Real Energy Security is renewable and owned by the people

Originally published in the Ottawa Citizen, Thursday July 24, 2008 



Real Energy Security for the G8 


Lessons about power from a small town in Germany 


By David Chernushenko 


The recent G8 Summit achieved one important result. It showed that too many of our 

leaders still think energy “security” can be achieved by calling for an increase in the rate 

of oil extraction at the expense of human and ecosystem health. 


They are looking for security in the wrong places. For a real lesson in energy security, 

and a glimpse of the healthy local economy of the future, they could start with a small 

town in Germany, just one of many in northern Europe that are charting a course towards 

true energy autonomy, based on renewable sources of energy. 


The town of Freiamt generates its entire electricity needs from locally-owned renewable 

sources, and then sells a 30 percent surplus to generate revenue. 


Freiamt is a cluster of villages of 4,300 people with an economy dominated by farming, 

tourism and small-scale forestry. For the burghers of Freiamt, questions of “the 

environment” come down to how to ensure that the soil, forests, water, air, and the 

natural beauty of the region are preserved and yet still harnessed to maximize economic 

and social benefit?  


The same converging forces threatening towns and cities globally (shrinking natural 

resources, peaking supplies of oil and uranium, climate change, and tightening 

competition for all of these as a result of population growth), make Freiamt as potentially 

vulnerable as any other community. But vulnerable is not in the vocabulary of the people 

of Freiamt.  


This explains why it is tackling its energy needs in a way that accents its values of local 

self-reliance and resilience. For the last five years, Freiamt has been pursuing the goal of 

total energy self-sufficiency. While the strategy is still young, it is clearly working, in a 

way that defies conventional beliefs, not just in Canada and the rest of the G8, but in 

parts of Germany as well. At least those parts that still believe that energy security lies in 

big generation stations, big energy companies and big investment. 


Proving that “small is beautiful,” Frieamt generates so much power from its small-scale 

renewable sources that it is turning an annual “profit”. It did so by adding four wind 

turbines and 800 rooftop photovoltaic systems to its existing small-scale hydro and 

biomass installations. Freiamt now generates 13 million kilowatt hours of power. Since it 

only consumes 10 million locally, the surplus 3 million are sold to other parts of 

Germany via the national grid, generating income for residents and businesses. 


The Freiamt story is as much about “power” as energy. Although much of the technical 

expertise, and all of the equipment comes from outside Freiamt, the citizens were 

adamant that they wanted to own their future, by owning and controlling the turbines and 

the rooftop photovoltaic (PV) and solar thermal installations. The wind turbines are 

jointly owned as are many of the solar panel arrays on buildings such as the soccer 

clubhouse. Other PV systems are privately owned and installed on homes, barns and 



Biogas digesters have been built on several farm properties in a joint “co-op” 

arrangement whereby a group of citizens invests together, spreads the risk and shares the 

revenue. In addition to earning a significant return for the investors, these biogas systems 

have provided a holistic solution to the problems of farm waste that can pollute rural 

water supplies and emit powerful greenhouse gases such as methane. 


Several factors are critical to the success of the Freiamt project. First is citizen support. 

The buy-in of individuals was achieved when they became convinced that the presence of 

neither the wind turbines nor the large solar arrays would cause significant visual or noise 

pollution, and that the potential financial return would be a safe investment, with the 

money being retained locally. 


Underpinning the financial case is a federal law that triggered an explosion of renewable 

energy investment in Germany. The so-called “feed-in tariff” guarantees that renewable 

energy suppliers receive a premium rate from energy companies for the electricity they 

feed into the national grid. This guarantee provides the certainty individuals and banks 

need to invest in renewables. 


As a result, tens of thousands of Germans and dozens of towns, co-ops and companies 

have installed renewable energy systems. Freiamt is not alone. Other towns like 

Dardesheim, Halberstadt and Mauenheim are producing all or much of their energy 

needs, and many more are known to be developing similar plans. 


Freiamt has built a low-carbon economy, and is moving steadily closer to being a no- 

carbon community. If things get rough out there beyond the Black Forest, it is capable of 

functioning and even thriving without the continual intravenous feeding that other places 

require from the power grid, natural gas pipeline or supertanker.  


As long as the sun shines, the wind blows and the grass grows, Freiamt will be making 

energy, and selling it at a profit. That is resilience. Freiamt offers us a glimpse of what a 

thriving economy built on a healthy environment can look like. A glimpse of what any 

town or province in Canada could accomplish, in its own way and on its own terms. A 

glimpse of real energy security. 


David Chernushenko is a communicator of solutions for sustainable communities and 

economies, through speaking, writing and filmmaking. He produced the just-released film 

Be the Change.  

One Response to “Real Energy Security is renewable and owned by the people”

  1. Eddi Says:

    Super-Duper site! I am loving it!! Will come back again – taking you feeds also, Thanks.

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