Energy efficiency beyond the market: the Nordic way of citizen and municipal co-ownership

Excerpted from Prashant Vaze:

” Europe’s large integrated energy companies fall short of the hyped-up benefits of turbo-capitalism. No assessment of their performance would give them high scores. What is the point of choosing your supplier if every company’s off-shore call-centre offers the same amnesiac service, and their pushy sales teams harangue you with overly complex tariffs? And what if these firms, instead of ploughing their cheap capital into investment, use their negotiating muscle to play one country off against another and only acquiesce to invest when a country offers a fat dowry of subsidies. And what if their overly paid board rooms are indifferent to a communiy’s concern about job creation and affordable energy?

These same companies now have the responsibility for delivering energy efficiency and decarbonisation of our energy system. And they have had a measure of success. But people are quite rightly mistrustful when companies that make their profit from producing and selling energy ask them to reduce their energy use. They ask the reasonable question: “What’s in it for them?

But not every country has gone down this road. No one will be surprised that social democracies of northern Europe have invented an alternate model (or rather they have re-invented one, since many energy companies started off in municipal ownership). Copenhagen’s off-shore Middelgrunden wind farm is jointly owned by thousands of customers and the municipality itself. But who would have thought in the home of the free market, the United States, that 70 per cent of the country’s area is served by co-operative energy companies or that vast cities like Los Angeles and modest towns like such as Santa Clara (site of the Silicon Valley) are served by municipally owned power companies. The ethos of these companies is to produce as little energy as possible, contribute to local economic growth and where possible replace fossil fuels with sustainable energy sources.

In our book Repowering Communities Stephen Tindale and I look at pioneering and inspiring examples of policies and projects from North America and Europe that are allowing communities to improve their energy efficiency and produce energy locally.

Every Government in the world understands that the challenge of meeting our energy service needs affordably and sustainably is too important to leave to the market. They intervene to correct market failures, Isn’t it about time we had a more fundamental look at whether we need to correct the institutions themselves?”

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