Against All Odds
Community-owned Renewable Energy Projects in North-West Romania
The emergence of community-owned renewable energy projects in Western Europe are rooted in favorable internal community dynamics and an enabling policy contexts. However, in countries like Romania, community-owned renewable energy projects (COREPs) are almost inexistent. By looking at solar power projects in northwestern Romania we discover that, out of 97 projects deployed in rural areas, only two are owned by the local communities. This paper seeks to find out what is the general context surrounding community-renewables interplay in Romania. Specifically it discusses the ways in which public policies hinder the development of COREPs and what alternatives could be implemented to change this situation. For this task, present research relies on a multi-method approach combining questionnaires with local authorities, document analysis and a series of in-depth interviews with representatives of local authorities owning the two COREPs. Based on the empirical data, this paper finds that there is a weak relationship between renewable energy projects and host communities. Even in the case when local authorities own the project, we cannot discuss about effective COREPs in Romania yet. Public policies in the field are quite restrictive, centralized and inflexible, while the selection mechanisms exclude small and peripheral communities from the opportunity of reaping the benefits of renewable energy projects. Discussing with representatives of local communities I also found that projects are poorly integrated in the local socio-economic landscape. The implementation and the management of the projects are outsourced to private companies from outside of these communities. On the bright side, I argue that the two COREPs still produced important benefits for local communities in terms of savings for the local budget, support for innovative thinking (to avoid the difficult bureaucratic processes) and increasing self-awareness of the local authorities regarding their energy options and negotiation capacities.
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