Elsa Brander, Kooperationen The First conference, which served as a starting point for further discussions on how local communities and cooperatives can act effectively to respond to various energy challenges, took place on November 26 2015 at the Danish Parliament in Copenhagen. This conference, which was attended by more than 70 participants and was addressed by six keynote speakers from universities and renewable energy cooperatives, focused on how democratic participation is defining the Danish renewable energy system and involving people in the decision-making of their local energy cooperatives, thereby providing more affordable prices, as well as more sustainable energy resources.

The development of green energy has been strategically planned by the Danish government, whose main objective regarding energy consumption is to make Denmark fossil fuel free by 2050. Since oil prices skyrocketed in the 1970s due to the global energy crisis, Denmark has become environmentally progressive, as well as attentive to its own fragile ecosystem.
At that time, oil made up 90% of Denmark’s energy requirements, whereas today the country uses the highest percentage of wind energy per citizen, making it a leading nation when it comes to the utilisation of wind power.
It is also worth mentioning the latest results concerning the development of green technology; in 2015, the production of wind power in Denmark exceeded its own record, accounting for 42% of the country’s electricity consumption, compared to 28% in 2011. The change from fossil fuel to renewable energy has its roots in the continuous involvement of the 150,000 families who are part-owners of more than 5,000 wind turbines and the 600 heating and power plants that are spread widely throughout Denmark. Considering these factors, Kooperationen saw the need for a conference that would draw attention to the role of renewable energy cooperatives and bring local communities together.

From the future of renewable energy, to the strengthening of consumer-owned energy cooperatives, the first conference stressed the impact that the community-owned energy sector has on the development of Danish environmental awareness at both public and official levels. In her opening speech, Mrs Susanne Westhausen, CEO of Kooperationen, emphasized the important role that renewable energy cooperatives play in providing opportunities for local communities to become actively involved in solving economic, social and environmental problems as they act responsibly by keeping energy costs down. This is what cooperatives do as they work together to solve common problems and make a better life for all. Working for the common good, more than just profit, is part of the cooperatives’ embedded DNA.

One of the experts on renewable energy, Professor Frede Hvelplund from Aalborg University, reported a significant event that had taken place in Denmark only some two months earlier, on September 2 2015; on that date, for the first time ever, Denmark had obtained its entire energy supply exclusively from wind turbines, solar cells and local heat and power plants. That this was achievable, Hvelplund argued, was not mere coincidence, but the result of more than four decades of intense research on sustainable energy technologies and the support of positive public opinion for the development of renewable energy resources. Unsurprisingly, there was also a vigorous debate amongst the experts and the audience, as some argued that whilst the majority of people support alternative energy in their own community, the introduction of big wind farms, especially in villages dependent on tourism, is not without conflict.

Erik Christiansen, chairman of Middelgrunden, remarked that there is a decline in the opposition against renewable energy in general, and wind turbine cooperatives in particular, when the community has a stake in the alternative energy resource. According to Erik Christiansen, it is important for society to involve citizens in the production and consumption of energy, since people’s involvement is crucial to their understanding and consequent support.

There was a widely held consensus amongst the participants that renewable energy cooperatives have a positive impact on the local community, including the provision of attractive financial returns to its members, extended economic benefits for the local area and educational support on environmental issues, as well as ensuring people’s commitment to low carbon initiatives.

The first conference closed with a panel discussion, including several members of the Danish Parliament, on the future of energy cooperatives in Denmark. There was a broad agreement about the importance of legislation aimed at stimulating local engagement and ownership, as well as the need to work together with the purpose of strengthening renewable energy cooperatives to produce more low-cost sustainable energy for the local communities. For more information on the next conference, contact Elsa Brander: eb@kooperationen.dk