Germany’s Jaitapur? How a village fought n-power

July 20th, 2011 - 3:17 pm ICT by IANS  

Schonau (Germany), July 20 (IANS) People in Maharashtra’s Jaitapur can probably learn a lesson from the small village of Schonau in south Germany, where 650 villagers stood firm against nuclear power and started their own power company.

In the last two decades, they have grown to become a cooperative society providing “green” electricity to over 180,000 houses.

Electricity Schonau (EWS), which started as a small initiative, has grown enough to control several power grids in the country and provide electricity to houses and big industrial companies like Ritter Sport (chocolate company) across Germany. Ninety percent of its electricity comes from hydropower.

Schonau is a small village with a population of 2,500 in the federal state of Baden-Wurttemberg in south Germany neighbouring France and Switzerland.

While Germany has recently announced it will phase out all its nuclear power plants by 2022, in Schonau the protest against nuclear power started in 1986 after the Chernobyl (Ukraine) nuclear disaster.

“There was a radioactive cloud over south Germany after the Chernobyl disaster and it was then that Schonau started an initiative, ‘parents for nuclear-free future’. At that time we were getting power from a nuclear plant and a referendum was held in 1991 where people voted against nuclear energy,” Ursula Sladek, a founder member of EWS, told IANS.

It was not an easy task for the group of villagers to take on the nuclear power company as the latter demanded a huge 8.7 million Deutsche Mark (German currency) for handing over the main grid to EWS.

“The amount was almost double the actual value, but we did not protest at that time in order to take control over the grid. All the villagers contributed and the money was given to the company. Later we filed a legal petition in the court against the company and got more than half of our money back,” she said.

Ursula, 64, in April this year received the renowned Goldman Environment Award, also known as Green Nobel, for establishing Germany’s first cooperative electric companies based on renewable energy.

EWS got a major boost after the German government’s 1998 decision to liberalise the electricity market, which gave every customer the right to choose his electricity supplier freely.

“A rapidly increasing number of households and businesses have since switched to EWS. Starting from 1,700 customers to about 180,000 now, EWS also provides power to over 10,000 small and big industries,” said Sebastian Sladek, who has been helping his mother in management of EWS.

EWS has seen a sudden jump in its customers after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan as more and more German people now want electricity from non-nuclear and clean sources like hydel, wind and solar.

In fact, people in Jaitapur in India too have cited the Fukushima disaster to protest a proposed nuclear power project in the area.

“We are trying to expand our resources to cater to the increasing demand of people. We believe that energy future is a task for all citizens and they should take part in it. We fought about a decade-long battle before we could take control of our electricity system and still it is a learning process for EWS,” said Sebastian.

EWS provides clean electricity from hydropower imported from Norway.

Also, all power plants emit a certain amount of heat during electricity generation. Generally, electricity is used and the heat is released in the atmosphere, but EWS uses the heat for heating water.

The company also ensures that its producers or customers have no capital investments in nuclear power industry or its subsidiaries.

Sebastian feels people across the world should continue their fight against nuclear power, as the destruction caused by a nuclear disaster is massive and unthinkable.

(Richa Sharma can be contacted at richa.s@ians.in)

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