The Dutch Green Party wants to have a Green Energy Union for renewables. But Craig Morris says the Dutch are learning the wrong lesson from Germany. He paraphrases Bill Clinton: “Its energy democracy, stupid!”
One of the fiercest fights you can have within the renewables community in Europe is over the harmonization of national energy policy, one of the few areas still left up to member states (an estimated 80 percent of new legislation within the EU comes from Brussels).
The reason is obvious: France is 75 percent nuclear in the power sector, Poland 90 percent coal, while the Germans, Dutch, and Danes aim to go renewable. Because it is unclear how these diverging goals and national interests can be put under a single policy, the EU has yet to adopt a clear strategy.
Proponents of renewables in other EU countries would like more push from Germany, but the German stance (one I completely support, by the way) is to say: Let others do what they want, and let us do what we want – by the time the first free legacy solar power rolls in, and the debate will be over. But only if we are allowed to do what we need to do.
The new proposal from the Dutch Greens therefore comes at an interesting time. They argue (the text is only in Dutch) partly in terms of energy independence: Europe imported 75 percent of its energy in 2008, getting a lot from Russia. Interestingly, the Dutch Greens argue that the Netherlands may not be able to reach its goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 (note that Germany only has a target of 60 percent renewable energy by then); possibly, “our country might only be able to get half of that” domestically, the Dutch Greens write.
They may be right – the population density of the Netherlands is the highest in the EU and greater than India. This position is a fundamentally different starting point than Germany’s, where proponents of renewables have traditionally argued the country can get most of its energy from domestic renewables, assuming far lower consumption.
I can’t do the proposal justice in this short space, but here are some key ideas I picked out of it:
- The Euratom Treaty should be done away with. On the path towards energy independence, this proposal is logical; while proponents of nuclear often consider nuclear power a domestic source of energy, the EU imports almost all of its uranium. France imports 100 percent, for instance;
- The article in the Lisbon Treaty specifying that member states can pursue the energy policy should be done away with;
- Europe should focus on getting as much of its energy as possible from within its own borders;
- No more bilateral energy agreements between member states;
- Fossil and nuclear energy should be phased out (including oil and gas outside the power sector);
- New investments should focus on renewable energy and efficiency; and
- Financing should come partly from revenue generated by a “repaired emissions trading platform”.
In short, the Dutch Greens call for a lot of good things that are highly unlikely politically. For instance, the focus on the EU “getting all of its energy from within our own borders” is an open invitation to shale gas production, but the Dutch Greens write that “shale gas has no place in the Green Energy Union.”
The big elephant in the room is the role of citizens. The Dutch Greens do mention the benefits of distributed energy:
- loads are more evenly distributed;
- energy cooperatives encourage people to get educated about energy, thereby promoting conservation;
- local jobs are created and revenue flows back to communities; and
- political power and influence is decentralized and democratized when the energy oligarchy has to compete with smaller investors.
But all of this comes at the end of the paper in a section entitled “citizens benefit, companies invest” (sic!), which is mainly devoted to a discussion of technological lock-in.
So here’s the deal – the Dutch Greens would get everything they want if they would just focus on calling for a civil right to make your own energy. European citizens do not want nuclear or shale gas. If communities are allowed to decide what is built, they will opt for renewables – and make those investments themselves even if emissions trading is not fixed first.
The British government recently said it wanted its citizens to be able to say no to wind turbines. Germans are able to say yes to wind turbines – the ones they build themselves. (The British are saying no to wind turbines put up by corporations.)
You can call for Euratom to be revoked and emissions trading to be fixed, but you might have more success simply insisting that European citizens should have the right to put up solar panels and develop wind farms on their own without being told by utilities that the power is not needed. Maybe what’s not needed is the utilities.
Sure, big investments will be needed in storage. But outside Germany, not enough people realize how huge energy cooperatives can be – big enough to fund big storage. In an effort to protect its incumbent energy corporations, the EU is currently clamping down on the growth of community renewables, allowing only a small carve-out for citizens and energy co-ops. But community renewables can be much bigger than Brussels’ carve-out.
If the Dutch Greens focused on energy democracy, then the call for community renewables as a civil right would be the first and only demand, with everything else – energy independence, a cleaner environment, job creation, democratization of political influence, a gradual phaseout of fossil and nuclear energy, etc. – being side effects.
The Dutch call for a Green Energy Union mentions the Energiewende only once, saying that “we should learn from its mistakes… in Germany, normal energy consumers cover too much of the cost.” If you’re going to learn one lesson from Germany, it’s not that retail ratepayers cross subsidize industry – something that does not bother Brussels at all, incidentally. The lesson to learn is that all Energiewende demonstrations to date have all been for it – to protect people’s civil right to make their own energy.