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Swiss voters to decide on energy strategy

Swiss People’s Party president Albert Rösti (foreground) kicking off the drive to collect signatures in Bern Keystone

Voters will have their say on Switzerland’s new energy strategy that would phase out the nation’s five nuclear power plants over the next several decades.

The Swiss People’s Party on Thursday filed for a referendum about Energy Strategy 2050External link, which the government launched shortly after the nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima in 2011.

Campaigners said they handed in more than 63,000 signatures collected over the past 100 days to force a nationwide vote, set for May 21. 

As part of its strategy to promote renewable sources of energy, the government aims to cut nationwide energy usage by 43% by 2035, compared to 2000 levels. It also seeks to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping industrial gases, and to lower imports of fossil fuels. Two-thirds of the energy that the nation consumes now comes from oil and gas.

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‘Too expensive’

The conservative-right Swiss People’s Party opposes the government strategy because it supports nuclear power.

“The move away from nuclear power could endanger energy supply and our dependency on foreign markets,” the party’s president, