The “Franconia Regional Electricity” energy cooperative brings together producers and supplies electricity to municipal utility companies

The first energy cooperative in Germany supplying regionally produced green electricity directly to final customers via the municipal utility companies has been established in Central Franconia. It means that the electricity does not have to be traded via the Leipzig Energy Exchange. The electricity flows via the existing grid directly to the customers. Thus, the physical route taken by the electricity is also reflected in terms of the commercial transactions taking place.   

At the inaugural meeting, 80 electricity producers joined the new cooperative. Commercial operations are beginning with those plants which are already legally obliged to sell their electricity directly. In total, there are 27,000 decentralised electricity producers in the region covered by the new cooperative.

By paying a deposit of 100 euros, small-scale producers gain the right to sell their electricity as part of the cooperative. The tried-and-tested principle in cooperatives of “one member one vote” applies. The idea behind the “Electricity from the region for the region” model is to set in motion a sustainable regional business cycle and develop an urban-rural partnership. In this way, a regional combined-cycle power plant is created which is only dependent to a small extent on balancing electricity from other sources. With 40% of its electricity coming from biogas plants whose output can be adapted in line with demand, the cooperative can react flexibly to the needs of the different municipal utility companies. 

Dr Peter Pluschke, responsible for environment policy in Nuremberg, summed it up neatly: “Your concept and our expectations are in tune with each other.” He said that, in line with the  2050 urban energy strategy, the proportion of electricity in Nuremberg supplied from the surrounding region was expected to rise to 50%; the amount of energy consumed in the city was 3400 gigawatt hours per year, whilst the 27,000 green electricity plants in West Central Franconia produced around 1600 gigawatt hours in 2013.

At the inaugural meeting, economist Robert Spanheimer (38), who had already been involved in establishing energy cooperatives in the Rhön region, was elected as chair of the board. The supervisory board is represented by 64-year-old Josef Göppel, who took the initiative in setting up the cooperative. He believes that “feeding in the aggregated energy produced by small-scale producers ensures a reliable market for sales even after the 20-year feed-in period under the Renewable Energy Sources Act. The regional energy pool at local level provides customers with security of supply and long-term savings on grid costs.” Göppel emphasises that this model leaves the transformation of the energy system (Energiewende) in the hands of citizens, rather than it being left to large corporations with anonymous shareholders. He points out that regional supply via the municipal utility companies is particularly important, because these companies can motivate their customers to adapt their consumption to a certain extent to supply. And he stresses that additional cogeneration, decentralised storage facilities and energy conservation contracting are part of a regional value-creation strategy. He underlines the fact that this type of energy economy is transparent and easily comprehensible for customers, and that it gives electricity a “face”.

The corporate philosophy agreed at the first general meeting defines as the top priority the development of a regional energy economy by means of a community based on solidarity between producers and consumers, as well as between regional and urban areas in Franconia. Nuremberg’s mayor, Dr Ulrich Maly, supports the initiative from the environs of his city. He believes that it has the potential to speed up the integration of renewable energy into the market and sees it as a real step forward in the transformation of the energy system.

In order to provide a firm foundation for the model from Central Franconia in other places, the system of legal guarantees of origin for electricity must be extended to cover regional direct sales. The amendments to the Renewable Energy Sources Act made in 2014 give Energy Minister Sigmar Gabriel the authority to issue an ordinance to this effect.