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Outliers or Frontrunners? Exploring the (Self-) Governance of Community- Owned Sustainable Energy in Scotland and the Netherlands

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Abstract

Community owned renewable energy initiatives are the emergent and self-organized arrangements where communities become both producers and suppliers of energy. Cases of community energy developments form Texel (Netherlands), and Undy and Urgha (UK) are the empirical grounds that demonstrate this capacity. As highly desirable community owned renewable initiatives may seem, they face many enablers. However, they are also confronted with various tensions, as identified in this chapter. A closer look of the governance space in which these community initiatives operate, reveals that tensions and opportunities span from socio-cultural, political, and technological axes. These initiatives are both outliers and frontrunners of a sustainable energy transition: they create new forms of institutions, challenge even benefiting to them instruments, dare to uptake risks and seize opportunities, and operate outside demarcated institutional space. Community owned energy initiatives constitute a new form of local renewable energy governance that deserves to be explored.
Outliers or Frontrunners? Exploring
the (Self-) Governance of Community-
Owned Sustainable Energy in Scotland
and the Netherlands
Niki Frantzeskaki, Flor Avelino and Derk Loorbach
Abstract Community owned renewable energy initiatives are the emergent and
self-organized arrangements where communities become both producers and
suppliers of energy. Cases of community energy developments form Texel
(Netherlands), and Undy and Urgha (UK) are the empirical grounds that demon-
strate this capacity. As highly desirable community owned renewable initiatives
may seem, they face many enablers. However, they are also confronted with
various tensions, as identified in this chapter. A closer look of the governance
space in which these community initiatives operate, reveals that tensions and
opportunities span from socio-cultural, political, and technological axes. These
initiatives are both outliers and frontrunners of a sustainable energy transition: they
create new forms of institutions, challenge even benefiting to them instruments,
dare to uptake risks and seize opportunities, and operate outside demarcated
institutional space. Community owned energy initiatives constitute a new form of
local renewable energy governance that deserves to be explored.
1 Introduction
There have been numerous research papers and studies that advocate the benefits
of renewable energy systems as the alternative—if not the substitute of current
energy supply sources. The benefits of a shift to renewables include, among others,
N. Frantzeskaki (&)F. Avelino D. Loorbach
Dutch Research Institute For Transitions, Erasmus University,
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
e-mail: frantzeskaki@fsw.eur.nl
F. Avelino
e-mail: avelino@fsw.eur.nl
D. Loorbach
e-mail: loorbach@fsw.eur.nl
E. Michalena and J. M. Hills (eds.), Renewable Energy Governance,
Lecture Notes in Energy 57, DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4471-5595-9_6,
Springer-Verlag London 2013
101
lowering overall greenhouse gas emissions, creating new energy markets, and
when accounting all social-ecological costs and benefits, contributing to geopo-
litical stability (when oil and gas dependency are considered) (Verbong and
Loorbach 2012). When this global perspective on a renewable future appears
desirable, a local vision of a renewable-led future raises a number of questions
based on our current experiences:
Will local communities welcome or clash with the siting of renewables in their
neighborhood? Regardless the spatial dynamics of the area in reference,
(sprawling, densifying, or shrinking) regions will have to take more prominently
into account perceptions and desires of local citizens that relate to their future
(Wolsink 2012; Rygg 2012).
Will a renewable energy future be governed by the state, by corporations, by
hybrid arrangements such as public–private partnerships or, will new gover-
nance arrangements emerge? Current experience with the fossil fuel dominated
system varies shows energy oligarchies around the world (Hoffman and High-
Pippert 2010; Mumford and Gray 2010; Nikogosian and Veith 2012).
Will a community that provided electricity from renewables rebound to more
electricity intensive lifestyles, or is a renewable powered community possible to
be energy responsible? (Darby 2006; Chitnis et al. 2013)
These critical points come to demarcate that beyond the technological
advancements in the efficiency of renewable energy systems and the research on
means to promote and better diffuse the use of renewables in the energy mix, the
role of communities in the energy system has become more prominent, and should
not be considered as negligible. This is further supported by the neoliberalism that
steers energy infra-systems toward a more ‘consumer’-responsible frontier.
Community owned energy infrastructures come to confront these three critical
questions. Such initiatives have taken place sparsely in Europe over the past decade
(Musall and Kuik 2011) and recently in Australia (Gross 2007) and in Canada
(Corscadden et al. 2012). For a renewable-led energy future, community owned
energyinfrastructure appearsas anideal futuremicrograph thatcombines useof green
energy technologies, governance by users, and fostering of energy responsibility.
