PLATTEVILLE — The key to boosting the sustainable renewable energy market may hinge on the formation of cooperatives.
That was the message during a special presentation at the UW–Platteville Pioneer Farm June 14.
Dr. Andreas Wieg from the German Cooperative and Raiffeisen Confederation and Michael Diestel from Agrokraft, a rural electric cooperative in Bavaria, shared insights on how low carbon energy transmission can create new local and cooperative business opportunities.
The event was part of the Midwest Clean Energy Tour, which included stops in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. The Heinrich Böll Foundation and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research hosted the three-state event. The Wisconsin Farmers Union provided assistance with the Wisconsin portion of the tour.
Germany committed to utilizing renewable energy in 2004 when the country passed the Granting Priority to Renewable Energy Sources Act. The national plan calls for 80 percent of renewable electricity by 2050.
However, since the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, the citizens of Germany have led a grassroots renewable energy revolution using various co-op models, which have been successful. From 2006 to 11 more than 500 new co-ops were formed.
Wieg is the director of the executive staff department and is responsible for new co-ops. There are now 18.4 million members involved in German co-ops.
Wieg said there needs to be a mix of energy sources in order for renewable energy co-ops to be successful. Renewable energy includes a variety of options including wood, wind turbine, solar panels, biogas and others.
Germany has the “Big 4” private energy companies, 1,100 municipal utility companies and 52 co-op energy suppliers. The “Big 4” account for 80 percent of the market share in fossil and nuclear power and 6.5 percent of the market share of renewable energy.
“People are investing,” said Wieg, noting approximately 100,000 people are involved in the nearly 600 co-ops. It costs approximately 1 million U.S. dollars on average to start a co-op project.
The co-ops do not use bank financing, instead turning to local private investors to pool their money and finance the projects.
Wieg said it is easy to find investors. “People trust the process,” he said. “People want to do this by themselves.”
According to Dr. Tim Zauche, program director of the new sustainable and renewable energy systems major and chemistry professor at UW–Platteville, one hindrance to renewable energy is that one farmer gets a check from a private corporation for leasing their land, while neighboring farmers receive no compensation.
The German co-op model is based on a regional approach where everyone can benefit.
“We have to calculate every idea before we talk with the farmers and everyone,” said Diestal. “We must calculate everything. We need to get a sense of the costs.
“This is something you can do with 1,000 people. You have so much land in the Midwest.”
The corporate structure of the co-ops combines many renewable energy projects that differ in technology, size and profitability and can take on new members at any time. “Now people have the tools to do what they want to do,” said Diestel. “They want to build something.”
UW–Platteville’s new sustainable and renewable energy systems major will be offered this fall. The university began offering a minor in renewable energy in 2008.
An industry advisory board was formed in 2007 and it meets twice a year. Zauche noted they need to raise $7.5 million for the major, which is one half of the cost.
Zauche also discussed the anaerobic digester planned for Pioneer Farm, which will operate a 100 kWh generator. They are also investigating the possible installation of solar panels at Pioneer Farm as well as a wind farm, which would involve seven to eight local farms.
Dr. Charles Steiner, interim director of Pioneer Farm and associate professor of agribusiness in the School of Agriculture at UW–Platteville, offered an overview of Pioneer Farm, answered questions and led a tour of the buildings and grounds.