The energy transition is mostly about numbers, about the expansion of wind power, photovoltaics and other renewable energies. And how much electricity and heat are generated with it. However, behind the numbers there are also processes that are not immediately recognizable. One of them is the creeping erosion of the energy cooperatives in Germany. Their number has stagnated for years. In 2015 it was already above 900, currently it should be just under 850, according to the DGRV cooperative association. The number of members increased from 185,000 to 200,000 in the past five years.
In the industry it is an open secret that cooperatives that may only have one or two older wind turbines will not have a great future if their systems lose their subsidy from the EEG subsidy after 20 years. There is a lack of know-how for the then necessary marketing of the electricity, and often there is also a lack of money for complex repowering – replacing it with new, more effective systems. For the cooperatives, therefore, the following applies: grow, develop new business areas – or at some point give way.
The situation is pretty dire now. Political decisions and legislative changes have led to an “ever further displacement” of the energy cooperatives from the business with electricity, heat and mobility, reported the energy cooperatives organized in the DGRV on Tuesday at their virtual annual congress. “Ultimately, we fear a complete exclusion of the energy cooperatives from participating in the energy transition and thus the loss of acceptance and active participation.”
The times seem unsuitable to address such fears to politicians. Before the elections in several federal states and in the federal government, the Federal Ministry of Economics, State Secretary Thomas Bareiß made it clear, no longer wants to comply with any major demands. During his appearance at the congress, Bareiß followed the line of his minister and CDU party friend Peter Altmaier: The energy transition in Germany was “very, very successful” and “an unbelievable amount” had been achieved. Even without the corona pandemic, Germany would have “just about achieved the goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 40 percent from 1990 to 2020,” said Bareiß, and this also benefited the policy of the current federal government.
The list of demands of the energy cooperatives is now well known. This should make it possible for energy cooperatives to accommodate solar projects from 1000 to 5000 megawatts in separate tenders and to implement wind power projects in a simplified manner – because their business strength is limited compared to that of financial investors or power companies. It is particularly important for the cooperatives to finally enable so-called “energy sharing”, a kind of cooperative member supply. If the locally generated green electricity could be offered to the locals at a reasonable price, the acceptance of the expansion of renewables would also increase.
At his appearance, State Secretary Bareiß did not respond to any of the specific demands, but at the same time denied that, as often described, he was “slowing down” the energy transition. He had never seen himself like that, but had often fought for wind turbines in front of three or four hundred people in small towns, where he had to explain to “nature conservationists or some BUND or Nabu people” that the planned wind turbine was not against nature and the environment stand
At least in terms of energy policy, industry representatives were rather disappointed by the State Secretary’s appearance. Although Bareiß has recognized the role of energy cooperatives in the energy transition and there are also some improvements with the recently amended Renewable Energy Sources Act, said Armin Komenda from the green electricity pioneer EWS Schönau, the conditions for the expansion of renewables and participation still remain the citizen energy “unsatisfactory”. Even after Bareiß’s lecture, it is not clear how the federal government wants to avoid the looming green electricity gap and better integrate public energy.