The Swiss Times - Swiss News in English

Switzerland’s looming energy crisis pulling nation apart

  • By Paige Baschuk
  • 22 September 2022

Citizens are in the streets protesting new energy measures, Swiss Parliament has screeched to halt over proposed changes to Energy Act 2050, and the Energy Minister is under fire for suggesting Swiss residents “shower together” to save energy. Will Switzerland band together amidst a looming energy crisis or will it fall apart?

Switzerland’s looming energy crisis pulling nation apart

Zürich and other Swiss cities are “going dark” at night to conserve energy usage.

Following a string of protests, Zürich city officials announced they will keep street lamps on after dark instead of turning them off to conserve energy over the winter.

A cold, dark winter for Zürich

Turning public lighting off is one of many actions Swiss towns and cities are taking to conserve energy and hopefully stave off rolling, regional blackouts this winter. Zürich city council reversed the lighting measure after locals raised concerns about crime and violence – especially for women walking home alone. That said, illuminated signs and public buildings will still be asked to turn off their lights at night. Fountains are being switched off, heated pools cooled, and strict heating limits have already gone into effect. (Read more: Switzerland may jail those who violate home heating restrictions)

“We hoped for a lot of savings potential,” city councilor Michael Baumer told local outlet NZZ. “But it was clear from the start that safety comes first.”

Zürich hopes to conserve about 865,000 kilowatt hours of electricity over the next six months, which corresponds to the average consumption of about 1,100 urban households. Although switching off lights is a great place to start, the most effective way to conserve energy is to use less heating.

“We currently have enough electricity in the city… so I’m actually confident” at the moment, Baumer said, adding “But if there is a power shortage in Europe, then we are all affected. Switzerland is not an island.” (Read more: How will Switzerland fare in Europe’s ‘War on Energy?’)

Switzerland’s looming energy crisis pulling nation apart

Switzerland’s Energy Minister Simonetta Sommaruga is receiving backlash from the public over her energy conservation ideas.

‘Shower together’ to save energy, says Sommaruga

Meanwhile the face of the Swiss conservation effort, Energy Minister Simonetta Sommaruga, is getting backlash for suggesting that Swiss residents might “shower together” to conserve hot water this winter. Sommaruga sat down with local media outlet 20 Minuten to discuss Switzerland’s plan to reduce energy consumption by 15 percent from October 2022 to March 2023. The campaign is called, “Energy is limited. Let’s not waste it.”

Sommaruga said Swiss residents should “turn off the computer when you don’t need it, or turn off lights, or shower together,” when asked for tips to conserve energy. If Swiss residents and businesses cannot conserve enough, the Swiss government may have to implement “consumption restrictions, bans, and quota systems,” according to 20 Minuten.

Shortly after the article was published, the comments section exploded with criticism. Many are not re-printable.

“There’s only one song that comes to mind. Tear the place down. We don’t need this circus anymore,” said one commenter. Another said Sommaruga has “lost touch with reality.” A third asked “What has Sommaruga actually done and what does she still have in mind?” After nearly 200 comments had been registered, 20 Minuten turned the commenting function off for the article.

Zürich city councilor Baumer says officials should not be as concerned about this winter as they should about the next – and all the factors that may contribute to a worsening energy shortage, such as the war in Ukraine, France repairing nuclear reactors, and the projected colder weather.

“The issue of power shortages will be with us for a long time, regardless of developments in Ukraine,” he says. Switzerland must turn its focus from saving power to generating it, he added. (Read more: Population will rebel, Swiss police chief says of energy crisis)

Switzerland’s looming energy crisis pulling nation apart

The mountain village of Bourg-Saint-Pierre has a floating solar power plant at 1,810 meter above sea level, the first of its kind.

Is solar energy the answer?

A plan to build two, large-scale solar energy systems in Swiss mountains has come under fire this week.

Some members of Swiss Parliament – generally those from the left-wing parties – say that the approval process for amendments to Energy Strategy 2050 (which includes the solar project) must be streamlined and ratified quickly. But all action came to a halt Monday evening when the Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) stepped in, saying that the plans may be unconstitutional.

According an FOJ assessment, there are three constitutional provisions that may get in the way of the project. They are as follows:

  1. Cantons are responsible for a “sufficient, diversified, secure, economical and environmentally-friendly” energy supply. Everything must be in balance; and, the solar panel project as it stands conflicts with the cantonal goal of preserving nature.
  2. Streamlining the approval process and accelerating the construction of the solar panels violates constitutional framework, because it is not an “imminent or existing” energy shortage. (The language surrounding this is open to interpretation, as some members of Parliament would argue that the problem is imminent.)
  3. The project must include the perspectives of those in the planning and building field before it can be rushed through to approval, according to Article 78 of the constitution. This article protects cultural and natural places of importance. Without their inspection and approval, this violates the constitution.

The FOJ has not killed the project, but their assessment has certainly given members of Parliament something to think about. Moreover, the project may be subject to a voter referendum within the next year – one that would have to pass the majority of cantons and Swiss voters before being approved.

Members of Parliament will meet again today to make changes to the bill. If they decide on a draft, the bill will be re-opened for discussion next week.

This article may be freely shared and re-printed, provided that it prominently links back to the original article.

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