ECCO’s in the Province of Flemish Brabant
In Belgium, with the support of the Interreg ECCO project and the Province of Flemish Brabant, and by aligning all the existing programs and projects, the European federation of citizen energy cooperatives, REScoop.eu, its member Ecopower, the City of Leuven, and Ecolife, a knowledge center for ecological behavioral change, created a consistent approach, called LICHT. LICHT has been rolled out in the Belgian region of Flemish Brabant and aims to help the municipalities and the province to achieve their climate and energy goals set when signing the Covenant of Mayors and writing their sustainable energy action plan (SEAP).
By collaborating with its Belgian members and other local and European partners working on the energy transition, REScoop.eu has been setting up and supporting nine ECCO’s (rural renewable energy communities of citizens, farmers and other SMEs) in the region. The LICHT trajectory will prepare these ECCO’s to select investment opportunities in their municipality to ensure citizen participation in local energy projects.
What is the LICHT approach?
LICHT brings people interested in becoming active in the energy transition together in local LICHT groups. The LICHT approach consists of 6 sessions for every LICHT group and a final event where all groups are brought together to exchange experiences and discuss collaboration.
The journey starts with an inspirational session where Dirk Vansintjan, the president of REScoop.eu, presents the possibilities and opportunities for citizens and farmers to engage in the energy transition.
On invitation of the municipalities and Ecopower, 12 inspirational sessions were organised and attended by 15 to 150 people (in Leuven, Tienen, Diest, Haacht, Rotselaar, Zoutleeuw, Vilvoorde, Grimbergen, Wezenbeek-Oppem, Tervuren, Scherpenheuvel-Zichem, Zemst).
As a result of these sessions, eventually 9 inter-municipal LICHT groups were formed and taught how to select, evaluate, execute and communicate about good renewable energy projects. The support trajectory helps building local capacity for the energy transition following the principle of ‘train the trainer’ of citizens and their municipality. It consists of 5 working sessions aiming at participation and building support for renewable energy and technical and financial screening of feasible energy projects.
The LICHT working sessions
- Session 1: Intake + action plan · Needs analysis + ambition level • Clarification of expectations and coordination • (Retro) planning • Timing & agreements (Ecolife)
- Session 2: How to create public support: • How to facilitate the functioning of new or existing citizen groups? • How to reach and mobilize other citizens? (Ecolife)
- Session 3: Screening of energy projects • Discussion of methodology / parameters to assess project proposals for technical / financial feasibility • Explanation assignment in preparation for session 4 (REScoop.eu and Ecopower)
- Session 4: Development of energy projects • Suggestions for adjustment and optimisation of project proposal • Screening location, writing and personalizing proposal, discussing proposal • giving reference text for the tender (REScoop.eu and Ecopower )
- Session 5: Valorisation/consolidation • How to further embed citizen participation in the municipalities activities around the local energy transition? (Ecolife)
What happened so far?
At the end of 2019 some LICHT groups already finished all their sessions and decided to move on:
- Noordlicht: the LICHT group of the Northwestern side of Brussels (municipalities of Zemst, Vilvoorde, Zaventem, Steenokkerzeel, Londerzeel, …), founded a REScoop: Noordlicht cv. More information: www.noordlicht.be.
- HagelandStroomt: in collaboration with Ecopower, the LICHT group of the city of Scherpenheuvel-Zichem realised a first PV project on a municipal roof and installed a charging point for an electrical car of the city that can be used by the citizens in the evening and the weekend. More information: www.hagelandstroomt.be/wat-doen-we/pilootproject.
- Licht Leuven: the LICHT group decided to join a young REScoop from the neighbouring municipality Herent, called EcoOB, and focused on the realisation of 11 rooftop PV projects on municipal roofs in the city of Leuven in collaboration with Ecopower. More information: www.ecoob.be/projecten.php.
- Druifkracht: the LICHT group in the south of Leuven decided to set up a REScoop for their region (Overijse, Huldenberg, Hoeilaart, Tervuren) and collaborates with Ecopower on small hydro, wind and PV projects. More information: www.druifkracht.be/projecten/.
The other Licht groups are not that far. However, they are still following the LICHT trajectory.
- Diest: the LICHT group of Diest is focusing on small hydro and PV.
- Tienen: the LICHT group of Tienen is interested in the deployment of district heating in their region.
- Zoutleeuw, Linter, Geetbets, Kortenaken: for this LICHT group there might be a possibility for being involved in the de development of a windfarm of 3 wind turbines
- Wezenbeek-Oppem, Kraainem: being located close to Brussels, this LICHT group is a special case as it is a bilingual group.
- Rotselaar, Haacht: this LICHT group just started.
The LICHT consortium
The different LICHT groups can join LICHT Vlaams-Brabant, which is a large consortium led by Ecopower. The consortium is now aggregating a large portfolio (more than €30 million) of potential investments in sustainable energy (energy efficiency and renewable energy) throughout the entire province and will then propose this to the ELENA facility of the European Investment bank. ELENA is a joint initiative by the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 programme. ELENA provides grants for technical assistance focused on the implementation of energy efficiency, distributed renewable energy (http://bit.ly/eib-energy) and urban transport (http://bit.ly/eib-transport) projects and programs. More information: http://bit.ly/eib-elena.
Following the appeal of the Flemish minister of Energy, the consortium will focus on larger solar PV installations on schools, public buildings, industry, the national airport, ... But also the existing efforts will be intensified, making schools more sustainable, helping households insulate their homes, electrify their heating and install solar PV. Wind energy is difficult in this province due to the proximity of the national airport of Brussels, but the opportunities are being studied because a new GPS or an adapted radar system at the airport might allow wind turbines in the future. The guaranteed profits of wind turbines should be kept as local as possible to help finance energy efficiency at a local level.
LICHT, an example of energy democracy
Europe’s energy system, currently dominated by a small number of large utilities, will shift from one based on fossil and nuclear fuels to renewable energy, from centralised to decentralised production, and from a system that wastes energy to a system that uses energy in an efficient way.
If we really want the transition to succeed, we need to mobilise local authorities and aggregate the renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that they identified in their sustainable energy and local energy action plans. On the other hand the potential for people - individually and through their community, public entities and small enterprises – to actively engage in the energy transition is significant. By 2050, at least half of EU citizens could be producing their own renewable electricity.
Through the LICHT approach, municipalities collaborate with local civil society organizations and actively involve their citizens through direct participation in renewable energy projects.
By bridging the municipalities ambitions on one hand and the huge potential citizens have in contributing to these ambitions on the other, the LICHT approach is an example for energy democracy.
The LICHT-approach is supported by the INTERREG ECCO project. The positive effects of the project’s activities are possible thanks to financial support from the European Regional Development Fund provided by the Interreg North-West Europe programme.