Research on such initiatives has revealed that there are two socio-technological
phenomena in synergy: the one of experimentation that the scholarships of sus-
tainability transitions and energy policy studies have been investigating and one of
the self-organization that numerous scholarships have been addressing, such as
third sector studies, critical policy studies, infrastructure studies, and policy studies.
1.1 State of the Art: Experimentation and Self-Organization
The field of sustainability transitions studies has recently witnessed an increasing
attention for self-organized innovation by citizens. Several authors have empha-
sized the need to pay more attention to the role of civil society in sustainability
102 N. Frantzeskaki et al.
transitions (Seyfang and Smith 2007; Seyfang and Haxeltine 2012). Research on
energy niches investigates the mechanisms and conditions that can nurture and
grow promising innovations in order for them to offer viable alternatives to
existing needs (Smith and Raven 2012). Community ownership of energy infra-
structures is viewed as a new policy experiment for activating and establishing
energy citizenry.
Energy policy studies explore the relations between community and renewable
energy projects and a major focus has put on the resistance of community to
neighborhood renewable installations. Energy policy studies have recently
explored two types of facilitation mechanisms to fix community and renewable
energy suppliers: (a) benefit sharing mechanisms that are market fixes to transfer
benefits from energy projects to adjacent or nearby communities and the local
administration (Corscadden et al. 2012; Cowell et al. 2011) and (b) enabling
community owned renewable projects as niches of self-sustaining energy security.
A critical driver for community ownership of energy infrastructure includes
policy incentives or an overall favorable policy regime that paves the ground for
local leadership on taking-up energy initiatives (Saunders et al. 2012, p. 85). Full
community ownership is often facilitated by community capacity building, via
government-led initiatives supporting community energy (Walker et al. 2010,
p. 2656); and via trust building between the community group that establishes and
operates the energy facility (Walker et al. 2010, p. 2662). Shared ownership
(between the local administration and community) is facilitated by profit expec-
tations and a high degree of environmental awareness (Musall and Kuik 2011).
Energy policy studies and cases conclude that community ownership is a policy-
enabled or opportunity-enabled configuration.
In an overview of ‘drivers and barriers’ for Community-based Renewable
Energy schemes, (Allen et al. 2012, p. 266) point out that drivers ‘‘span the entire
sustainability spectrum’’—including climate change, energy insecurity, job
opportunities, lower energy prices, conservation of natural resources, social ben-
efits (trust, cohesion)—while tensions can belong to three main categories: (1)
institutional constraints (stakeholders, finance, dependency on expertise), (2)
uncertainty and little knowledge, and (3) lack of time for actors and institutions to
develop community renewable projects. These are particularly troublesome,
because ‘‘energy consumers and producers are subject to complex, often confus-
ing, and always changing set of policies’’ (Allen et al. 2012, p. 262).
A different focus on understanding infra-system governance by infrastructure
studies proposes that instead of considering the demand side of infrastructures as a
constant in the infra-system equation, one should consider the demand side as a
dependent variable. Instead of users only representing the demand side, users can
also adopt a dual role as infrastructure suppliers, supplying services that (better)
meet their own demand. The concept of self-organization has received most
attention in the recent work on Inverse Infrastructures (Egyedi and Mehos 2012).
Egyedi and Mehos, describe inverse Infrastructures such as emergent, bottom-up,
decentralized and citizen-owned infrastructures, and contrast these to the more
traditional understanding of infrastructures as large technical systems, which are
Outliers or Frontrunners? 103
designed, top-down, centralized, and either publicly or commercially owned
(Egyedi and Mehos 2012).
Self-organization is approached as ‘‘a mode of co-ordination in which control is
dispersed and decentralized’’ (Egyedi and Mehos 2012). Institutional analysis of
inverse infrastructures identifies that there is a considerable mismatch, i.e., policy
gap, between emerging inverse infrastructures practices on the one hand, and the
formal and informal institutions and policies that are oriented toward large tech-
nical systems on the other hand.
