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Surses GR gives second rebuff to Zurich power plant

Updated at 29 Jan 2024 10:30 pm

On Monday evening, the municipality of Surses in Graubünden gave the City of Zurich's power plant (EWZ) its second rebuff within a week. The municipal assembly clearly said no to a large-scale high alpine solar power plant planned by EWZ.

At the very well-attended municipal assembly, 378 of the 553 voters present voted against the Nandro Solar plant and a building lease agreement with the EWZ - after a long and intensive discussion. This corresponds to 68.4 percent of votes against.

The solar plant in Val Nandro would have produced 66 gigawatt hours of electricity per year on 66.5 hectares of land, the size of 93 football pitches. This corresponds to the electricity requirements of around 20,000 households. This makes it one of the largest large-scale solar plant projects currently underway in Graubünden.

The municipal council had argued in favor of the project in vain, pointing to considerable revenues. The valley municipality of Surses with the main town of Savognin would have received one centime per kilowatt hour of electricity produced, ideally CHF 660,000 per year, with a minimum of CHF 400,000. It would also have received a share of the profits and property taxes.

The municipal council wanted to use the money to reduce the municipal tax rate and for investments in tourism. However, criticism was voiced from this very quarter in the run-up to and at the municipal assembly.

Fears of negative impact on tourism

Tourism experts, including the region's tourism director, feared that the two-thirds square kilometer facility would have a negative impact on the landscape and thus on the tourist attractiveness of the well-known vacation region.

With its location next to the Savognin ski area, the solar plant at over 2000 meters above sea level would have been built in an area that is already developed but also important for tourism. Environmental organizations have described Nandro-Solar as one of the worst current large-scale solar projects in Graubünden.

The projects were triggered by the federal government's solar offensive. According to a compilation by Radiotelevisiun Svizra Rumantscha (RTR), seven major projects have so far survived municipal votes and three have not, not including Nandro-Solar.

"Not a vote of no confidence"

EWZ regretted the negative decision of the municipal assembly in a statement. The energy company had taken the concerns of the various stakeholder groups in the region seriously from the outset, considered their wishes and made many compromises in order to realize the plant.

"Unfortunately, we did not succeed in convincing the population of the advantages and urgency of the plant," Philippe Heinzer, Head of the EWZ Energy division, is quoted as saying in the press release. EWZ does not see the rejection as a vote of no confidence in the company, but rather as an expression of the fact that the voters generally do not want a high-alpine solar plant at the location in question. EWZ is therefore terminating the project planning work.

A provisional no to EWZ hydropower

It was only on January 21 that the electorate rejected a request from EWZ to renew the concessions for two hydropower plants at the ballot box. The municipal council emphasized at the time that a "no" to the renewal of the concessions did not mean that Surses no longer wanted to negotiate with EWZ in the future. The municipality was merely ensuring that it would be free to decide on the water usage conditions after the concessions expire in 2035.


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