is located in the southeast of the Netherlands, borders the German city of Aachen and is part of the city-region of Parkstad Limburg, an agglomeration with about 250 000 inhabitants and encompassing 8 municipalities.
In the last decade, the population of Heerlen itself has decreased by 2.4 percent from 89 236 in 2010 to 87 087 in 2020. Heerlen has a relatively older population. Sustainability is associated with the participation of citizens in the municipal plans. The energy transition is also one of the three pillars of the municipal sustainability program. Heerlen has committed to becoming energy neutral within the region in 2040, so in order to achieve this goal they have to produce more renewable energy locally.
The energy poverty issue
Households that spend 10% of their monthly income on their energy bill and do not earn more than € 14 000 a year are considered to be in energy poverty situation. In 2020, 23% of the 87 087 inhabitants are 65 years or older (19% at national level) and 13% younger than 15 (16% at national level). Poverty levels are high with 14% of the households living below the minimum income level as set in the Netherlands (8% at national level). Moreover, 39% have a lower education level (30% at national level).
Fighting energy poverty is part of the strategy of Heerlen administration to take care of its citizens. The area being one of the most affected by poverty in general, the city develops a lot of social programs on this key issue of the local political agenda. And lowering energy costs is a very good way to allow the people in energy poverty situation to spend their small incomes on the basics.
Over the last few years the city has implemented several projects to help low income people make energy savings, by giving them a free energy box with energy saving measures and free energy advice at home. The energy team visited more than 4 000 households. At the moment the city is launching a one-stop-shop where house owners and renters can get energy advice. For residents who have lower incomes there are 2500 free vouchers. Vouchers can be used for products and/or advice. As part of the city solar panel project a decision was made to waver a credit verification for people to get a loan from the municipality. The main reason was to give people with lower incomes the possibility to join the project. Renewable energy production and energy community – The last 2 years the city administration supported 2 energy cooperatives with their initiatives. One of them is focussing on the traditional solar installation on large roofs with our Dutch ‘Postcoderoos’ idea and the other cooperative is more socially engaged. They want to put solar panels on roofs (big and small) in the city centre and re-invest the profits in energy saving projects for their members. As part of their strategy, the city centre should benefit from solar energy production. Both cooperatives support and learn from each other. A pilot has been started in an industrial park with the companies, surrounding house owners and social housing company to think of an energy company/cooperative that can produce solar energy on roofs and sell the energy to the members. These initiatives are perfectly in line with the municipal and national goal for a more participative society and supports the EU Climate Pact initiative.