Viure del l’aire – EOLPOP community-owned wind turbine. Photo credit to Pep Puig.
There is great potential for deploying renewable energy technologies in Spain, particularly solar and wind. However, until recently the development of energy communities has been hampered by the lack of a legislative and policy framework. The renewable energy communities (RECs) were incorporated into the Spanish legal framework ‘Law of the Electricity Sector (Law 24/2013)’, which was amended in 2020 via a royal decree. This law aims to encourage the participation of citizens and local authorities in the energy transition and address energy poverty. It also facilitates access to funding accounting for the specificities of the RECs, allowing them to compete for funding on an equal basis with other market participants.
However, energy communities are not as widely spread as in other EU Member States. Energy legislation differs in autonomous regions and is not always fully aligned with the Renewable Energy Directive (REDII). Because of this, energy communities are currently only present in some parts of Spain.
About half of the autonomous regions have established energy communities, including Andalusia, Castilla-Leon, Catalonia, Galicia, the Canary Islands, Madrid, Navarre, and the Basque Country. This is due to different factors in addition to the differences in the legal and policy framework. For instance, in Catalonia, a societal movement advocated for renewable energy due to an awareness of the pressing need to tackle pollution, climate change and energy poverty.
Establishing the first community-owned wind turbine in Southern Europe
The movement in Catalonia was instrumental in the success of Viure del l’aire – EOLPOP, a rural energy community located in the municipality of Pujalt, in the Anoia county in Catalonia, Spain.
The community began in 2009, inspired by the 25th anniversary of the first wind turbines in Catalonia. The founders, including several engineers, wanted to set up a citizen-owned wind turbine to involve local people in the collective ownership of the energy transition, promote renewable energy and drive forward energy democratisation, as well as address the need to tackle energy poverty, air pollution and climate change.
After four highly bureaucratic years, they gained the required government and building permit and the installation of the turbine began in June 2016 and was completed in 2017. The turbine began operating in March 2018, making it the first community-owned wind turbine in Spain and Southern Europe.
It operates for 2405 hours each year and generates 5653 MWh/year, which is estimated by the community to be the equivalent of the energy demand of 2,000 families, saving an estimated 6,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.
The cost of installing and commissioning the turbine was covered by the participation of members. Viure del l’aire – EOLPOP is made up of 595 participants, including individuals and families, as well as approximately 30 companies and associations. Associations were welcomed to join the community from the outset, including small businesses, with a wide range participating, such as Greenpeace Spain.
Putting energy generation in the hands of the people
Nafarkoop Energía Sociedad Cooperativa de Iniciativa Social is a not-for-profit business services cooperative that assists renewable energy projects, communities and activities across all three provinces of the Basque Country’s autonomous region of Spain (Vizcaya, Guipuzcoa and Alava).
Its main motivation was the desire to engage citizens in the energy transition and counter the dominance of for-profit interests in the energy market. It aims to shift the energy model by ensuring that energy generation is as close as possible to the points of consumption and for these to be in the hands of the people so that they could have the ethical, social, participatory and financial benefits, rather than solely corporate interests profiting.
Nafarkoop has 1,400 people as “socios” (affiliates) and is run by a governing council with 10 members. Using mostly crowdfunding, it has successfully established several photovoltaic and hydropower projects in rural Basque municipalities, including:
- Photovoltaic installations on schools and cultural buildings in the municipalities of Pasaia, Renteria, Zarautz and Andoain with an annual production of 430,158 kWh and an estimated annual 94.74 Mt reduction in CO₂ emissions.
- Photovoltaic installations on school buildings in the municipalities of Fontellas, Etxarri-Aranatz, Tolosa, Bermeo and Vitoria-Gasteiz with an annual production of 430,158 kWh and an estimated annual 118.33 Mt reduction in CO₂ emissions.
- Hydropower installations in collaboration with the municipal company owned by the municipality of Oñati (Gipuzkoa) with an annual production of 14,300,000 kWh and an estimated annual 4118 Mt reduction in CO₂ emissions.
- Hydropower installation in the municipality of Hernani (Gipuzkoa) with an annual production of 450,000 kWh and an estimated annual 129.6 Mt reduction in CO₂ emissions.
Although not a rural energy community, Nafarkoop’s activities in providing technical assistance to various renewable energy initiatives in the region offer many valuable lessons for renewable energy communities in EU rural areas.
Recommendations for the establishment of rural energy communities in Europe
Rural energy communities should take advantage of existing movements in their regions to engage citizens in their establishment and activities. This could encompass awareness of environmental causes, such as climate change or air pollution, and social causes, such as energy poverty. Citizens already active in such movements are easier to engage in renewable energy projects and would bring their enthusiasm and knowledge to such initiatives. - Viure del l’aire – EOLPOP Rural Energy Community best practice report.
National policymakers should note that dominance in the energy market of a relatively few providers hinders the establishment of energy communities in rural areas due to infrastructure and mapping limits. Assistance for initiatives to overcome this dominance would help remove the barriers to their establishment. – Nafarkoop Energía Sociedad Cooperativa de Iniciativa Social best practice report.
Download and read the Rural Energy Community Advisory Hub’s fourth guidance document for an overview of the policy and legal framework for energy communities in all 27 EU Member States.