Berlin Referendum Fails

Der Spiegel reports that the Berlin referendum on taking over the city’s power system from Swedish company Vattenfall failed yesterday:

In order to pass, the measure would have had to get the support of 25 percent of eligible Berlin voters. Although 83 percent of those voting in the referendum voted yes, the overall numbers fell slightly short — another 21,000 “yes” votes would have been needed for a win.

The referendum was the culmination of a long-term attempt to wrest Berlin’s utility from Vattenfall, the Swedish energy giant. According to critics, Vattenfall isn’t doing enough to transfer the city over to green energy sources. Although the grid is, by the standards of large cities, extremely reliable, a mere 1.4 percent of the city’s power comes from renewable sources. Activists blame this on Vattenfall’s ownership interests — the company doesn’t just manage the grid, it helps produce the energy that feeds it, giving it, activists claim, an incentive to focus on cheap, but highly polluting, coal power. Proponents argued that a buy-back would have made the utility more democratic, transparent and environmentally friendly.

The city’s bungling of a very expensive new airport, which is far behind schedule despite massive indebtedness, probably contributed to voter skepticism about whether the city government could take on management of its own power company.

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