Electricity in Spain has traditionally been in a few private hands, and those private hands have managed to obtain the blessings from politician belonging to the highest atmosphere of the Spanish political live to do whatever they feel like.
These politicians once retired have attained jobs as advisors of the main electrical companies earning huge salaries for the favours which they have endowed to the electrical companies. These fiddling is colloquially known as “The revolving doors”.
However, several projects serve as an example of how a new energy model is emerging, in which this basic service acquires a democratic and participatory character. I will explain here four examples that have located on internet: The first one that caught my attention is a marketing company and an associations of neighbours that adds the figure of 88,417 contracts (Som Energia), the first wind turbine promoted by ordinary citizens (Viure de l’Aire del Cel), a municipal public company of Barcelona and the first shared self-consumption project (Hello, Luz). These are some samples of how citizen participation in energy is advancing rapidly in Spain.
Projects initiatives that point towards a new energy transition
One of the most surprising successes is that of Som Energia (54,168 members and 88,417 contracts: data from December 31st of 2018), a renewable energy marketing and production association that has connected with the wishes of many citizens to ‘escape’ from the claws of the large electric companies and contribute to the promotion of clean sources.
Its ultimate goal is to produce clean energy equivalent to 100% of the consumption of its cooperative members (now around 7%).
“We could not even imagine that a project like this, in only 7 years, was going to gather more than 54,000 partners and more than 88,000 contracts, mainly because there were neither precedents nor previous experiences”, comments Marc Roselló, director from Som Energia.
The marketer grows at the rate of about 150 new members and 300 contracts a week (many members have more than one house).
Reasons for the jump
And what has moved all these citizens to make the leap to this association?
The desire to develop renewable energy, the possibility of escaping from the big electricity companies and good references obtained through word of mouth explains why many people have made the decision; known among themselves as “the jump”.
“But if they decide to change company, it’s mainly to feel better treated,” says Roselló.
The price, key issue
And the price of electricity? Does it cost to change to the association? Apparently their prices are lower than that obtained from the main electric companies.
There are no opaque maintenance contracts, no false discounts … The invoice is just for the electricity used by each member. Som Energia (which has already invested 11 million in renewable sources) develops various lines of action. On the one hand, it is a marketing company, like any other company (with the difference, of course, that it does not have a board of directors to give shelter to influential politicians). Participation is guaranteed by the annual meetings of members.
Secondly, it is a company of renewable energy, with a broad portfolio of renewable installations owned, and that includes eight photovoltaic plants in operation (in Catalonia, Valencia and Andalusia), as well as a biogas plant and a mini hydroelectric power station in Valladolid.
Members who wish to do so make periodic contributions to the company’s capital stock to invest in these plants (Alcolea del Río, Lora ..).
To finance them, the association has had neither premiums nor subsidies; The sale of electricity to the grid allows a yield of 1.75% per year.
Generation of kWh
And, in third place, you can participate in clean production through the Generation kWh project.
Through it, the partner leaves interest-free money for 25 years to the cooperative, which returns a part of that money each year, with the advantage that thanks to the project the electricity produced is obtained at cost price.
This mode allows you to acquire electricity at a price much lower than the market price (even paying, for the costs of maintenance, amortization etc.).
It’s like having a community garden with tomatoes, in which each one takes the tomatoes depending on what they put in; this way it comes cheaper than going to the supermarket to buy it.
Generating a kWh of electricity costs 0.11 cents per kWh, while the final customer usually pays more than 0.13 cents / kWh.
“We recommend making an investment that covers 70% of annual consumption,” adds Roselló.
In a few years, and taking into account that it is expected that there will be greater energy efficiency and lower consumption, it would be possible to buy electricity equivalent to 100% of consumption.
Within everyone’s reach
In Spain, wind technology projects have been promoted so far only by companies, but it is within everyone’s reach. The conditions are already in place for citizens to make a social appropriation of this technology.
The great source of inspiration of the project has been Denmark (and, to a lesser extent Germany), where in the late 80’s and early 90’s a movement of cooperatives was born to promote wind energy and gained great popular support.
