Coopernico Energy Cooperative

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Coopernico was the first energy cooperative in Portugal and subject of a case study in the EU research project PATHWAYS.

The cooperative was founded by a group of 16 citizens in 2013. Aside from being committed to produce and sell 100% green energy, the cooperative aims to develop its social capital through multi-stakeholder partnerships, and to promote local development through new green jobs, while following a governance model based on transparency and public participation.

The first energy production site was in the Algarve region, where a group of friends started a photovoltaic generation initiative at ‘Quinta do Caracol’. Today Coopernico involves energy producers in both rural and urban locations. One of its six pilot projects is Biovilla which is also a cooperative and a unique project in Portugal, located in a national ecological reserve area.

Coopernico faced various challenges in getting started in the Portuguese context, including navigating complex regulatory frameworks and other bureaucracy. In addition, since cooperatives have a bad reputation among many people in Portugal owing to historical associations with the communist party, the project initially experienced high levels of reluctance among the Portuguese public. Other barriers included cultural inertia and related resistance to new options for sustainable energy production. Coopernico dealt with these barriers through concerted dissemination actions and awareness raising campaigns to increase social acceptability.

Coopernico sought financial support from the EU REScoop and received funding as part of a consortium of three European energy cooperatives. The business model is set up so that after the initial investment is repaid, investors receive dividends of between four and six per cent per annum. The cooperative has so far created at least 23 jobs and saves greenhouse gas emissions of an estimated 188,1 tonnes Co2e per year.

The case study shows the potential for local rural initiatives to scale up and lead to a new (in this case) national green energy sustainable business. What started as a small grassroots project at Quinta do Caracol was able to gain momentum, in the face of an unfavourable socio-political and socioeconomic environment, and become a flourishing and innovative sustainable energy business.

According to the analysis undertaken within the PATHWAYS project: “[O]ne of the greatest achievements for Coopernico was becoming an example of innovation and progress in combating the crisis in Portugal, presenting a sustainable and environmentally friendly solution. In addition, Coopernico offers the cheapest fee of the energy market according to reference prices of May 2015. New customers do not need to change their counter or interrupt the power supply in the process of changing provider”[1].

  1. Guilherme Carrilho da Graça, S.G., 2016. Pathways, 2.4 Case study Coopernico energy.pdf. P.13.