The councils driving local energy production
February 5, 2014
Rising fuel prices and climate change are pushing energy to the top of the agenda, and local government is taking steps towards self-sufficiency. Which councils are leading the way towards localised energy production?
It may be that the tiny Black Forest village of Schönau represents the future, at least as far as energy is concerned.
After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, local people began to plan how the might generate their own renewable energy. Ten years later, they took the opportunity to take over their local electricity grid themselves.
It was a small step and celebrated as a David-versus-Goliath battle against the big energy suppliers, but now – a generation later – the same pattern is being repeated in the big German cities too.
What’s more, Schönau’s own community energy supplier, EWS, has 140,000 clients all over country. They are even supplying people across the border in Switzerland and France.
The success of EWS is part of a peculiar phenomenon which seems to be emerging around renewable energy where both left and right wing administrations embrace the idea – because it gives them some measure of economic independence. In Georgia, Tea Party activists linked up with the Sierra Club to force the local energy monopoly to buy solar power. In Western Australia, there are battles with the big power companies which want to tax solar panels.
But in Germany, the situation seems to be changing fastest, because it is happening in local government. Hamburg has now voted to municipalise its own grid. Stuttgart is planning a similar vote, and Berlin is in the middle of a bitter struggle between the mayor and local energy campaigners on the same issue.
In Hamburg, the vote took place on the day of the federal election which brought Angela Merkel back to power in September. But in Berlin, the vote was moved and – as a result – although 83% of the vote backed a local takeover of the grid, it narrowly failed to reach the required quarter of the electorate.
But the Buerger Energie Berlin is now applying more formally to take over the energy supply of the city.
The changing borders between left and right on the renewable issue is exemplified by Projekt Sonnenschein, the brainchild of energy campaigner Alban Thurston, trying to twin local authorities in the UK and Germany to encourage some of this energy radicalism here.
There is also some way to go before the UK looks like Germany in this respect. There are now 600 community energy co-ops in Germany, providing anything up to a fifth of Germany energy. In the UK, as much as 99% of energy is still generated by just six companies.