Local and regional authorities are key actors when it comes to bringing Europe closer to its energy and climate objectives. Energy production at the local level is crucial to foster renewable energy production, spread energy democracy and decrease energy poverty rates. Today, around 50 million households in Europe are struggling to heat their homes adequately. Around 180 billion euros of additional investments are needed annually to achieve the EU's 2030 targets agreed in Paris, including a 40 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions (from 1990 levels).
As the different aspects of the EU's clean energy package are progressively taking shape and two weeks after the European Commission's strategy to reach carbon neutrality in 2050, the European Committee of the Regions has adopted an opinion with recommendations for the full deployment of local energy communities, including energy cooperatives.
Members have adopted the opinion of rapporteur Mariana Gâju on the Models of local energy ownership and the role of local energy communities in the energy transition in Europe. Energy communities still face many obstacles to their development such as constraining national legal frameworks, limited access to national electricity grids and to finance and face contradictory support schemes between Member states and a general lack of political support.
“We believe that the future of energy production is the hands of citizens” said Mariana Gâju, Mayor of Cumpăna in the Romanian county of Constanța. “We need to make sure that local energy communities can fully contribute to the decentralisation and democratisation of energy systems and foster sustainable economic and social development locally. Local production, distribution and consumption of energy are key to fighting energy poverty”.
Cities and regions request simplified rules and administrative procedures for small renewable energy producers and local energy communities in order to ensure that they don’t face discriminatory administrative burdens or costs in comparison with established energy companies.
Members of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) have therefore called for a closer cooperation between the EU and Member States’ regional and energy policies. Streamlining the various support schemes for renewable energy is essential to reach the objectives of the Energy Union and those of the Paris agreement as well as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, members recall.
The EU’s assembly of cities and regions urges the EU and its Member states to provide better planning and long-term investment policies for renewable energy projects, with guaranteed financial support mechanisms so that local energy ownership can be placed on a more secure footing.
Accordingly, the CoR has called on Member States to set up dedicated finance support schemes for local energy communities, particularly during the planning and set-up phases. EU cities and regions recommend the development of grant-to-loans, guarantees and affordable credit opportunities with ready access to technical information and guidance about setting up, financing and operating community projects and innovative ownership structures.
Representatives of local and regional authorities have called on all levels of governance to improve information to citizens about the potential of local energy communities and the opportunities to participate in them. Members welcome the reference to the role of local energy communities in recent EU legislation, but ask for greater clarity and common rules in order to reap their full potential.
The CoR members recommend that local and regional authorities across Europe identify energy communities and support their development via advisory services.