Corporate-controlled energy has been a disaster for people and the planet. But there are alternatives.
Around the world, communities are finding ways of taking back control of their energy systems. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but in more and more places, people are using fairer and more democratic ways of meeting their energy needs.
Examples include small-scale renewable energy co-operatives in places like the UK and Indonesia, German cities like Hamburg voting to take their electricity grid back into public ownership, and large-scale Costa Rican rural energy co-operatives that are integrated into the public energy system and have delivered almost universal access to electricity.
Co-operative energy – energy in public hands
Co-operatives are democratically owned and controlled by their members, who are usually producers or consumers, or sometimes both. This democratic control means that it is possible for them to choose to focus on improving energy access and shifting to more sustainable sources of energy, rather than on profits for distant and unaccountable shareholder.
For example, in Spain a co-operative was set up in 2011 in response to the high bills of the large energy companies and the lack of green energy options. Four years after being established, it has set up eight solar roof installations and a biogas plant, and is in the process of building Spain’s first community wind turbine. It has 16,000 members who purchase electricity from the co-operative.
And in Scotland the the Isla of Gigha suffered from a succession of remote private landlords where many suffered from poor housing and no security of tenure. In 2002, the land was bought by the community and three years later they commissioned three small wind turbines which have produced a steady income which has been used to upgrade the housing stock.
Image: Solar panels being installed on top of a council estate by Brixton Solar co-operative society. Credit: Tim Mitchell