In January this year the Guardian reported that big European energy companies like Total, Iberdrola, EON and Enel, are increasingly taking control of renewable energy lobby groups like the European wind energy association EWEA. In the Netherlands a similar process is taking place in Dutch wind energy association NWEA. Hendrik Steringa spoke with a senior professional in the Dutch wind energy sector who explains what is going on – and what the consequences are. “NWEA does not oppose nuclear power, coal power. They’re pro-wind, not anti-coal.” This article is part of Hendrik’s Power Talk blog series.
It’s a beautiful spring day. The sun glistens on a solar panel which a technician carries above his head across the street from where the NWEA employee lives whom I’m about to interview. While the solar panels are attached onto his neighbour’s roof, we talk about the developments in the Dutch wind energy sector at his kitchen table. During the past couple of years he has seen how the major power companies rapidly increased their hold over NWEA and asserted their influence by using their financial clout. He feels this has come at the expense of the interest of the smaller members. And their freedom to speak out on such matters as the use of fossil fuels.
Offshore wind is the playground of the big power companies. Only the larger members of NWEA are able to do offshore wind
The professional explains: “NWEA is changing rapidly and with it also the nature of the views it holds and its lobby efforts. To understand what is going on today it is important to know a bit of NWEA’s history. In 2005 NWEA emerged from three different interest groups that were active in the Netherlands in the field of wind energy: Newin, FME group and PAWEX. Newin consisted of a few production companies active in the wind sector. Manufacturers and suppliers were united in the FME group. PAWEX was the advocate for private wind turbine operators, including farmers with a windmill on their property but also large power companies. NEWIN and FME group merged into NWEA. PAWEX continues to coexist independently besides NWEA. Only until recently PAWEX members automatically became NWEA members.”
“Especially now wind energy is in the spotlight, because of the prominent role it plays in the national Dutch energy agreement (2013), I see a shift of interests within the wind energy association. The major power companies, especially the premium members, are increasing their hold over NWEA in order to defend their interests. But this comes at the expense of the interests of the smaller often local operators of wind turbines.”
He continues: “The divide within NWEA is increasingly the divide between large and small companies. Especially small businesses are wondering what room there still is to maneuver compared to big power companies.”
“When NWEA was founded in 2005 the goal was to jointly take action as a united wind energy sector and to speak with one voice vis-à-vis the Dutch government. The wind industry wanted to put itself on the map and to be taken seriously by the government. NWEA managed this quite well. For several years now it has been in touch with the ministries at senior level [the level of Directors and Director General, ed.]. In the political arena NWEA is also well positioned.”
“Initially the interests of all parties were equally represented. But what changed considerably lately is the attention being paid to the advocacy of onshore wind versus offshore, and thus the interests of small versus large players within NWEA. Especially with regard to offshore wind the big companies increasingly let themselves be heard.”
“Offshore wind energy has gradually become more important compared to onshore wind, not in the least because of the national energy agreement. Offshore wind is the playground of the big power companies. Only the larger members of NWEA are able to do offshore wind. It is therefore dominated by big money and big interests.”
They are frustrated because they believe that the large power companies have too much influence
“In a way it’s understandable that NWEA pays more attention to offshore wind. Onshore wind was given a lot of attention in the past with regard to spatial planning, regulation and subsidy frameworks. With offshore wind this is all still very unclear. Here there is still much to be done. But at this point it is also clear that it’s going to squeeze the interests of small members, especially the small operators of wind turbines. Their main focus is on onshore wind.”
Energy companies claim key positions
On how the big energy companies are increasing their hold over NWEA he says: “Because NWEA wanted to increase its influence, more funds were needed. From the small operators no extra money was to be expected. This automatically meant that it should come from the larger companies. Therefore a premium membership was created. This is an additional amount paid on top of the regular membership fee. With it came the right to appoint someone on the board. However, the statutes were also changed. For every premium member a non-premium member – often a small player – would get a seat on the board. But then more and more companies wanted to become premium members and the board grew ever larger. Therefore the say of the big energy companies also increased within the board.”
“Within the board the general rule officially is ‘one seat, one vote’. But the power companies rely on the fact that they pay more. They implicitly say, ‘we already pay so much’. That is what everybody at the NWEA office keeps in mind. Within NWEA this is translated into greater influence.”
He explains how the major companies exert their influence: “NWEA is a membership organisation. The input has to come from the members. Thus, the big members can exert more influence as they can provide the manpower that is needed to provide the input. This allows them to take permanent seats in the various committees. Smaller companies simply cannot afford to do this. For example, the Chairman of the Public Affairs Committee is an employee of RWE/Essent. Another major energy company, Eneco, is very active in the offshore wind committee.”
He continues: “On top of the premium fee they also give extra money to the association. For example, to appoint an offshore wind coordinator who coordinates processes within NWEA regarding offshore wind topics. Offshore wind has even, to some extent, become a separate entity within NWEA because there are separate offshore directors meetings, consisting mainly of representatives of the major energy companies. They ultimately determine the final NWEA positions in the area of offshore wind.”
NWEA has abstained in the debate about the future fuel mix. No integrated vision of the energy transition is being developed or pursued by NWEA
“The influence the power companies get based on the key positions they assume, combined with the lobbying power of the energy companies, is reflected in the lobby efforts by NWEA towards the Dutch government. This affects the position of the smaller members who can’t always show up for important NWEA meetings, because they don’t have the manpower to do so.”
He continues: “Then we get to the Pawex story, the independent organisation associated with NWEA. As I explained earlier, PAWEX consists mostly of relatively small local operators of wind turbines. [Pawex stands for Private Wind Turbine Operators, ed.]. They are frustrated because they believe that the large power companies have too much influence, but also that offshore wind gets too much attention at the expense of onshore wind.”
Wind energy not always a priority
He comments on the article that was published by the Guardian, in which the big energy companies are accused of taking over EWEA (European Wind Energy Association), the European partner of NWEA, in order to promote gas: “As for renewable energy, the big energy companies are strongly committed to wind energy. This doesn’t mean it is their sole interest. Several companies have in fact considerable fossil interests. The agreement within NWEA therefore is that the association does not oppose nuclear power, coal, and so on. In other words, NWEA is pro-wind, not anti-coal. The result is that NWEA’s room to maneuver in negotiations and in the public debate has become more limited. No strong positions are taken against coal. NWEA has therefore abstained in the debate about the future fuel mix. No integrated vision of the energy transition is being developed or pursued by NWEA.”
“But indirectly with its pro-wind message the industry obviously still says that dirty energy is bad. That’s just what a company like Eneco [which has virtually no fossil fuel based generation] wants. But some members with fossil assets will tone down this message. Interestingly, this quarrel within NWEA, caused by the different interests between companies, is exactly the same as what you see within Energie Nederland [the Dutch trade association of power companies, a member of the European association Eurelectric].”
The identity of the person quoted in the article is known to the editor. If you want to comment on the article or add to it, or if you want to tell your own story, please leave a comment or send an email to email@example.com or call him at +31 (0)6 41091639 (anonymity is assured). The article above was first published in Dutch by FD Energie Pro on 17 March 2015.
Want to share your own story? – The rules of the game Remember that if you share a story, you are in control. You get to check the draft of the interview. The final version of the article will not be published before you give permission to do so. Follow Hendrik’s endeavors also via twitter: @PowerTalkBlog