Alpine nimbyism freezes Swiss green energy dreams

In the highlands of the Swiss Alps, where it snows even in mid-June, workers are installing solar panels in front of Europe’s tallest dam.

Switzerland has long had a reputation for clean energy. Backed by abundant hydropower, less than 10% of Switzerland’s electricity emits greenhouse gases. But today, local opposition to Switzerland’s complex regulatory process and potential annoyance means that new green projects such as the Muttsee Reservoir are an exception.

As a result, one of the wealthiest and most environmentally friendly societies in the world is at risk of retreat. Switzerland is also trying to increase its reliance on imported energy. This is because Switzerland faces an increased risk of being cut off from the EU power grid. An increasingly difficult diplomatic struggle with Brussels..

The government has promised to close three nuclear power plants in the country in the next decade or so. When that happens, Switzerland loses one-third of its current energy production and no one knows how to make up for the shortfall.

“The idea for this project was to show what was really feasible,” said Christian Heierli, project leader at Axpo, the utility for the Muttsee Alpin Solar project.

Axpo hopes that a facility built with 320 tonnes of material that will fly up to 2,500 meters above sea level by helicopter will show the potential of solar power in Switzerland.

“The large ones are actually very few. [renewable] The project in Switzerland “said Heierli. He explained that it was almost impossible to get permission to build solar and wind farms. “A lot of other things haven’t happened, except for those who install PV panels on the roofs of their homes.”

Bern recognizes that it has a problem. Last year, Switzerland produced only 311kWh of energy per resident from solar and wind power, according to the Swiss Energy Foundation, a renewable energy think tank. By comparison, Denmark produced 3027kWh, Germany produced 2232kWh and the United Kingdom produced 1304kWh.

Solar panels installed in Muttsee reservoirs are often above the cloud line even in winter © Axpo

Experts warn that new hydropower plants, which account for 58% of supply, are unlikely, and upgrades to existing facilities will increase production by a small amount.

At the same time, last month’s Switzerland Refused long-term negotiations With Brussels over a new framework agreement to codify the vast net of bilateral treaties.

As a result, the first of several treaties governing Switzerland’s connection to the EU energy market expired last Thursday. Switzerland is very unlikely to be separated from the EU grid unless a permanent deal with Brussels is closed, but Switzerland carries the risk of rising energy costs and supply uncertainty.

This is especially troublesome because Swiss energy production is seasonal. During the winter, as the river freezes, it becomes dependent on energy imports to meet demand.

Christian Schaffner, director of the ETH Zurich Energy Science Center and a former senior official of the Swiss Federal Department of Energy, said: “It’s a big uncertainty.”

Increasing domestic renewable energy may help. Thanks to the geography of Switzerland, both the sun and the wind work well in winter. For example, in the Axpo Muttsee project, solar panels generate 50% more electricity per square meter than the valley below. Colder temperatures improve efficiency, snow reflects light back into the panel, and sites are often above the cloud line. Such features are common to many potential sites.

The country has the potential to become a European leader, at least in solar power. But without a more flexible regulatory environment, opportunities for new projects are small.

“To drive the expansion of renewable energy, we need to radically adjust the regulatory framework,” said Guido Lichtensteiger, spokesman for Alpiq, one of Switzerland’s largest utilities.

Bern unveiled a proposed legislative package last month to promote more renewable projects. However, for many, the proposal only tinkered with the problem and rarely adequately addressed the complex approval process of a country deeply rooted in Switzerland’s highly developed political system.

A typical construction project for a new power plant requires a permit from the Environmental and Energy Regulatory Authority of Bern, as well as a permit from the state government in which it is located.

Further joint building permit is required. As with all construction in Switzerland, one individual can oppose it. Legal disputes can last for years and can cost a lot of money to reach the Supreme Court.

In October, Turbine finally began powering on one of Switzerland's largest renewable projects, the Windpark Gotthardpass. However, it took 18 years for the negotiations to bear fruit.
In October, Turbine finally began powering on one of Switzerland’s largest renewable projects, the Windpark Gotthardpass. However, it took 18 years of negotiations to make it happen © Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters

In October, Turbine finally began powering on one of Switzerland’s largest renewable projects, the Windpark Gotthardpass. However, it took 18 years for the negotiations to bear fruit.

In a 2017 referendum to approve the government’s 2050 energy goals, Swiss voters strongly supported further construction plans. Bern’s plan envisions the construction of more than 850 wind turbines in the country over the next 30 years. Currently there are only 37.

However, little has been achieved so far. The Kulmerau-Kirchleerau four-turbine project was recently abandoned after a local village rejected the proposal.

“Wealthy Switzerland is the home of local opposition, often described as a federal tradition,” Zurich wrote. NZZ newspaper.

“Many people [awareness] In principle, ETH Schaffner added about the disconnect between Swiss support at the national level and the local reality of new construction.

“”[It] Interesting when you think. .. .. I built all these dams in the Alps many years ago, but now I don’t want to. You probably need to talk to a behavioral scientist to understand why. ”

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