Policy description “Energy commons”

We propose here that a “commons-based” energy EU law should guarantee and facilitate the right of citizens and communities to produce, consume and manage their own renewable energy without legal, administrative or technical barriers.

  • One main demand is that citizens should be involved in all new projects (from small to big -i.e., also from small solar to offshore wind farms):
    • Participation should not be limited to a financial one but be possible on ground of being an inhabitant (or else?)
    • Involvement in decision making
    • Profits should remain within the communities/state hands
  • Specific infrastructure like smart grids or storage should be implemented under civil control (i.e., data should belong to the communities).
  • Financial schemes should be designed to enable community energy to blossom (e.g., feed-in-tariffs, sustainable energy utilities, re-municipalization) and the role of the state/the EU should be investigated.
  • Eventually, we should push to treat energy as a commons in order to save and control it.

This new paradigm would help to share appropriate energy technologies with communities of the Global South with the opening up of patent protections of climate-friendly technologies, especially those developed with EU and public funding. Cooperation should replace energy colonialism.

Why is the energy commons relevant? 

1. What are the existing experiences of the commons movement in this field, and initiatives of commoning related to this issue?

    • All over Europe, there are many energy co-ops organized into federations  (like the DGRV in Germany)
    • There is a European federation, which is already gathering knowledge and building capacity for enabling community energy (REScoop)
    • There are other models, which come close to re-municipalisation of energy utilities, for instance the Sustainable Energy Utilities (SEU), where energy is treated as a commons (in the US, e.g. the SEU Delaware).

2. Why is this proposal pertinent to be discussed at the European  scale, with the EU institution, in the EU Agenda? It could also be  because it is an urgent matter to introduce at this scale of policy.

    • It falls in the EU agenda to implement the Paris Agreement (COP21). Reaching the INDC & climate goals need an ambitious plan, which cannot be reached without involving the public.
    • There are ongoing discussions on the Energy Union (the European energy policy)
    • Energy commons is a double win: 1) Advance the commons & 2) Advance the energy transition.

3. What are the main ideas the commoners are reclaiming or struggling for in this field ?

    • Energy system is in the hands of conventional energy utilities (that exert a huge resistance to the energy transition) and the states (that try to spend the least).
    • The dominant ideology is a classical neoliberal one: energy is a commodity that should be regulated by the market. It is referred as such in all official EU documents.
    • This leads to a state of “energy obesity” (as stated by John Byrne) under the control of large market actors, and which is hardly accessible to small actors (like co-ops).
    • We must lobby to have energy treated as a commons, which means try to save it as much as possible and what we need should be produced by renewable sources, in hands of citizens.

4. What are the already experimented measures in this field and where (in a particular country? part of Europe? Elsewhere?

    • See previously (point 1)
    • Interesting experiment in Barcelona, where the municipality looks at the energy system in its globality and with a focus on fighting energy poverty.

5. Who are the actors involved in these struggles ?

    • inhabitants, citizen-initiatives, municipalities, regions, countries & EU
    • companies (solar & wind project developers)

6. How could these commons or commoning action be reinforced, scaled up, or replicated?

    • Design new funding schemes (involving public -and perhaps- private funding) to support community energy
    • Citizen involvement should become mandatory in all new energy projects
    • Perhaps incite all municipalities to work on an energy plan
    • It is a model that has the power to be “infectious” if people see the benefits in co-ops that already exist. Plus energy is a universal need, and a practical one and therefore an entry point to commoning.

7. What are the resources needed?

    • Money (state, ethical banks, investment banks, angel investors…)
    • Laws
    • specific tools to help communities to make an energy plan and succeed to implementing it (stakeholder dialogue, risk management…)

8. Who could do what to move forward?

    • A combination of citizen action (to convince) and political action (to accelerate)
    • Large advertising campaigns, Lobbying actions

9. What is needed from the EU institutions?

    • See point 7.
    • Perhaps a referendum, or survey?

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