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Stanz im Mürztal - a town hugging the mountain, Source: Stanz im Mürztal

Buy groceries with surplus renewable energy? This Austrian town says yes

Buy groceries with surplus renewable energy? This Austrian town says yes

The mayor of Stanz im Mürztal is building a renewable energy cooperative and it comes with a whole new economic model

At the eastern tip of the Alps in Austria lies the sleepy small town of Stanz im Mürztal where a veritable renewable energy revolution is brewing. Surrounded by lush pine-covered peaks and deep mountain stream valleys, the municipality of Stanz launched a programme to create one of Austria’s first renewable energy cooperatives.

The initiative was spearheaded by the local Mayor Friedrich Pichler, who explained that the ultimate goal of the project is to include 100% of the residents in the cooperative. He was quoted in a recent article, published by the ORF, Austria’s national broadcasting service, saying that citizens will be able to collect renewable kilowatt hours they have produced and track that on their mobile phones like airline miles.

He went a step further, by suggesting that locals would be able to exchange surplus kilowatts and say, go to the store and buy eggs with energy.

The Renewables Expansion Act

On 17 July 2021, the Austrian government passed the Renewables Expansion Act (Erneuerbaren-Ausbau-Gesetz) which was aimed at covering 100% of Austria’s domestic energy consumption with renewables by 2030 and making the country climate neutral by 2040.

The act calls for a 1-billion-euro annual investment scheme aimed at everything from photovoltaic systems, wind farms, biogas and hydropower. In addition, it features the so-called collective amendment, for creating private, non-profit orientated energy communities.

The idea, according to a government press release, was to encourage small groups of people, say, neighbours, extended families or small businesses to pool their resources together and take an active part in Austria’s energy transition.

The case of Stanz im Mürztal

In Stanz im Mürztal, however, this concept has been taken to the extreme. As Mayor Pichler put it, he wants to gradually expand municipal renewable capacities by adding investment opt-ins for residents. The goal is to gradually reach 100% and eventually include all 2,000 residents in the cooperative.

Currently, the town meets 30% of its energy needs from renewable sources. However, local authorities plan to take advantage of rooftops to construct several larger solar farms. All this, the mayor says, has been outlined in the Stanz climate package, which should bring down energy costs for consumers by at least 20% in the near future.

Buying eggs with power

Of course, using solar energy produces excess electricity, especially during the day, when consumption is generally the lowest. However, Mayor Fritz Pichler would like to take that surplus energy and implement it in a new economic model. Instead of citizens collecting cash on the energy they produce from the local distributor, he proposes people collect them like frequent flyer miles via a phone app.

Then, people would be able to ‘redeem’ that surplus energy, which will boost the local economy. He says people should be able to go to the grocery store and buy their products by using energy. He added: “For example, I no longer need a bank, people like that. I don't know why, but it really is like that.

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