Within Third Sector studies, self-organization phenomena are primarily
addressed in terms of ‘co-operatives,’ the ‘social economy,’ and/or ‘social enter-
prises’ (Birch and Whittam 2008; Moulaert and Ailenei 2005; Pestoff 1992). The
social economy generally refers to the provision of services that satisfy needs that
are not (or not adequately) fulfilled by the private and public sector. A social
enterprise has ‘‘business orientation and innovative approach focused on the
delivery of social benefits’’ (Birch and Whittam 2008, p. 440) and ‘‘an explicit aim
to benefit the community, initiated by a group of citizens and in which the material
interest of capital investors is subject to limits’’ (Moulaert and Ailenei 2005).
Social enterprises can take various forms, including user or worker co-operatives,
mutual aid associations, and even organizations with a commercial character.
Several scholars have emphasized that the main contribution of the Third Sector is
that it provides a diversity of alternatives to public or private sector (Scott-Cato
and Hillier 2010).
Within the field of policy studies, self-organization has been typically addressed
in approaches that are inspired by complexity theory and emphasize the limitations
of governance in terms of steering and managing complex societal systems
(Loorbach and Frantzeskaki 2012). Regarding the more specific issue of self-
organization by citizens: this has been addressed (implicitly or explicitly) in terms
of citizen participation and deliberative governance (Wesselink et al. 2011;
Stirling 2008). Within that literature there is quite some attention for the ironies
and dilemmas of the governmentality in civil society participation, such as the
close relation between increasing calls for more citizen participation on one hand
and the neoliberal political agenda on the other hand (see in particular recent
discussions about UK government discourse on ‘Big Society’). The literature also
points out that there are different ‘rationales’ and ‘design choices’ that drive and
shape public participation approaches; a distinction can be made between nor-
mative, substantive, instrumental, and legalistic rationales (Wesselink et al. 2011;
Stirling 2008). These different rationales point to different motives, contexts, and
problem definitions underlying public participation processes.
The presented approaches have different foci; some focus more on the ‘civil
society’ dimension, while others are more centered on ‘energy’ or ‘infrastruc-
tures’. These different foci also lead to different interpretations of what the main
enablers and tensions, priorities and challenges are.
104 N. Frantzeskaki et al.
2 Research Approach
In order to place these academic discussions in a practical context, we have
conducted a research project which aims to contribute to the state-of-the-art
through: (1) a cross-national comparative analysis of empirical cases, (2) an
interdisciplinary interpretation of empirical observations so as to bridge insights
from different approaches, and (3) a transdisciplinary translation of research
findings so as to allow for dialogue and communication between academics and
non-academics. We argue that such cross-national, interdisciplinary, and trans-
disciplinary insight is still lacking in much of the literature. In order to realize
these three aims, we start our research project with the empirical analysis of cross-
national cases in which civil society is self-organizing energy infrastructures.
Rather than attempting to ‘integrate’ or ‘bridge’ state-of-the-art research a priori,
we take a more inductive approach in which we first use empirical observations to
identify challenges and questions, which will then be viewed (in a later phase of
the project) in relation to state-of-the-art research.
In our research we shed light on the governance reality in which these initia-
tives operate by exploring the policy-community interface and revealing institu-
tional tensions, drivers, and controversies. Our focus is on capturing how
participants in these empirical case studies themselves experience and explain the
main drivers and tensions of their initiatives vis-à-vis the institutional.
We describe our cases at three different levels: (1) the actual organizations in
which civil society self-organizes energy infrastructure (Sects. 3 and 4), (2) the
socio-spatial context (Sects. 3 and 4), and (3) the national context (Netherlands and
UK) (Sect. 1). By ‘socio-spatial context’ we refer to a geographical and/or social
place that drives the project, in terms of providing it with a sense of community,
identity, place, and motivation. This can refer to a geographically delineated
community such as an urban district, an island, or a town, but it can also refer to a
network or a social movement. As we will demonstrate in the case-study
descriptions, these diverse types of ‘socio-spatial contexts’ play an important role
in enabling the persistence of the individual projects and organizations.
Our empirical stories are based on research project in which we studied a total
of eight case studies of community energy initiatives.
In this contribution, we only present three of the selected cases. The three
nominated cases have in common the fact that: (1) they are practical examples of
civil society self-organizing energy infrastructure, and (2) wind energy is used as
the renewable energy technology by the communities.
A closer look at the case studies does not only reveal the role of the institutional
context (Sect. 2), but also the institutional dynamics at hand (Sect. 3) in the form of
similar or differing tensions and opportunities. We reflect on the case studies and
their comparison in the form of governance implications and limitations (Sect. 6)
and we conclude with a critical perspective on the role of community owned
energy initiatives for a next-generation energy future (Sect. 7).
