Millions more people go without energy to meet their needs because they cannot afford to pay for it. While no one goes without energy entirely, over one billion people lack access to electricity. On the other hand in global north local authorities are investing billions in fossil fuels through their 180 pound billion pension fund. That means this funding is for climate disaster and toxic pollution. It is not that people go without energy because there is not enough to go around. Indeed, some of the countries where the greatest proportions of people go without electricity are those with the most energy resources in both global north and south. More than half of the people in oil rich Nigeria lack basic access to electricity. In Indonesia over a quarter of the population have no electricity, with access rates even lower on the two islands of Kalimantan and Sumatra where most of the coal is mined. Even in U.K, many people struggle to access the energy they need. The scenario in Bangladesh is not out of the context so far .Living through free market mantras in which corporate power, the efficiency of the private sector, and the need to appease financial institutions are never questioned.
The corporate control of our energy systems means that multinational energy company extracts fossil fuels from developing countries to meet the demands of big business and consumers in the global north. And big banks continue to profit from financing dirty and destructive energy projects like oil drilling and coal power stations which goes unmonitored and unrestricted by governments. Once it’s investments are taken into account, U.K based bank RBS is estimated to have a carbon footprint 18 times higher than the total emissions of Scotland. But around the world, communities are finding new and more democratic ways of meeting their needs while respecting the limits of the environment. The cost of our fuel bills is rising every year, so it makes sense to use alternative sources of energy. Solar panel on roofs can provide free, clean, electricity-but they are expensive to buy and install. We believe that all communities, regardless of their financial resources, should have access to the benefits of cheap, green energy.
In some parts of the world, this means public investment to provide physical link for everyone to access electricity grids-something that has been achieved in countries like Costa Rica and Uruguay. It also means ensuring that everyone can afford the energy that is available. In many places this is done through pricing system which means that the poor pay less. For example, in Cuba, the government provides enough energy for people’s basic needs at a very low price, with prices increasing steeply above this level, and the cost of power to run luxuries like air conditioning costing over 50 times that of the basic allocation.
Campaigns by trade unions and climate change campaigners in the UK and elsewhere have highlighted how a million good jobs could be created by investment in shifting to a green economy. There is growing consensus that control of energy should lie in the hands of those who produce and use energy, whether this is through public ownership or co-operative structures. In many parts of the world, people are experimenting with different ways of giving people a direct say in the decisions that are made about energy production and use. For example, Spanish energy co-operative Som Energia has pioneered ways of using the internet for decision making, taking care not to exclude elderly members and those with less experience.These democratic approaches are also taking care to move towards operating in a way that respects environmental limits: using renewable technologies or planning a phased transition away from destructive fossil fuels. In Denmark, thanks to government support and tax incentives, wind power provides one fifth of the country’s energy and three quarters of the country’s turbines are owned by co-operatives. This model has inspired a similar approach in Germany, where over half of the renewable energy capacity is now owned by individuals or farms, much of it through co-operatives, rather than big energy companies .For example in Zschadrass in Germany, the money generated is used to help cover the costs of running the local kindergarten and pay for free school meals and an annual holiday camp for local children.
In some places, small scale energy co-operatives are providing electricity to communities that otherwise would not have any. Where these communities operate fairly, all members stand to benefit. For example, in Indonesia, villages in the Mount Halimun region of west Java are equipped with micro-hydro turbines that are run and maintained by the community through the co-operative is able to be flexible about payment dates if a household doesn’t have enough money one month. The electricity means that local children are able to study in the evenings using electric lights.The co-operative do not have to rely on government subsidies and use some of the funds generated for projects like education programmes. Access to electricity in Costa Rica now stands at 98% nationally.
In Scotland, some communities have benefitted from land reform legislation to take control of the land and renewable energy resources in their area.
In many countries the energy system has been kept in public hands or renationalized, as in the cases of Bolivia and Venezuela. Uruguay is one country with public ownership of it’s energy system which is showing how a more just energy system could be achieved. The government has set ambitious targets for both ensuring everyone has access to energy and also shifting to more sustainable energy sources, both for electricity production and for other uses such as transport .To date, 99 per cent of the population of Uruguay has access to electricity and almost two-thirds is produced from renewable sources, mainly large-scale hydroelectric power.Particularly in Europe, local government control of energy is increasingly seen as a way of giving people greater democratic control of energy and other public goods such as water and transport. In Hamburg, citizens voted for their local council to buy back the energy grid from multinational companies E.On and Vatten fall in September 2013 .Berlin Energy roundtable campaigned for a similar referendum which saw 83% of those who voted supporting plans for a social and ecological community-owned energy supplier to take over the management of Berlin’s energy grid. The plans included lower prices for poor consumers and strong democratic control with energy users and workers represented on the governing panel. On the other hand in Africa, the public sector is the main investor in the electricity sector, with nearly 90 per cent of investments being carried out by the state. In some countries, government subsidies are being used to enable individuals and community groups to provide renewable energy. The U. K’s scheme was inspired by Germany’s Renewable Energy Act which was passed in 2000 and sees a similar feed-in tariff funded through German Citizen’s energy bills .Similar schemes also exist in the global south. For example, the Peruvian government launched a scheme in 2013 to provide two million poor citizens with electricity through the installation of 12,500 solar panels.
In Bangladesh over the past decades, corporate control of energy system has become entrenched. The results have been disastrous. The struggle is there: over remain without access to electricity as well as to afford the energy they need for daily life. At the same time, we remain heavily reliant on dirty energy sources that destroy communities and are contributing to disastrous climate change. Those profiting from the global energy crisis want us to believe that our corporate-controlled energy system is the only way things can be .But across the globe; people are taking things into their own hands and building energy systems that work for people and the planet. This is the time for calling for a global feed-in tariff which would direct money from rich countries which have made large contributions to climate change to communities in countries like Bangladesh to enable them to produce their own renewable energy.
Sources: Global Justice Now
The writer is a Freelance Researcher, Vital Voices Fellow, President and Founder of BRIDGE Foundation