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(Working Paper #13) Transition in Trouble?: The Rise and Fall of "Community Energy" in Europe

By Sean Sweeney, John Treat and Irene HongPing Shen - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, March 2020

This TUED Working Paper explores the current crisis of local, community, and cooperative energy. Our focus is Europe where these types of initiatives have made the most progress but now find themselves facing an uncertain future. In this paper we will explain what happened, and why. The goals of this paper are twofold.

The first goal is to draw a clear line of demarcation between the bold claims being made in the name of local and community energy, “energy citizenship,” and similar concepts on the one hand, and the cur-rent reality on the other—a reality that largely confines local energy initiatives to the margins of energy systems. In the case of Europe, the distance between the claims and the reality is vast, and it is widening.

Local and community energy has attracted a lot of support and enthusiasm from activists, and it is not hard to understand why this is the case. Efforts to advance community energy are frequently carried out in the name of a commitment to social justice, advancing equality, and empowering ordinary people to take a more active role in the transition to a low carbon future. Additionally, the activists and organizations undertaking such initiatives nearly always identify with a “values-driven” mission and aim to rise above considerations of personal gain or private profit.

For a period, it seemed that such initiatives were emerging everywhere across Europe. The growth of renewable energy and the proliferation of citizen and community ownership seemed to be in-separable from each other. Spurred on by falling costs of wind and solar technologies, a radical transition in energy ownership—and a shift in control away from large energy companies to small producers and consumers—seemed not only possible, but perhaps even imminent.

But recent policy changes in Europe have placed community energy into a pattern of decline. The removal of subsidies, particularly the Feed-in Tariff, and other incentives has led to a dramatic slow-down in local energy initiatives and cooperatives. The number of households installing solar photovoltaic panels (solar PV) has slowed to a crawl as onshore wind projects have also declined. While offshore wind installations are increasing, the total level of investment and deployment of renew-able energy in Europe has fallen dramatically.

Read the report (PDF).

The Future of Alberta's Oil Sands Industry: More Production, Less Capital, Fewer Jobs

By Ian Hussey - Parkland Institute, March 2020

Major restructuring and consolidation of the Alberta-dominated Canadian oil and gas industry has been taking place since 2014 (Hussey et al. 2018), when the lower-for-longer oil price scenario in which the province still finds itself began.

This report explores the employment, capital spending, and operational spending implications of the ongoing restructuring and consolidation of the industry. More specifically, the report explains that oil sands industry maturation—which was significantly advanced over the latest commodity cycle—means there has been a recent shift in the industry from its growth phase (2000–2018) to its mature phase (2019 onward).

Read the report (Link).

Protesta Y Propuesta: Lessons from Just Transformation, Ecological Justice, and the Fight for Self-Determination in Puerto Rico

By Brooke Anderson and Jovanna García Soto - Grassroots International and Movement Generation, February 2020

“De la Protesta a la Propuesta” (“From protest to proposal”). That’s the slogan that watershed protectors used when they successfully stopped open pit mining in the heart of Puerto Rico’s mountains then brought those same lands under community control. For those of us looking to build just transformation in place, we have much to learn from Puerto Rico’s social movements which are at once both visionary and oppositional, centering sovereignty and self-governance.

Just transformation, or just transition, is the work “to transition whole communities toward thriving economies that provide dignified, productive, and ecologically sustainable livelihoods that are governed directly by workers and communities.”

In the U.S., the term just transition was originally used by the labor movement to demand that with the phaseout of polluting industries, workers would be retrained and adequately compensated rather than bear yet another cost from working in that industry. Environmental justice communities on the fenceline of these polluting industries then built common cause with workers for a just transition that would not put the environmental or economic burden on workers or communities. In the U.S., the term has since further evolved to capture systemic transformation of the whole economy. While U.S. frontline groups often use the term just transition, some Puerto Rican social movements use the term just transformation—especially as a way to capture the necessity of achieving decolonization and sovereignty as part of any transition. As such, we’ll be using just transformation in this report, as well as other concepts such as self-determination and ecological justice.

Read the report (Link).