Outliers or Frontrunners? 105
3 The Dutch Community Energy Case: Texel Energy
Texel Energie is one of the first and most famous energy co-operatives in the
Netherlands. As the name indicates, it is geographically located on Texel, a Dutch
island in the Wadden Sea (North Sea) that has 13,000 citizens spread over seven
villages. Bureaucratically speaking the island Texel is a municipality within the
province of South-Holland. Texel Energy is a co-operative with 3,000 members
and 4,000 customer connections. One can become a member for 50 euros a year,
for which one receives a share in the company, a discount on the energy price and
a vote in the annual assembly. Each member gets one vote, independent of the
amount of shares. Texel Energie was initiated by three islanders (‘‘Texelaars’’) and
formally founded in 2007. Initially, the main business was to buy and resell
renewable energy, but in recent years it also started producing renewable energy
through projects in solar energy, biomass and ‘anaerobic digestion’. Our corre-
spondent indicated that the organization is also working on investing in wind,
geothermal, and tidal energy.
One of the main drivers for Texel Energy concerns the local culture; the island
of Texel has a very strong local identity and an exceptionally strong cultural and
historical strive for ‘being independent’. An often referred to example thereof is
the story of the company TESO—the ferry service that has connected the island to
the mainland of the Netherlands for the past century. TESO is an abbreviation for
Texel’s Eigen Stoomboot Onderneming—literally translated as ‘‘Texel’s Own
Steam Ship Enterprise’’. Before TESO—until the end of the nineteenth century—
the island was dependent on a commercial ferry company from the mainland. The
story is that islanders were getting fed up with the increasing prices and decreasing
quality of the ferry service. At the beginning of the twentieth century, a small
group of respectable islanders started an initiative that would enable the islanders
to buy ‘their own steam ship’. By selling shares of 5–25 Dutch guilders, they
managed to collect a total of 76,000 guilders (approximately 35,000 Euros).
In 1907, TESO commissioned the construction of its first steam ship. Today
TESO still has over 3,000 shareholders, and the ferry ticket to go to Texel is still
considerably cheaper (nearly 90 %) than those of the other Dutch islands (routes
covered by commercial ferry services).
1
This historic tale illustrates the island
culture of Texel, and TESO is very often celebrated and referred to as a model for
island independence, also in discussion over renewable and sustainable energy.
Our correspondent is not only a board member of Texel Energy but also born and
raised on the island; he emphasized how important the local identity was, and that
the need for independence was and is one of the strongest drivers for the success of
Texel Energie, much more so than the environmental argument.
Still, there were issues arisen with Texel Energy, and those mainly concerned
the newness of the business model, and related to that, the difficulty of getting
financed:
1
Historical story is taken from Texelse Courant, 7th of August 2007 ?interviews.
106 N. Frantzeskaki et al.
It was newwe were one of the first of this type of initiatives in NLwe really had to
invent everything ourselves. () [and another tension is] financing, especially for pro-
ductionthe banks are very hesitant. We need half million, that is so much moneyyou
cannot finance that with 3,000 members. () It is especially the banks that create diffi-
culties for usbecause they don’t know our model we have a very high-risk profile.
A related tension that was mentioned concerned the confusion over the dif-
ferences between for-profit, non-profit, and not-for-profit:
Our goal is to provide reliable and sustainable energy for our members, our main goal is
not to make profit. We fall in between profit and non-profit, that can be quite difficult: we
have to explain and explain it all the time. Many people and government officials do not
understand it. A few years ago the TESO also had many difficulties explaining their way of
working to the EU and to the tax offices. It would be nice to have the social enterprise
legally recognizednow it does not exist legally.
Our correspondent did however nuance that the main tensions were not nec-
essarily legal or regulatory: ‘‘we were not that bothered by laws and regulations.
Of course there were some obstacles when we made contracts and so on—since
our concept was new—but one should not exaggerate the legal obstacles’’.
Although ‘‘there is a lot of talk about getting rid of laws and regulations’’, our
correspondent also warned against the tendency to get stuck in that legal focus.
When asked explicitly about the interaction with government, our correspon-
dent answered that ‘‘there is hardly any interaction with government—we con-
sciously choose not to involve them’’. Although the interest of government
officials for local energy initiatives has considerably increased in recent years, our
correspondent doubts the usefulness of government involvement and facilitation.
