The conference is a very interesting one (and it is not only the geologist in me who speaks!), from several points of view.
First of all, the Groningen gas field exploitation has been at the same time a blessing and a curse for the Netherlands: providing cheap and abundant energy to the population but making them dependent on it and cutting on all other sectors. This case has even be described as "the Dutch disease". It is also the (all too classical) story of a province that should be rich from all the resource but is actually the poorest of the country. Which, as can be seen worldwide, is the story of extractivism and private operator. The population of the province is left with a collapsing ground (basically, the balloon that is being deflated), thousands of superficial earthquakes that provoke tremendous damages and underground water problems. Discontent is growing, people feel left out, elections are approaching: this is a nasty mix and it is time to act.
The proposal of a consortium of political parties and activists from various horizons (I am always amazed at the consensus power of Dutch politics) is to remunicipalize the NAM (Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij - Dutch oil company) in order to regain control on gas extraction and eventually bring it to zero.
To my opinion, and seen from the commons perspective, it is a good idea: the only way to force the transition out of the gas field is to shortcut the profits and internalize the externalities. This means that as soon as the gas field belongs to the Dutch Government, it will be held responsible and accountable for the damages. Second it means that profits will flow in the State's pocket, which will create the capacities to finance alternatives. And finally, as we saw already, energy treated as a commons stops the race to maximize the profits towards a fulfillment of people's needs. It will therefore create good conditions to save energy, which is what is foremost needed.
I also hope that such a proposal might focus the anger and turn it into a positive game changer.
My talk will take place within the second session "International issues and solutions" , from 13:30 to 15:30.
Purpose: Where are energy production and use democratized? Are there examples where the interests of the people and their safety are paramount? Looking into civil society's efforts to move beyond gas. Identifying progressive energy proposals and policies abroad and the growing call for energy democracy.
Frida Keiningen, campaigner Food & Water Watch
Cecile Blanchet, researcher Commons Network
Kahra Wayland-Larty, campaigner Global Justice Now
Daniel Chavez, researcher Transnational Institute
Summary of my presentation:
The talk will consist of two parts. I will first introduce the concept of energy as a common good and the reasons as to why it is important to change this paradigm. It allows to understand the inherent problems associated with treating energy as a commodity: make profit instead of fulfilling people's need; reduces our control on energy production and prices; incentivizes production (to increase profits) and prevents saving it.
I will then present the two main forms of energy systems that arise when energy is treated as a common good: cooperatives and municipal utilities. I will focus here on the second, municipal utilities, and will use two examples in Germany: Hamburg and Berlin. In these two cities, people have initiated movements to re-municipalize the energy networks (electricity, gas and heating) that had been fully privatized in the 1990s and 2000. In Hamburg, the referendum was successful and the network have or will be bought back by the municipality and are operated by municipal utilities. Unfortunately, the cooperative model (where users are also decision makers) has been left out of the governance scheme. In Berlin, the referendum failed but a new system of alliances between civil and private partners is developing. New developments are also expected from the red-red-green (SPD-Die Linke-Die Grüne) coalition recently elected, who supports the remunicipalization process and more open governance modes. These two examples are very informative on the combined roles of civil society and the political arena to reach these goals.
I hope that you will follow this session online on the Facebook page of TNI!