Berlin to buy back grid and go 100 percent renewable
The German capital has resolved to buy back its power supply. On Wednesday, the grand coalition that governs the city-state passed a resolution to buy back its grid and switch to renewables.
On Wednesday, the grand coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats governing the city-state of Berlin announced that it was taking power supply back into its own hands and switching to renewables. Next week, Berlin's Senate (equivalent to City Hall because the city is simultaneously a state) is to review the bill, which includes the founding of a municipal utility under the direction of BSR, the city's waste authority, which already operates a number of large photovoltaic arrays and waste incinerators that generate electricity.
The move marks a stark reversal to the neoliberal policies of the 1990s, when a large number of German municipalities were convinced to sell their public services to large corporations. The result was skyrocketing water and power prices. A court in Berlin even ruled that the water provider would have to lower its prices. Sweden's Vattenfall currently provides power to Berlin, and the firm has made a dubious name for itself not only for a number of mishaps at its nuclear power plants, but also for its attempt to undermine the concession process for Berlin's grid, which is to come under the hammer again at the end of 2014. For instance, Vattenfall has greatly overstated the value of the city's power grid.
The citizens of Berlin responded with a ground-roots campaign to take over the the city's grid again. A citizens group is taking part in the round of bidding and wants to have the grid democratized as a neutral trading platform. As Stefan Taschner, spokesperson of the Energy Roundtable that came out of the ground-roots movement, put it, "At least 51 percent of the power grid should be in Berlin hands." In October, Verdi, Germany's largest labor union, stated its support for the "re-communalization" of the municipal power grid "provided that employees are not detrimentally affected." Verdi argues that energy supply is a basic public service that should not serve profit motives.
The new municipal utility would work towards a 100 percent renewable supply of energy starting with distributed cogeneration units whose efficiencies are at least 80 percent. And as Germans always understand, the path to a greater share of renewable energy always requires energy conservation and efficiency, so the new utility would also focus on these goals. The new state-owned company would then take over the grid starting in 2015. The utility would not be allowed to financially support the production and sale of energy from nuclear or coal plants. Everyone currently employed at Vattenfall's grid subsidiary would be offered a job at the new utility under the same terms. (Heiko Schwarzburger / Craig Morris)