Democratizing Energy in a Marketized World: The Cases of Costa Rica and Nicaragua

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Colbert, M'Lisa
Energy Democracy , Privatization , Energy Transition , Renewable Energy , Post Carbon , Participatory Democracy , Energy Development
This thesis explores the experiences, motivations and the imaginary of people who seek to democratize access to energy. Through a survey of the energy democracy movement in Europe and North America and a case study of two participatory and democratically oriented electricity providers in Central America, this thesis examines the differences and similarities between democratizing energy in the Global North and Global South in the context of marketization and the global push to transition to renewable energy. The forces of an expanding global energy economy are increasingly influencing the way that we can access and consume energy in our lives. Local interactions cannot be understood by an isolated analysis without considering the larger structural conditions that implicate them. Today, we are witnessing a global push to transition our energy resources from fossil fuels to renewables due to the emergency of climate change. For the most part, this transition preoccupies itself with changing the technological instruments that source us the energy. Yet few changes are targeting transition from growth focused market-based economic models. Energy Democracy is one new imaginary that people are rallying around to help realize alternatives to drive more equitable and sustainable post-carbon futures. This thesis finds that there are unfounded normative assumptions being made about groups organizing around energy democracy that is causing scatter in the movement. There is an aggressive strand of energy democracy that readily accepts for-profit schemes and risks turning energy democracy into just another space for capital accumulation in the energy sector. This thesis presents two important suggestions for reconciling these problems. Firstly, to look beyond moving the term itself and prioritize connecting on the basis of the underlying principles that define the term. This will ultimately create more meaningful solidarity in the future, and a more grounded and unified movement. Secondly, to increase focus on exploring the experiences and motivations of like-minded groups in the Global South who are heavily implicated by this global energy transition and, necessarily, by any movement that seeks an alternative to it.
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