Samsø- Yes We Can
Samsø is a small island in the center of Denmark. To get to the island, it’s a little over an hour drive from Copenhagen to Kalundborg and then another two hours on a ferry.
In 1997, Samsø won a Danish government competition to become a renewable energy community. In just 10 years, the residents transformed their fossil-fuel based energy economy into a citizen-powered renewable energy one. Samsø incorporates energy efficiency measures along with solar, biomass district heating, and wind to create its sustainable portfolio.
Including the 10 offshore wind turbines, Samsø generates more energy from renewables than it uses; and thus, is able to export the surplus back to the Danish mainland. This has led to a 140% decrease in Samsø’s CO2 emissions.
Being a small island, it would have been easy to the locals to think that transforming their energy grid was a project that was just too big. In fact, many citizens thought that in the beginning. But through a series of local meeting forums, the Islanders came to recognize that this kind of transformation meant a more vibrant local economy and jobs, independent of subsidies. They would become owners in their energy future instead of customers. Energy democracy and independence were important selling points to the Samsings.
I first discovered Samsø from a children’s book. I read the story, Energy Island: How one community harnessed the wind and changed their world, to a group of elementary students in my after-school eco-club class. The story resonated with the kids. They liked that despite being small, Samsø joined together as a community and transformed their energy grid. “If Samsø could do that, we can too,” the kids agreed. This concept, so easily understood by my eco-club kids, hasn’t resonated with the same clarity among adults.
I visited the Samso Energy Academy in August and was fortunate enough to spend some time with it’s charismatic director, Søren Hermansen. Shortly after, Hermansen took the Samsings’ story on the road on a 3-week tour of speaking engagements across America. Fortunately, my town of Santa Fe was one of his stops. Søren has a new e-book just released in English, Commonities = commons + communities. This e-book extols the shared ownership of the commons along with the wisdom of community. Combining those two concepts, will help us create a path to a better, more equitable energy future.
“In Santa Fe,” one of our sustainability commissioners mentioned to Søren, “we are known as the City Different. People like being different and creating their own solutions.” “That’s part of the problem,” he responded. “You need to be the City United not the City Different.” We all laughed. But, that seems to me to be our best path to redemption.