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Seymour Gris: Put your money where you mouth is

If you're so concerned about nuclear power, then guess what? Time to switch to eco-electricity. All of you. C'mon, punks, hipsters and hippies – it's easy. Here's a short guide.

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It was brilliant to see 250,000 “normal” people across Germany hitting the streets to protest against nuclear power and especially against the Merkel government’s hypocritical stance on nuclear power. Within weeks of the beginning of the Japanese disaster, they flipped the switch on Germany’s seven oldest reactors. And the lights didn’t go out. It’s supposed to be a three month moratorium: a partial reversal on Merkel’s reversal of the Schröder government’s decision to completely phase out nuke plants. It smacked of opportunism prior to to the Baden-Württemberg state elections on Sunday. And guess what? Her trick didn’t work. Her party, the CDU, suffered heavy losses and has to hand power to the Greens, of all people, after six decades at the top.

The thing is: if you ask all those who voted Green on Sunday and the people who demonstrated on Saturday where their electricity comes from, they’d probably say “dunno”, of, if they live in Berlin, Vattenfall – this company owned by the Swedish state acquired Berlin’s power utility Bewag in 2003. Vattenfall runs two nuclear power stations in western Germany and came under massive criticism for failing to report minor safety incidents in a timely manner in 2006. By the end of 2007, the utility had lost 200,000 customers as a result.

As we reported in 2010, Vattenfall’s heavy reliance on dirty-burning Braunkohle (lignite) means its carbon footprint is pretty dismal. Any way you look at it, there are plenty of reasons to switch electricity providers.

The German electricity market was liberalised in 1998 and now there is a bewildering selection of companies offering Ökostrom with hundreds of different Tarife and “energy mixes” i.e. the breakdown of how their electricity is produced (solar, wind, hydro, biomass, etc.)

There are a number of comparison shopping websites such as this one. Often an eco power-provider is far cheaper (several hundred euros a year even) than even the basic Vattenfall price model. But beware: the very cheapest ones have some pretty customer-unfriendly small-print, such as one-year upfront payments, minimum two-year contract and so on. So, it’s not advisable to go for the cheapest of the cheap. And, again, read the small print!

Vattenfall itself offers a nuclear-free, renewable Tarif, but what’s the point of giving more profits to such a company? The EXBERLINER office runs on all-renewable Lichtblick electricity – not the cheapest, and a little heavy on feel-good branding for the Prenzl’Berg Bionade-crowd. But, what the hell. It’s only a few euros more expensive than Vattenfall.

So how do you actually switch? Here’s a very detailed description (in German) and a downloadable contract termination form you can fill out and send to Vattenfall. At the same time you need to sign up at your new provider – then the two companies basically sort out the rest amongst themselves.

It’s a bit of pain – all those German forms and stuff. But switching is a tiny step you can take toward a no-nuke, low-carbon future.

I’d be interested in hearing your tips and experiences. Of if you have any questions, leave ’em in the comments.