Peter de Jong:
"The renewable energy group Som Energia (Catalan for ‘We are Energy') is one of the rising stars, offering green energy direct to the public. But that is only part of the story, according to co-founder Gijsbert Huijink. “Our aim is to transform the Spanish energy model, to become 100 per cent sustainable, renewable, and self-sufficient,” he says.
The cooperative was conceived when Huijink and his wife wanted to connect their Catalan cottage to the electricity grid of a neighbouring farm. They were shocked by the price of the operation. “So I started looking into the possibility of my own installation, and ended up buying our first solar panel,” he says.
“I became fascinated with the subject of renewable energy. It seemed a good idea to connect with other individual energy producers and set up projects together. It’s been possible in countries such as the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark for a long time. Such a cooperative structure did not exist here. I decided to start one myself.”
Huijink put the idea of Spain’s first renewable cooperative to his students at the University of Girona, and things got rolling quickly. An organizing group was formed, the legal cooperative structure established, and members started dropping in.
“First, most of new members were activist, it fitted with anti-nuclear attitudes for instance,” he explains. “Later, as the crisis hit, we got more and more people motivated to join in rejection of the oppressive oligopoly which controlled the energy market. It was swallowing up all kinds of small, traditional enterprises, while energy bills rose to astronomic heights—all with the consent of the Spanish government.”
As Som Energia was getting off the ground, the indignados-movement began to gain momentum. The massive protests and square occupations starting 15 May, 2011, created an atmosphere in which more and more people grew interested in doing things differently.
Huijink remembers: “In the first three months of our existence, we were happy with each new member. After that, we started growing by 10 to 20 members a week. In the summer of 2011, we welcomed around 50 a week.”
The flow of new members rapidly generated investment opportunities for the cooperative. With each new member making a €100 deposit, Som Energia was able to start production and built its first photovoltaic plant in 2012. At the time of writing, there are more than 14,000 members, energia-socios. In addition to five operating photovoltaic arrays, their first biogas installation opened in 2014.
Som Energia got its first start-up loan from finance cooperative Coop57. Xavi Teis, a member of that group, thinks the 15-M movement has already achieved two major things. “First, it has mobilized lots of people who were not politically active before. But, second, it has also generated a public search for alternatives to the conventional economic system.” He is enthusiastically pointing the tip of his pencil to the steep line graph showing the increase of annual member contributions to Coop57 since 2011.
“A lot of people who become socio of our cooperative, tell us they don’t want to put their savings in the hands of corrupt bankers,” Teis says. “They would rather join us, knowing their money will only be used to support projects that are creating social value—which is exactly our criterion for an investment.” (http://europe.redpepper.org.uk/sowing-the-seeds-of-a-new-economy/)