Scotland's Just Transition Commission Interim Report

By Jim Skea, et. al. - Scottish Just Transition Commission, February 2020

1.1 The Just Transition Commission was established by Scottish Ministers to advise on how just transition principles can be applied to climate change action in Scotland. Our remit is to prepare practical recommendations within two years of our first meeting, meaning our final report is due to be shared with Ministers by January 2021. We have been asked for recommendations that will help support action to:

  • maximise the economic and social opportunities that the move to a net-zero economy by 2045 offers
  • build on Scotland’s existing strengths and assets
  • understand and mitigate risks that could arise in relation to regional cohesion, equalities, poverty (including fuel poverty), and a sustainable and inclusive labour market

1.2 This report has been prepared as a result of a request from the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change, and Land Reform asking for interim advice to inform the updated Climate Change Plan. We hope this document can be helpful in this regard.

1.3 We held our inception meeting at the start of last year, when we agreed a work plan and an approach to collecting evidence. Since that initial meeting, we have travelled the country speaking to a range of stakeholders regarding the challenges and opportunities of transitioning to a net-zero economy. This has included a variety of activities, such as consideration of written evidence, discussions with experts, engagement events and site visits.

1.4 While we have been carrying out this programme of work, we are very aware that public concern over the impact and response to climate change has never been higher. There have also been important changes on the policy front. With this in mind, there are a number of developments that we can point to as being broadly positive in terms of delivering a just transition to a net-zero economy in Scotland.

Read the report (Link).

What could be wrong about planting trees?: The new push for more industrial tree plantations in the Global South

By Winfridus Overbeek - World Rainforest Movement, February 2020

What could be wrong about planting trees? Haven’t communities around the world been planting a diversity of trees since the dawn of human civilization?

Yes they have. But in more recent times, companies have also been planting trees, especially in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and the way they do so is very different from that of communities. They cover huge areas with trees from one single species, creating vast industrial or monoculture plantations devoid of biodiversity.

Today, these same companies plan to start a new round of massive expansion. Exploiting growing public awareness and concern about climate change, they argue that monoculture plantations are an excellent option to help solve some of the world’s most urgent problems: loss of forests, global heating and dependence on fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas).

The corporate argument is that plantations will encourage “forest restoration”, can serve as a natural “solution” to the climate emergency, or help foster a “bio-economy”.

The simple truth, however, is that the industries involved want more plantations simply to increase their profit margins. And other industries and polluters are also using such deceptive arguments, in order to hide their contributions to an ever-worsening social and environmental planetary crisis.

In this booklet, WRM aims to alert community groups and activists about the corporate push for a new round of industrial tree plantation expansion. It also reveals why planting trees on such a large scale can be extremely detrimental, in spite of seductive marketing campaigns claiming that these plantations will or could be a “solution” to the climate crisis.

Read the report (PDF).

Regenerative & Just 100% Policy Building Blocks Released by Experts from Impacted Communities

By Aiko Schaefer - 100% Network, January 21, 2020

The 100% Network launched a new effort to bring forward and coalesce the expertise from frontline communities into the Comprehensive Building Blocks for a Regenerative and Just 100% Policy. This groundbreaking and extensive document lays out the components of an 100% policy that centers equity and justice. Read the full report here.

Last year 100% Network members who are leading experts from and accountable to black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) and frontline communities embarked on a collective effort to detail the components of an ideal 100% policy. The creation of this 90-page document was an opportunity to bring the expertise of their communities together.

The Building Blocks document was designed primarily for frontline organizations looking to develop and implement their own local policies with a justice framework. Secondly, is to build alignment with environmental organizations and intermediary groups that are engaged in developing and advocating for 100% policies. The overall goals of the project are to:

  • Build the capacity of BIPOC frontline public policy advocates, so that impacted community groups who are leading, working to shape or just getting started on 100% policy discussions have information on what should be included to make a policy more equitable, inclusive and just
  • Align around frontline, community-led solutions and leadership, and create a shared analysis and understanding of what it will take to meet our vision for 100% just, equitable renewable energy.
  • Create a resource to help ensure equity-based policy components are both integrated and prioritized within renewable energy/energy efficiency policies. 
  • Build relationships across the movement between frontline, green, and intermediary organizations to create space for the discourse and trust-building necessary to move collaboration forward on 100% equitable, renewable energy policies. 

Taking the High Road: Strategies for a Fair EV Future

By staff - UAW Research Department, January 2020

The American automotive industry is constantly evolving and, throughout the union’s history, the United Auto Workers (UAW) has fought to ensure industry changes result in quality jobs that benefit workers and the economy.