Under the inspiration of Denmark, initiatives emerged to promote renewable energies in Catalonia. In this community, the first wind turbine connected to the grid was built (Vilopriu, 1984) and started up Ecotècnia later integrated in the Mondragón Association and later absorbed by Alstom- or Ecoserveis.
While the big world companies failed in the development of wind technology, in Denmark the popular success was dazzling. This government was the first to certify the modern wind turbine machine and create the conditions for the development of technology.
It is no coincidence that the machine purchased by Pujalt is from the Enercon brand, a family business that was born at the same time as Ecotècnia, and that supplies most of the wind turbines in association projects.
No less significant is the genesis of Danish wind cooperatives. At the end of the 70s, there was a very strong opposition movement against nuclear energy in this country, and that led to an agreement in the parliament to renounce to nuclear energy.
But more decisive was that all those citizens created OVE (Renewable Energy Organization); they came into contact with local manufacturers of agricultural machinery to develop wind turbines with powers below 100 kW. One of these became, over time, Vestas, global manufacturer of wind turbines.
The origins of modern wind technology have to be sought in this popular movement, not in laboratories or research centres.
An idea since 2009
The idea of building this mill was programmed around 2009, to mark the 25th anniversary of the Vilopriu mill, and until 2017 its promoters were overcoming complex bureaucratic procedures.
From the first moment, they were clear that the chosen place should have an easy connection to the network, good access and availability of wind resources. All these requirements are met by the Pujalt site, which has the decided backing of the City Council and its neighbours.
This windmill, moreover, have avoided a process full of bureaucratic obstacles. They had to talk to several local authorities; in the process, they even demanded an archaeological exploration, when the land was agricultural land for thousands of years. And they have to obtain permission from the Catalan Office on wind farms, which is very demanding.
If we all get involved in projects like this, the energy supply would be democratic. The market already allows it.
The City Council joins in
It is true that there has been a boom in electrical commercialization, but the most important novelty is that some are emerging with new values, the commitment to renewables, participation or associations.
The Catalan capital has created the Barcelona Energia marketer, through which the City Council of the Catalan capital manages from July 1 about 1,000 contracts belonging to 3,908 points of supply of the municipality and 19 bodies and entities of the group of municipal companies (offices, sports centres, etc) that were now owned by Endesa.
This initiative is an example of the City Council’s desire to “recover energy as a public service” once the historical discontent with the current energy model has been verified.
It is also a response to the EU’s challenge in favour of renewable energies (all commercialized energy will have green certification).
The City Council expects to achieve a saving of 710,000 euros by directly taking on energy management. The Metropolitan Area of Barcelona (35 municipalities with common services in water, environment and urban planning) has embarked on the road so that the marketer can supply energy to the municipal facilities.
Barcelona Energia not only manages all the electricity consumption of the City Council, but in January 2019 it will be opened to private individuals, so that the Barcelonians will have another new option when choosing an electric company.
However, as the current regulation restricts the volume of electricity that can be sold by public companies to 20%, that means that only a maximum of 20,000 households could qualify for this modality.
Fair invoice, is promised
The City Council has promised to carry out in parallel a configuration of the electricity bill for consumption sections (as in the receipt of water) and to take care of the situations of people living alone and large families.
It also promises to take into consideration the problem of energy poverty, which has overflowed the municipal services in recent years, to compensate for the “aggressiveness of the electricity companies”.
For this reason, the Barcelona Energia companies will sign an agreement with the Generalitat to face the problem of vulnerable families. In parallel, the City Council – through Tersa, which manages the Sant Adrià incinerator – will continue its plans to develop renewable energies (Forum’s solar plant, Garraf landfill biogas …) and has promised to support plant creation initiatives of self-consumption.
All this implies that we are long last moving towards a more democratic energy in Spain. An energy that can be produced by ordinary people and used by the same people without having to pass by the till of large electrical companies.
Within everyone’s reach.