We need energy in public ownership
The Big Six energy companies supply 95% of all UK households with electricity and gas. But they don't answer to you and me, they answer to their shareholders. If you're a Big Six customer, you're being ripped off.
Public ownership saves us money that can be used to cut prices or invest in renewables. We don't need to buy back the Big Six - it's better and cheaper to create our own alternatives. This is already happening right here in the UK - with innovative, publicly owned suppliers like Robin Hood Energy, Bristol Energy and People's Energy. We need more of this and we also need to buy back our distribution networks and encourage more renewable generation.
Examples from other countries around the world - the US, Germany, Denmark, Spain - show energy can be run for people not profit. Local public providers, co-operatives and community groups can all get involved.
British Gas was floated on the stock market in 1986, accompanied by the famous ‘Tell Sid’ advertising campaign. In 1990, the UK’s regional electricity boards were privatised. The Big Six supply companies (British Gas, E.ON, EDF Energy, nPower, Scottish Energy and SSE) are involved in energy generation and have an effective monopoly over supply to customers. Transmission and distribution are also private, including National Grid.
Tell Sid: it's a rip off!
The real prices of gas and electricity have increased by 13% and 67% respectively since the year 2000. Corporate Watch research suggests each UK household could save £158 a year if energy was publicly owned. Over 10% of English households live in fuel poverty. It doesn't need to be this way. Studies examining the UK energy market have concluded that electricity prices are 10-20% higher than they would have been without privatisation.
But here's the good news... you can switch to public energy today!
Public ownership is already happening. Exciting new public energy options are springing up across the UK:
Robin Hood Energy became the first local authority energy provider, offering energy to Nottingham and beyond.
Bristol Energy launched, offering low prices to Bristol residents and those in the rest of the UK.
Our Power was set up by Scottish housing associations - its plan is to sell heat and power to tenants in 200,000 homes across Scotland by 2020.
White Rose Energy was set up by Leeds City Council.
The People's Energy Company is currently crowdfunding for its launch.
Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party, pledged in October to create a state-owned energy company to supply low-cost energy to homeowners in Scotland.
How to bring energy into public ownership
Public ownership of energy is totally doable. A new report proposes a practical, affordable model that would pay for itself in 10 years. Local authorities would set up energy companies across the UK (like Robin Hood Energy, Bristol Energy and White Rose Energy) which would compete with the Big Six to supply the public. In Germany, where this has happened, around half of the market is publicly owned. Here the report author explains how this would work:
Right now only 5.1% of the UK's energy comes from renewable sources - we're lagging behind. As well as buying back distribution networks and encouraging the Big Six to 'wither on the vine' we need to encourage councils and communities to generate renewable energy. Community Energy Scotland, a charity that provides practical help for communities on green energy development, have helped set up over 1400 community energy projects since 2004, from solar and wind to micro-generation for social housing.
Public ownership around the world
There are lots of inspiring examples of public ownership of energy around the world.
Germany is leading the way in public ownership of energy. Citizens in major German cities are using referendums to bring energy supply and generation networks into public ownership. For example, the people of Hamburg voted to buy back the city’s grid in September 2009, to help the move towards greener energy. Over 80% of Germany's distribution networks are now owned and run by regional and local authorities, while municipal public companies supply half of all the electricity to households. These public companies also invest in renewables. Germany also has nearly 1000 energy cooperatives.
Denmark’s electricity distribution grids are predominantly owned by local co-operatives and mutual organisations, the boards of which are democratically elected by members. Community and public ownership of energy also drove the country’s major shift towards wind power in the 1990s, with ownership of wind turbines dominated by local collaboration between neighbours, and co-operatives.
Around 25% of all electricity sold in the US is generated by co-operatives or public power utilities. Co-operatives alone have over 42 million members, and work on a non-profit basis to deliver low prices to members. Co-operative power companies have a long history in the US, especially in rural areas, and are typically rated higher than private energy companies for customer satisfaction.
Nebraska is the only state in the US in which every single resident and business receives its electricity from a public or community-owned institution rather than a for-profit company. Electricity is provided by over 100 municipally owned utilities, cooperatives and public power districts, and Nebraskans pay one of the lowest rates for power in the US. Profits are reinvested and members of the public can get involved with the decision making of their local electricity provider.
The people of Boulder, Colorado have recently voted in a referendum to set up a local, publicly owned municipal energy company to replace the private firm Xcel, which had a monopoly over the city’s energy supply.
The Hungarian government has imposed a 20% cut in electricity bills, and aims to bring the nation’s energy sector into public ownership, to operate on a non-profit basis.
Som Energia is an energy co-operative set up in 2011 by students and staff at Girona University in Catalonia to provide renewable energy, and to challenge the oligopoly of Spain’s two main energy companies, Endesa and Iberdrola, which owns Scottish Power. The co-operative has 14,000 members, has financed five solar parks, and is currently building a biogas plant. All members can participate in its General Assembly, which takes place online.
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Photo used under Creative Commons licensing, thanks to Kim Hansen https://www.flickr.com/photos/slaunger/
Find out more
Read the new report on Energy Democracy from the Public and Commercial Services Union, setting out their demands for publicly owned and democratically controlled energy. With the news that Trump has pulled out from the Paris agreement, it is more important than ever to create our own transition to renewable, public energy through links between workers and communities.
Jonathan Bartley explains how the Green Party would revolutionise the energy sector
In a new video for We Own It, John McDonnell explains Labour's promise to bring rail, water, energy and the Royal Mail back into public ownership.