4.2.1. Case Study: Saerbeck
Saerbeck is a town of 7054 inhabitants in the district of Steinfurt in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Germany. Klimakommune Saerbeck
(in English: climate community Saerbeck, authors’ translation), despite its size, is known in Germany and other countries as a role model for how to organize energy transitions at the local level [79
] (In 2014, the Environmental Minister of the United Arab Emirates visited Saerbeck, [80
], as well as a delegation from Minnesota, United States [81
]). The slogan of Klimakommune Saerbeck is: “From the people, for the people, by the people” (authors’ translation), which demonstrates its civic engagement. Activities to establish a “climate neutral” town have been continuing for more than ten years. However, it was in only in 2009 that such activities crystallized, after the local council passed legislation in 2008 to switch its entire energy supply to renewable sources [79
The idea of utilizing green energy was sparked by the residents when citizens approached the mayor, requesting permission to install PV panels on the roofs of municipal buildings. Thanks to these experiences with citizens, energy saving, and renewable energy, the mayor decided to participate in a 2008 Tender competition called Aktion Klima Plus—NRW-Klimakommunen der Zukunft
(German for Action Climate Plus) organized by the federal state of North-Rhine Westphalia in 2008–2009. “It started with the mayor”, as the public relations manager for Saerbeck puts it (personal communication with an interviewee). The mayor—who is not a member of a political party and hence is not tied to restrictions stemming from his political party—invited a team of skilled individuals, including engineers, scientists and economists, as well as residents from all over Saerbeck to be part of this project. The mayor especially understood the importance of having the residents involved in the development so it would be “a project we could all live with”. Concern for climate change, energy security, and resilience in the face of energy price rises formed the motivating factors underlying the Klimakommune Saerbeck’s objective of being energy neutral and fully energy self-sufficient by 2030 (energieautark
in Geman; authors’ translation; communications with interviewee) with an intermediate goal of having a “climate neutral municipality” by 2018 [82
]. To achieve the 2030 goal the municipality of Saerbeck developed the concept of Integriertes Klimaschutz- und Klimaanpassungskonzept
(IKKK), which consists of seven spheres of activities and 150 individual measures. In developing this as a concept for the NRW competition, workshops and information evenings were held with the local residents, and a steering group was established. In addition, a video was created in which prominent people in the municipality expressed their enthusiasm about the municipality’s climate and energy plans. According to the project manager of Klimakommune Saerbeck, this video was an important factor in convincing the jury of the NRW competition. In order to record the local residents’ needs and wishes, a survey (created by secondary school students as part of their geography class) was conducted among all residents of Saerbeck in 2009.
Besides this, the Energy Cooperative (Genossenschaft in German; authors’ translation) “Energie für Saerbeck” was created in 2009. This “Bürgergenossenschaft” is a local citizen energy cooperative. It has its own supervisory board (Aufsichtsrat in German) and management board (Vorstand in German), and decisions are formally made during the annual general meeting. The steering committee of the Klimakommune consists of 12 to 14 individuals who were invited by the municipality’s mayor to develop the climate change adaptation and mitigation concept. The steering committee includes the project manager, the public relations manager, and the mayor. Besides this a non-profit Förderverein (German equivalent of a booster club) was created to support the work of the Klimakommune.
Of the 60 participating municipalities in NRW, the municipality of Saerbeck won the previously mentioned 2008 tender competition and received 1.1 million Euros and the title “Klimakommune”. (The city of Bocholt also won and received 2.2 million Euros). During the competition and afterwards, the mayor set things in motion (e.g., goal-setting, defining projects, initiating, organizing and supporting the LEI, purchasing the former munitions depot from the Bundeswehr (the German Federal Armed Forces) to establish a Bioenergy Park—after a well-played bargaining game that can be traced back to the early 2000s—and hiring a project manager. As a result of winning the NRW competition, Saerbeck caught the attention of the media and was able to progress towards achieving its goals. This enabled the Klimakommune to receive more subsidies (e.g., the staff costs for a project manager were paid by the Federal Environmental Ministry) as well as to win other prizes. (For instance: Deutscher Nachhaltigkeitspreis 2013, Energiekommune 2013, Georg-Salvamoser-Preis 2014, KWK Modellkommune for combined heat and power plants in 2014.) Besides this, Saerbeck attained the status of “gold municipality” from the European Energy Award, the highest award given for municipal energy and climate protection activities at European level (certification in 2010 and re-certification in 2013) [83
]. In the Solarbundesliga, a ranking of solar energy production per inhabitant in cities and municipalities in Germany, Saerbeck holds the first place in the state of NRW [84
