Cooperatives as the social solution

Our strategy is to resist nuclear and fossil based energy and to create a renewable energy future. We also understand that the underlying cause of the damage done to our earth is the way our economies are operating. Climate warming is a consequence of the fossil-fuel burning frenzy that drove the global economy over the last thirty years. To address climate warming without addressing the causes is self-delusion. We have to find new ways of doing economics and arranging ourselves; the old methods are clearly obsolete.

To try to use the same methods that caused the problem as a solution is patently bizarre. So, we have to start create new economies; from growth based to green or ‘blue’ economies; from globalisation to localisation; from exploitative resources to renewable resources, and so on.

But this also requires different types of organisations. The large global corporations controlling oil, gas, coal, nuclear energy and its dependencies such as the motor car companies, airlines and fossil based plastics will not save the earth. It is the small localised and democratic movements across the globe that is saving us.

Energy cooperatives is one such form; thousands have sprung up across the globe in the last decade; nearly 1 000 in Germany, hundreds in Denmark and elsewhere in the EU, also in the US, the UK and of course thousands in India, China, Kenya, West Africa and South America.

What is a Cooperative?

A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise. It is based in the simple but enduring idea that it is possible to achieve great things by cooperating with others. (see http://ica.coop).

Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.

Principles

The co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice.

  1. Voluntary and Open Membership

Co-operatives are voluntary organisations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.

  1. Democratic Member Control

Co-operatives are democratic organisations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary co-operatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and co-operatives at other levels are also organised in a democratic manner.

  1. Member Economic Participation

Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their co-operative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the co-operative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their co-operative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

  1. Autonomy and Independence

Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organisations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organisations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy.

  1. Education, Training and Information

Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the general public – particularly young people and opinion leaders – about the nature and benefits of co-operation.

  1. Co-operation among Co-operatives

Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.

  1. Concern for Community

Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.

Stanford Energy Cooperative

In March 2015 we organised a workshop in Stanford to discuss the idea of an energy cooperative. The participants were all in agreement to the establishment of such a body.

Our aims are:

  • Unite all stakeholders in a local energy alliance.
  • Become a net producer of electricity in the Overberg from solar, wind and bio-mass resources.
  • Eradicate local fuel poverty.
  • Create green jobs.
  • Create a workable and functioning mode of an energy cooperative that is embedded in our local economy, social realities and our local environment.
  • Working with our local municipalities and government in transforming our society towards renewable energy.
  • To ensure a reliable and affordable source of energy for Stanford community.
  • Be part of regional, national and global networks to gain exposure to others’ experience

How the Stanford Energy Cooperative may look like in 2020

The essential element in establishing this energy cooperative is to become self-reliant in the provision and production of electricity. Presently we are almost exclusively reliant on Eskom for the generation of electricity and Eskom and the local municipalities in the distribution of this electricity. The amount of money paid for electricity by the Stanford community to the local authority (and Eskom) is around R 8 million per year. This money leaves the community.

We could keep some of this money in the community and even create more by selling electricity to the grid. The ‘feed-in’ system is now general practice all over the world and our own government and local municipalities are also piloting this system. In other words, the Stanford Energy Cooperative becomes an income generating ‘business’ that use to promote more renewable energy projects as well as energy saving practices. It creates jobs for local people, launch projects to involve the youth in sustainable energy projects and, in general, create a market place for energy related goods and services.

To achieve this we will have to work very closely with the municipality (who owns the grid and provide upgrading and maintenance services).

But it is not a ‘business’ that works for shareholders that lives elsewhere. The members are the shareholders. The members decide how to run the cooperative and what to invest in and how the ‘surplus’ is to be distributed. The members decide on the strategy of the cooperative and appoint management to run the cooperative.

The cooperative will establish a number of renewable energy projects. Solar panels on the roofs of some of the larger buildings in town, one or two large wind turbines on municipal land or local farms and perhaps a biomass electricity generator in the industrial area. The Cooperative will have to enter into contracts with the local municipality, land owners and land lords of large buildings. The intention is that the Cooperative will be owner of these technologies. The landlord may be given a special deal on the electricity provided by wind or sun on the property.

The cooperative will ensure the installation and maintenance of these technologies and in this way create more jobs and ensure control over its productive assets.

  1. Capital will have to be raised to fund this cooperative. Different sources of capital are available:
  2. Membership fees; members may be producers and consumers
  3. Bank loans; private banks as well as development banks
  4. State funding
  5. Donor funding