The auto industry is facing a new shift in technology with the proliferation of electric vehicles (EVs). This shift is an opportunity to re-invest in U.S. manufacturing. But this opportunity will be lost if EVs or their components are imported or made by low-road suppliers who underpay workers. In order to preserve American jobs and work standards, what is needed is a proactive industrial policy that creates high-quality manufacturing jobs making EVs and their components.

Read the text (PDF).

Resisting RCEP from the ground up: Indian movements show the way

By staff - GRAIN & ICCFM, January 2020

In the history of people’s resistance against free trade agreements, 4 November 2019 is a day to remember. On this day, bowing to immense pressure from peasants, trade unions and rural communities, India’s central government decided to pull the plug on its participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), intended to become the largest free trade area in the world. The announcement, made at the ASEAN summit in Bangkok, has implications for free trade negotiations in the entire region and puts a fork in the wheels of unifying the Asian market – a project clearly favouring the interests of agribusiness and transnational corporations.

While countries such as Japan, New Zealand and Australia are making every effort to convince India to come back to the negotiating table, whether they will succeed is not clear. For now, Delhi’s decision has provided immense relief to millions of small-scale food producers and rural workers in India.

So how did a government that is overtly neoliberal, capitalist and with visible authoritarian traits end up bowing to the pressure of farmers and workers? To understand that, we need to understand the decade that just went past us.

Read the report (PDF).

The Industrial Workers’ Climate Plan: A Great Green Charter

By various - Bristol IWW, 2019

An ecology movement that once seemed jaded is budding and blossoming beautifully. The fantastic efforts of the school strikes’ movement and groups like Extinction Rebellion, Earth Strike and the Green Anti-Capitalist Front have forced green issues back into mainstream public debate. This achievement has been marked by declarations that there is a ‘climate emergency’, first by the Welsh and Scottish governments and then, fittingly on 1st May, by the UK Parliament. A fortnight earlier, the University of Bristol had become the first UK university to declare a climate emergency. So successful have these campaigns been that there is now a broad consensus that something must be done. It is essential to build on this achievement and keep up the momentum. We urgently need to continue the conversation about what do to now.

Alongside the general strikes for climate action in September 2019, Earth Strike is therefore proposing that a Great Green Charter would be a powerful rallying document for the environmental crisis of the Twenty-First Century. The nineteenth-century movement called Chartism inspired the idea of a Great Green Charter. The Chartists drew up clear and agreed points which they pursued with a mix of political, economic and cultural approaches. Chartism became the largest reform movement of its time, taken up by thousands of ordinary people across the United Kingdom. The Chartists were successful, in as much as most of the points listed on ‘The People’s Charter’ were eventually attained, and even exceeded. While this was not within the years of Chartism, and achieved only after great struggle, the Chartists defined the terms of political reform for the decades to come.

Read the report (PDF).

Bargaining Electric Power: Miners, Blackouts, and the Politics of Illumination in the United States, 1965-1979

By Trish Kahle - Journal of Energy History, December 12, 2019

This article examines how the perils conjured by blackouts in American cities after 1965 became interpreted as a key point of political and bargaining leverage for the nation’s coal miners. The anxieties provoked by these blackouts –sexual deviance, urban unrest, spoiled food, lost productivity, and Cold War incursions– pointed to a broader crisis of American political and social life driven by the massive social changes which had taken place since the end of the Second World War. As the United States entered the 1970s, a long-range energy crisis appeared not only to secure the future of the once-imperiled coal industry in the United States, but also allowed miners to recast their union as a bedrock of national security rather than as one of the main sources of the nation’s labor unrest.

Evoking the threat of coerced darkness in the modern American home which had been designed for bright illumination, they also pointed to the figurative darkness of the coal mining workscape, described by one miner as “beating the devil at a game of hell”: the constant threat of black lung, disablement, and death. A form of collective bargaining leverage thus opened up a broader debate: how, given the deadly work of coal extraction, could energy be produced in a democratic society that guaranteed the right to life, liberty, property, and, increasingly, light? Did “one man” have to “die every day” to keep the nation’s lights on? This paper argues that miners used the framework of lights and darknesses to contend that mines must be made safe and energy democratized in order to stabilize the energy regime in crisis. In so doing, they framed a new politics of illumination which allowed them to navigate a new terrain of collective action.

Read the text (PDF).

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