May 22, 2017

Swiss Voters Back Plan to Phase Out Nuclear Power

ZURICH — Swiss voters on Sunday backed the government's plan to ban new nuclear plants, provide billions of dollars in subsidies for renewable energy and help bail out struggling utilities.


Provisional final figures from a binding referendum showed support at 58.2 percent under the Swiss system of direct democracy, which gives voters the final say on major policy issues.

The Swiss initiative mirrors efforts to reduce dependence on nuclear power elsewhere in Europe, partly in response to Japan's Fukushima disaster in 2011. Germany intends to phase out nuclear power by 2022; Austria banned it decades ago.

Doris Leuthard, the Swiss energy minister, said the vote showed that the public "wants a new energy policy and does not want any new nuclear plants." She said the law would bolster domestic renewable energy while reducing the use of fossil fuel and Switzerland's reliance on foreign supplies.

"The law leads our country into a modern energy future," Ms. Leuthard said at a news conference. Some parts of the law will take effect early next year, she said.

The law, known as Energy Strategy 2050, will ban the construction of new nuclear plants. Switzerland has five such plants, with the first scheduled to close in 2019. The others will be allowed to run as long as they meet safety standards.

Debate over the law had focused on the additional costs it could yield for customers and taxpayers, and on whether a fourfold rise in solar and wind power by 2035, as envisioned in the law, could deliver reliable energy supplies.

Ms. Leuthard has said the plan would cost the average family an extra 40 Swiss francs, or $41, a year, based on a higher grid surcharge to finance renewable subsidies.

Critics of the law argued that a family of four would pay an additional 3,200 francs in annual costs. They also said that more intermittent wind and solar energy would mean greater reliance on imported electricity. Switzerland was a net power importer in 2016.

Under the law, 480 million francs will be raised every year from electricity users to finance investment in wind, solar and hydro power. Another 450 million francs will be set aside from an existing fossil fuels tax to help reduce energy use in buildings by 43 percent by 2035 compared with 2000 levels.

Solar and wind now account for less than 5 percent of Switzerland's energy output, compared with 60 percent for hydro and 35 percent for nuclear. Under the new law, power from solar, wind, biomass and geothermal sources would rise to at least 11,400 gigawatt hours by 2035, from the current 2,831 gigawatt hours.

The law also calls for subsidizing utilities that now rely on hydro power, and whose costs exceed Europe's wholesale prices.

The New York Times

by Reuters