Renewable energy cooperative Ecopower
Founded in 1991, Ecopower cvba is a cooperative under Belgian law for financing renewable energy (RE) projects. Ecopower has a very specific approach: the aim of the cooperative is to collect funds for RE-projects from many members. Ideally, the decisions concerning these investments should involve as many of the shareholders as possible. Not only because of the amount of money involved – although this is important – but especially in view of the need to develop a personal stake in sustainable development. There are two important considerations in this regard:
1. Energy is a shared resource. Its financial benefits should be available to all. Renewable energy should adopt high standards in this respect.
2. People who are involved with renewable energy (e.g. through their investments) tend to be more conscious of their own energy consumption. This is important because the most important issue in the energy debate is ... saving energy.
Shareholders can buy one or more shares at 250 euro each. One member cannot have more than 50 shares. Each shareholder receives one vote in the cooperative’s General Assembly, regardless of the number of shares owned.
As a legally recognised cooperative, Ecopower is required to limit shareholders’ profit to a maximum of 6%. This is not necessarily a limiting factor. On the contrary, it creates possibilities, as the financial surplus can be used to finance less profitable projects.
a successful cooperation with a city council
In 1999, the city council of Eeklo, a small city near Ghent, decided to start a project for sustainable development. It soon became clear that a focus on energy was desirable and the decision was made to build windmills. First, a thorough analysis was made of the urban and rural areas in the vicinity. The city’s environmental officer drew up a plan subject to several criteria: the windmills should be built at least 250 metres from residential areas and they should not have a negative impact on the ecological context of important nature conservation areas. In the end, three sites were selected on which windmills could be erected according to the environmental and social criteria. The city owned land on two of the sites and these were put up for rent. Seven companies competed for the right to build and operate the windmills. Ecopower came out the winner.
Due to an explicit information strategy and campaign – a shared initiative of Ecopower and the city – the inhabitants of Eeklo are well informed and very supportive of the project. Moreover, they are convinced of the windmills’ potential and many have purchased shares in Ecopower, shares in what are now ‘their’ windmills.
More projects and cooperative members
Ecopower has wind turbines in Eeklo (5), Ghent (2), Gistel (1), Tournai (2), Mesnil (1), Waimes (1) and Essen (1). In almost every community in the region of Flanders, Ecopower has a small or bigger project with photovoltaic cells.
In 2014 Ecopower invests in a factory for wood pellets to be used for residential heating. A wind project with 4 large wind turbines is being built in Asse and preparations are made for projects in Beersel (2 wind turbines), Bilzen (1 wind turbine), Ghent (1 wind turbine) and Sint-Truiden (3 wind turbines).
Ecopower works together with other renewable energy cooperatives in Europe in the federation REScoop.eu.
At the end of 2013, Ecopower has 47.000 cooperative members. They have full ownership for 100% of the renewable energy installations. The electricity produced with these installations is supplied to the cooperative memebers. Members can also buy the wood pellets to heat their homes.
More on Ecopower: here