Since 2009, three key projects have been implemented: (1) “the sunny side of Saerbeck”, which involves the installation of PV panels; (2) a transparent central heating system (Two large wood pellet boilers feed the central heating system, which supplies heat to most municipal buildings, including the schools and the sports center. Wood pellets from forest residues are used instead of fossil fuel.) and the energy-experience path in the town center; and (3) the “Bioenergy park” (the name is somewhat misleading, since, as well as a bioenergy plants the park also hosts wind and solar parks). The Bioenergy Park is the core project of “Klimakommune Saerbeck” (KKS) and was constructed in 2011 on the site of a former German Federal Army munitions depot located 3 kilometers from the town center. This was purchased by the municipality for a reasonably low price. Producing a total of 29 MW of renewable energy, the Bioenergy Park is host to seven wind turbines (3 MW each), two biogas plants, a biomass fermentation plant, and 6,030 kWel
of installed capacity of PV panels mounted on the rooftops of former munitions bunkers [82
]. Currently the Bioenergy Park produces 275% more renewable energy than Saerbeck actually needs. Annual per capita CO2
emissions have decreased from 9 to 5.5 tons [83
One of the wind turbines is owned by Saerbeck’s citizens. The up-front investment was financed by crowd funding. Making citizens co-investors in the Bioenergy Park and generating a profit on these investments increased community acceptance of the park. The municipality of Saerbeck’s electricity grid is managed by the communal utility company SaerVE. KKS supports SaerVE, and the latter is 60% owned by the Saerbeck municipality. By supporting the communal utility company the municipality avoids the involvement of large-scale market companies in local energy projects.
Within the town of Saerbeck many private households have installed solar panels (totaling 9892 kWel). Moreover, multiple schools in town (from elementary to high schools) now have solar PV panels installed. In fact, total installed capacity of solar PV in town exceeds installed capacity of solar PV in the “Bioenergy Park”. The town center houses the Gläserne Heizzentrale (An interviewee mentioned that the transparent glass building is an integral part of educating their residents on this kind of technology. He further explained, “We want people to see that this is normal technology and works just like any normal heating system—it is nothing to be intimidated of.”) (English: transparent central heating system; authors’ translation). This serves as the LEI’s main administrative office, (The “Energiestammtisch” meetings also take place here.) it is the place where tourists are informed about KKS, and it is home to the communal wood fired-heating facility that produces and distributes heat to multiple public buildings in town, including a high school and the parish church of St. Georg.
Saerbeck has also hosted a set of experiments with innovative energy storage technologies. Other initiatives by KKS include offering education to the town residents, both old and young community members (Including the kindergarten where a solar shower has been installed to teach the children how warm water use is facilitated.), in particular on energy and on reasons to avoid climate change. KKS allows the collective procurement of renewable energy by its residents and is constantly looking for new ways to fully exploit these resources. In relation to the role of civil society, it is also important to highlight that it was the residents of Saerbeck who developed the contents of the Energy Experience Path, ranging from local kindergarten children to the local football team, and even the church. KKS’s reputation for spurring the local green energy transition is not only known all over Germany but has gained worldwide attention. KKS attracts more than 7,000 “energy tourists” annually, who want to learn how LEIs successfully manage a local energy transition, and succeed in becoming “climate neutral”. Moreover, the reputation of KKS has attracted companies that focus on sustainable energy technologies: e.g., EnviTec Biogas and Saertex.
In summary, the case of Saerbeck shows a striking integration of the LEI into the municipality. In this sense, it mirrors the approach of “Integriertes Klimaschutz- und Klimaanpassungs konzept” (German for integrated climate-change and climate-adaption-concept; authors’ translation). This is especially true of the way multiple societal stakeholders (business firms, local government, residents, the planning office, and farmers) are interwoven with the municipality, when addressing traditional municipal competences such as education, tourism, support of local clubs and associations, as well as public finances and administration. The planning office, in this sense, has a special role (This entails expert knowledge, the role of the “translator” in wider civil society and quasi-governmental organizations such as dena (Deutsche EnergieAgentur) or BWE (Bunderverband WindEnergie), ‘material flow management’ in social contexts (integrated approach), and the technical dimension.). Despite an overlap in the social dimension between the municipality and the Klimakommune the close connections between actors and structures also facilitate successful material flow management, which is observable in technical dimensions: a local business firm, for example, dehydrates the biomass (waste) streams from the fermentation plant and aims to sell the residues as dry pellets as mulch for sod grass. By such means as this, knowledge, money, and added value are retained locally.
