A small German town called Wolfhagen has gone 100% renewable in an effort to combat the climate crisis. In the process, they have created an innovative new way to approach the ownership of the town’s utilities creating a more democratic governance that allows citizens to participate in the decision-making process.
The need for ambitious environmental policy that reduces dependence on fossil fuels to run towns and cities has created many proposals like The Green New Deal. These policies have sprung up in the United States, Europe, and in many other places in the world. Yet, many worry about the investments into infrastructure and renewable energy that would be required by the state.
Those worried about “ecological authoritarianism” need look no further than Wolfhagen. This German town has managed to shift 100% of its electricity use away from fossil fuels—now relying on renewable sources such as a new wind farm.
The town also created a hybrid ownership model. The board for the utility company also includes a cooperative of town citizens that help decide on “all issues concerning electricity production and supply in the region, ranging from the setting of energy prices through to reinvestment in new capacity.”
Martin Rühl, director of the utility company, explains: “Through the cooperative participation we want to make the citizens not only co-owners and co-earners, but through the form of a direct participation in the Stadtwerke also co-decision-makers. For future projects, citizens and electricity customers will be at the table from the very beginning.”
Wolfhagen has blazed a trail that other towns and cities can follow. They have proved that the decarbonization of energy can be achieved through collective, democratic processes.
Government funding will, of course, be needed due to the enormous scale of change that is needed in the face of the climate emergency. Yet, the lack of involvement on a national level doesn’t need to stop smaller local governments from acting. Wolfhagen’s citizens have shown that collaboration on a local level which includes democratic engagement can create the funding needed for success.