Re-Municipalization of Energy Provisioning in Germany

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Cecile Blanchet:

"The other form of organisation that holds great potential for energy democracy are municipal utilities. They are known in Europe for the water utilities and used to play a large role for energy as well. But the wave of privatisations in the 1990s put them in the hands of private corporations. Since a few years, some cities are taking a reverse path and buy their networks and utilities back. This is very interesting because municipal utilities, which inherently belong to all, have potentially one crucial advantage over cooperatives: as all inhabitants/users can be considered as members, they might prove more inclusive structures. However, this is only true if the governance mode is copied on the coop one: “one member one vote”. We will see that it is not necessarily the case.

First, here are a few basics on the structure of the energy system in Germany:

On the one hand, there are the grid operators (TSO): they own and operate the local electricity, gas and heating networks. They get concessions of 20 years, given by the federal states: these are quasi-monopolies. They compete to get the concession but once the get it, they have no competitors.

On the other hand, there are the energy providers, who operate the power plants and commercialise energy (they are the users of the grid). Here it can be anyone producing energy, from the very big to the very small." (



Cecile Blanchet:

"In Hamburg, the concession for the networks was hold by Vattenfall and ran out in 2013. People then decided to regain control on the grid. So the city of Hamburg grounded a municipal utility (called “Hamburg Energie”), as a daughter of the water utility. It is now an energy provider, which focuses on producing and selling local green energy (mostly electricity but also some gas).

Next to that, a collective of citizens founded the initiative “Unser Hamburg Unser Netz”. They ran a campaign and had a referendum, during which people voted in favour of a full remunicipalisation of the networks. Therefore, the electricity network was bought back in 2014 and the gas and heating networks should get back in the public hand by 2018/2019.

So things seem to be on a right track in Hamburg, and it was indeed experienced as a tremendous victory for the supporters of energy democracy. But… something is missing in the Hamburg model: the citizen participation, based on the cooperative model. Indeed, both the municipal energy utility and municipal TSO are run as companies and users are not taking an active part in decision-making (they are merely consulted)." (