Essentially, citizens and entrepreneurs do not necessarily ‘need’ to directly involve
the government to start up an energy co-operative. As long as the basic legal
regulations and institutional arrangements allow it, citizens and/or social entre-
preneurs can start an energy co-operative, just like they can start a business
enterprise or an association.
4 The Scottish Community Energy Cases: Urgha and Udny
Scotland is a breeding ground for community projects including a large number of
community owned energy projects. We start our research for the UK energy
context with the two frontrunners in community energy, Urgha and Udny Com-
munity Wind (Turbines). During the scoping of the UK case studies, representa-
tives from the Scottish government and from Community Energy Scotland
suggested Urgha and Udny as successful cases that ‘‘survived and succeeded in an
unfriendly institutional landscape’’. As a result, the exploration of these two case
studies reveals institutional controversies and opportunities faced by the two
frontrunning communities when community energy in Scotland was in its infancy.
Outliers or Frontrunners? 107
At present, the institutional context has changed with a Scottish Strategy about
Community Energy explicitly stating conditions and targets for energy sufficiency
and self-reliance.
4.1 Urgha Wind Project and the North Harris Trust
Urgha Wind is a community owned wind turbine by the North Harris Community
Trust in UK. At a community-recycling site, a community group was established
in 2003 so as to set up projects that benefit the larger community. North Harris is a
sparsely populated area and the community consists of 700 inhabitants. At the
beginning, the community-recycling site was contracted by the city council. The
resources needed to support a healthy community economy however could not be
covered by council’s support. Hence, they erected a turbine (10 KW wind turbine)
that generates electricity (that converts to heat and light) and the excess/surplus of
electricity generated not used by the community is fed into the grid. The turbine
generates 4,000 pounds/year of income. The primary objective of operating the
wind turbine is to support job creation. Adjacent to the turbine’s location is a small
business district/area. There is a future plan to erect a second turbine.
A recognized and experienced tension for Urgha Wind is the risk aversion of
banks when it concerns loans for communities rather than private energy investors.
Though there are funds available and favorable conditions in loan packages for
community owned energy projects, the majority of the banks is risk averse and
avoids lending to community organizations. Given the changes in the funding
schemes, grant funds are not anymore available for community energy projects;
therefore if one wants to apply for feed-in-tariff, different sources of funds need to
be explored such as commercial landing and private funding. This brings new
tensions given that community projects are seen as of high-risk from banks making
them reluctant to grant loans to community initiatives. Another risk to be considered
is the financial viability risk of the Community’s Trust. In the case of North Harris
Community Trust, since the erection of the turbine, the company went bust so the
wind turbine was not fully installed (monitoring equipment was not installed). The
turbine was operated and generated electricity even without seizing its full design
potential. The Trust had to find new sources of money so as to finalize the project.
Additionally, the community trust had to compete for loans and grants with
private energy operators in an open market. A tough lesson taught was that in the
beginning, commercially owned projects take over benefits due to their scale and
better marketing-devised strategies. This however changed due to the support
given by Community Energy Scotland (see following Sect. 4.3).
At the same time, the enforced feed-in-tariff scheme creates extra complications
rather than an enabling environment for community energy. For the North Harris
Community Trust, the grant fund that was awarded to cover the first three years
excluded the community operators to apply for and as such, benefit from the feed-
in-tariffs. Another complication concerns the benefit-holders of the community
108 N. Frantzeskaki et al.
owned energy projects. The existing Planning Law does not specify about the
beneficiary of community owned energy projects (who gets the benefit); a fact that
creates accountability issues within the group from the community who operates
the wind turbine and the community as a shareholder of it.
The time that is required from the proposal stage to the operation of the wind
turbine creates additional hurdles due to the group stamina it requires to deal with
the uncertainty and the ad hoc demands that were created given that the com-
munity groups undertake these activities at voluntary capacity.
4.2 Udny Community Wind Turbine in Aberdeenshire
The Udny wind turbine is owned by Udny Community Trust, which is a com-
munity founded and owned organization. It started with five members of a com-
munity (professional engineers and farmers) that showed interest in community
energy in order to generate income for the local community. Udny Wind is a
leading community project in Aberdeenshire. The installation of wind turbines by
the community exemplified how to work toward the outcome for the follower
communities.
In the case of Udny wind, a helpful condition was the fact that the local council
officers welcomed the idea of a community owned wind turbine and were as helpful
as they could to the community group. The council officers recognized that there is
demand by community for facilitation and advice and respond to it by working in
partnership with community to establish energy projects; they remained available
and open to communicate and interact with the community throughout the project
cycle.
