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Law for a secure power supply: The most important points in brief

Updated at 04 Apr 2024 12:40 pm

On June 9, voters will express their opinion on the implementation of the energy transition in Switzerland, specifically on the Act for a Secure Electricity Supply with Renewable Energies, or the Energy Cloak Decree for short. The bill passed by parliament in the fall of 2023 is being fought with a referendum. Here are the most important facts about the bill in brief:

The initial situation

By voting yes to the Energy Strategy 2050 in 2017, Swiss voters decided to strengthen the expansion of renewable energies and prohibit the construction of new nuclear power plants. The existing nuclear power plants will be allowed to operate as long as they are safe.

Nuclear power plants contributed a good 36 percent to Switzerland's electricity supply in 2022. Just under 53 percent of electricity came from hydropower plants, and less than ten percent was generated using various renewable energies.

Due to the Russian attack on Ukraine, dry and hot summers in Switzerland and a temporary shortage of electricity imports, Switzerland's electricity supply is fragile. And due to decarbonization, the demand for electricity produced without fossil fuels will increase in the coming decades.

This is what the bill wants

A revision of several laws - the Energy Package Decree - is intended to promote electricity production from renewable energies, increase security of supply and reduce electricity consumption. The law regulates the construction of large solar and wind power plants, but also aims to promote the construction of small solar plants on roofs and facades with incentives.

A solar obligation only applies to new buildings with 300 or more square meters of chargeable area. The bill also contains savings targets for energy and electricity consumption.

In suitability areas, which the cantons must define with regard to nature and landscape conservation as well as agriculture, large solar and wind installations are to be given priority. However, the population still has a say in planning and construction. For 16 hydropower projects explicitly mentioned in the law, there will be planning simplifications and slightly fewer co-determination rights compared to today. However, power plants in biotopes of national importance and in water and migratory bird reserves are to be excluded.

The bill does not introduce any new charges for consumers. The grid surcharge to promote electricity production from renewable energies remains at 2.3 centimes per kilowatt hour.

The supporters

"We need a lot more electricity": with these words, Energy Minister Albert Rösti wants to convince voters to approve the energy decree. He and the supporting alliance of parties, business and environmental associations are talking about a "balanced compromise" between electricity production and the interests of environmental protection and agriculture. Without the blanket decree, Switzerland would not be able to achieve the energy transition.

In addition to most political parties, environmental organizations such as WWF, Greenpeace, the Swiss Energy Foundation (SES) and the "Never again nuclear power plants" association are also in favour of the blanket decree. Business associations from various sectors, including Economiesuisse, Swisscleantech and TCS, are also calling for a yes vote.

Parliament approved the bill in the fall of 2023 with only a few votes against. The National Council said yes with 19 votes against - most of them from the SVP. There were no votes against in the Council of States.

The opponents

A small alliance led by Pierre-Alain Bruchez from Neuchâtel, the Swiss Free Landscape Association and the Fondation Franz Weber (FFW) are fighting against the energy decree with a referendum. They criticize the fact that it was passed in haste and goes too far. It makes no sense to clear forests for wind turbines, disfigure Alpine landscapes with solar panels and flood biotopes for hydropower in the name of the climate. The loss of biotopes has an enormous impact on biodiversity, which should not be short-sightedly subordinated to the energy transition and climate change.

The sovereignty of the people, cantons and municipalities would also be restricted. As a result of the Electricity Act, the realization of plants for the production of renewable energy takes precedence over all other national interests, wrote the No Committee. The Electricity Act also gives the Federal Council the power to shorten and concentrate the approval procedures for certain plants, which could lead to the abolition of communal votes. According to the opponents, this is a disregard for democracy.

The SVP is also among the opponents, although parliamentarians from its parliamentary group support the blanket decree. The SVP delegates voted against by a clear majority, thereby opposing their own Federal Councillor Albert Rösti.

Solar and wind power do not provide a secure power supply, argue SVP politicians in the No camp. Many critics also fear losses in terms of municipal autonomy.

©Keystone/SDA

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