Jelte Boeijenga is acting managing director of Blijstroom, an energy cooperative founded in 2013 by Rotterdam citizens with the aim of taking control of the energy transition. R’damse Nieuwe paid him a visit to get to know more about Blijstroom. 

 

Exactly what does Blijstroom do?

At this point in time, we are focusing mainly on solar roofs. There are many people in Rotterdam who aren’t able to have solar panels installed on their roof, and who are therefore unable to generate solar energy themselves. We offer them the opportunity to benefit from the advantages, even if the panels themselves are on someone else’s roof. Actually, what we do is quite simple. We look for suitable but as yet unused roofs in the city, and around each of those we gather as many people as possible who are prepared to invest in the installation of a solar roof, and then we harvest the energy from that collective roof. So far, we are operating four collective solar roofs. The most recent one was commissioned in early July; it is situated on the Batavierenstraat, and we realised it in collaboration with the action group Het Oude Westen. The special thing about this solar roof is that people of modest means have also been able to chip in by paying for their section of the solar panels from the proceeds of the roof. This means that investing in a solar roof is no longer solely the prerogative of wealthy people.

 

What are the origins of Blijstroom?

Blijstroom originated from the need for ordinary Rotterdam citizens to have more control of their energy provision and thereby to become less dependent on major energy suppliers at home and abroad. We wanted to make a positive contribution to the ongoing sustainability of the city, as well as generating green energy together. Starting from that need, we devised a model which would allow as many people as possible to join this movement. And that is when the idea of solar roofs occurred to us. The energy transition is not just a transition from fossil to renewable resources, but also most definitely a transition that moves from the central generating of energy towards decentralised and local sources. This is an ideal initiative to promote the generation of energy within your own residential area or neighbourhood, including shared ownership and reaping the benefits. In order to achieve that, people form a cooperative.

Foto: Frank Hanswijk

How did you start? 

We started with a number of campaigns. In the first few years we provided information about energy saving. We did this every weekend throughout the winter season, working from a booth in all the residential areas of Rotterdam and providing the residents with tips on how to make their houses more sustainable. After all, the cleanest energy is the energy that you don’t use. We also did a lot of researching and experimenting in those first years to find the right approach. In 2015, we came up with the idea of the collective solar roofs, and shortly after that someone working at the Municipality said we could make a start using the roof of a gymnastics hall at the Noorderhavenkade. We got the hang of it from that first installation, and since then roughly one new solar roof has been commissioned each year.

 

What is so special about Blijstroom?

In fact, the question is not what is so special about Blijstroom, but what is so special about the energy cooperatives in the city. There are hundreds of cooperatives operating at a national level in which citizens have joined together in a comparable way. Just like many of these cooperatives, ours is a democratic organisation, which means that the members decide on its strategy. There are no shareholders pocketing the profits; that is of paramount importance. The set-up is situated somewhere between public and private, with society leading rather than the market. As well as the individual gain for the participants, we focus in particular on the social value that we generate as a cooperative. We like to think of this as a model for the future. We were the first to take this step in Rotterdam, but fortunately more energy cooperatives have been founded in the meantime, such as Alex Energie in Rotterdam-Alexander and the Delfshaven Energie Coöperatie, with whom we are collaborating closely.

 

What obstacles have you encountered? 

The lack of roofs! In principle there are plenty of roofs, but obviously they are not ours. We ask the owners to make their roof available to the residents for a minimum period of 15 years. Admittedly, that is a long time, and there can be many reasons why owners are reluctant to commit to this. All in all, available roofs are few and far between. In addition to my role within Blijstroom, I am also paving the way for a platform of energy cooperatives in Rotterdam; a partnership of all the Rotterdam-based cooperatives. The aim is to realise solar roofs at ninety locations within the next few years, which is a fairly bold ambition. Fortunately, the burden does not fall entirely on the shoulders of Blijstroom. We are currently engaged in serious talks with the Municipality to establish how they too can help to make this happen. I’m pretty sure we can deal with many of the obstacles by virtue of intensified collaboration.

 

Take a look at the video of the opening of the new solar roof below:

What is the ambition of the energy cooperatives?

We want Rotterdam citizens to be the owners of the energy transition as much as possible. As far as we are concerned, Rotterdam citizens and businesses should be in control of at least half of the energy that will eventually be generated in Rotterdam by solar panels or wind turbines. We are aiming to create a city in which you yourself can meet your energy needs, and a first step is to give every Rotterdam citizen the chance to participate by means of a jointly owned solar roof in their neighbourhood.

 

How can I invest in a sustainable and energy-neutral Rotterdam? 

You can make a joint investment in a Blijstroom solar roof for as little as €200. The procedure is quite simple; you register, after which you will be kept informed of progress, and as soon as enough investors have been attracted we commission a contractor to install the solar roof. From the moment the roof is completed you will benefit for 15 years from your own clean, local energy. All the solar roofs are currently fully booked but we are working on new projects, and of course you can register as a member in the meantime.

On 6 July, Blijstroom – together with the action group Het Oude Westen – commissioned the solar roof at the Batavierenstraat. The action group Het Oude Westen has been working on behalf of residents in the neighbourhood since the 1970s, and have also been actively engaged in the energy transition for some years now. Accessibility was the starting point for the collaboration, meaning that anyone can join, irrespective of their financial means. And that is why all residents can benefit from solar roofs.

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