The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by Molly Walsh, community power campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe.

As the European Union’s sustainable energy week begins, the corridors of the European institutions will be buzzing with debate around empowered consumers and producers of renewable energy. Ever since the European Commission published its vision for the energy union in February last year there has been increasing talk about citizens taking ownership of renewable energy, and “prosumers” producing their own, as an essential part of the transition towards the fossil-free energy market that Europe needs.

As an advocate for citizen ownership and management of renewable energy sources, I’m happy to see recognition of the importance of European citizens when it comes to energy consumption and production. I might not have chosen the clunky term “prosumer” myself, as it seems to be a word that everyone loves to hate, but it seems we’re stuck with it for now.

Here in Friends of the Earth Europe have been calling for an energy transition in the hands of the people, not corporate energy giants, for a long time.

We believe that wind and solar power are common goods and should be owned and managed by the people.

But if there’s so much positive talk, and we all agree we want community-owned and managed renewable energy, why are there still barriers?

Access to the grid seems like an obvious foundation for community energy. If you own a bicycle, you can cycle on the road. You may have to obey certain rules, but you have a right to ‘access’ the roads. If you’re a community producing renewable energy, access to the grid should be no different.

Yet time and again I hear stories of projects that have to wait months or years to get their clean energy flowing. In Ireland, the Templederry community windfarm applied for grid connection in 2003 and wasn’t granted access until 2007. During their four-year wait their planning permission expired, and they were forced to apply again – a frustrating process for a group of volunteers working on a project in their free time.

These are the kinds of delays that slow down the energy transition, when instead we need to speed it up. In 2008 the same community applied to add an extra 0.7MWs to their project but have to this date not received grid access. Similar examples exist in Spain and the UK. People want to manage and produce renewable energy, but energy providers don’t seem to want to take it.

Before the electricity market was liberalised, grids were controlled by large companies that also controlled production and supply. While these companies have now technically been broken-up, grid companies and those who produce much of Europe’s nuclear and fossil fuel energy tend to remain very close.

There are some notable exceptions, with some grid companies working hard to integrate high levels of renewables into their systems – for example 50Hertz in Germany, or the cooperatively owned grid in Schonau.

In the current Renewables Directive there is a provision (Article 16) that requires member states to provide priority access or dispatch to renewable energy sources, but this has not been well implemented. We need to see this provision strengthened in the next Renewables Directive, and universally applied.

Prosumers and community energy projects are essential if we are to speed up the energy transition in Europe. Communities and municipalities across Europe are eager to produce clean energy and contribute to the energy system. The next Renewables Directive must make sure there is space on Europe’s grid for them to do that.

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