Energy democracy – the search for non-market solutions

The Trade Unions for Energy Democracy aims to advance democratic direction and control of energy in a way that promotes solutions to the climate crisis, energy poverty, the degradation of both land and people, and the repression of workers’ rights and protections. 

They argue that the present direction of the world’s energy systems amounts to a planetary emergency.  The transition to an equitable, sustainable energy system can only occur if there is a decisive shift in power towards workers, communities and the public.  The Initiative aims to provide a space for trade unions to develop solutions to these issues and build a global trade union community for energy democracy. 

This initiative comes at a time when private sector energy companies in the UK are under increasing scrutiny. As prices went up at the end of last year companies blamed government environment policies for the increase. For example, British Gas told its customers of a 6% rise in prices in November 2012, giving many reasons why prices had to rise. Unfortunately for company, Energy writer Chris Goodall, writing in Left Foot Forward, has tested these reasons against what the company told its shareholders. As you might expect there are many disparities. There’s not a single word about the any of the problems used in the press release to justify hiking prices. As he says: “If the energy companies want us to trust them, they shouldn’t be telling one story to their investors and a completely different one to their customers.” 

There are other approaches. Phil Levermore, managing director and founder of the not-for-profit company Ebico, came up with the idea to target poorer customers shortly after privatisation – when energy companies were competing hard to supply low-cost-to-serve customers to make a quick and easy profit.  Set up in 1998, it launched a gas tariff the following year and an electricity tariff in 2002. Interviewed in Utility Week he said: “The flip side is that competition wouldn’t get anywhere near the poorer customers. I saw that as very unfair and thought something had to be done about that, so I got together with some like-minded professionals not from the electricity and gas supply sector and we decided rather than set up a lobby organisation – there are already good lobby organisations in existence – we should do something different.”

At a time when 69% of UK households have turned the heating off to cut their energy bills, there is a need for a serious look at the alternatives to the failed energy market.

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