The example of Lieberoser Heide shows how the public sector can become economically active at the local level in renewable energy projects.
The former GDR used large parts of the country as military training grounds. Much like the Western allies, the Red Army did not care too much about protecting the environment. Worse still, after the Berlin wall fell, large parts of these areas were left to lie fallow. In many places, like the Lieberoser Heide in Brandenburg, heathlands and forests are therefore full of unexploded ordnances and ammunition. Clearing these areas is extremely expensive but necessary, because otherwise the forests would not be safe for hikers, sheepherders or forest wardens to access, and buried toxic waste barrels could rust through and pollute the groundwater.
Most of Lieberoser Heide belongs to Brandenburg and is managed by Brandenburg’s local forest management authority. The agency developed a concept to finance the clearing of the forest from ammunition based on a solar energy project, which was to gain model character for other military training grounds. A large meadow in the zone was particularly contaminated. It was leased to a large institutional investor, who built a solar farm—at the time the largest in Europe—on an area of 114 hectares in the middle of the forest. Lease income (8.3 million EUR) paid for the de-contamination and clearing of the meadow and the rest of the forest from ammunition. By 2013, half of the forest had been re-opened to the public.
The success of this model led to the building of another large solar park covering 61 hectares. Once the whole area has been cleared up, Brandenburg will continue to receive lease payments. Both clearing up the area and the construction of the solar farms was labour intensive, which means that for around three years 200 people found employment here. This definitely boosted the local economy. The project would have been even more consistent had Brandenburg’s state pension scheme financed the solar farms, but this was blocked by the Brandenburg state government. Nonetheless, the example of Lieberoser Heide shows how the public sector can become economically active at the local level in renewable energy projects.
 Interview with a representative of the local forest management authority on 23.4.2013.
This article is presented in the Energy democracy in Europe, A survey and outlook by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung in 2014.