A controversy faced by Udny community wind was the incompliant funding
possibilities. Udny Community Trust were granted 400,000 pounds by the national
development fund which had to be declined since it was considered as double
funding after having been granted a bank loan with favorable conditions.
4.3 Energy Communities in Scotland
A common feature in the Scottish context is the willingness and tendency of
communities to strive for self-sufficiency and independence, an aspect also present
in the energy sector. The establishment of a mediating organization—Community
Energy Scotland, with the task to enable communities to undertake initiatives,
further reinforces this cultural aspect and aims at succeeding in having community
owned energy projects. After the energy strategy being laid down by the Scottish
government, there were 200 villages that subscribed for community owned
projects. The Scottish government responded to this demand by forming a
Outliers or Frontrunners? 109
consultancy-support group to aid these villages to become more energy efficient.
Community Energy Scotland started as a Highlands and Islands Enterprise and in
2002 changed into the structure that operates today. It shifted from a government-
based organization to an economic aid-based organization. The different com-
munity groups elect directors and members of Community Energy Scotland.
Community Energy Scotland currently is a non-profit organization that helps
communities to initiate proposals for community energy projects and to seek
support from local authorities. Its role is to empower group initiatives and to
respond to community requirements for initiating such projects. Development
officers are now placed around Scotland to assist communities. It also functions as
learning diffusion channels: (a) they transfer lessons learned from operating suc-
cessful projects (b) good practices and lessons from the interaction between
community and banks or other funding.
Community Energy Scotland helps communities during the first phase to
conduct a report, a feasibility study, and to put together a planning application that
complies with the Community Renewable Scheme (CARES) of the Scottish
government. The process is transparent and adaptable to community requirements
and capacity. Different types of support are available: Internet sources, publica-
tions, general information, RE-toolkit, community-energy toolkit, mentorship
program (with one-to-one consultations) training events (on demand and regular),
and a practitioners-community conference with organizations (e.g. corporate
actors). Recently, the initiation grant for community energy projects is a loan
scheme of 150,000 pounds that covers almost 90 % of the funding. Communities
seek funding from a number of resources such as private and commercial sectors.
The requirement is that approximately 20 % of the total cost has to be matched by
community’s resources. A way to ensure this and to succeed in matching resources
is to establish a community share scheme.
Community Energy Scotland is involved in different types of community
projects and initiatives such as: (a) community-buildings, where advice is provided
in one-to-one basis (via phone talks and consultation) about energy efficiency in
community-buildings and other broader needs, (b) communities generating profits,
and the profit is given to the community for benefiting its welfare and wellbeing
(not utilized by one person or limited few), (c) community paradigm program
where 30 groups are involved in a networking project sharing an agenda for locally
produced food so as to reduce carbon footprint of the food chain.
5 A Closer Look at the Cases
5.1 Institutional Context
The Netherlands: The Netherlands does not have a strong tradition in citizen
collectives and co-operatives. Although it does have a history of collective citizen
efforts to fight the threat of the sea, this has over centuries aggregated to formal
110 N. Frantzeskaki et al.
organizations and resulted in the strong corporatist model that the Netherlands are
renowned for. Political action and socio-economic co-operation is something that
primarily happens between formal organizations, not between citizens or neigh-
bors. In this context, the very concept of citizen co-operatives is quite a marginal
phenomenon. Until recently, when one would mention the word ‘coöperatie’
(Dutch for co-operative), many Dutch citizens would associate and confuse this
with the phenomenon of ‘housing corporations’; large centralized organizations
that have been entrusted by the government to organize social housing.
However, this relative marginal position of co-operatives and citizen collectives
is currently changing in the Netherlands. Several energy co-operatives have started
to emerge in recent years, and are receiving considerable attention from civil
society organizations and governments. One of our correspondents emphasized
that recently there has been a bewildering amount of departments and organiza-
tions enthusiastically ‘jumping on top of citizen initiatives’ and commented that all
this attention is not always particularly helpful.
