Deviating Legal Frameworks for Energy Communities in Europe

Energy communities have gained momentum in Europe in recent years. They are considered as crucial tools in meeting the goals of the European Union’s clean energy transition, such as improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions. However, there appears to be a lack of a uniform legal framework among European Union member states for energy communities, raising some concerns. This article will explore the deviating legal frameworks that are in place for energy communities all over Europe and suggest how deviations might be overcome.

What are Energy Communities?

Energy communities are groups of individuals or organizations that come together and jointly develop, manage, or own energy projects in their community. Actually, the European Union provides two definitions of energy communities: „Citizen Energy Communities“ and „Renewable Energy Communities.“ Both definitions put an emphasis on participation and effective control by citizens, local authorities, and smaller businesses. Large-scale energy providers and industries are not included in these definitions. In energy communities, members pool their financial resources to invest in renewable energy projects such as solar or wind power. Energy produced by these projects is sold back to the grid, and profits are returned to the members. An already existing example of this, which is also a TANDEMS pilot project, is in Otterbeek, Mechelen (Belgium). It is an energy community set up in a social housing area by Klimaan. 

The Problem of Deviating Legal Frameworks

Energy communities’ participation in the clean energy transition requires a supportive legal framework, which should be designed, considering the criteria of simple and clear administrative procedures, non-discrimination of actors, legal certainty and predictability of the framework, the stability of remuneration, and financing possibilities. Within the European Union, the regulatory framework and support for energy communities depend on individual country policies. In some countries, policies provide little or no support, while in others, policies are more supportive, providing some significant financial incentives. To better grasp the diversity of the policy frameworks enabling energy communities in Europe, it is recommendable to have a look at the RESCoop Transposition Tracker. It is easily accessible through a color-coded map and provides detailed information about each member state. Finally, it shows that there is a lack of uniformity or standardization in the legal framework surrounding energy communities in Europe.

Let‘s pin that down. For instance, in Germany, renewable energy cooperatives and citizen energy partnerships are widely used, with the strong backing of the Renewable Energy Act, which provides incentives such as feed-in tariffs and priority access to the grid for renewable energy producers. In contrast, in Italy, although there is a policy for Energy Communities, it’s not as supportive in terms of the incentives it provides. Similarly, in Portugal, there is no specific law for Energy Communities, and therefore, Energy Communities are not recognized legally. To this end, the deviations in the legal framework across EU Member states pose a challenge for cross-country collaboration in general, but also for the TANDEMS project. 

Possible Solutions to Deviations in Legal Framework

Deviating legal frameworks have been identified as a major obstacle for the realization of renewable energy projects in energy communities. Common legal standards might boost the development of energy communities. At the same time, they might reduce flexibility to react on local specificities, landscapes and community structures. A top-down, one-size-fits-all approach is likely to fail.

To overcome deviations in the legal framework, EU member states should thus develop a regulatory framework that encourages the development of local energy communities. This action may be led by the European Commission or Parliament – what is important though, is to ensure all relevant stakeholders (that are citizens not industries) have a say. The aim of such a framework should be to remove existing barriers and provide supportive measures that incentivize the development of energy communities. It should encourage cross-border cooperation and incentivize participation in the clean energy transition. 

Photo by Mike van Schoonderwalt