The Gipuzco town of Zumarraga, 58 kilometers from San Sebastián, has become a new example of renewable energy development. Just as solar panels are used to build mega-photovoltaic farms or cover private rooftops, they are also encouraging new ways of organizing among citizens into energy communities such as those functioning in this city of 9,800. In Zumarraga there are already 178 households connected to a system of photovoltaic panels on the roofs of municipal buildings that, in addition to the production of green electricity, bring an average saving of 500 euros per year for families and 2,500 euros for companies. However, this energy community is particularly interesting because it serves as a model for a much larger-scale transformation across the state. The Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa has proposed implementing this formula this year in a total of 36 cities, a dozen of which have more than 5,000 inhabitants and are governed by formations of all political persuasions. If the forecasts come true, 5,000 families will benefit.
The model that works in Zumarraga is already being implemented in two small rural areas (Orexa and Larraul) and the expansion plan has started in other more populated towns such as Lasarte-Oria, Urnieta and Andoain. The most ambitious project of all is that of Lasarte-Oria, because it aims to provide the entire city (18,000 inhabitants) with solar energy. Here, just six kilometers from San Sebastián, 1,211 solar modules (545 kilowatt output) will be installed in six public buildings, which can supply 818 households. “Lasarte-Oria will be the most established energy community in the Basque Country,” confirms Gipuzkoa Environment Manager José Ignacio Asensio. An investment of 650,000 euros is required, of which 385,000 euros will come from Next Generation European Union funds, as well as from the Provincial Council and City Hall. The membership campaign has already started.
Solar panels on the Argixao soccer field in Zumarraga.Javier Hernandez Juantegui
The same happens, albeit on a smaller scale, in Urnieta (315 panels for 213 dwellings) and in Andoain (267 panels and 180 dwellings). And it will also work for 175 families in the Berio neighborhood of San Sebastián. There are even plans to create the first industrial energy community for a total of eight companies in the Azitain industrial zone in Eibar. The list of municipalities interested includes Ormaiztegi, Hernani, Pasaia, Errenteria, Irura, Olaberria, Getaria, Asteasu…
The adventure that began in Zumarraga, almost blind and in the middle of a pandemic, but in less than two years has become a benchmark for the rest of the towns in the region. In April 2021, with the help of the institutions, they launched a neighborhood energy community. The consistory provided the roofs of five municipal buildings (the stands of the soccer field, the roofs of the cultural center and a social housing building, the roof of some schools and the roof of a sports field) for the installation of 351 photovoltaic panels that add up to 160 kilowatts of power. The Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa has taken over part of the investment of 191,000 euros.
The associated neighbors are enthusiastic. Ángel Garmendia, 55, works at a water treatment plant. He says that “the experience at Zumarraga is very positive”. And he adds: “It’s very simple, there are no traps. The advantages are in the pocket. I am paying much less than a year ago and the rate has remained stable over these months.” Provincial MP Asensio reiterates that Zumarraga “represents a paradigm shift in energy that may seem small in quantitative terms, but in the medium term it represents a major step forward in the public sector’s commitment to energy will represent energy self-sufficiency”. In this city, members of the energy community “pay less on electric bills,” he says. Asensio notes that the foral institution has opened lines of funding to replicate the model across the territory.
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The system used in these communities will be the same as in Zumarraga. The consistories make the roofs of public buildings available to the energy communities for the installation of the solar panels. Member families have to pay an admission fee of 150 euros in three installments and a monthly fee, which is always less than nine euros (in Zumarraga they pay 6.5 euros per month) to finance the part of the investment not borne by the institutions becomes. Each partner receives 0.5 kilowatts of electricity from the panels, which corresponds to around 25% of the average annual consumption of a household. The remaining demand is covered by the general power grid.
The company Edinor, a subsidiary of Petronor, takes over the management and technical support for the partners in Zumarraga. This company will also be responsible for offering the same service in the new energy communities that are being created in Gipuzkoa. Last February, says Juan Diego, director of the aforementioned company, “a fixed price of 0.11 euros per kilowatt was achieved throughout the year, while the average for 2022 was 0.29 euros. August was the most expensive electricity month on record and partners didn’t realize it.” Garmendia confirms: “We are not affected by the price war and rising energy prices. Everything was easy”. When buying together and providing technical advice, MP Asensio says, “the prices that neighbors and companies get are better than what they would get individually. In addition, since these are annual contracts with the distributors, the community always benefits from the best available offers.”
José Ignacio Asensio, Gipuzkoa’s environmental officer, and Rosa Maiza, deputy mayor of Zumarraga, pose in front of another of the city’s sports centers where solar panels have been installed. Javier Hernandez Juantegui
Brothers Ane and Andoni Ayllon run a pharmacy in town. They signed up because the consistory opened the information office right next to their shop. “I went to find out one day and saw that there were more pros than cons. The reality was like this. To this day, we pay less, we support the use of clean energy, and we encourage money to stay in the city. It’s something by the people for the people,” says Andoni, 45 years old. “Even if there were no savings, we would be willing to participate in this system,” he adds. Ane and Andoni’s parents are not part of the energy community and last December they paid 12% and 15% more respectively than in the same month of 2021. On the other hand, the siblings’ bill was reduced by about 10% as a result, explains the pharmacist. Meet fellow citizens who now regret not taking the step and will have to wait for City Hall to release new land for the installation of more photovoltaic panels, a task City Hall is already working on.
A mobile application informs you about the energy produced by the solar panels, the general consumption and that of your own home. “The key to this system is trust,” says Rosa Maiza, head of business development at Zumarraga City Council. “It is important to have an awareness of the use of green energy, but success lies in keeping the neighbors happy. It was very difficult, but it was worth it. And we get a lot of requests from other interested cities,” he adds.
The Gipuzco town of Zumarraga, 58 kilometers from San Sebastián, has become a new example of renewable energy development. Just as solar panels are being used to build photovoltaic mega-parks or cover private rooftops, they are also fueling new forms of organizing citizens into energy communities, such as those operated in the city of 9,800 people since 2021. In Zumarraga there are already 178 households that avoid the emission of 675 tons of CO₂ per year, which is equivalent to planting 2,700 trees.
Zumarraga is the first civic municipality in the Basque Country to implement this self-consumption shared energy system. In Spain there are 74 similar projects under the CE Implementa program funded by the Institute for Energy Diversification and Saving (IDAE). The Ministry for Green Transition has allocated €40 million of next-generation European funds to these initiatives and launched two other calls totaling another €40 million, open until February 13. In addition, an additional 20 million will be made available to advise those interested in building communities. In total, the Ministry is implementing 100 million in support of these actions, which IDEA Director General Joan Groizard sees as “a renewable, economic, democratic and participatory solution”.
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