Community companies democratising the energy market

Last week I was invited to speak at the Community Energy Scotland conference, and I highlighted the opportunity for Scotland to lead the way on international Energy Justice.

Read on to see what I had to say.


community energy project
The top line in Green energy policy is that “All people should have fair access to the energy they need”. This could be summarised as Energy Justice.

The World Development Movement highlights Nigeria as a great illustration of so much that is wrong with the energy system. In this oil-rich country, over half the population (and up to 90 per cent of the rural population) lacks basic access to electricity. At the same time fossil fuel giants like Shell and Exxon-Mobil pump out enough oil and gas to power the country many times over. These fossil fuels are destined largely for the rich North.

The problem is not that there is not enough energy, but that there are immense energy injustices. Without fair access to energy schools, hospitals and basic improvement to living standards are jeopardised.

Energy justice is about power. Who controls the energy. That is why the work of Community Energy Scotland and the other community energy bodies is so important.

We know people in Scotland support renewable energy, despite media hyperbole the vast majority of people are content to see renewable energy developments happen in their local areas – that is an important social consensus we have to maintain. The greatest threat is not too many developments, but the perception that large corporations are in control and making money for themselves with limited benefits and control in the hands of local people.

I want to live in a world where community control is at the centre of a secure and sustainable energy system. People in countries like Malawi deserve to be in control of their own development, and this is exactly the model Community Energy Malawi appears to be using.

From Holyrood I’m pleased to report that I managed to gather support for a Parliamentary motion I lodged in June from MSPs of every hue. Greens, Lib Dem, Labour, SNP, and even, with a special ask, from the Conservative energy spokesperson. It’s important we are consensual and cross party where we can be.

The motion welcomed the formation of Community Energy Malawi and its first Community Energy Conference in June which brought together representatives from Scotland and 12 Malawian community organisations. It also welcomed the continued funding of the project by the Scottish Government as part of the Malawian Renewable Energy Acceleration Programme.

This support from the Scottish Government is extremely important. The Scottish Government does not have power over foreign affairs, “international development assistance and co-operation” are specifically reserved to Westminster but even still the Scottish Government has made the right choice to commit to helping internationally through the international development fund and also the climate justice fund.

I know CES are keen to expand on their international work. CES have stressed to me that their work with groups in Malawi has been a true skills share. They have gained expertise, enthusiasm and experience and hope to have provided some too.

The projects in Malawi and elsewhere are hopefully demonstrating how community control works in the Global South. One example from Europe I have used in Parliament is Germany.

In the small town of Schönau in the Black Forest, a feisty primary school teacher called Ursula Sladek and others decided that they wanted to buy non-nuclear energy, and consume less at that. An approach to the local energy company failed but, after a five-year battle, the community took ownership of the local grid and could supply their own energy.

That idea took hold and there are now 600 community energy companies democratising Germany’s energy market. Several years ago, Germany too was dominated by its own big four energy companies but now, more than half of the 60GW of renewable energy that has been installed in less than a decade is citizen or community-owned. That is delivering cheaper, cleaner energy, but importantly, it is an energy market that is not dominated by a few players but is owned and controlled by citizens.

That is a vision that we should aspire to, and I hope Community Energy International can play its part in that for every country.

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