2001 Election – Lack of economy and new opportunities The general election November 20th 2001 was a disaster for many dealing with sustainable energy. A number of projects lost their economic support. A number of projects had to re-design their strategies to survive. Energy savings, however, got more attention. On Samsoe a plan for more district-heating combined with energy savings in the individual houses had been developed in time, before some of the funding opportunities for especially wind-power were cut. The district heating uses different sources of bio-energy in combination with large solar heat plants. SH: We could, in collaboration with the banks, demonstrate that energy savings would pay of – and with this information, we could involve the local craftsmen.
The change in the funding structure, making it difficult to work with renewable energy, but possible to get energy savings financed by special fees paid by the utilities, was the result of several political battles on the national level. On Samsoe, at the local level, the project of Samsoe as a Sustainable Energy Island engages with a number of local craftsmen. Carpenters are becoming involved in heat-saving projects in individual buildings; blacksmiths and plumbers are becoming involved in the district-heating development, installing heat-exchangers. The local craftsmen are becoming ambassadors of the project by being engaged in the practical implementation, making sustainable energy something very tangible. It is important that they are able to present the extra values created by the energy saving projects: it is not only about abstract ideas about sustainability; it is also about creating more comfort in the individual homes. The local craftsmen are part of the local society and considered as trustworthy persons. SH: The local carpenters became ambassadors of our project. Their words are more worth than ours when they discuss renovation with the local house owners and tell them about the economic benefits. The blacksmiths could also see the advantages of our plan: people would change their heating systems. Hence the blacksmiths became ambassadors of the plan as well.
On the national level there had been a silent battle between the Ministry of Environment and Energy and the Ministry of Finance. Until the election in 2001, the Ministry of Environment and Energy gained more and more influence, which the powerful civil servants in the Ministry of Finance – ‘The Calculator Boys’ – were very dissatisfied with. On the local level the strong social network between the islanders and their long history of solving problems in common played a major role. The sustainable energy island project resonated with historic cultural traditions of creating local solutions, involving a large number of local actors. United local communities are powerful entities. SH: We studied how the local communities had solved problems before; for instance how local people had managed to establish local sports facilities. The power of local communities is interesting.
On the national level the change is part of right-wing economists’ battle against the Minister of the Environment: Svend Auken. The right-wing economists’ and politicians feared that environmental considerations would ruin economic growth. On the local level people involved in the sustainable energy island project learned not to interfere too much with the islanders’ daily energy practices – at least not in a moralizing way. They learned how to put the benefits of the increased comfort and economy in front.
Most people involved in environmental projects and energy projects anticipated the some changes would take place when Svend Auken left the Ministry of Environment and Energy. The strength of the change was not anticipated and it came as a chock for most when almost all funding disappeared more or less overnight. Only cleaver political tactics made it possible to fund energy saving activities by using money from the utilities – meaning that the investments in energy savings were not financed by taxes in the state budget, but by extra fees collected by the utilities.
The most important lesson learnt from this critical turning point was that a negative crisis can be overcome by the strength of the local society, finding new ways of becoming more sustainable.
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