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Trade Unions for Energy Democracy Bulletin 124

By staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, September 22, 2022

Towards a Public Pathway Approach to a Just Energy Transition for the Global South

Leaders from trade unions, three Global Union Federations, and allied organizations representing 27 countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia Pacific will gather in Nairobi, Kenya, in mid-October to launch a new trade union initiative to promote a “public pathway” approach to a just energy transition in the Global South. The goal of the gathering is to lay the foundations for a South-led trade union platform that will focus on how to strengthen the trade union response to the kind of “green structural adjustment” proposals that are today being pushed by the rich countries, the IMF, and the World Bank.

The 3-day, 70-person, meeting in Nairobi comes at a time when there is growing support for a public pathway approach to energy transition and climate protection that can address the failures of the current ineffective and regressive profit-focused policies. This growing support is reflected in the Trade Union Program for a Public Low-Carbon Energy Future (TUP) that was announced at COP26 in Glasgow last November. 

What nationalising energy companies would cost; and how to do it

By Andrew Fisher - Open Democracy, August 17, 2022

When 62% of Conservative voters want energy run in the public sector, it’s fair to say the left has won the argument (75% of Labour voters agree, 68% of Lib Dems).

Yet public ownership is opposed passionately by the Conservative government, while the leader of the opposition has said he is “not in favour” of it – despite his election on a platform that committed to “bring rail, mail, water and energy into public ownership to end the great privatisation rip-off and save you money on your fares and bills”.

Public ownership is on the media’s radar, too. When Labour leader Keir Starmer announced his policy to freeze bills this week, he was asked why he wouldn’t also nationalise energy, replying that: “In a national emergency where people are struggling to pay their bills … the right choice is for every single penny to go to reducing those bills.”

But so long as energy remains privatised, every single penny won’t. Billions of pennies will keep going to shareholders instead.

The energy market was fractured under the mass privatisations of the Thatcher governments in the 1980s. It contains three sectors: producers or suppliers (those that produce energy), retailers (those that sell you energy), and distribution or transmission (the infrastructure that transports energy to your home).

It is important to bear this in mind when we’re talking about taking energy into public ownership. We need to be clear about what we want in public ownership and why.

Towards a Public Pathway Approach to Energy Transition

By various - Alternative Information Development Center, August 15, 2022

On Wednesday, July 27th, 2022, representatives of unions and social movements met in Johannesburg to discuss the country’s energy crisis. The representatives agreed to form a united front to resist privatisation of the power sector and to propose alternative ways to address both the immediate crisis and the longer-term challenges posed by the decarbonisation of South Africa’s energy system. What follows is a work-in-progress statement that captures the discussion and conclusions reached at the end of the meeting:

Statement of the United Front to Address Loadshedding:

We acknowledge the multiple economic and social problems associated with load-shedding (particularly for the working class and poor communities in both rural and urban areas). We agree with President Ramaphosa when he says government must take bold measures to address load-shedding as expeditiously and efficiently as possible. We agree that load-shedding is a national crisis that requires decisive action on the part of the government.

However, we believe that the proposals aimed at addressing load-shedding that have been put forward by government ministries, the private sector, consultancies and think tanks are unrealistic and are extremely unlikely to succeed. These proposals reflect the interests of the Independent Power Producer (IPPs) and their desire to secure subsidies as a means of securing guaranteed returns on investments and to grow their businesses at the expense of Eskom. Their needs also reflect the privatisation designs of the World Bank, the IMF, and the European Commission.

Equally important, the actions proposed by the government will impede South Africa’s transition to a low-carbon energy system and expose the country to a state of energy dependency. South Africa has no wind industry and its solar industry is negligible. There is currently no means to produce lithium-ion batteries. South Africa will surrender energy decision-making to multinational companies that produce these technologies.

We believe that it is foolish to entertain the idea that the private sector and market liberalisation can provide a workable alternative to load-shedding. The solution to load shedding and the achievement of a just energy transition in the coming decades depends on a well-resourced national public utility.

A fairer energy system for families and the climate

By staff - Trades Union Congress, July 25, 2022

Executive summary

Publicly-owned energy retail companies can deliver fairer bills for households, accelerate the rollout of household retrofits and reduce energy use.

Soaring energy bills are causing untold suffering for low-income households and workers across the UK. The “typical” bill was increased by 54% with Ofgem’s April increase in the energy price cap.[1] Many households have already seen bills go up by over a thousand pounds. Ofgem is expected to increase the electricity and gas price cap again in August by a further 51%, so that average bills pass £3,200.[2]

But allocating the burden of the gas price crisis to domestic households at this scale is not inevitable. Other European countries have demonstrated that it is possible to insulate many or all households from the fallout of the invasion of Ukraine, Putin’s gas politics and global volatility in terms of energy bills. Our analysis shows that this is because governments in those countries have more levers to intervene in energy pricing – and are more prepared to use the levers that they have. Part of this comes down to questions of who owns and controls our energy system, and whom it serves.

