Monday, March 12, 2018

Aditya Chakrabortty - How a small town reclaimed its grid and sparked a community revolution

Aditya Chakrabortty talks about how German towns and districts are taking back the privatised public services into public ownership where the residents own the shares. He talks about an energy supplier which reduced prices while yielding good dividends for its local shareholders, but at the same time improved the service by doubling the staff required which then cut the district's unemployment rate. Well, beat that, libertarians. 

But to see the real difference made by public ownership you need to head into the middle of the town, to a small cinema that opened in 1948. Kai Mellinghoff is the third generation of his family to run it. He barely remembers the battle with E.ON: “It was in the paper, but people weren’t moved by it.” A few months afterwards, however, Rühl came to him with a proposal. He wanted to hire the cinema to screen environmental films. It was 2006, the year of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Tickets were either free or cheap, all 90 of the red plush seats were filled. This was an event. 
After the film, there might be a speaker on climate change or electric cars, and the audience would be invited on to Mellinghoff’s terrace. He shows me its postcard view of the timber rooftops of his town and the woods beyond. Out here, the townspeople would clutch glasses of wine and discuss the film, the environment and what part they could play in preserving it.

Rühl wanted the now-public Stadtwerke to go 100% renewable by 2015; these evenings were his way of spreading the idea. Renewables meant a forest of solar panels, and giant wind turbines on the mountain that overlooks Wolfhagen. The prospect split the town in two: opponents of the wind farm produced mock-up posters of turbines looming out of a napalmed forest and leering down at locals 
The Ancient Greeks would have known what to call Mellinghoff’s terrace. It was an agora, a place for citizens to discuss politics. For all its fury, the debate turned the Stadtwerke from a company under new management to an asset in which everyone had a stake. That bond got closer after Wolfhagen had adopted the renewables pledge. To raise the millions needed to build the wind farm, the town sold a quarter of the energy firm’s shares to locals in a citizens’ co-op. The co-op has seats on the board of the company, giving residents a direct say over how their utility is managed. 
The Guardian 

Aditya Chakrabortty - How a small town reclaimed its grid and sparked a community revolution

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