Creating a green energy coop

Som Energia is one of the most important renewable energy cooperative in Spain, established to support the use of renewable energy sources in the production of electricity in Spain. Som Energia authority Frascesc Casadella, helped to answering of the questions I prepared for Social Economy Blog by e-mail. They share their experiences in the sector with us. Many thanks to them for sharing their experiences with the readers in Turkey.

When was your cooperative founded and how did the founders come together?

Som Energia was founded in December 2010. The original idea came out when Gijsbert Huijink, a Dutch Professor who had stablished in Girona realized about there wasn’t any non-profit green energy cooperative operating neither in Catalonia nor Spain and proposed his students to start one. At that time, some similar projects were already working in other European countries, like Ecopower (Belgium), Enercoop (France) or Greenpeace Energy (Germany). Then he contacted some other people who he thought could be interested and proposed them to be involved in the idea of creating a green energy coop. Soon after, a work group was formed.

We never have invested a single euro in advertising

What was the purpose behind founding the cooperative?

The idea was to launch a local non-profit energy cooperative, capable of producing and commercializing green energy, contributing at the same time to the transition from a polluting and nuclear energy model to a green and renewal one.

What is the initial number of members of your cooperative and the number of current members? What do you do to increase your number of members?

Som Energia was founded in 2010 with 350 members and three employees. After eight years, we are almost 55000 members, 90000 electricity contracts and a there’s a staff formed by 70 people. The main goal is not to increase the number of members but to do a good work and make members happy and proud of the coop. We never have invested a single euro in advertising, our growth has been based on word of mouth from our members and local groups of volunteers. We are organically growing 150 new members and 300 new electricity contracts each week (each member can invite 5 friends to contract the electricity without being a member).

https://www.flickr.com/photos/somenergia/

Could you tell us about the profile (Are your all members sitting in the same place?, the same type of electricity consumers?, etc.) of members?

Most of our members are home consumers but there’s also plenty of companies, city councils, other cooperatives, political parties… We offer different kind of tariffs depending on each one’s needs.

We are members of REScoop

Does your cooperative have members from other countries?

We are only allowed to operate in the Spanish electricity market, therefore, all our electricity contracts are located within the Spanish borders. There’s Som Energia members from other countries who are residents (or own homes) somewhere within Spain. By the way, we are members of REScoop, it is a European Federation with more than 1000 Green Electricity Cooperatives that are empowering 1000000 members.

How was cooperative finance found? Have you received support from the government or any other organization regarding the founding of the cooperative?

Each person has to invest 100 € to become a member of the cooperative. In case you leave the cooperative you get a refund. This social capital was helpful on the beginning. For new projects of renewable energy, we get founded only by our members, so we don’t need capital from the banks neither the government.

Electricity production: 11.862.500 kWh/year

What are the total installed capacity and yearly electricity production (kWh) of the cooperative? Which type of energy production do you have?

We produce 11.862.500 kWh/year. This is less than 10% of the total consumption of our members, so we have to buy the 90% of green electricity to local producers. Our goal is to produce 100% of our members with our own electricity.  We have solar plants, hydroelectric, biogas and self-consumption and working to have wind power too. You can view our energy production projects here:

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/somenergia/

Are you selling the electricity only to your members?

No, members can invite a limited number of people to become Som Energia consumers. Nowadays there are near 55000 members, but we work with almost 90000 electricity contracts.

One member, one vote

How is the cooperative managed?

There’s an annual meeting that all members are encouraged to attend. In this annual meeting the most important and strategic decisions are taken democratically (one member, one vote). This is the supreme governing body of the cooperative.

All members also elect a board formed by 9 people. The board executes the decisions taken in the annual meeting and ensure the correct functioning of the coop. The work of these nine people is completely voluntary and non-remunerated.

Apart from this, there’s a staff formed by 70 people who work in the daily tasks. The staff is divided in different teams that self-organize themselves. The staff has at the same time a management team formed by four people that is in charge of the general coordination.

Finally, there are also local groups formed by volunteers who spread the message and do some activity in their areas.

More info and photos here:

Start providing green energy in 8 months

According to you, what are the success factors for developing a cooperative?

To have done what we promised on the beginning:

  • Start providing green energy in 8 months
  • Start investing in new production projects in 10 months
  • To have a real mission, a vision and a values that motivates people to stick and work together.

According to you, what are the barriers for the development of cooperative?

  • The complexity and the barriers of the big oligopoly Spanish energy market.
  • The barriers of the government and the complexity of bureaucratic laws against renewable energy.
  • The complexity, as the cooperative grows, about the decision making processes.

Which do you think play the biggest roles in the success of your cooperative?

  • 100% Green Energy at the same price as “grey” electricity.
  • The Spanish Oligopoly energy market.
  • Excellent customer support.
  • Non-profit Cooperative.
  • Innovation.

100% Spanish renewable energy

What are your future plans for the cooperative?

Continue to build a 100% Spanish renewable energy model that returns the power to citizens and is based on a participation and transparency model.

We also have an strategic plan for 2017-2020 that was approved in the last general assembly and you can view it here:

There are 6 big action lines in the plan:

  • Education and dissemination
  • Energy poverty
  • Energy production
  • Self-consumption (solar)
  • Saving and energy efficiency
  • Commercialization

What are your suggestions to people who start to founding renewable energy cooperatives?

Simply get started!

Finally, do you have messages you want to forward?

We do realize that our model isn’t easily replicable. There are many ways to do this successfully. But my advice to anyone who wants to start their own cooperative is simply get started! Find your own focus – whether it’s an energy efficiency project, local production, biomass or solar. Keep in mind that banks are paying historically low interest rates at the moment and that many people lost their trust in the banking system but they still wish to invest their savings in meaningful projects and get started.

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