By Mark Luntley, from Younity innovation partner Westmill Wind.
In 1844, faced with expensive and often adulterated foodstuffs, the Rochdale Pioneers came together to open a single shop selling good quality food. Within three months this group had become known for selling high quality foodstuffs, and a co-operative movement began to rapidly grow. Those pioneers designed a series of principles which still govern the cooperative movement today.
As member cooperatives Westmill Wind and Solar are part of that heritage. We continue to review our activities make sure we match up against those principles. With vibrant annual meetings, we retain a strong democratic link with our 3,000+ members, who set our long-term direction.
Westmill Solar and Wind both helped the Midcounties Co-operative campaign against food poverty and have both supported other cooperatives to develop and grow. We’ve both also built and supported an innovative educational charity (the Westmill Sustainable Energy Trust) that has shown more than 12,000 visitors around the site.
Both co-operatives have been working to make it easier for our members to buy their own electricity. This is not easy given the way the UK electricity market has been designed. Westmill wind and solar must sell their electricity to recognised electricity suppliers. We have encouraged our members to buy their electricity from those suppliers.
Working with Younity takes this model a stage further. Having established a longer-term partnership, we have been able to offer our members the chance to buy their own electricity via the Your Co-operative Energy “Co-op Community Power tariff”. This means any Westmill members buying the electricity via this tariff are in effect buying a share of the electricity that we feed into the grid.
We are now trialling a model where members who buy electricity on this tariff can also receive an annual trading dividend as a reduction on their electricity bill paid for by Westmill Solar and Wind - as well as a return based on their original investment in the co-operatives.
Our aim is that an increasing percentage of our members will want to buy their own electricity in this way. We can’t guarantee it will be the cheapest on the market, but like the original pioneers, we aim for our own electricity to be both ethically produced and unadulterated by fossil fuels.
We do not plan to stop here. The UK electricity market is changing, driven by more renewables, distributed electricity generation and fast improving information technology. As a society we are about to move from fossil fuel to electric vehicles and from gas to electric central heating. These will result in profound changes in the electricity market.
Both Westmill co-operatives recently joined a trial working with our regional electricity distribution operator to see how we could develop a new model where we work more closely with our members. This is at an early stage, but what seems clear is the old ways of doing things are going to change.
Many people are taking about clean energy, but our vision goes significantly further. We believe it is essential that an energy transition is built around citizens. Those individuals as a key part of a sustainable and democratic model, that treats people with respect.
Ultimately it is the same cooperative model which we hope the Rochdale Pioneers would recognise and support.