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Transnational Institute

Building Public Power

Building Public Power

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Municipal Manual for Energy Transitions

The neoliberal model of energy transition is failing to deliver clean energy fast enough. Market liberalisation and privatisation do not support climate targets, instead deepening social injustices. This is true in wealthier countries and across the Global South, where land, labour and natural resources are frequently extracted to support the energy transition in Europe.

We cannot afford to wait for the market to deliver the fundamental transformation of the energy system that we need. Instead, public authorities must take the lead. This does not mean a return to top-down planning and bureaucracy. By democratising governance, fostering citizen participation and by collaborating with trade unions, cooperatives and other civil society organisations, public bodies can deliver just and democratic energy transitions.

By adopting a public goods approach, public authorities can take responsibility to reconceive energy as a fundamental right rather than a commodity. Values such as solidarity, sufficiency, self-determination, reciprocity, redistribution and regeneration can take centre stage.

Already municipalities are leading the way pushing ahead with public power transitions, planning and coordinating transition initiatives within their localities and alongside other public bodies. However, years of austerity and disinvestment by national governments have limited municipalities’ resources and capacity to deliver ambitious energy policy effectively. If municipalities are to lead on energy transition, they need to be given the financial, legal and political means to do so.

Municipalities and public bodies have much to gain from new forms of collaboration and participation. By working with service users, citizen collectives and energy workers as much as possible — and on an equal basis — municipalities can expand their knowledge base and craft energy transitions that are locally embedded and embraced. Only by including the voices of citizens and giving them decision-making power can municipalities address the needs of the residents they serve. This way, injustices like energy poverty can be tackled effectively and energy use can be reduced.

This report sets out an agenda for best practice in municipal energy transition, focusing on the following tools: municipal coordination; democratic public ownership; participatory governance; public-community collaborations; collective knowledge production; municipal capacity building; cooperation and rebuilding across scales; and just transition from the rural to the urban.


James Angel

Lavinia Steinfort

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