Caldes de Montbui, a town of 17,797 inhabitants 35 kilometers north of Barcelona, is facing rising energy prices by irrigating the municipality with solar panels on the roofs of public facilities. In less than a year, a project has materialized where one hundred families have saved an average of 53 euros on the September bill thanks to the Local Energy Community (CEL). These entities create, manage and share their own green energy to save through self-consumption and transfer their surpluses to the grid.
The City Council estimates that the CEL, which has been launched this summer with six photovoltaic installations, will become self-sufficient for 650 families in 28 plates throughout the entire municipality in one year, after announcing a grant of Next Generation funds. Since 2019, the European Union has been promoting the creation of these autonomous projects marked by neighborhood participation to reduce dependence on large electric companies that almost monopolize the market.
Caldes has become the public body with the most installed photovoltaic power for collective self-consumption in Catalonia (221 Kilowatts), double that of Barcelona City Council, which occupies the second position in the ranking of the Community Self-consumption Register.
The mayor, Isidre Pineda, and the councilor for Climate Action, Jordi Martí, toasted this Wednesday to celebrate the award for “Exemplary Territory” in the awards given by the Familia Torres winery, a leading company in the sector that invests 11% of its profits in reducing carbon footprint. CEL is also opting to win the Award for the best European project in Sustainable Urban Transformation of 2022 on December 9. Caldes City Council is one of the three finalists for this distinction from the Sustainable Cities Platform, which brings together more than 2,500 local governments from 125 countries.
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“When we presented the CEL proposal to the technical secretary of the City Council, she almost fainted,” Pineda jokes. The mayor recalls that a couple of years ago they noticed that there were cooperatives in municipalities like his, but they wanted to create an unusual project: “a 100% public initiative through this new category of energy communities.” According to him, the characteristic of his model lies in the fact that self-consumption is collective, not only for the City Council itself: “It is not a municipal electric company, but sharing the energy generated by public roofs with the neighbors.”
The last plate of the first phase of the CEL was placed last March; In total, the six facilities distributed in buildings such as the civic center, the library or the soccer field implied an exclusively municipal investment of 350,000 euros. The city council estimates that it will take just two years to pay it off: the Climate Action Office calculates that at the beginning of 2024, with 22 new plates, they will save 200,000 euros per year on their electricity bill at current prices.
Xavier Vasco and his partner, Marta Luque, are one of the 100 households that participate in the CEL, which gives one kW per home without having to change the marketing company. Vasco celebrates that “in a month and a half” he has already repaid the fee of 50 euros per year to enroll in the program. This neighbor, a chemist by profession, comments that he had wanted to reduce his dependence on fossil fuels for a long time, “more so with current inflation.” But installing panels in his house was an unviable investment: “it is a very high toll.” At the beginning of September, he received his first discounted bill after CEL started operating in August. Vasco has saved between 30 and 40 euros in his last receipts, but he expects this amount to increase next spring, when there is more solar activity.
At the end of September Celia Galera, director of Habitat Futura, created an energy community in a different setting: a block of 700 residents of Barcelona’s Eixample. She assures that a project like the one in Caldes, in municipalities with smaller populations, allows “more agility” since a city like Barcelona has “many restrictions and little space.” “You have to go to more windows to process an energy community,” concludes the lawyer. The fact that Caldes has a small local distributor is the other factor that has made it easier for them to connect the CEL to the network without many administrative obstacles, according to councilor Martí.
The CEL of Caldes is ahead of the Generalitat, which has a deficit of large-scale renewable installations in the Community. Currently, it is processing the constitution of a Catalan public energy company that pursues the same thing as this City Council: obtaining energy through solar panels in its public buildings, among other measures. Thanks to the 1.3 million euros from Brussels, the CEL of Caldes estimates that it will cover a total of 650 families at the beginning of 2024, 10% of the households in the town.
The Council of Ministers approved this Tuesday the +SE plan to “provide a legal framework for energy communities that facilitates their development”, which will materialize in a royal decree that will complete the Electricity Sector Law. There is currently no official registry of this type of entity.
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