“Federal Council hampers small hydro power plants development”

by Dr iur. Marianne Wüthrich

Swiss Small Hydro, the Swiss Association of Small Hydropower issued a media release with this headline, one day after the publication of the excellent article “Harassment around the Electricity Agreement Switzerland – EU” by Dr Ernst Pauli (Current Concerns No 8 from 18 April 2018 [https://www.zeit-fragen.ch/de/ausgaben/2018/nr-8-10-april-2018/die-zwaengerei-um-das-stromabkommen-schweiz-eu.html]). This was prompted by Swissgrid’s announcement1 in December 2017 to numerous investors that their small hydropower projects will not anymore be funded by the KEV (cost covering remuneration) without a compensation. Since the new Energy Act and the revised Energy Directives have gone into power on 1 January 2018, it has become clear that the Federal Council intends to apply this regulation on those 350 projects that were already on the waiting list without a transitional period.
Swiss Small Hydro’s media release from 11 April refers to this: “This means that fully planned, approved and ready-to-build small hydropower plants fall by the wayside. As a result, transacted investments worth millions made on the basis of earlier assurances by the Federal Government will be lost. The goals formulated in the 2050 Energy Strategy for hydroelectric expansion are at risk, as half of the new capacity should come from small hydropower plants.”
How absurd can one be? The new energy strategy, which the Sovereign approved on 21 May 2017, rightly places the promotion of renewable energies at the forefront. Hydropower is by far the most important renewable energy source in Switzerland, accounting for an impressive 56 per cent of our electricity production (Swiss Federal Office of Energy from 1.1.2017). While every homeowner receives subsidies for the installation of solar cells on the roof, small hydroelectric power plants are not to receive any KEV-funding in the future. In the voting booklet, the Federal Council justified this rejection of the country’s number one power source as follows: “New small hydroelectric power plants are no longer subsidised, as their low electricity production often has a disproportionate impact on nature”.
This was one of the reasons why I voted “no”, for example. Since if we have to import more foreign coal and nuclear power after the shutdown of nuclear power plants or even build gas power plants, these are far more serious impacts on nature than hydroelectric power plants, which are best suited to our climate and topography and still improve self-sufficiency.
In this sense, the Association of Small Hydropower: “The implementation of the Energy Strategy 2050 is clearly heading in the wrong direction in this area. Instead of promoting energy production through domestic renewable energies such as small-scale hydropower, it is being hampered. The approved small hydropower projects could be implemented immediately and would produce over 450 million kilowatt hours of renewable electricity. This corresponds approximately to the average annual consumption of 100,000 Swiss households”.
It’s the talk of the town: The more than 600 small Swiss Power Providers, the majority of which are in the hands of the communes, have long been a thorn in the flesh of the Federal Council, because so many “players” would not be compatible with regard to an electricity agreement with the EU. Unfortunately, Ernst Pauli’s assessment must be confirmed: EU involvement is obviously more important to the Federal Council and its team in the federal administration than promoting self-sufficiency through democratically and federally supported small power plants.    •

1     National grid company, created in 2006 in view of the gradually planned liberalisation of the Swiss electricity market.

To keep small hydro power plants alive or to build new one’s even without KEV – why not found a cooperative?

mw. It is by no means inevitable that power plant projects are abandoned just because the federal subsidies expected by investors do not flow. Even if the team in the federal administration pursues other goals, we as citizens do not have to give in. Our communes are responsible for providing basic supplies to their population and in the communal assemblies and parliaments, we citizens have always supported them with our taxpayers’ money. We won’t let ourselves be cut off from our own electricity generation!
Or we found a cooperative: There are solar cooperatives all over the country today, for example the Solar Genossenschaft Zentralschweiz (Solar Cooperative Central Switzerland, http://www.solarg.ch) under the motto “Some things go better together”, or the Solar Energie Zürisee with over 100 members, which was founded in 1997 long before there was a cost covering remuneration (KEV) by the Federal Government (http://www.solarenergie-zuerisee.ch). Why not found a hydropower plant cooperative as well? Instead of staring at the KEV funding like a rabbit caught in the headlights, we could rather work together to make better use of our strongest source of electricity right where we live.
But even a communal or cooperative power plant cannot and does not want to be constantly in debt. Therefore, the unsatisfactory KEV provision in the Energy Act must be changed as quickly as possible to maintain and expand hydropower.