Cooperatives build momentum behind renewable energy in Croatia

06 Feb 2014

imagefoto: WINDMILLS IN CROATIA/undp

UNDP supports energy cooperatives as an engine of sustainable development 

Energy cooperatives are an ideal tool not only to promote the use of renewable energy, but also to bring communities together around a more sustainable approach to jobs and growth. This was the main conclusion of a conference organized in Zagreb by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on 6 February 2014 to mark the completion of the project, “Setting up Renewable Energy Cooperatives in Croatia,” which in one year helped to establish ten pilot energy cooperatives and popularize a concept of collective action that for many Croatians is tainted by historical associations.

“The success of the first energy cooperatives would demonstrate that they can be leaders of sustainable development on a local level, by creating jobs and providing renewable energy,” said Robert Pašičko, UNDP Project Development Specialist.

The ten energy cooperatives are still in the early stages of development, so it is too early to assess their impact. But the chief aim of the project was to raise awareness and help create conditions in which cooperatives could flourish. To this end, UNDP set up a dedicated website – www.energetskezadruge.hr – designed to introduce the concept of energy cooperatives to the general public and serve as a resource for both prospective and current cooperative members. In collaboration with the Heinrich Böll Stiftung, UNDP also published an instruction manual, based on lessons learned during the project, which explains step-by-step how to set up an energy cooperative.

Additionally, the project conducted 15 seminars on energy cooperatives across Croatia. The purpose of the seminars was to familiarize local communities with the concept of energy cooperatives and the business models on which they operate, and to share successful examples. A wide range of renewable energy sources, such as sun, wind, olive pomace and biogas, were presented.

International best practices were shared as well. UNDP’s close collaboration with RESCOOP, an initiative started by the Federation of groups and cooperatives of citizens for renewable energy in Europe, resulted in study visits by Croatian experts on local development and social economy to Belgium and Denmark, and a conference brought international experts to the Island of Krk to analyse examples of successful energy cooperatives and to explore the concept of energy-independent islands.

Hands-on support to energy cooperatives was another project component. Nine cooperatives applied for technical support from UNDP, and four cooperatives with completely different ideas for investing in renewable energy or achieving energy efficiency were selected as winners: “Kapela,” focused on biomass collection, “Ban Union,” with focus PV system and biomass cogeneration to support food processing, “Island Krk,” with the purpose of achieving electro mobility on the island and “Kaštela.” These four energy cooperatives received assistance in analyzing their potential, reviewing documentation, and connecting with local stakeholders. “Kastela” received special attention from UNDP, which helped to organize a fundraising campaign (including crowdfunding) to finance efforts to make the Ostrog Primary School the first energy-independent school in Croatia.

The experiences gathered in the project have yielded a number of policy recommendations, particularly on revisions to existing legislation on renewable energy, which UNDP plans to share soon with relevant Croatian ministries. These recommendations are designed to help enable Croatian energy cooperatives to become competitive and function on the same level as cooperatives in Denmark, Germany and Spain, which set the standard for European Union member states.

All the work was done together with a number of partners: Heinrich Boell Stiftung, Zelena Akcija, Croatian Cooperative Association, DOOR, LAG Vallis Colapis, Energy cooperative Island Krk, Croatian Association for Solar Energy (HSUSE), Sustainable alternative to community (O.A.ZA.), Reduco Energo j.d.o.o., ZelenaEnergija.org, CEDRA Čakovec – Centar za eko-društveni razvoj.