Commons-Based Model for Energy Production

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Tommaso Fattori:

"If power is considered a commons, and the interests of future generations are incorporated, energy must be produced collectively  starting from renewable sources. Starting in particular from commons such as the sun and the wind, which are non-rival natural resources, in addition to being non-excludable and non-enclosable, contrarily to fossil energy sources. Organizing a commons-based power service, based on solar and wind energy resources, means breaking with the centralized energy model presented by fossil fuel and nuclear-fed plants. The latter are resources which are being exhausted, to the detriment of future generations, while producing pollution and climate change which threaten the future of human life on earth. One must also consider the risks that nuclear energy presents for current and future generations, as well as the burden of nuclear waste that we leave to those who are coming after us. The old power system, with huge plants which are external to houses and workplaces and serve enormous numbers of clients, simply follows the economic reasoning of economies of scale, not the ecological reasoning of commons. The consequence of this model and reasoning according to market prices is not the exit from it, but apparently becoming mired in a “tragedy” made up of exhaustion of rival natural resources and destruction of the environment. On the other hand, a commons-based model uses renewable sources and consists of a decentralized and locally-distributed system, where each territory makes good use of the resources at its disposal: sun, wind, biomass (and sometimes water resources, when this does not cause an unsustainable impact on the ecosystem). The Italian environmentalist Serafini writes “the current fossil fuel-based model concentrates the power of controlling energy in the hands of the few, where the rules of the game are established during the board meetings of the powerful electricity companies, or by politicians, who are often elected by these same companies. A system which turns people into mere client-consumers, with whom at most they discuss the price of the energy sold them, but never from what source it is produced and what the consequences of this method of production are on their health or on the land where they live”.1 On the contrary, the renewable commons-based model distributes power, choices about power and production over the territory: the plurality of municipalities, commonified municipal  utilities, cooperatives and other self-organized forms of self-production, and the citizen-commoners are placed at the centre of the process. Locally, even condominiums and groups of residents can organize the co-production of energy from solar panels on the roofs of their houses or by capturing the wind; residents can also group together to produce heat and electricity from the biomass recovered from keeping woods tidy and pruning in agriculture, as we saw in the case of Jühnde. It is possible, therefore, to design an innovative commons-based system for producing energy, which still needs public investments in a public electricity grid controlled by public bodies, in a public-common partnership model. It is a question of converting the old system to renewables; incentivising forms of local self-production of energy; guaranteeing minimum essential quantities of energy to everyone, without discrimination, in a general framework of decreasing consumption.2 A similar polycentric model, connected to the territories and their renewable commons, carries with it a different relationship both between humans and nature and between living humans and future generations, based on the “courage of responsibility”." (draft manuscript)

Source info: Excerpts from a text prepared by Tommaso Fattori as part of the book-project "Protecting Future Generations Through Commons", organized by Directorate General of Social Cohesion of the Council of Europe in collaboration with the International University College of Turin. The text will be published soon in “Trends in Social Cohesion” Series, Council of Europe publications

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