By Zoe Banks Gross
Representing Easton Energy Group, I was honoured to be included in a delegation of community energy representatives visiting MEP for the South West Molly Scott Cato in Brussels in early December. Jodie from Regen SW and Jen from Plymouth Energy Community organised the trip alongside Harriet who is a Researcher at the Parliament. The trip was an opportunity to learn more about what is going on with other community energy groups in the UK, as well as learn from representatives of similar organisations on the continent. We also received a tour of the Hemicycle and an excellent presentation on how the European Parliament functions.
As the city of Bristol is facing dramatic cuts due to central government’s austerity measures, we need to look for ways to improve access to clean, affordable energy for all our residents. The first speaker we heard from in Brussels, was Dirk Vansintjan from Rescoop.eu. He founded Ecopower, which provides local renewable energy to a community. Besides the fact that this community owns and produces its own energy, the members have also decreased their energy use over time (a 46% decrease of consumption from the grid in 8 years), something we are frequently told is not possible. These energy “prosumers” are producing energy via photo-voltaic, using energy efficiency measures, and have changed their behaviours as they became directly engaged in their energy ownership and use.
Gert de Block from CEDEC, the European Federation of Local Energy Companies, spoke about local energy companies, and how they too, are challenging the industry with local models of energy production and supply. This organisation represents many municipal energy companies, like Bristol’s own Bristol Energy throughout the EU.
A policy advisor for Solar Power Europe, Sonia Dunlop, gave a presentation on the challenges the UK faces as well as a few models in use in other EU countries. The “Mieterstrom” model from Germany, where residents in flats can choose to own a share in PV on their roof is intriguing for a city looking to build 2,000 new homes in the next 3 years.
Christoph Rasch from Greenpeace Energy spoke about how it formed from a Greenpeace initiative in 1998, and began supplying electricity in 2001. It has members who can own a share for €55, but there is also a maximum share number of 100, which means that no single individual can own a majority. Until recently, German legislation facilitated community renewable energy initiatives with priority access to the Grid. New legislation favours larger companies, with more traditional energy sources.
The European Economic and Social Committee is a bridge between Europe and its citizens, it was set up as an advisory organisation of the EU in 1957. We had a bespoke presentation from Kristian Krieger from the TEN Section, which focuses on Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and Information Society. He shared some opinion papers with us on Smart Energy and Prosumer Energy and Cooperatives, and detailed how they are working to help regions become more self sufficient, less reliant on energy from far away.
These presentations were informative and thought-provoking, insofar as how much legislative tools and guidelines can impact community and local energy initiatives in other parts of Europe. We also had a presentation from Jodie Giles from Regen on an Interreg project she is working on with Regen, as well as a presentation from Chris Jones who is involved in community energy and Woodland Valley Farm, which is using Mob grazing to capture carbon.
Easton Energy Group is working with Regen and Clean Energy Prospector on the TWOs community energy project. The information gathered from European counterparts as well as from the other community groups that were also in attendance included Bristol’s Bristol Energy Cooperative, Exeter Community Energy, Tamar Community Energy, South Dartmoor Community Energy, Dorset Community Energy, Repowering London, South East London Community Energy, Community Energy South, Awel Aman Tawe, and Carbon Coop will be very useful for EEG and Bristol Energy Network.
EEG would like to thank Jodie, Jen and Harriet for organising this trip, and many thanks for including me in this delegation!