An ordinance has been in force since September 2022 to encourage municipalities to save energy. In practice, however, this hardly works because only a few people stick to it. The big problem with Habeck’s plan: no one controls it.

Short-Term Energy Supply Securing Measures Ordinance – this is the name of the energy saving plan from the Federal Ministry of Economics by Robert Habeck, which came into force in September 2022. The aim of the ordinance: to save energy in municipalities with very simple means, for example by not lighting public buildings and monuments or by switching off neon signs between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. the following day.

The problem: Hardly anyone implements this regulation. The law allows exceptions, including supermarkets that are open after 10 p.m. or Christmas markets that are lit “on the occasion of traditional and religious festivals”. But what about the other cases?

An inquiry by the “Spiegel” in all 16 federal states as well as in 16 municipalities and in one Berlin district brought a sobering result to light. There are hardly any checks or none at all, there are only a few reports from citizens and the number of violations is not recorded. Only the federal states of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Brandenburg and the city of Heilbronn in Baden-Württemberg did not answer the medium’s questions.

The question that then inevitably arises: What is the point of the regulation if nobody controls the rules? And why does Habeck’s ministry even want to extend it beyond February 2023, until which it is currently valid?

The main reason why the regulation is hardly implemented seems to be a lack of concrete information on how to deal with infringements. “The federal government has not regulated any control and sanction mechanisms in the regulation, which is why controls that are independent of cause are not provided for,” says the response from the Hessian Ministry of Economics, for example. In North Rhine-Westphalia, it is believed that this happened deliberately and that “the help of the citizens, the public sector, companies and trade” is relied on.

Franziska Maurer, lawyer and research associate at the University of Ausgburg, also complained to the “Spiegel” that there were “no real enforcement measures”. Therefore, no fines could be imposed. She also assumes that this was done on purpose. “That was already the case with some corona regulations. I have the feeling that while regulations are being drawn up, they don’t want to intervene too drastically.”

In Robert Habeck’s Federal Ministry of Economics, the answers to a catalog of questions from “Spiegel” on the energy-saving plan and its lack of implementation are rather general. The ordinance leads “particularly in public administration, but also in companies to a much greater awareness of recognizing their own energy-saving potential and eliminating it accordingly,” says the response from the ministry.

However, because saving energy will remain important in the current winter as well as in winter 2023/24, an extension of the regulation beyond February 2023 is advocated. This is also surprising because it is not yet known whether this works. There is currently no quantitative monitoring of the measures.

The ordinance leads to confusion at the municipal level. In some cases it is not clear who is responsible or how to proceed in the event of rule violations, writes the city of Zweibrücken in Rhineland-Palatinate to “Spiegel”. In Berlin, the Senate and districts even agree that the other is responsible. In Berlin-Charlottenburg, for example, no checks could be carried out by the regulatory authorities “since they are not on duty in the specified time from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.”.

In Saxony, too, the state and the city of Freiberg do not agree on who is responsible. While Freiberg sees the state as having a duty, it feels responsible, but not a duty. “In view of the short-term validity, a transfer of enforcement by state regulations has not yet taken place and is not intended. A targeted control has not yet taken place.”

Maurer understands the attitude of the municipalities. “I can understand that you don’t control things if you don’t know what the consequences will be.” However, the regulation could also have a psychological effect. “The government probably assumes that the majority will stick to it even without fines,” says Maurer, explaining that actual bans work better than pure appeals even without penalties.