Hamburg citizens vote to buy back energy grid

On September 22nd, citizens in Hamburg, Germany’s second biggest city, not only re-elected Angela Merkel as chancellor but also gave their electoral mandate to the city authority to buy back the energy grid in their Hanseatic city. Why? Because they concluded that the private sector cannot be trusted with public services – and that community ownership and participatory governance is the way to go, notes Anna Leidreiter.

The initiative for a rebuy of the grid protesting in Hamburg. (Photo by UNSER HAMBURG – UNSER NETZ)

Re-communalization, not privatization

The Hamburg-based civil society-led alliance “Our Hamburg – Our Grid” reminded citizens of a German federal law stipulating that municipal authorities invite bids from new companies, including communities, who wish to run the local grid once the contract term of 20 years ends. This alliance not only reminded citizens but actually called for action and campaigned for years for the buyback of the energy grid in the city.

And success: 50.9% of the population voted to re-communalize electricity, gas and district heating networks which are currently in the hands of multinational energy companies Vattenfall and Eon.

The motivation for Hamburg citizens? That energy supply is a basic public service that should not serve profit motives. They concluded that Vattenfall and Eon – the current grid operators – don’t act in the best interest of the people and are delaying Germany’s shift to renewable energy.

After the decision last Sunday, the Hamburg Senate and Parliament are required to implement the electoral mandate. They must ask Vattenfall and Eon for approval to increase the city’s share from the current 25.1% to 100%. If the companies oppose the sale – as is expected – the city must establish a municipal utility and express their interest by mid-January 2014 to operate the energy grid.

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