The story of the first Spanish renewable energy cooperative

Photo from Som Energia Cooperativa

How did it all start?

– When I moved to Spain with my wife in 2005, we bought an old farm — explains Huijink. — We were so surprised how difficult it was to get the electricity there. At first we were looking into installing solar panels and batteries — says Huijink — then we became interested in putting up a small wind turbine next to our house. But then we got to legislation, the economic and practical parts and it all started getting more complicated…after some time I realized that it would be much easier to invest with other people in a bigger wind turbine. I started to look for a cooperative in Spain and couldn’t find any existing one, so I decided to set one up. I shared the idea with friends and before I knew it, lots of friends were interested.

Som Energia, October 2010

Overcoming the odds

– Finally a first PV project of 100 kW on an industrial building in Lleida was selected — explains Huijink. The installation started in early 2012 and by April it was fully functional. Consequently 8 other projects were selected and realized, leading to a portfolio of 732 kWp solar and a 500 kW biogas plant. The total investment amounted to 3.5 million Euro. Around 1100 of our members participated. Collecting the money commenced in June 2012 and within 10 months we were fully funded. All these investments kept us pretty busy until the beginning of 2014. At that time we were less than 10 people in the office for all the tasks at hand. Then, the government decided that Spain had produced more than enough renewable projects and could not afford paying any more feed in tariffs (FIT), so no more projects were going to be accepted, leading to a full stop in new project development.

  • Set up new renewable energy projects (and not re-finance existing projects)
  • Give a minimum return to our investors
  • Not promise things we cannot deliver
  • Make it easy for people to participate
  • Create confidence for people to invest in projects with a life-time of 25 years (this in a Mediterranean country where 5 years is about as long term as things get)
  • Allows everybody in Spain to participate, not just the people who have their own house and have a suitable roof for solar PV, but also people who rent an apartment with little practical possibilities to set up their own project
Photo from Som Energia Cooperativa

Simply get started!

– 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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350.org

350 is a global org that's inspiring the world to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis. This blog is a look behind the scenes at how we do that.