The Copenhill Crisis: A Dark Side of Municipal Planning for Clean Energy Futures

Ulrik Kohl, John Andersen

Publikation: KonferencebidragKonferenceabstrakt til konferenceForskningpeer review


Across Europe, social movements and cities join efforts to reclaim public energy services at local level. 300 recent cases of remunicipalisations in the energy sector have been documented by Kishimoto and Petitjean (2017). Regaining municipal ownership of infrastructure is claimed as an important strategy for clean energy transformation and energy democracy. Denmark’s district heating sector provides an interesting context as the vast majority of its companies are organized as non-profits, and owned by municipalities (60%) or cooperatives (36%) (Energitilsynet, 2016).Obviously, specific rationalities in municipal ownership might affect the outcome of clean energy transitions. What are these rationalities, and how can we observe and describe their influence on the making of sustainable energy infrastructure, such as power plants?I investigate how the making of a power plant sheds light on urban power relations and the current socio-economic conjuncture through a case study of intense power struggle during the planning of Copenhagen’s waste-to-energy plant “Copenhill”. The plant’s iconic design includes a ski slope on the rooftop and a chimney puffing smoke-rings to increase public climate awareness. Local authorities and international media have claimed it to be the greenest plant of its kind in the world.Following Flyvbjerg’s (1998) critical approach to hidden power mechanisms in planning, I explore beliefs and behaviours by a group of local decision-makers by using informal corridor talk from Copenhagen’s City Hall and other locations of power. Combined with analysis of internal documents and interviews, this allows me to track conflicting urban visions and rationalities that lead to a crisis in the city’s energy planning. Eventually, key protagonists have their careers destroyed or even end up in jail. Paradoxically, the crisis is resolved by building an over-capacity plant, partly relying on imported waste from the European periphery. The plant contributes to increasing carbon emissions, but is also instrumental in green city branding of Copenhagen, with ambitions to become the first carbon-neutral capital in the world by 2025.The case study gives insight in roles and significance of local politicians and their complex interactions with other powerful figures at local and national level. The case points to a need for restoring a public ethos and ensuring accountability in governing climate change. Awareness of such deficiencies may help answer the question of how to combine clean energy transformation with a revitalization of democracy. References:Energitilsynet (2016) Fjernvarmestatistik [Danish Utility Regulator: District Heating Statistics, 2016]Flyvbjerg, B. (1998). Rationality and power: Democracy in practice. University of Chicago Press.Kishimoto, S. & Petitjean, O. (Eds.) (2017). Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation. Amsterdam: Transnational Institute.
Antal sider2
StatusUdgivet - 2021
BegivenhedEnergy Futures - Emerging Pathways in an Uncertain World! (Online) - Berlin Social Science Center (Online), Berlin, Danmark
Varighed: 22 feb. 202126 feb. 2021


KonferenceEnergy Futures - Emerging Pathways in an Uncertain World! (Online)
LokationBerlin Social Science Center (Online)
AndetUdsat fra 6/5-8/5-2020 til 22/2-26/2-2021

Bibliografisk note

abstract godkendt, men konference aflyst pga Corona


  • community energy
  • Sustainability governance

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