“We have made history with this project,” Manfred Braasch, head of the Hamburg division of Friends of the Earth Germany said enthusiastically in September 2013. At the time, Mr. Braasch was also the spokesman for an initiative called “Our Hamburg – Our Grid,” and he had just achieved a momentous victory the day before. Friends of the Earth Germany, an alliance of environmental and consumer protection groups, had just won a referendum that required the Hamburg state government to commit itself to the repurchase of its energy grids.
It was a David versus Goliath victory. Friends of the Earth Germany had battled the utility Vattenfall, which operated the electricity and district heating grids, and natural gas grid operator E.ON, along with a seemingly superior alliance consisting of three major political parties, the Social Democratic Party, the Christian Democratic Union and the Free Democratic Party, business leaders and labor unions.
But the initiative had powerful arguments on its side: the purchase was financially worthwhile given the high profits grid operators typically generated. And it was also a matter of protecting the climate, maintaining fair prices and preserving jobs.
The Hamburg initiative was the culmination of a nationwide movement with the unwieldy name “re-municipalization.” Small and large municipalities are trying to repurchase the energy grids they had sold to private operators years ago.