Taking over Berlin’s energy supply

Stephan Taschner

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

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The story of the following referendum began two and a half years ago in 2011 with the formation of the Berliner Energietisch, roughly translated as Berlin Energy Roundtable. It initiated an impressive campaign in which Berlin’s citizens were asked to ‘reclaim’ Berlin’s power. The alliance of 56 local civil society groups represents Berlin’s society in all its range. Not only the usual suspects, like environmental organisations but also social movements, activist networks church groups, welfare and tenant counselling organizations as well as cultural associations and migrant initiatives are active members. This all started three years ago with just with a handful of activists and grew step by step to become such a large alliance.

The Energietisch was also supported by the three parties in the parliamentary opposition and formerly also by the ruling Social-democrats. However in the end they refused to follow us and together with the Conservatives declined our proposed draft law.

The overall aim of the Energietisch is the establishment of a more ecological, social and democratic energy supply in Germany’s capital. However this demands several concrete steps like the municipal ownership of the electrical power grid and a community-owned energy supplier designed as a modern energy service.

The long term aim is to provide Berlin a long-term run with a hundred percent decentralized, renewable energy. A community-owned energy supplier will therefore offer only genuine green electricity, which comes primarily from renewable energy plants in the Berlin-Brandenburg region. New investments in nuclear and coal-fired plants are totally banned in our proposal. Besides that, energy saving and efficiency are defined as key objectives.

The public owned energy utility we envision must have an explicit social orientation against energy poverty. Possible fields of activity are, for example, a targeted counselling of low-income households. The switch to more efficient appliances also has to be encouraged as well as the support of house retro-fitting policies that would be fair to tenants, and try to avoid displacement.

Finally the idea of democratic control also demands broad transparency rules and a number of opportunities for Berlin citizens to participate in this process that go far beyond the well-known parliamentary control of state-owned enterprises.

These ideas were written down in a draft law that was put up to vote on 3rd November 2013. 600.000 Berliners voted in favour of the initiatives ideas, but it failed due to a Berlin-specific barrier – a 25- per cent quorum. This means that a valid referendum is achieved only when at least 25 per cent of Berlin’s electorate, in total 2.4 million, say ‘yes’. So although more than 80 per cent voted ‘yes’, the referendum failed. In the end only 21.000 votes were missing. Nevertheless the Berliners have set a clear signal towards a public owned energy supply and this cannot be neglected, neither by Berlin’s federal state government nor by referendum opponents.

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