CoPower came about when a bunch of union members realised they could affect change in the world of energy retailing with one simple plan.
Godfrey Moase describes CoPower as “an overnight success five years in the making”. In 2015, when he and a bunch of fellow trade unionists read Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, they knew they had to do something to address the climate crisis, the problem of organised labour, and the decline in participation in civil society. It was a deceptively simple question: “How do we meaningfully organise to build better lives?”
They decided to build an energy cooperative, knowing that if they organised together they could make a material difference to the lives of their customers, and also have an impact on the broader electricity system – building community while tackling poverty and the climate crisis.
Now, with more than 3,500 members, CoPower is a non-profit, union-founded, member-run and member-owned co-operative providing sustainable residential electricity. Last year, CoPower saw a jump in membership when PowerShop was taken over by Shell, illustrating people’s hunger for ethical solutions. “Ownership matters,” says Godfrey. “It’s not like the product that PowerShop was offering changed when Shell took over, but people had a deep reaction to Shell.”
“Electricity is expensive wherever you buy it, but at least I know that my money is being invested back into projects that improve our environment and promote social equity, not going into shareholders’ pockets.”
CoPower is “a project that allows us to do tomorrow what we can’t do today,” he explains. “As we grow, we’ll be able to have more impact on the electricity system. Today, any rank-and-file trade unionist can switch and take the power away from a big energy corporation.”
That is exactly what AEU member and Year 5/6 classroom teacher Emma Beale has done. “On a financial level, electricity is expensive wherever you buy it,” says Emma, “but at least I know that my money is being invested back into projects that improve our environment and promote social equity, not going into shareholders’ pockets.
“CoPower has a clear aim to encourage people to access renewable electricity and move away from fossil fuels. It is member-owned and run, and I liked the democratic process used to choose the social justice and environmental causes that CoPower supports when investing any surplus.”
For the 2022–23 year, CoPower has been able to allocate $100,000 towards community works. The funding priorities put forward by customer members include: First Nations solidarity, climate mobilisation and organising, social solidarity and justice, supporting organising and resistance, economic democracy, ecological regeneration, and many more.
Godfrey, who as well as being cofounder and chair of CoPower is an executive director at the United Workers Union, sees the energy transition as not just an environmental or technical transition but chiefly a social transition.
“The climate crisis is symptomatic of a problem in the way we relate to each other and the world around us. People’s experiences are less social and collective, and more atomised. To create positive ecological outcomes, we have to change the way we relate to one another.
“We believe that if we can provide a platform where members can spend less time as a consumer and more time as a citizen, it will contribute to a deep and positive and fair transition. We are testing a thesis that relationships matter most.”
CoPower is owned by its customer members. The AEU is a CoPower member organisation. It only takes five minutes to make the switch – just find an existing electricity bill and you’ll have all the info you need. Find out more at cooperativepower.org.au.