There is widespread recognition that the UK’s energy system is broken.

It’s Time for Public Power. New York State Could Lead the Way

By Ashley Dawson - Truthout, July 20, 2022

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling in West Virginia v. EPA dismantles one of the last regulatory tools remaining to cut carbon emissions on a federal scale in the U.S. With the failure of the Democrats to pass significant legislation and the specter of looming defeats in midterm elections, it’s now up to progressive cities and states to take the lead in fighting the climate crisis.

We got close to breaking ground on such an alternative state-level strategy this year in New York. In May, the State Senate passed the Build Public Renewables Act. The bill mandates the state’s New Deal-era public power provider — the New York Power Authority (NYPA) — to generate all of its electricity from clean energy by 2030. It also sets up a process that would allow the New York Power Authority to build and own renewables while shutting down polluting infrastructure. Although it is the largest publicly owned utility in the country, with a track record of providing the most affordable energy in the state, the New York Power Authority cannot legally own or build new utility-scale renewable generation projects at present because the state limits the public power utility to owning only six large utility-scale projects of 25 megawatts or more. This is because renewable energy developers wanted to limit competition from the New York Power Authority. The Build Public Renewables Act would remove this restriction and unleash the New York Power Authority’s game-changing power.

The Build Public Renewables Act had enough votes to pass in the Assembly and move to the governor’s desk to be signed, but Speaker Carl Heastie refused to bring the bill to a vote. Stung by criticism of this undemocratic move and over the tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations he has taken from fossil fuel interests, Speaker Heastie has called a special hearing on the Build Public Renewables Act for late July. The Public Power NY campaign is calling for Heastie and Gov. Kathy Hochul to call a special session so that the Build Public Renewables Act can be passed.

Three years ago, when the Public Power NY campaign began work, things looked a lot more hopeful on the federal level. Presidential hopefuls like Jay Inslee centered his plan for a clean energy economy on community-owned and community-led renewables while Bernie Sanders’s climate plan called for 100 percent public power. Sanders wanted to reach this goal quickly and efficiently by using public funding and infrastructure rather than leaving the transition up to corporate investors, who have failed the public miserably.

Leaping Backwards: Why is Energy Poverty Rising in Africa?

By Sean Sweeney - New Labor Forum, July 18, 2022

How can the world end energy poverty in the Global South and simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions to fight climate change? In 2021, 860 million people had no access to electricity. [1] Today, a third of all humanity lacks access to reliable power. Roughly 2.6 billion people heat their homes with polluting fuels and technologies, and using traditional stoves fueled by charcoal, coal, crop waste, dung, kerosene, and wood.[2] The majority of families in the Global South are today able to turn on an electric light—and therefore have “access to electricity” for at least some hours in the day—but for many that is as far as it goes. For other basic needs, dirty and perhaps life-threatening energy continues to be the norm.

The urgency of providing energy to the great numbers of people in the Global South who lack it runs headlong into the necessity to divert climate disaster by reducing worldwide carbon emissions. It is this challenge that sits at he center of current debates on “sustainable development.” For some years, the standard answer from the climate policy world has been the following: the Global South is well positioned to “leapfrog” the phase of centralized energy and jump feet first into the transition to modern renewables, in the same way as mobile phones have proliferated in the developing world without first having to install traditional land-line infrastructure.[3] Whereas large nuclear, coal, and gas-fired power stations and hydroelectric dams take years to build, by comparison wind, solar, and battery technologies are small, easy to install, and, the argument goes, increasingly affordable. Rural communities without electricity can set up stand-alone “micro-grids,” so there is no need for traditional transmission and distribution grids which are expensive and inefficient. The Global South—which refers broadly to Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands, and the developing countries in Asia—is blessed with so much sun and wind, there is no reason why energy poverty cannot be consigned to history relatively quickly.[4]

That is the good news. The bad news is that it is not happening, and there are few signs that it will.

Leaping Backwards: Why is Energy Poverty Rising in Africa?

