Transforming energy systems from the bottom up
EnergÉtica was born in the decade of the 2010s in Valladolid, despite significant barriers such as the absence of a relevant cooperative movement, a scarce associative tradition and the perception that energy issues were far from social priorities. The energy issue was finally put on the social agenda due to the massive problem of energy poverty, the indignation after the disclosing of the strongly unfair and oligopolistic nature of the Spanish energy markets, and finally the inaction of the central government to plan the energy transition.
EnergÉtica emerged as a social initiative at a peak of social mobilization of citizens proposing an alternative (distributed, democratic and based on renewables) to the prevailing energy model (centralized, oligopolistic and based on non-renewables). In this context, the creation of a nonprofit cooperative seemed the most natural option. But making decisions collectively is not simple, let alone in a community in which there is no strong tradition of horizontal governance. That is why the first steps of EnergÉtica were slow, and the process of establishing the cooperative required over fourteen months (December 2013 to February 2015) of intense meeting activities lead by a core group of 40-70 people.
The birth of EnergÉtica as a social initiative at a peak of the economic crisis and social mobilization in Spain has shaped its political strategy based on promoting citizen participation andstrengthening the social economy (non-profit organization) and cooperation with any organization with similar or synergic aims. The cooperative has managed to incorporate the principles and values of a new energy model into the agenda of many local organizations of Valladolid (and some of the region Castile-and-Leon) coming from different sectors and institutions including the University of Valladolid, labor unions, political parties, NGOs, municipalities, etc.
Today, EnergÉtica has 2,200 electricity retail contracts 30% of which are in the city of Valladolid, representing 89% of households and supplies or serves? 11% of the city’s industrial and service users. All of its energy comes from renewable sources: a small portion is produced at the cooperative-owned Valteína by a mini-hydro power plant, and the rest is acquired from the national electricity market, but only from renewable producers (guaranteed through renewable origin certificates).
In 2017, the first year of productive activity, EnergÉtica’s turnover was €12,000, while the projected turnover for 2020 is €205,000k (although this figure will inevitably be affected by the COVID-19 crisis). This gives an indication of the cooperative’s steady growth. Despite state-level (conservative) opposition and traditional energy companies discrediting the cooperative’s efforts, it has successfully promoted civil participation and empowerment.
EnergÉtica is now at the heart of an ecological transformation and stresses the need to reduce overall energy consumption and improve energy efficiency as much as possible. Its campaign to promote solar energy to households has been backed by the Valladolid municipality. A system the cooperative has created to provide electricity from batteries and solar PV that can be transported by bike is regularly lent to social organisations in order to replace diesel generators at many public events – reducing pollution, greenhouse gases and noise.
Although the cooperative was born in Valladolid, it aims at being a useful tool at regional level, too. As such, it offers its services to the whole of Castile-and-Leon and similar measures have been performed throughout the whole region. Agreements for electricity retailing and jointly launching energy sovereignty projects have been concluded with ten municipalities from the region.
Resources, Financing and Transformative Economy
EnergÉtica is a social economy enterprise, a citizen instrument that enters the energy market in order to permeate the values of equity, transparency and sustainability. Its members and customers add up their consumption force to use it as a lever for social and economic change. In the economic sphere, EnergÉtica intervenes in threeways.
First, it redirects some of the economic flows of its consumer activity from the traditional circuits of the energy market (currently in the hands of a few companies operating under an economic oligopoly regime that can influence the administrative regulator). All the money that can be managed directly by local citizen cooperatives remains in the locality and does not benefit large companies (each Spanish household spends on average 1000€ per year on energy services). This allows for local employment (currently six direct jobs). In addition, the cooperative’s activity induces indirect business opportunities (in the fields of consultancy or installations) for an ecosystem of local professionals.
Second, it mobilises the local citizen potential for economic investment to allow cooperative purchase and construction of renewable power facilities. In this way, and by ensuring the safety and reliability of the investments that are made through the in-depth analysis of each case, EnergÉtica manages to finance renewable generation plants without relying on corporate capital or financial markets. Its most successful example is the crowdfunding campaign that collected the amount of 150,000€ for the Valteína mini-hydro power plant, at a moment when the cooperative still had less than 500 members. Yet nno more large investments have been possible to date given the barriers introduced by the central Government to new RES facilities in the 2011-2018 period.
Third, EnergÉtica manages an economic fund for educative and social activities which is financed through a voluntary donation on the electricity bill (0,01€/kWh, 8,000€ collected in 2018). The transformative social, technical, and economic aspects of the transition towards renewables- based distributed energy systems are currently being researched the two h2020 projects through which EnergÉtica will implement several projects.
Covid-19 outbreak impact
The COVID-19 outbreak affected EnergÉtica’s work significantly given that visits to customers are a regular activity of its staff, who need to check on the viability of installing self-consumption solar PV, or retrofitting a building. As a result, its work plan had to be redesigned to give more weight to tasks that are achievable when working from home, such as improving online communication, for example recording original videos in a light-hearted tone to increase social awareness about energy issues, and recording video tutorials so those installing self-consumption PV can maintain their systems autonomously.
Quote from the Transformative Cities evaluation committee
“A very inspiring story, a cooperative coming from political movement, that showing another sustainable and just energy future is possible, has succeeded in scaling up to some degree, has been supported by other co-ops in scaling up, has broader political visions and engagement with national energy campaigns while providing people with a service.”
– Sam Cossar-Gilbert
This story originally featured in the Atlas of Utopias.