The Uruguyan Energy revolution: how a state-owned utility can be instrumental to a drastic change
This topic was introduced by an interview of Gonzalo Casaravilla, who is the director of the state-owned electricity utility in Urugay (called UTE). This was a very informative interview in many respects (and I thank Daniel Chavez for it!):
Re-municipalisation: a tool to fight energy poverty
In the introduction of the webinar, there were also presentations of movements of re-municipalisation of energy systems, like Switched-On London and the Berliner EnergieTisch. I got out two points that I found interesting:
Topical questions: visit my brain
Q1: In your country or region, how does state involvement help or hinder advancing energy democracy?
For those who don’t know, I live in Germany but come from France. This is a pretty complicated topic and I am not sure that I get all the pieces of the puzzle right. Let's give it a try.
In France, there is a tradition of centralised, state-controlled energy system (which probably stems from our Jacobin state of mind -see the definition for France). About 75% of electricity production in France relies on nuclear power, which originates from the 1960-70s, when our then president Charles de Gaulle aimed at making France independent for energy. This has led to a constant flow of scandals (until now -only in French) and is the basis of France’s neocolonialist relationships with former colonies in Africa. The investments in the nuclear sector have been massive, making it hard for renewables to take a share in the electricity sector. The nuclear technology has locked-in and although many generators now arrive at the end of their life-time, it seems that our politicians lack the will of switching them off.
The whole show is run by EDF (half privatised but still mainly in the State’s hands) and AREVA (state-owned, with a Kuwaity Investor), which operate like any other company. They control the whole chain, from mining uranium and enriching it to recycling and burying the waste, as well as the power plants, the grid and the distribution sector.
I let you guess: no chance in that scheme for public engagement and participative decision-making. The money is big, the technology (nuclear) is very hard to get rid of, France is politically very weak (I am afraid for the upcoming elections). It needs to come from under, but even then, it’s gonna be hard.
Q2: How does state/municipal energy compare to cooperatives?
So contrarily to a very centralised system like in France (although it can have some advantages like explained by Mr. Casaravilla), I tend to envision self-sustainable municipal/regional utilities. I have the feeling that a well-organised municipal utility might have advantages over an energy co-op:
Q3. What does a democratic public energy utility look like?
I do think of a positive example where the state clearly facilitates energy democracy: Barcelona. The newly elected government is very keen on community initiatives and supports them. Concerning electricity if I understood it right, they plan to develop massively decentralized power generators and apply a progressive tariff (like on water) in order to fight energy poverty. I don’t have much proof of what I say, but I recently got a contact in Barcelona and I will investigate it further. More contacts or material welcome!
Another examples that comes to my mind is the Sustainable Energy Utility. The concept has been developed by John Byrne and his team at Uni. Delaware (US) and is been presently implemented in Delaware as well. I described the idea in a previous post, but it is also on my list of further investigations.