4.2.2. Case Study: Lochem
The town of Lochem, with a population of 33,227, is located in the province of Gelderland in the Eastern part of the Netherlands. It consists of seven villages, four hamlets, and a central town. Lochem is the home of “LochemEnergie” (LE), a citizen-led energy cooperative that fits the description of “new style” LEI as described by Oteman [8
]. Founded in 2010, it now has over 500 members and 200 clients purchasing locally produced renewable energy (in the form of electricity generated from solar PV panels). LE and the Municipality of Lochem have recently gained national attention for their innovative approach to energy transition, and the empowerment of civil society [16
]. Prior to 2010 Lochem was not known its (renewable) energy goals. Sustainability initiatives had been undertaken in Lochem’s rural communities but were rather small in scope (in the hamlets of “Almen” and “Armhoede”).
Developments took off in 2006 after a new public official (an alderman from the Green-Leftist party with a background in environmental NGOs) took a seat on Lochem’s municipal board. He analyzed the local configuration and the situative roles of civil society and local government. By personally engaging with community members, using the local social infrastructure (via community councils), he learnt about the local setting, identified problems, and invited citizens to come up with solutions. First in the domain of poverty, and later in the field of (renewable) energy. Through the process of engaging with local citizens the alderman was informed about local sustainability initiatives, one of which concerned an initiative in the hamlet of “Armhoede”, sited directly outside the town of Lochem. A citizens’ collective was attempting to develop a local “sustainable energy landscape” (looking for ways to install bioenergy and solar PV plants). In collaboration with the municipality, the citizens’ collective requested a subsidy from central government (Innovatieprogramma Klimaatneutrale Steden or “IKS-2”; Innovation Program on Climate Neutral Cities in English; authors’ translation) to explore the potential for renewable energy options and set up a co-creation process. (Particularly on the project’s (spatial) planning). The proposal was granted, and the Armhoede project—thenceforth called “ADEL” (abbreviation for “Armhoede sustainable energy landscape”; authors’ translation) was established.
The ADEL project would be very important to the process that led to greening the local energy system in Lochem. First, it spurred active citizen participation, and second it started a process of organizational transition in the municipality, focusing on how the municipality could engage and support LEIs in novel ways, stressing the role and interests of citizens (and not the municipal organization itself). Moreover, it spurred the view that although citizen-led initiatives could potentially achieve many good things, this would only be possible if they are adequately supported by local government. In this sense the local government was to “give citizens confidence”, in the sense that the public could in principle manage things on its own, but in urgent cases could fall back on local government support. This insight (and lesson) led to drafting the (formal) vision document Regisserend Lochem (“Directing Lochem” in English; authors’ translation), advocating a novel approach to the co-creation and support of citizens’ initiatives (addressing more issues than energy only). This required an organizational transition within the municipal organization. In this process the alderman was supported by change-oriented, daring, and supportive civil servants who would raise support for the alderman’s strategy at different levels of the municipal organization. Although supported by citizens and (a handful of) civil servants, the alderman encountered a lot resistance in the municipality, in particular from staff members in the traditional departments (using narrow policy silo frameworks for doing their job), who feared change (and more generally, loss of their jobs).
At the same time, the alderman set things in motion regarding the start-up of citizen-led LEI. He did this in a very strategic way, preparing matters in a disguised manner, avoiding spreading the word, contacting the media, setting high expectations, and risking falling short of expectations and facing the political consequences. The alderman set profile attributes that the potential LEI pioneers should match (particularly having the capacity to inspire and persuade the larger community to support the LEI and initiate a set of local projects). After the first attempt failed (with a manager who could not do the job, as he failed to develop a plan that was supported by the local community), the alderman found six people who matched the profile attributes he had in mind. A few of these had a background in the (previously mentioned) “Almen” community-led initiative. Some of them had work experience in international environmental NGOs, and had established anti-centralist, decentralist, pro-local beliefs. Other motivations of these LEI pioneers included: managing utilities and collective services locally by the grassroots population, as well as seeking technological challenges, and entrepreneurial activities. These six pioneers—most of them entrepreneurs—and the alderman agreed that it would be in the best interest of the community to establish a LEI. In addition, so the citizens’ energy organization “LochemEnergie” was born.
In order to attract attention and increase membership, a festival was organized in the central town’s church (in which the alderman’s wife was the church community’s minister) on Sustainability Day (Dag van de duurzaamheid in Dutch; authors’ translation). To attract more attention, famous speakers advocating sustainable development were invited (cf. Michael Braungart and Wubbo Ockels).
