Since 2021 there has been a historic rise in electricity rates, which have gone from 50 euros at the beginning of the year to sometimes exceed 500 euros. Faced with this situation, the Síndic de Greuges de Barcelona (equivalent to the Ombudsman) has acted ex officio to analyze the consequences and scope of energy poverty in the city. As a consequence, it publishes, within the framework of World Energy Saving Day (October 21), a report in which it urges that access to energy be considered a human right.
Big energy companies are bleeding families dry, but there is a solution
“We are very concerned about the alarming increase in prices and, as we do not have the power to intervene in companies, the only solution is to consider energy as a human right”, said Síndic David Bondia at the presentation of the report, prepared jointly with Ingenieros Without Borders (ISF). According to the defender, a paradigm shift is needed and to stop considering citizens as clients, to understand them as holders of the right to basic supplies at an affordable price. “Until now, energy has been considered a market good subject to profit and that must change,” says Bondia.
Despite the fact that energy is not a right explicitly recognized by any international human rights instrument, the Síndic considers that it is an essential good, beyond being a commodity. “Faced with the growing economic and climate crisis, we can only expect an increase in energy poverty. For this reason, we must guarantee a service that reaches everyone and, especially vulnerable households”, explained Eva G. Chueca, attached to the Barcelona Sindicatura.
Measures in the face of a growing energy crisis
From the ombudsman, they have recognized that various local, regional and state administrations have carried out measures to alleviate the effects of the energy crisis, but consider them insufficient. “They are based on welfare. They consider that the problem is circumstantial and not structural”, said Bondia. In the line, she has recalled that, from the legal point of view, the content of a right is not the guaranteed good, but the obligation that someone has, in this case the administration, to guarantee this right.
For this reason, Bondia has criticized the energy oligopolies that concentrate control over energy, “with the approval of the administrations” and has wanted to focus on the powers and challenges of Barcelona City Council, as an entity that can help guarantee this right . To achieve this, the Sindicatura has proposed 20 recommendations to the council, such as increasing awareness campaigns and recovering attendance at the Energy Advice Points (PAE).
These offices give attention to citizens to combat energy poverty, helping families to access the rights provided by legislation, such as the social bonus or reduced rates. Attention has been increasing since its creation, in 2012, experiencing a peak after the pandemic, when it went from 13,351 people in 2020 to 19,222 in 2021. But, despite this, face-to-face attention has not fully recovered . “It is essential that there be as few barriers as possible to access advice on energy matters, because what is coming our way is going to be very serious,” Bondia warned.
Likewise, it has also recommended Barcelona to advance in the energy transition. Although the council has ensured that 100% of its electricity supply comes from renewable sources, the Sindicatura has recommended that the municipal energy marketer Barcelona Energia follow the same path and only supply its customers with green energy. This public company was created in 2019 to ensure that electricity was treated as a basic good and not a market good. But in 2021 it barely had 2,500 clients, barely 12.5% of the initial objective. Asked about the development of this company, Bondia said that, although it is important that it increase in contracts, it is more important that “it remains a public company so that it continues to protect its clients.”
On the other hand, another of the recommendations to the council is to cut off the electricity supply. To do this, it has urged an investment to be made for the rehabilitation of homes and facilities – public and private – and guarantee self-consumption through the installation of photovoltaic panels. “It is important that this is done across the board and that it reaches the whole world, because if it is only done in certain neighborhoods, it could increase the value of homes and end up in gentrification and the expulsion of neighbors,” Chueca warned.
Likewise, these measures should be accompanied by an audit of the large energy companies “so that they take co-responsibility for the energy crisis and prevent them from obtaining benefits while thousands of families fall into poverty”, Bondia said. Likewise, he considers it important for citizens to be aware of energy wastage and proposes to carry out an audit, also, of consumers, in order to identify what the basic cost is and increase the price when consumption exceeds that threshold.
“It is very important to understand that, if we say that energy is a human right, it is for all citizens, not just for those who suffer from energy poverty. We must guarantee that everyone has access to services, regardless of their economic condition”, says Bondia. The Síndic is aware that getting energy to be considered a human right is a huge task, a kind of David versus Goliath fight and, despite the fact that neither the Sindicatura nor the City Council have the capacity to make this claim come true , is optimistic. “The achievement of human rights arises from citizenship and the capacity of the local to influence international policies is immense.”