When asked to compare the Netherlands to the other national contexts (UK,
Germany and Belgium) both Dutch as well as non-Dutch correspondents
emphasized that in the Netherlands there seems to be (1) a lot of talk and debate
and not so much on action, (2) a lack of collectivism and co-operative movement
tradition, and (3) an unstable and unpredictable investment climate. The first point
also relates to the elaborate public debates about legal and financial details. For
instance, currently in the Netherlands there is a considerable debate going on
regarding commercial tax laws related to renewable energy, in which one side
argues that if a collective of citizens produces renewable energy (e.g. through a
collective investment in solar panels) they should not pay value added tax when
subsequently using that energy for their own use. One of our non-Dutch corre-
spondents—although he acknowledged that there was something to be said about
this argument—could not help but wonder why the Dutch would not just get on
with solar energy panels rather than first endlessly debating tax law adaptations.
Regarding the second point—a lack of collectivism and co-operative movement
tradition—correspondents reported their impression that the Dutch field of energy
co-operatives seemed to exist of ‘‘separate islands’’ of small organizations who all
want ‘‘their own cooperative’’ rather than co-operating with one another.
Another more general legalistic discussion that dominates the Dutch public
debate in recent years, concerns the idea that in the Netherlands there are ‘too
many laws and regulations’ that hamper sustainability and innovation. On the one
hand, most of our correspondents from all four Western-European countries agree
that the overload of regulations and complex bureaucracies form considerable
obstacles to their initiatives. On the other hand, one Dutch correspondent also
pointed out how the focus on ‘getting rid of laws’ in itself can fall in the trap of a
legalistic discussion.
Last but not least, one correspondent mentioned that the Dutch focus on its
natural gas resources limits the opportunities for renewable energy technologies. It
is indeed not a coincidence that these phenomena—i.e., the presence of a natural
Outliers or Frontrunners? 111
resource limiting investments in alternative economic developments—is widely
known as ‘the Dutch disease’.
Scotland and the UK: Scottish government and the UK government have
positioned energy sufficiency high on the political agenda. This is a strong driver
for all energy related projects. More specifically, there is a clear direction from the
Scottish government to realize the energy ambition of the region to become energy
independently mapped out in the Strategy for Energy Scotland (‘‘Energy Roadmap
2020’’). Clearly defined targets within the Energy Roadmap 2020 are considered
useful by different stakeholders because they provide legitimacy, (constitutional)
support, and an institutional stepping-stone for mechanisms and venues to gain
support (financial, policy, and organizational). Wind-projects owned by commu-
nities were promoted and prioritized as action plans for communities to be energy
self-sufficient and financially profitable. Economic development and benefits for
communities were triggering motives also communicated by council and
government.
In addition to this, the Scottish government provides financial incentives for
promoting energy projects in Scotland. Existing financial motives include the feed-
in-tariff and low interest rate loans and the national lottery fund. Grants from
councils cannot be used; available grants include the lottery fund, LEADER EU
Initiative (EU rural development funds), and loans to support community projects.
An office and project for corporate investments on renewable energy is the
Energy4All office.
An additional enabling factor is the availability and mobilization of resources
(time and personnel) for community capacity building. At present, Aberdeenshire
council has an office and appointed officers that provide advice to small businesses
and households about energy installations and measures for energy efficiency.
Resources were made available for having pilot projects with small-scale energy
projects. The councils have seminars to disseminate information and in this way to
create and educate the community with the goal to create and if possible, grow the
demand side. Seminars targeted housing associations and neighborhoods for
introducing district-heating installations.
A technological and financial burden common to all community energy ini-
tiatives in Scotland is the grid coverage and connection cost.Grid connection in
remote locations is limited and when available, grid connection cost is a hurdle.
After the mediation of Community Energy Scotland, grid operators are invited in
community consultations to inform community groups about future (planned) grid
operations and installations. Investments in the grid for grid expansion are how-
ever not planned and scarce. At the same time, for communities that want to have
their energy project, they face the difficulty of grid disconnect. The grid connec-
tion is important to consider given the fact that these communities set the energy
projects in agricultural or grazing land that is outside the existing grid coverage
area. Therefore, the choice lies at the community’s hands to upgrade the grid on
their own cost (an amount of approximately 500,000 pounds, based on 2011
estimates and information) before installing any green energy technology. The grid
operating company enjoys a monopoly and their interactions with community
112 N. Frantzeskaki et al.
(when not mediated by Community Energy Scotland) are slow and not open to
information sharing and to creation of informal routes for co-operation.
