There is a long tradition of clean energy here: the Alps have for decades been an important location for the production and distribution of renewable electrical energy and sustainably produced heat. Here – as in no other region in Europe – fossil fuels can be replaced by local resources in a sustainable, carbon-neutral manner in decentralised and responsive plants.

The co-operative structure is deeply rooted in South Tyrol. In 1921 the first co-operative hydropower plant was
connected to the grid in Stilfs; in 1995 the first co-operative district heating plants began operation. Practical self-help, adapted to local needs: in the 1920s farmers, craftsmen, merchants and entrepreneurs joined together in co-operatives to provide neglected rural areas throughout the region with independently produced electricity.

One example is the Villnöss Valley, where three farmers and a craftsman in 1921 set up the “St. Magdalena Electricity Company” in order to produce and exploit electrical energy for lighting and power purposes and thus boost the local economy and promote the material welfare of its members through sawmills, mills, woodworking and other industries. In 1922 the first co-operative hydropower plant provided the first electricity in this remote valley.
Everything under one roof
The co-operative model has several advantages. So-called “historical” co-operatives are exempt from surcharges in Italy and can offer cheaper electricity than privately owned companies. Co-operatives have the option of combining production and distribution under one “roof” and work on the production cost principle. The members are the owners – profits are passed on through cheaper prices to the final consumer.

This is also a reason that 20 of the 56 distributors active in South Tyrol are organised as co-operatives. 18% of local power plants with a rated capacity of between 220 kW and 3 megawatts are run by co-operatives. The co-operative model is the
trend, and not just in Europe: 12% of the population of the USA – 42 million people in 47 different states – are supplied with electricity from energy co-operatives.
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