On September 8th, 2016 Coopkracht and REScoop.be kick-started a new theme called “the power of cooperatives for managing commons” in “De Vooruit” in Ghent (Belgium). Vooruit - one of the most famous cooperatives in Belgium - celebrates its 135th anniversary this year. With over 200 participants we explored different ways to keep the commons – typically renewable energy sources – in the hands of citizens. Local authorities also play an important role in this debate. In a world of transition we need the hear the voice of citizens. Cooperative entrepreneurship and citizen participation create opportunities for local municipalities, not just because of financial reasons.
Ines Rothmann (Coopkracht) explained that an increasing number of people are setting up their own cooperative in an attempt to make our world more sustainable. Many cooperatives typically work with commons such as renewable energy sources, land or health care. Oikos Denktank identified the existing community-owned projects (such as cooperatives) and recently launched a report with surprising results: “Burgercollectieven in kaart gebracht”.
Tine De Moor (Institution for Collective Actions, Universiteit Gent) explained what commons are, how they work and how they are linked to cooperatives. Community-owned groups have a long history of about 1,000 years. We are currently facing the 3rd wave of cooperative entrepreneurship. History teaches us that cooperatives typically flourish when there’s lack of quality in the services provided by business, not as a reaction to a financial crisis.
Dirk Vansintjan (Ecopower & REScoop.eu) explained that our energy system is changing from a centralised to a decentralised model with an increasing share of community-owned RES projects. Citizens will be paying for the transition and should thus be actively involved. In Flanders only 4% of the energy is in the hands of citizens, whilst 50% in Germany. Direct citizen participation (through cooperatives) increases social acceptance for RES. This will be crucial if installations (such as wind turbines) will come closer to the people. Dirk also referred to WISE POWER and the WE-engage that supports wind developers and municipalities to work with their citizens.
Jan De Pauw (REScoop.Vlaanderen) explained that about 300 wind turbines have been installed in Flanders so far and that another 1,000 turbines should be invested in the future. In a densely populated region like Flanders these wind turbines will automatically get closer to our private houses. Therefore, citizens should be able to co-own those installations and use their energy. Jan argues that the cooperative model is an interesting way to make that happen. Another 1,000 wind turbines corresponds to 3 billion euro investment, he says. With 275 billion euro on our Belgian saving accounts, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem to raise the funds from the local citizens. Finally Jan explained that an increasing number of regions and provinces (e.g., Province of Eastern Flanders) endorse a citizen participation of at least 20% in future wind projects.
Dirk Waelput (Eeklo) explained how the municipality of Eeklo initiated the first community-owned wind turbines in Belgium, back in 1999. The municipality launched a public tender, listing the criteria that they considered important. Allowing local citizens to participate and co-own the project was one of the listed criteria. Ecopower finally won the bid and joined forces with the municipality to produce a wind plan and engage the local citizens. Dirk explained the set-up of the communication to increase the social acceptance of the project. Communication (visits, folder, press, council, etc.) and dialogue with the citizens seemed crucial. Today 8 new wind turbines are being constructed of which 50% are owned by local citizens.
Panel Session - During the final panel session Tom Willems (REScoop Vlaanderen), Tom Troonbeeckx (De Landgenoten), Dirk Waelput (Stad Eeklo), Tine Heyse (Stad Gent), Alex Verhoeven (VVSG), Tine De Moor (Universiteit Utrecht - Institutions for Collective Actions) and Dirk Holemans (Oikos) discussed the role of local municipalities in the energy transition. The panellist came to the conclusion that a world in transition needs support of citizens. Citizens should be actively involved in and take ownership of RES projects.
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