Hamburg citizens vote to take back grid
On the weekend, the citizens of Hamburg not only took part in the national parliamentarian elections, but also voted on whether the city should buy back its grid from Danish power conglomerate Dong Energy. It was close, but the takeover bid succeeded. Nonetheless, citizens don't have their grid back yet. The SPD’s position shows that the Social Democrats do not always support energy democracy.
With a slim majority of 50.9 percent, Hamburgers elected to make a bid for their power and gas supply system when the concessions are renewed. In 2014, the power grid comes up for grabs, followed by the gas network a couple of years later.
But the plebiscite was not about whether the city would take over its grid. Rather, the question was whether the city should make a bid. EU law stipulates that such commissions have to be awarded in a public bidding process, so essentially citizens have merely elected to make a bid themselves. Other companies – including the current network operator – may also make a counter bid, and city officials who award the contract cannot unduly favor a municipal takeover. And if the citizens get their way, competing bidders could challenge the decision in court.
Such court cases do not, however, stand much of a chance to win, provided that city officials justify their decisions carefully. Up to now, municipalities large and small have managed to win almost all of the scores of challenges to municipal takeovers.
Hamburg is Germany's second-largest city, and the biggest – Berlin – is scheduled to vote on a citizen-driven grid the buyback at the beginning of November. The plebiscite was also scheduled to take place on Sunday in Germany's capital, but opponents of the movement managed to set back the date in order to force everyone to have to go back to the polls again – probably in an attempt to keep voter turnout below the quorum.
It is all part of a wave of community ownership in Germany stretching from investments in renewables to investments in the infrastructure for energy supply. But interestingly for the current coalition negotiations, Hamburg's Social Democrat mayor fought against his own citizens in favor of continued corporate ownership. (Craig Morris)