Berlin Power Grid State Takeover Referendum Falls Short

A voter initiative in Berlin to force the state to take control of the energy grid narrowly failed as a majority in favor fell short of a required turnout.

Some 24.1 percent of voters in the German capital took part in the referendum on setting up a municipal utility to produce renewable energy and the repurchase of the power grid, the city government said. That fell short of the 25 percent turnout required for the vote to be valid; 83 percent backed the initiative, while 17 percent opposed it.

German states and municipalities have moved to regain control of their energy resources after a wave of privatizations in the 1990s to prop up budgets. Voters in Hamburg in September backed a measure to buy back energy grids the state sold to Vattenfall Europe AG and EON SE.

The Berlin city government under Social Democratic Mayor Klaus Wowereit, which urged voters to reject the measure, had moved to preempt the voter initiative by passing legislation to establish a city-owned utility for renewables.

“On the important question of public services, the public’s influence must be strengthened, but without taking on irresponsible risks,” Wowereit said in a statement.

More than 70 new municipal utilities have started up since 2007, and public operators have taken over more than 200 concessions to run energy grids from private companies in that time, according to the VKU association of public utilities.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic bloc and the Social Democrats, which are in talks to form a new national government, reached an initial agreement last week to protect local utilities from European Union efforts encouraging privatization.

Public ownership of assets such as utilities and water providers “belongs to the core purpose of state responsibility,” a document produced by a negotiating group focused on European policy said on Oct. 30.

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