Expensive Energy

Taking Back the Power

Supporters of the Our Hamburg - Our Grid movement back in 2013. Source dpa
"Our Hamburg - Our Grid" might not be that good for Hamburg after all.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    • A trend toward the municipal repurchase of energy utilities in Germany has been a mixed bag, with many municipalities failing to realize the profits they had anticipated.
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  • Facts

    Facts

    • Small and large municipalities are trying to repurchase the energy grids they had sold to private operators years ago.
    • An analysis of the 2011 and 2012 financial statements of 270 municipal operators of power distribution grids showed that 101 municipal companies reported a negative result at least once.
    • The need for utilities to upgrade their lines to cope with the boom in wind and solar energy poses significant costs.
  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf

“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.

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