2016: New funding challenges after change in government June 2015 The two interviewees describe this critical turning point in two different ways: SH describes the negative side of the lack of funding, whereas ML focuses on possible future actions. SH confirms that the idea of working for a fossil-free island is still valid, even though a lot of the funding possibilities have disappeared and there is less economic support for ‘green’ energy. Wind turbine owners are, for instance, paid less for the electricity they produce. ML focuses on working with the valuable insights gained from the very start in 1997 and making the knowledge accessible on the internet. This includes establishing a database with all the quantitative data, and a repository of scientific research concerning all aspects of the transformation
The lack of funding relates to the change in Danish government, including a new weak Minister of Energy and a very short sighted view on the transition towards sustainable energy in Denmark. The present government is, however, closely related with the Danish agricultural lobby organisations. As a consequence of this, initiatives related to agriculture – like having the local ferry use biogas – are supported by government. The national and international focus on Samsoe as Sustainable Energy Island has made the island subject for university based research, encompassing all types of sciences, including technical science, social science and anthropology. The researchers are considered co-produces of knowledge that can be used for further development of the Energy Academy and the educations, related to the academy.
The critical change in funding relates, according to SH, to the basically bad political conditions concerning the transition towards sustainable energy: on the national level some politicians lack the insight in how much it costs not to implement sustainable energy. SH: The present situation is even more depressing than in 2001. The present prime minister does not really know what he wants. Moving national institutions like the Energy Agency away from Copenhagen implies that a lot of professional knowledge are going to be lost and only bureaucracy will be left. The relation to researchers is partly inspired by an EU-project, in which the Energy Academy took part. In the period from 2012-2014 Samsoe Energy Academy took part in the Interreg project Implement – together with the municipality of Samsoe and a number of other municipalities and institutions in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The project, focused on getting biogas on the agenda in collaboration between municipalities, research institutions and business – across the borders in Scandinavia was in the final to receive EU Commission City Star Award 2015.
The political controversy concerning sustainable energy has its roots in the old fight against the legendary Minister of Energy and Environment Svend Auken. The governing liberal party is, furthermore, very dependent on the traditional farmers, who typically are against wind power, but pro biogas and most other forms of bioenergy. Another underlying controversy is related to the question: who are going to pay the bill for pollution? In relation to the knowledge, the controversy between natural sciences and social sciences is partly shaping the way knowledge about Samsoe Sustainable Energy Island is generated: numbers are considered an essential part of the documentation. The research is making teaching more valuable.
With the shift in government, some changes were anticipated. The magnitude of changes was, however, surprising.
SH thinks that the present politicians should know better, and he is concerned about the way lobbyism is ruling politics. ML recognises the challenges, but focuses her narrative on the positive: on the local level, the transition towards sustainability continues. One has to be willing to navigate and learn in a changing environment. The local experience is very important for sustainable transition; it is part of forming the choice awareness. People are changing from consumers to prosumers and that will influence their involvement in the transition. The islanders will continue despite the changes on the national level – they know that it will be costly not to continue. ML mentions how the internet helps new forms of funding, such as crowdfunding. This will help to create independence of national funding. ML: It is important to measure social innovation, to document the processes. A lot of existing old data about formal and informal meetings are going to be digitalised. Education around energy technology is going to be developed, education in relation to sustainable development is important, and it is important that sustainability becomes a part of every education. We must pose the question: Which kind of wisdom exists in a given place? We can create our own education materials with theory, methods and our specific world view.
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