Electricity market liberalisation in the sense of the EU endangers sovereignty and direct democracy

Perspective beyond the popular vote of 21 May!

by Dr rer publ Werner WŁthrich

The large pumped storage plant Limmern in the Canton of Glarus was completed just a few months ago. It is located on 2,500 m above sea level in the beautiful mountain world of Glarus. At Lake Muttsee, a one-kilometer retaining wall has been built – a masterpiece of engineering and architecture, and also of the population of the canton that had made the project possible at the cantonal assembly. It cost more than 2 billion francs. It is to be put into operation shortly. Now there is already an imminent threat: The Axpo as the builder is demanding from the Canton of Glarus (which is involved with 15 per cent) and thus from the taxpayer that it is to contribute the high million losses that will be incurred in the coming years. The Governing Council expects an annual amount of approximately 11 million francs. For a small canton like Glarus, this is a lot. The canton is of the opinion that Glarus does not need the electricity from the new power plant at all. They had built the power station for the whole of Switzerland and made their beautiful mountains available. This is a solidarity service for the country, and it is scandalous to be punished for it, the Glarnish people say. It is possible that the Federal Court will clarify the dispute. (“Fridolin” of 30 March) From the Canton of Valais, voices are heard again and again, complaining that it is no longer possible to produce electricity cost-covering with the hydroelectric power – the cleanest energy form at all.

Escheat in the Canton of Valais – Common Good oriented

ww. The escheat is differently handled in Switzerland. The sovereign rights about the Rhone waters are held by the canton. For the side branches which join the main river the communes are responsible. This partition brings a strong position to the mountain-communes in the lateral valleys because nearly all of the 50 hydroelectric plants are on their territory. After termination of the mostly 80 year long lasting concessions – i.e. after 2030 – the so-called escheat takes place. A big part (about 80 per cent) of the hydroelectric plants’ facilities reverts without compensation to the communewhich has granted the concession. These are the “wet facilities” of a hydroelectric plant that means the retaining wall, pressure lines and turbines. The electrotechnical facilities can be purchased for an adequate compensation from the previous operator. Facilities worth many billions of francs so will change hands in a few years.
For one year the population is occupied by the very central question: Shall really just a minority of communes make profit of the forthcoming escheat and the others come away empty-handed? And who will operate the hydroelectric plants after the escheat? After a debate lasting several months a solution was found which includes all communes, the canton and the whole of Switzerland and is common good oriented (lex Cina). The 10t November 2016 the cantonal parliament in Sion decided practically unanimously: 30 per cent of the facilities go to the canton (which is represented by the Valaisan power company), 30 per cent go to the communes which have granted the concessions many years ago and 40 per cent can be transferred to an external partner of the electricity sector who possibly will continue to operate the plant (“Walliser Bote”, 10.11.2016).
The escheat is important for the Canton of Valais because today the numerous hydroelectric plants to the biggest part proportionally belong to companies from German or French-speaking Switzerland. Alpiq (who wants to sell to foreign countries) owns 60 per cent of Grande Dixence.