In support of LE the municipality decided to provide a start-up subsidy of 20,000 euros to develop a sound business plan. The funding was used to hire a consultancy (with matched funding in kind). Although the resulting business plan turned up not to be quite sound, the (social) process of developing it catalyzed inter-personal dynamics and the professional development of LE. In essence, it formed a necessary precondition for the establishment of the LEI, in particular regarding decisions about its legal-organizational form as a citizens’ cooperative [85
]. The goal of the cooperative was to strengthen the local economy by redirecting the money that local citizens spent on energy towards maintaining—or even improving—the local community’s living standard. This was to be coupled to the goal of reversing the adverse effects of climate change. In achieving these objectives, the organization came to be preoccupied with a number of projects: supporting households by installing PV panels on their roofs, creating a collective solar PV park on top of the town hall; participation in the “Slim Net”(“Slim Net” project (Smart Grid in English; Lochem is one of the twelve pilot projects in the Netherlands) ; renting out electric cars; engaging in further technological research on wind and hydro power; and conduct social and behavioral research on ways to stimulate public participation [86
]. By 2014, LE had managed to install 110 solar panels with a total capacity of 1MW on the town hall roof (This provides energy for 200 households) (ibid, 2014). Many of these projects, particularly “ADEL”, “Sluis Eefde” and “Slim Net”, can be considered innovative niche experiments that were started to manage transition at the local level.
Learning occurred by seeking solutions for problems that occurred in the experimental projects mentioned above. In the “ADEL” project, for instance, citizens involved in the design project of a renewable energy landscape wanted to contract an innovative consultant using central government subsidy money (in this case the previously mentioned IKS-2 subsidy budget). However, they encountered resistance when they were confronted with the policy rules the municipality’s civil servants used for purchasing advisory services (i.e., consultants). The rules proved difficult to overcome, and the alderman had to intervene and suggest an innovative solution to solve the problem, using an exemptive stipulation, and re-defining purchasing of advisory services for “innovative projects” (allowing larger purchasing budgets once a project was framed as “innovative”). In hindsight, the alderman stated that the experiments were deliberately designed to evoke challenges to existing structures (i.e., regulations, rule interpretation by civil servants, and standardized work procedures). Another barrier was the LEIs inability to construct the solar energy project because it could not establish a feasible business case. A key reason for this was unfavorable tax schemes for businesses (Despite the benefits offered by 2013 Energy Agreement policy schemes designed to support business activities by LEIs).
Due to its front-running and professional status, LE started to earn an income by advising other LEIs and sharing expert knowledge. LE also became involved in a local “Smart Grids” field experiment, in which it collaborates with the University of Twente, regional grid operators, an energy company, the municipality and local households. The project was part of a prestigious set of field experiments and demonstration projects on various aspects of Smart Grids (called the IPIN-program: Innovatie Programma Intelligente Netten; Dutch for Innovative Program of Smart-grids; authors’ translation). In this project the LEI and the municipality collaborate with “incumbent” energy actors such as a DSO and an energy company. Having these parties involved in the local experiment was considered an important asset by both the municipality and the LEI.
Besides the previously mentioned project, Lochem was home to three demonstration projects on sustainable energy landscaping: “ADEL” (mentioned previously), and later on “VEDEL” (Verwolde duurzaam energie landschap
; Verwolde sustainable energy landscape in English; authors’ translation), and “Sluis Eefde”. The innovative character of the “ADEL” project and its clear relation to the guiding philosophy adopted by National Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) of Energieke samenleving
(Energetic society in English; authors’ translation) drew national attention, and served as a model for adaptive local government policy supporting civil society in an active way [16
An important source of inspiration and the diffusion of novel insights that proved useful in Lochem was the alderman’s and the LEI’s position in political, policy and business networks at the national level. The alderman, who had a seat at the National Energy Agreement (NEA) discussions, “copied” these ideas to the local level, and hence created the “Lochem Energy Agreement”. He did this in close collaboration with local stakeholders. Moreover, in this sense a local partnership with public and private organizations in the housing sector (housing associations, construction companies, architects, engineers, real estate officers, and the municipality) was established using an integrated value chain approach to spur energy efficiency improvements in local dwellings.
Although developments appeared promising, some challenges remained. At the time of writing, LE, which seeks memberships of at least 2,000 Lochem inhabitants, is still facing the challenge of increasing its membership. In other words, citizen support is still modest. In part this is related to the issue of how LochemEnergie was to allocate the revenues made from their project activities (either spending it directly on collective goals like care for the elderly, or creating sound financial reserves for their organization). Moreover, community members claimed that LochemEnergie during its professionalization process has drifted away from the original views and interests of its grassroots community. In order to mediate between the LEI and the community, an intermediary agent (or rather, a network manager) was employed by the municipality. This agent has played an important role in mediating between the three parties (in particular the ADEL and VEDEL projects), and was also viewed as having an important role in locating and identifying problems that occurred, and needed solving in relation to inter-stakeholder dynamics. The intermediary agent sometimes used the alderman as a mediator and high-level problem solver when stalemates occurred in the decision making.