Inclusion in energy communities a way to reach energy justice?
In current EU legislation and energy community literature energy communities contribute to both energy decentralisation and energy democratisation. Where commercial actors fail, they address local households and present opportunities to engage with broader social groups to raise acceptance, funds and support for the energy transition. Aiming at lower energy costs and increased energy efficiency, energy communities could contribute to mitigating energy poverty to overcome omissions of state regulation. Based on open membership, they provide a voice to energy consumers and are perceived as democratically legitimised brokers between regulating authorities, commercial actors and energy consumers. Energy communities thus contribute to a ‘just’ energy transition by contributing to distributional, procedural and recognitional energy justice. In reality, however, this role of energy communities is debatable. Based on data for more than 50 energy communities in five EU countries, we analyse the contemporary challenges for localist approaches based on energy communities and their contributions to the three tenets of energy justice. We analyse the 27 National Energy and Climate Plans and highlight a lack of enabling regulatory conditions and political awareness for this new role of energy communities. We maintain that while energy communities have the potential to address current shortcomings in all three tenets, this is not achieved systemically. In a competitive market environment, a focus on core business activities prevails as is the case for homogenous member structures, preventing the participation of broader social groups challenging the perceived democratic legitimacy of energy communities. We derive a matrix of contributions, challenges for all three dimensions of energy justice, present solutions in the form of best practice and discuss both implications for policymaking and aspects of a future research agenda for the community energy discourse.