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Small is beautiful – Part 2

Saturday 2nd December 2023.

Picking up the story from last week…

Implementing the goals stipulated in the Paris climate treaty of 2015, (COP 21), limiting global warming to significantly below two degree Celsius, if possible even to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial normal temperature, can only be achieved if humanity replaces fossil fuels by green, clean and sustainable technologies: for instance in the production of electricity, mobility, in food production, and so forth. However, climate neutrality cannot be achieved through technology and market dynamics. Involving citizens and local communities (cooperatives) in communal regions are decisive in shaping this transition in a democratic and fair way, and in order to ensure that all – or at least a good many people – may enjoy the economic, ecological and social advantages. Becoming climate neutral can begin right with energy production.

6. Energy cooperatives fight environmental crises

By developing projects for renewable energy sources, promoting an efficient use of resources, suggesting holistic measures for a more sustainable life (low-carbon mobility, waste-free practices, etc.) and by organising information and awareness-raising campaigns, energy cooperatives become schools of sustainability and contribute to creating the system necessary for putting the brakes on the climate crisis. Energy cooperatives enable citizens to take things into their own hands and to take action together against climate change. It only takes three citizens, neighbours for instance, to join forces to form an energy cooperative with a legal base in Decree 162/2019 and then go on to seek further associates.

7. Energy cooperatives fight energy poverty

Many communal energy projects support the energy-poor households in their region. Example no. 3: when, for instance the island of Crete was struck by an earthquake in 2021, the Minoan Energy Cooperative decided to cover the energy needs of 50 families impacted by the earthquake for free.

As an organic part of the local community energy cooperatives are able to identify consumers at risk (often overlooked by institutional programmes) and develop suitable solutions for them. When communal projects, services and measures are developed in conjunction with energy communities, their impact is indeed higher.

8. Energy cooperatives contribute to society’s acceptance of renewable energies

Energy cooperatives promote participative planning and give neighbours the opportunity to participate in investments in new clean energy projects, and to benefit from them. Involving the neighbours in the first steps of a project substantially increases the acceptance of renewable energies in the local community. And all of a sudden people are able to read their energy bills and understand them. A recent and possibly a tad superfluous survey by a large energy provider across ten European countries shows that social acceptance of renewable energy sources through energy communities is increased significantly through parameters such as the creation of local employment and lower energy prices.

9. Energy cooperatives strengthen social cohesion

Participating in and acting within energy cooperatives appears to strengthen social cohesion, by improving the interaction and dialogue between members. Members of an energy cooperative work together, developing a common identity, contributing to creating loyalty and trust in the community. By way of participative processes they are also finding collective solutions for problems that members might not be able to resolve on their own.

Beyond that communal energy projects involve society at large by informing citizens and by inviting them to participate in shaping projects to do with producing renewable energies and saving energy. Citizens on the ground also benefit from initiatives financed by energy communities. For instance, some energy communities have financed the construction of a local sustainable concert hall, whilst others set up a charging station for electric bikes and cars.

10. Energy cooperatives strengthen democracy

Energy cooperatives are schools of democracy, as their model of governance familiarises citizens with participative decision processes. When members take part in the energy community, they acquire knowledge and develop skills that may be transferred to other activities and interactions in other areas of their life. Institutions and local companies working directly or indirectly with energy communities, also experience a positive impact. Last not least energy communities are able to attenuate differences of age, gender, etc., by promoting equal participation.

On Saturday, 25 November, Coopernico, the first Portuguese energy cooperative celebrated its anniversary in Lisbon. These days, the child will turn ten years of age. The birthday celebrations took place as part of their annual general meeting, including the election of the board. António Veiga spoke with the old and new board member Miguel Almeida.


Uwe Heitkamp (64)

trained TV journalist, book author and hobby botanist, father of two grown-up children, knows Portugal for 30 years, founder of ECO123. Translations: Dina Adão, John Elliot, Ruth Correia, Patrícia Lara, Kathleen Becker

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