Green municipalism offers solutions to the escalating climate catastrophe, pathways that both complement and could extend the Green New Deal being proposed by progressives in the UK Labour and US Democratic parties. A decentralised wind power revolution is already happening in Denmark and Scotland, where community ownership is delivering power to the people.
MIDDELGRUNDEN AND DENMARK’S REVOLUTION
As the 21st century rolled in, Denmark created the world’s largest offshore wind farm: Middelgrunden. It consisted of 20 turbines, located four kilometers from Copenhagen, with a capacity of over 40 Megawatts. Since 2001, Middelgrunden has supplied approximately 4 percent of the Danish capital’s energy needs.
More impressively, Danish people co-created this wind farm. Ten of the 20 turbines are owned by a cooperative, while Ørsted, Denmark’s largest energy company, owns the other 10. “If you own shares in a project, when you look over at that turbine, with each turn of the blades, that’s cash to you,” local resident and energy expert Justin Gerdes told the Green Economy Coalition.
More than 50,000 people participated in the project, giving input into the sea wind farm’s location and design. Another 8,500 Danes invested directly and are now making a 7 percent return on their investments. Under consideration are plans to upgrade Middelgrunden with larger turbines that will help it generate even more power in the years to come.
Broad public involvement overcomes the negative spin about wind energy happening elsewhere across the world. I heard similar positive sentiments visiting other wind farms in Denmark, a country that harnesses the most wind power for electricity anywhere in the world. In 2017, it re-broke its own previous world record, taking 43 pecent of its electrical needs from the wind.
THE FIGURE CONTINUES TO SPIN UPWARDS
Denmark’s success is built on a number of factors. National policy has supported green municipalism. Since the 1970s oil shock, the country realised it needed to reduce its dependency on fossil fuel imports. Nuclear was originally mooted, but activists and engineers innovated to show how communally-owned wind meant they did not need dangerous nuclear fusion.
The government supported green innovation with tax breaks that incentivised households to buy into wind cooperatives. By 2001, 86 percent of wind energy came from cooperatives, which only dropped as multinationals like Ørsted realised the powerful potential and jumped into the market.
Three other ways that Denmark created communal wind was giving wind developments the right to connect and sell energy to the grid – both requiring that the electricity be bought, and guaranteeing a good price. In 2011, it established a law that all new wind must include 20 percent community ownership.
With support like that, no wonder wind power is so popular in Denmark.
THE CASE IN SCOTLAND
Across the North Sea, Scotland also showcases how communities can harness wind power to great effect. MORE