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The missing link

There is a catch to the great success of the development of wind and solar technologies in Spain: It lacks citizen participation. Democratizing the generation of energy creates wealth for the whole of society and is key to facing the climatic emergency. This is why we need an energy REVOLUTION.

The success of renewables was mainly due to technological development policies, known as Feed-In-Tariffs (FIT). Due to pressure of utilities that make up the electrical oligopoly, the FITs were then abolished by governments in favour of auction systems that only benefit those who have the economic muscle to take on the risks that the auctions entail.

FIT policies in Germany were designed to benefit society as a whole, not only ecologically but also economically. They use renewable technologies to capture, transform and use the energy contained in biospheric flows. This has resulted in a massive citizen participation that responsibly exercises its right to the social appropriation of technology.

By the end of 2016, 100.3 GW of renewable capacity was operating in Germany. 42.5% were in the hands of citizens and only 5.4% were in the hands of the 4 large power utilities. The rest were in the hands of investment funds, small and local power companies, companies from various sectors. And while in 2001 there were only 66 citizen energy cooperatives, by 2015 they had increased to 1,000.

This was possible in Germany because of visionary political leaders such as Hermann Scheer and Hans-Josef Fell. As members of parliament, they were able to create policies to put technological development at the service of society. Hermann Scheer left it to us: “The technological revolution is not only due to technology itself, but also to the people who take advantage of the new possibilities offered by those technologies. From a technical innovation arises a social movement. The impulse for it can come from above. But the massive deployment is driven from below. The energy revolution is based establishing new baselines without asking permission from the people benefitting from the existing energy structures”.

In Spain, there are practically no collective projects promoted by citizens: in wind, the pioneer and sole project (at the moment) is “Living from the air of the sky” and there are only few projects in the solar sector (promoted by Aesol - today Acciona Solar -, mainly in Navarra and some promoted by Ecooo and Som Energía).

The way in which renewables have been legislated in Spain has resulted in practically all projects being in the hands of those who own capital or have easy access to it. As a consequence, and unlike many European countries where citizens have an active part in renewables, citizen participation in renewable projects in our country is almost non-existent. Citizen participation is the missing link between renewables and public wealth generation.

The cause of this is the usual practice of a purely extractive economy (since it usually has no relationship with the people who live in the area where the project is installed) which is an inheritance of the last century that should be overcome throughout the 21st century.

How can the situation be improved? I suggest that whenever a new renewable project is authorized, the people living in the area where the project will be installed should be given the opportunity to participate.

Democratizing the energy system means creating the political and administrative framework that allows and facilitates the active participation of citizens. And not only in domestic or family self-generation projects. Will the new Spanish government be able to recover the missing link between the development of renewables and society, creating the conditions for the emergence of collective energy projects with renewable technologies?

Pep Puig I Boix

Vice-president of EUROSOLAR

Posted in Spain