By Sean Sweeney - New Labor Forum, July 18, 2022

How can the world end energy poverty in the Global South and simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions to fight climate change? In 2021, 860 million people had no access to electricity. [1] Today, a third of all humanity lacks access to reliable power. Roughly 2.6 billion people heat their homes with polluting fuels and technologies, and using traditional stoves fueled by charcoal, coal, crop waste, dung, kerosene, and wood.2 The majority of families in the Global South are today able to turn on an electric light—and therefore have “access to electricity” for at least some hours in the day—but for many that is as far as it goes. For other basic needs, dirty and perhaps life-threatening energy continues to be the norm.

The urgency of providing energy to the great numbers of people in the Global South who lack it runs headlong into the necessity to divert climate disaster by reducing worldwide carbon emissions. It is this challenge that sits at he center of current debates on “sustainable development.” For some years, the standard answer from the climate policy world has been the following: the Global South is well positioned to “leapfrog” the phase of centralized energy and jump feet first into the transition to modern renewables, in the same way as mobile phones have proliferated in the developing world without first having to install traditional land-line infrastructure.3 Whereas large nuclear, coaland gas-fired power stations and hydroelectric dams take years to build, by comparison wind, solar, and battery technologies are small, easy to install, and, the argument goes, increasingly affordable. Rural communities without electricity can set up stand-alone “micro- grids,” so there is no need for traditional transmission and distribution grids which are expensive and inefficient. The Global South—which refers broadly to Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands, and the developing countries in Asia—is blessed with so much sun and wind, there is no reason why energy poverty cannot be consigned to history relatively quickly.4

That is the good news. The bad news is that it is not happening, and there are few signs that it will.

Australia’s Recent Power Market Crisis and the Struggle for Public Ownership

By staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, July 8, 2022

This past June 15th, Australia’s Electricity Market Operator (AEMO) announced the suspension of wholesale electricity spot markets in all regions covered by the country’s National Electricity Market (NEM). The NEM typically provides 80% of Australia’s electricity, mainly in developed coastal areas around the eastern third of the country.

The market suspension came in response to soaring wholesale electricity prices and serious shortages in supply — a combination of factors that, according to AEMO, made it “impossible to continue operating the spot market while ensuring a secure and reliable supply of electricity for consumers” in line with national regulatory requirements.

Key unions in Australia have recognized for years that the NEM does not serve the interests of unions, working people, or the public in general. According to Michael Wright, acting national secretary of the country’s Electrical Trades Union (ETU):

The ETU has been sounding the alarm about the NEM for years. This vindicates our long-held concerns that the market is broken and beyond repair.

The experiment in synthetic markets, trying to deliver essential public services through profit-motivated, tax-avoiding multinational energy corporations, has failed shockingly.

Similarly, Colin Long, Just Transitions Organizer for Australia’s Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC), points out that such markets only function when they ensure profits for private owners and investors. As Long states in a background document he has written on the current crisis:

The NEM [like other market-based systems] is designed to deliver electricity in a way that is profitable to generators, mostly privately-owned, not in a way that maximises public or social benefit to Australians.

As Long further explains:

Privatisation was supposed to lead to lower prices for consumers. In fact, the opposite has occurred. Reinstating public ownership would eliminate rentier behaviour by transmission and distribution companies and the need to concede to the profit demands of big overseas investors. It would enable us to plan the energy system transformation, with a clear schedule for closure of fossil fuel generators to give certainty to workers, their communities and electricity grid managers. It would enable us to schedule fossil fuel generation replacement by renewables in a way that guaranteed supply, efficiency and reduced cost – and ensures we meet decarbonisation targets. It would enable us to ensure that workers are guaranteed a just transition to new opportunities and new industries.

Readers who would like a copy of Long’s background document can contact him at clong@vthc.org.au.

Both ETU and VTHC are part of the TUED network, and have played key roles in advancing the project.

South Africa's Coal Miners’ Union Calls for a Public Pathway Approach to Energy Transition

By staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, April 5, 2022

At its recent 17th National Congress, South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) adopted a bold position in favor of keeping the country’s electrical power utility Eskom fully public.

Attended by roughly 750 delegates, the three-day congress — held in Boksburg, South Africa, from March 30th to April 1st, 2022 — adopted a report titled “Just Transition and the Energy Sector.” The report declares:

As a union with a long history of internationalism, NUM is today part of a global trade union-led effort to secure a Just Transition to a low carbon future. Once championed by unions, the term just transition has been hijacked by capital and its original meaning has been distorted. It is now being used to advance a global “green structural adjustment” agenda, one that is using the climate emergency as cover to advance privatisation and to dismantle public companies and assets.

In recent years, NUM has worked alongside the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), TUED, AIDC and the Transnational Institute to repel government-led efforts to break up and privatize the national utility Eskom.

Challenges and perspectives of a just transition in Europe

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