Urban Alternatives is launched by a collaboration of different actors which are united in their efforts to create a more democratic, just and sustainable world. This map seeks to highlight initiatives that work towards this goal. Proposal for initiatives not listed yet can be made directly on the website. This process is open to new collaborations.


EWS ElektrizitätsWerke Schönau

Citizen Participation Mechanism

What challenges did this initiative look to address?

After the nuclear catastrophe of Chernobyl, a citizen’s initiative was founded in the small town of Schönau in the Black Forest area (2500 inhabitants) in order to concertedly tackle topics like saving energy and the environmentallyfriendly production of electricity. Especially the women and parents were involved. They felt that they had to take care for their children. The idea was to show that we can do without nuclear power. The group approached the grid operator and asked for support. The energy market was not yet liberalised and the grid operator was at the same time the energy supplier and the owner of production units. His policy was to sell electricity, not to save it. The people from Schönau realized that building up an energy system based on ecological principles would be impossible with this grid operator.

What has changed?

App. 170.000 electricity users across Germany have chosen EWS as their supplier. More than 70% of the electricity sold by EWS is supplied by regenerative power plants that must not be older than six years. Furthermore, producers of electricity also invest in installing new units or expanding existing systems. In addition, EWS is subsidising new, green power generation units among its customer base. To date, about 2.600 units were supported in this manner, ranging from rooftop photovoltaic systems and cogeneration units to biogas and small hydropower plants.

In 2009, EWS successfully applied for the Schönau gas grid concession and thus became the operator of the local gas grid and supplier of natural gas and biogas.
Also in 2009, EWS turned into a cooperative with today more than 5000 members.

How did it happen?

In 1990 the grid operator asked the town council of Schönau to extend the licence on contract four years ahead of time and offered 100.000 DM. The morale of the citizen's group was aroused and they founded Neztkauf Schönau GbR to compete. 282 citizens from Schönau made a counteroffer to the town for not prolonging the licence before time. Despite this offer, the town signed contracts with the old grid operator. Then, the citizens' initiative called for a referendum to rescind this decision. The referendum took place on 27 october 1991 and the citizens' initiative won with 55% of the votes.Now they had four years to develop a company capable of operating the grid. The big vision of a nuclear-free world was divided into small steps that showed their success immediately. The group had something to celebrate what was very motivating.

In Germany, it was unique that citizens called for a referendum on this issue. The media picked up the story calling the group the "electricity rebels" and so many energy experts from throughout Germany contacted the group to offer their help. By 1994 all the necessary documents had been prepared and Elektrizitätswerke Schönau GmbH (EWS) was founded in order to take over the grid. But now opponents in the town for the new arrangement called for a second referendum. A very intensive campaign was conducted. Local industry warned the inhabitants of Schönau of unaffordable energy costs. The members of EWS made home visits to every inhabitant.Schönau was divided into opponents and proponents. On 10 March 1996 more than 80% af all citizens of Schönau voted, and EWS again won the second referendum with 52.5% of the vote.