5.2 Institutional Dynamics
Community owned renewable energy initiatives and projects are confronted with a
number of drivers and tensions as the three cases illustrate. We conceptually place
them across the following axes: (a) socio-cultural axis, (b) policy interest and
agenda axis, and (c) socio-technological axis. The main drivers are summarized as
follows:
Drivers Texel case (NL) Urgha and Udny cases (UK)
(a) Socio-cultural
axis
Local culture of ‘being’
independent
Local culture and legacy on collective
arrangements
(b) Policy agenda
axis
Political push and on the policy agenda
Existence of mediating organization
(Community Energy Scotland)
(c) Socio-
technological axis
Existing technology at hand
(wind energy)
Existing technology at hand (wind energy)
The main tensions of the three cases are summarized as follows:
Tensions Texel case (NL) Urgha and Udny cases (UK)
(a) Socio-cultural axis Newness of the business
model
Risk aversion of banks to grant loans
(b) Policy agenda axis No interaction with
government
Incompliant funding mechanisms
(c) Socio-technological
axis
Time-management and project
management risks
Financial viability risks
Grid coverage, connectivity, and cost
6 Lessons Learnt From the Cases
Though there are drivers in place that create an enabling context for community
owned renewable systems, there are two prevailing governance controversies
distinct to each case. In the context of Scotland, there is a political push for
community owned energy projects and resources are mobilized to support
Outliers or Frontrunners? 113
communities in any possible way. The existing facilitation mechanisms and pol-
icies however are inconsistent and incompliant and as such create a ‘valley of
death’ for initiatives with the future risk to discourage communities from taking-up
such initiatives.
Based on our empirical exploration of community energy projects in two
countries that differ significantly on the socio-cultural and political context, we can
argue that community energy projects have features of both outliers and front-
runners for a sustainable energy transition. Their outlier characteristics include and
are distinctive since they:
operate at a new community-policy territory questioning fixed arrangements
such as not-for-profit or for-profit forms
viewed as exceptional cases outside the norm or conventional energy supply–
demand systems
viewed as exceptional cases of communities’ attitudes toward renewable energy
systems.
At the same time, community energy initiatives and projects exemplify front-
runners’ characteristics when considering a renewable energy future since they:
dare to own a renewable energy system and take on all the risks (financial,
project-related, technological) that come with it
create a new energy governance arrangement in the absence of a policy agenda
or push toward it (Texel case) or prior to policy agendas (Udny and Urgha cases)
tap into community’s skills, expertise, and innovative potential for pursuing
community needs such as security and energy independence.
The empirical cases show that self-organization of renewable energy projects
by communities operate at the interface of community and policy and are hybrids
that challenge institutions that are in place to benefit or enable them. Given that
there are no perfect institutions, there is no flawless institutional space for re-
newables governance as well. The implication that community owned renewables
bring forward that the governance focus has to shift from designing diffusion
instruments (alone) toward examining which institutions fit the operation of
community owned renewables.
Beyond controlling or beyond governing? Such a perspective asks for a new
type of governance that focuses on providing space for initiatives to act (them-
selves) upon the tensions or paradoxes rather than intervening by controlling or
formalizing. This type of governance may appear as an ‘invisible governance’; we
do not imply to undermine the role of government in guiding and regulating, we do
however propose a new type of reflexive governance (Grin 2010) (Voss et al.
2009) (Voss J and Bornemann 2011) that diagnoses paradoxes and facilitates space
for self-correction and action without neglecting government’s roles and respon-
sibilities. As such, a meta-governance approach of governing self-organized
energy will need to ensure careful assessment and monitoring to safeguard that
self-organization delivers services, maintains equity in access and service for all
114 N. Frantzeskaki et al.
citizens (especially when public goods and services are operated by self-organized
operators e.g. think about drinking water to be operated by self-organized
initiatives).
7 Conclusions
Community owned renewable energy projects may appear as the ideal initiatives
for a sustainable energy future. This however does not imply that they are con-
fronted with less tensions or controversies or that the institutional space that they
operate is smoothly paved. Our empirical research shows that community owned
renewable initiatives operate as frontrunners of a sustainable energy transition:
they experiment with current institutional arrangements, dare to take risks and
seize opportunities, and create new institutions or, simply, dare to self-organize
energy. From an energy governance perspective, such initiatives require new
institutions to fit their operation and new modes of governance that can navigate
energy transition processes in a valley of institutional plurality and emergence.
Acknowledgments This research has been funded by the ARVODI research contract with the
Dutch Ministry of Infrastructures entitled ‘‘Governance of sustainable infrastructures’’ and by the
Research Programme Next-Generation Infrastructures.
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