Energy sovereignty can be considered as the ability of a political community to have the authority to control, regulate and manage their own energy. Energy sovereignty can also be seen as the right of conscious individuals, communities and peoples to make their own decisions on energy generation, distribution and consumption in a way that is appropriate within their ecological, social, economic and cultural circumstances, provided that these do not affect others negatively.
Energy sovereignty (ES) refers to political projects and visions towards a just generation, distribution and control of energy sources by organized and conscious communities, provided that these do not affect others negatively, and with respect for ecological cycles. ES acts as a slogan for organizations and movements to reclaim the right to decide upon energy, understood as a natural commons and basis of life for all. It also refers to the plurality of systemic alternatives under way that challenge the dominant energy paradigm controlled by centralized powers.
The concept of ES has been used since the 1990s in Latin America to challenge the privatization of basic services by transnational corporations and the “corporatization” of the state enterprises. Similar to the claim for food sovereignty by farmers’ movements, ES has become popular among organizations and movements globally, especially after 2000, as a response to multiple forms of extractivism, energy poverty, corporate oligopoly, patriarchy, privatization and trade agreements, wars and crimes to secure provision of fossil fuels.
More recently, it has become a response to climate change, and also included in the current constitutions of Ecuador and Bolivia. In Europe, the issue has been addressed in several campaigns questioning the energy oligopoly and seeking to create new public enterprises (Barcelona), in the frame of the transition to renewables “Energiewende” (mostly with the term “energy democracy”) in Germany, and to re-municipalize urban energy utilities and grids (Boulder -USA, Hamburg, Berlin, London, etc ..)
ES defends the right to decide what source of energy to exploit, how much to produce, how, by whom, where and for whom. In line with ecofeminist perspectives, it calls for de-colonising the hegemonic structure of the energy model as well as the mental structures to understand energy as such. De-colonizing energy requires questioning deeply-rooted beliefs, such as the universalising understanding of Energy (with a capital ‘E’) as the abstract and uniform commercial generation of energy, and as a function of capital accumulation, and differentiating it from the incommensurable and contextually diverse uses of energy, with a small ‘e’, able to adapt across time and space to different ecologies and human geographies.
The alliance between actors (environmental justice organizations, peoples affected by energy projects, trade unions, and urban dwellers) and across sectors shows the complexity but also the great potential of ES as a political project.
In the US and internationally, the federations Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) and Public Service International (PSI) also understand energy as a crucial common issue across social sectors, to restructure economic and productive relations, and properly address public health and workers’ safety.
ES challenges the opposition of ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ when it comes to socio-environmental impacts: those affected by an unjust energy model are not only those displaced by megaprojects, but all those on which the socialization of costs is imposed and from whom extra profits are mined. The urban energy poor should be considered impoverished or robbed, and democratic processes distorted by the revolving doors between politicians and energy entrepreneurs. In Spain, United Kingdom or Bulgaria, urban dwellers have for example organized to denounce skyrocketing electricity tariffs and the violation of laws designed to protect vulnerable families (for example, in Barcelona, by the Alliance against Energy Poverty).
ES also tackles the issue of technology and knowledge within energy transitions. It calls for decentralization, relocalization and differentiation of energy generation, technology and knowledge. ES poses an epistemic challenge to reconsider our territory not as a mere repository of natural resources, but as a socio-cultural whole, where one makes sense of existence and where one bases and roots conscious, responsible, and joyful political proyectos de vida(life projects). Or, as other Latin American communities say, planes de permanencia en los territorios(plans for staying in the territory), or proyectos de buen vivir(plans of living well).
Proposals for ES inevitably meet with limitations and conflicts. As it shakes the basis of production relations, it challenges powerful sectors of our societies: energy companies, constructors, finance and political elites, the military establishment, etc. What will be, for example, the implications for the structures of modern states and governments? Will ES require a restructuring of the administrative context in order to manage a new energy model? How can it avoid closed and exclusionary groups, and instead promote collaboration of open communities, perhaps based on a subsidiary principle? Will initiatives for ES ultimately help redefine limits to consumption and establish patterns of energy-usage that are truly sustainable for a given territory?
Despite the depth of these challenges, a closer look reveals that different models are already implemented and functioning, for example, the cooperatives SOM ENERGIA and GoiEner in Spain, and RETENERGIE in Italy, along with urban re-municipalization initiatives. They need to be valued and defended, as powerful potential multipliers.
Socio-structural changes in the way that mobility, housing and food provisions are organised can generate important energy savings, larger than those achieved by improving and using new industrial technology-fixes. Bioarchitecture, agroecology, permaculture, restoration and regenerative agriculture and microbiotics are some examples of appropriate and appropriable technologies available to citizens. These are technologies which challenge capitalist social relations and the ownership of the means of production. The use of these tools into a broader energy and land use planning framework can offer new opportunities which could play a bigger role in the future. Energy and food sovereignty should be part of an integral energy management (exosomatic and endo- somatic) under decentralisation and municipalisation strategies. Simultaneous biodiversity conservation and food production (through agroforestry and silvopastoral systems) integrated to the provision of eco- system services for renewable energies maintenance could provide a renewed paradigm in ecological urban and land use planning.