Wind energy co-ops (em)power local communities

Winds of 60 km per hour hit us as soon as we alighted from the bus. We were at Hvide Sande – “White Sand” – on the west coast of Denmark, home to a community-owned wind energy project comprising three 3MW turbines. All we could hear was the powerful wind: the generators cannot be heard over the roar of the wind. When there is no wind, we were told with a smile, the generators most certainly cannot be heard either!

I was joined by 40 policy makers and experts from 15 European countries as part of a workshop on 100% Renewable Energy in European Regions, organised by the World Future Council and Climate Service Center at the Nordic Folkecenter, Denmark. The region serves as a living example of 100% renewable energy already being reality. Wind plays a big role in the area: 87% of the country’s electricity consumption that day was covered by wind power. In Denmark, €16 million from local residents are being invested in renewable energies. The money is available, and the right policy framework can trigger investment from the people.

The three turbines at the Hvide Sande harbour were set up in December 2011 against no objections save from two local citizens, neither appeal of which was successful. As per Danish law, 80% of the turbines is owned by a local business fund from the Holmsland Klit Tourist Association which initiated and financed the project. Hvide Sande’s North Harbour Turbine Society I/S pays an annual rent of €644,000 to the local harbour. The other 20% is owned by local residents living within a 4.5 km radius, again according to guidelines set out by the Danish Renewable Energy Act. This wind co-operative has 400 local stakeholders, and with an annual return of 9 to 11% the turbines are expected to pay for themselves in 7 to 10 years. The fund is used to initiate new business initiatives for the benefit of the harbour and local municipality.

Over 100 wind turbine co-operatives have a combined ownership of three-quarters of the country’s turbines. The price per kWh for electricity from community-owned wind parks is not only competitive with conventional power production, but is actually half the price of electricity from off-shore wind parks. And while other countries struggle with integrating wind energy fluctuations Denmark already has the answer: combine heat and electricity generation and implement decentralised district heating infrastructure, thus tripling energy efficiency and achieving decentralised storage. As electricity and heat are by law non-profitable goods, this enabled local community-based co-operatives to lead the energy transition. The country is well on its way to achieving its 100% renewable energy target for electricity, heat and transport by 2050 thanks to the success of the co-operative enterprise model that places people, local communities and regions firmly in the driver’s seat.

This story was first published on the European Wind Energy Association blog

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012


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