Comparing and Contrasting the Institutional Relationships, Regulatory Frameworks, and Energy System Governance of European and U.S. Electric Cooperatives

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Energy democracy brings attention to the role of institutional relationships and regulatory frameworks. The movement frames individuals and communities as central actors and highlights the potential for electric cooperatives and civic organizations to enable low-carbon energy transitions and social empowerment. The history of cooperatives dates to the mid-nineteenth century when they began forming around shared principles, including democratic member control, local autonomy, cooperation, and concern for community. However, in practice, cooperatives face different contexts and distinct opportunities for furthering energy democracy. Over the past decade, energy democracy has emerged most prominently in Europe and the United States where cooperatives share many experiences but also exhibit critical differences. Europe has experienced growth of newly forming renewable energy cooperatives, many with the aim of challenging the legacy energy system. In contrast, US cooperatives coevolved with fossil fuel resources and became embedded within large-scale, centralized infrastructure. The long-term institutional relationships among US cooperatives are being disrupted as distributed renewable energy resources are being integrated into this legacy system. These differences in history and emerging forms of energy system governance present a different picture of ownership, control, and autonomy between American and European cooperatives.

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