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Investors Declare Independence from Utility Takeover–Form Coop to Rescue Defunct German Wind Developer

Article by: Paul Gipe

In a stunning turn in the battle between corporate domination of renewable energy and community ownership, a cooperative of German investors has rescued defunct commercial wind developer Prokon.

The move marks a forceful rejection of a proposed takeover by one of Germany’s largest electric utilities, Energie Baden-Württemberg (EnBW). The utility, one of Germany’s Big Four, has lagged far behind other German utilities in the connection of wind turbines to its system. Analysts saw EnBW’s proposal to buy Prokon’s assets as a particularly cheap way for the utility to quickly gain wind capacity without the arduous and time consuming work normally necessary.

However, the utility didn’t count on an effective grassroots campaign by Germany’s electricity rebels, including Elektrizitätswerke Schönau (EWS)–the country’s most famous rebels–who urged investors to fight for their independence.

On 2 July 2015 a clear majority of Prokon’s investors chose the cooperative model to continue operation despite EnBW’s aggressive advertising campaign that threatened investors with the loss of their money if they rejected the utility’s offer.

EWS declared the decision a Great Day for Prokon and Community Energy, characterizing the decision as another victory in a David versus Goliath struggle for the future of renewable energy.

Electricity rebels argue that Germany’s Energiewende, or energy revolution, must be built from the ground up by putting renewable energy in the hands of the people.

At the time of its bankruptcy, Prokon operated more than 500 MW of wind generating capacity–assets worth more than one billion dollars–and employed more than 600 people.

EWS is a cooperatively-owned electricity provider in the Black Forest village of Schönau in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg.  The coop’s founders were described in the media as “electricity rebels” for their revolt against the local utility company after the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl. Ursula Sladek, one of the coop’s founders, received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize and met with President Barack Obama in 2011. The coop now has 100,000 customers. For more on EWS, see Strom Rebels of Schönau: The Village That Built Their Own Solar Utility.