SEnergy cooperatives - a method of effective use of renewable energy in rural areas

The Polish energy sector is currently struggling with many challenges resulting from the adopted EU energy and climate policy, as well as with the growing costs of energy production, related mainly to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the costs of its transmission and distribution. The development of the so-called distributed energy is one of the possible solutions to the aforementioned problems. It would assume the share of end users both in energy production and its effective use thanks to the reduction of transmission and storage costs.

An energy cooperative is a form of activity, the basis of which is an association of local society, local government units or entrepreneurs operating in this area, in order to build new or combine existing installations of renewable energy sources, using locally available energy resources, often from various sources. In addition, it allows for the distribution of investment costs over a larger number of entities, thus making it possible to build more efficient installations supplying energy to a larger number of nearby recipients. Its advantage is to optimally manage energy on site, as well as provide more power for a single recipient. In addition to the aforementioned benefits, an important effect of the joint implementation of the project is the strengthening of the bonds of the local society and the increase in energy security for villages or municipalities. 

In Poland, the operation of energy cooperatives is regulated by law. Pursuant to the Act on renewable energy sources, energy cooperatives are entitled to perform activities in the field of generating electricity, biogas, or heat in renewable energy source installations and to balance their demand only for the own needs of the energy cooperative and its members. The cooperative and its members must be connected to an area-defined power distribution grid with a rated voltage lower than 110 kV or a gas distribution network or a heat network. This is related to the area of ​​operation of energy cooperatives, which is determined on the basis of the connection points of generators and clients who are members of an energy cooperative to the electricity distribution grid, gas distribution network or heating network.

Energy cooperatives - how to move from words to actions? 
In order for a cooperative to function as an energy cooperative, it must be registered in the list of energy cooperatives kept by the General Director of the National Agricultural Support Centre. For this reason, it must meet the following conditions:

1. operate in the area of ​​a rural or urban-rural community within the meaning of the provisions on official statistics or in the area of ​​no more than three such communities directly adjacent to each other,

2. the number of its members cannot exceed 1,000,

3. if electricity production is the subject of its activity:

a) total installed electrical capacity of all renewable energy installations:

− makes it possible to cover no less than 70% of the own needs of an energy cooperative and its members during the year,

− does not exceed 10 MW,

b) if it involves heat production, the total achievable thermal power does not exceed 30 MW,

c) if it involves biogas production, the annual capacity of all installations does not exceed 40m3.

Favourable settlements and cooperation

Obtaining the status of an energy cooperative brings many benefits. An energy cooperative, the activity of which will be based on the production of electricity, can benefit from the so-called prosumer settlement. Such a settlement system encourages the greatest possible use of energy on site. This means the possibility of introducing unused energy into the power grid in order to store it, and then extract this energy during periods of production shortage. In such a case, the obligated seller will, with the energy cooperative, settle the amount of electricity introduced to the electricity distribution grid against the amount of electricity taken from this grid for its own consumption by the cooperative and its members in a quantitative ratio of 1 to 0.6. In the case of a cooperative with many members, it is easier to balance this so that the need for expensive energy storage is reduced, which is not possible in practice with a single pro consumer.

It should also be remembered that electricity introduced to the electricity distribution grid is subject to settlement not earlier than 12 months before the date of introducing this energy into the grid. The obligated seller has the surplus amount of electricity in order to cover the settlement costs. Details on the rules for measuring the electricity provided into the grid and consumed by an energy cooperative and its members, sharing measurement data and the method of making settlements will be specified in the ordinance of the minister for climate.

Such a cooperative is also exempt from some fees related to the distribution of electricity, i.e., RES, capacity, and cogeneration fees. Additionally, there is no obligation to obtain and present certificates of origin for redemption. It is also exempt from excise duty if the total installed capacity of electricity of all renewable energy installations does not exceed 1MW.

Cooperation that pays off

For the local society, energy cooperatives are also an important element of the economy, as the involvement of entrepreneurs, farmers and craftsmen from a given region stimulates the economic activity of the region, which in turn translates into financial benefits for individual members of the cooperative and entire local communities. The development of energy cooperatives is also accompanied by an increase in acceptance for renewable energy sources. As a result, the inhabitants' awareness of the possibility of obtaining energy from renewable sources and the energy self-sufficiency of the region increases.

This type of energy supply is especially recommended for family households.
They have much greater possibilities of adjusting the work of electrical devices to the spare power in the cooperative, especially since households use devices with higher power for a relatively short time.

We talk a lot about electricity, and we often forget about heat, which in practice can only be used locally. Households with access to cheaper heat can develop especially those types of production that depend on it in our climate.

Author: The National Agricultural Support Centre.