Spain’s energy cooperatives charge fees for the use of solar energy | Spain


S.Pain’s growing energy cooperative movement has received a boost after the government announced that some of the recent renewable energy allocation will be in small amounts rather than large tranches that only large energy companies can afford.

The move signals a shift in attitudes after successive governments yielded to the demands of the power giants.

In addition, co-operatives in rural and urban areas are trying to break away from the big electricity providers who have taken advantage of high demand during the recent heatwave to drive prices to record levels.

Cristina Alonso, Friends of the Earth energy spokesperson, hailed the government’s apparent change of heart as “a cheap move – but not one that actually promotes energy communities because they don’t define what they are. These have to be defined as democratic and genuinely autonomous. “

Since the abolition of the so-called “sunshine tax” in 2018, solar installation has accelerated rapidly. The right-wing government imposed this on self-sufficient consumers in 2015 because it effectively deprived the electricity companies of their income. Consumers were also obliged to feed their excess energy into the grid free of charge.

Without oil, gas and little coal, the sun is Spain‘s greatest energy resource, and yet it is still underutilized. According to the Spanish electricity grid, renewable energies accounted for 43.6% of energy production in 2020, of which only 6.1% came from solar energy, with the majority coming from wind (21.7%) and nuclear (22.2%) .

Germany has three times as much installed solar energy as Spain, despite having around 1,896 hours of sunshine in 2020, compared to almost 3,000 hours in Spain.

In countries where most people live in single-family houses, each individual can in principle opt for the installation of solar panels. In Spain, however, 66.5% of the population live in apartment buildings, mostly a mix of owner-occupiers and tenants, so the situation is more complex.

To get around the problem of getting everyone to invest in renewable energy in an apartment building, one solution is to install solar panels on the roofs of public buildings such as schools, as well as factories and warehouses, to provide electricity to neighboring households and businesses.

The NGO Sustainability Observatory has proposed an umbrella campaign that would produce 15,400 GWh, enough for 7.5 million people, with an investment it believes could be restored within six years.

This is what the football club Athletic Bilbao offers its neighbors. When the club built a new stadium in 2013, it installed 300 solar panels and, through its Tekathletic offshoot, supplied 200 households and companies within a 500-meter radius with electricity at prices that are 25% below the usual tariff.

Something similar is happening in Zaragoza, where the NGO Ecodes, together with the energy supplier EDP and the local authority, launched the Solar Neighborhood project.

EDP ​​has supplied and installed solar panels on the roofs of two municipal sports centers, each generating 50 kWp, enough to power 200 households and businesses in the area.

According to the Spanish power grid, solar energy accounted for only 6.1% of all renewable energies in 2020. Photo: César Manso / AFP via Getty Images

Cecilia Foronda, Ecodes’ chief energy officer, explains that program participants do not prepay for installation because non-homeowners are not motivated to invest.

Participants pay a monthly quota of € 6.90 (£ 5.90) ​​to repay the cost of the installation and enjoy electricity prices that are around 30% below the market price. The quota does not apply to those who can pay the least.

According to Foronda, Ecodes is seeking European funding to replicate the program in six other Zaragoza neighborhoods.

Som Energia (We are Energy), which was founded in 2010 in Girona in northeastern Spain and claims to be Europe’s oldest energy cooperative, now has around 70,000 members.

The democratically run cooperative acts as an umbrella for smaller cooperatives across the country, says its president Albert Banal-Estanol. Members pay an admission fee of € 100, which will be refunded later.

When individuals want to install solar panels in their homes, Som Energia encourages them to start a local cooperative and then buy in bulk as it is not only cheaper but also creates an energy community which in turn helps spread self sufficiency.

“Last year we had a project that cost around 5 million.” We set a deadline of 15 days, but we achieved everything in one day. “

“We want to expand this model, but at the same time we are not addicted to growth,” he says. “We just want renewable energies to grow.”

Now that the big power companies can no longer rely on the government to contain the spread of the cooperative movement, they are stepping in and offering to finance rooftop systems for communities to hold onto their customers.

A real energy community, says Alonso, has not only economic but also social and ecological goals. If it’s just a company that supplies electricity from renewable sources, “the company still owns the facility, you have a contract with them and the only difference is that the electricity comes from solar panels”.

“The big electricity companies are switching from selling electricity to selling services,” says Foronda. “But we have to make sure that energy self-sufficiency is in the hands of the citizens because it enables them.”


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