Switzerland in "ecological" energy reform

Nuclear "phase-out" dates to be negotiated; energy taxes, ecological tax reform, promised

Nuclear power is likely to be progressively phased out in Switzerland, under the terms of a government initiative announced yesterday. The government simultaneously shifted its position to support new energy taxes to support renewable energy and energy efficiency, and promised a longer term ecological tax reform aimed at shifting the burden of tax from employment to energy.

Greeted as a decision to phase out nuclear power, the government's announcement is actually a decision to define fixed closure dates for Switzerland's five existing nuclear power stations in negotiation with the nuclear utilities. No dates were given officially, but a senior official in the federal energy ministry suggested that the plants would be closed between 2012 and 2024, more or less in line with their design lives.

In practice, Hans Luzius Schmid told ENDS Daily, the decision would probably mark an end to nuclear power generation in Switzerland. No new nuclear plant is currently planned by Swiss utilities, he said, and there is a powerful popular movement to renew an existing national moratorium on new power stations that runs until 2000. In addition, the government has decided that any future proposal to build a nuclear station will be subject to a national referendum if interested parties collect 50,000 signatures.

Nearly 40% of Swiss electricity is generated by nuclear plants, but the government believes that a phase out could be compatible with commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions. "We know that through effective policies we will be able to strengthen efforts for efficiency and renewables," Dr Schmid said. "So we know that we will be able to achieve this phase-out without increasing carbon dioxide emissions but instead achieving a sustainable energy future."

In a second component of yesterday's announcement, the government reversed its former opposition to the introduction of a new tax on non-renewable and nuclear energy. Two proposals have been under discussion for over a year now, but have made limited progress in Switzerland's two houses of parliament (ENDS Daily 30 October 1997). The government's change of heart will boost their chances of becoming law, according to Dr Schmid.

The third element of yesterday's announcement was a commitment in principle to Switzerland instituting an "ecological tax reform" in the next budget planning period, which begins in 2006. Working groups will now be set up to examine the idea in practice.

According to the environment ministry, tax rises will initially be concentrated on energy products, based on their energy content. Revenues in the order of SF2-3bn (Ecu1.3-1.9bn) are being contemplated, according to sources, which would imply an increase of about 10% in the SF20bn Switzerland spends on energy currently.

Follow Up:
Swiss environment ministry, tel: +41 31 322 5511.

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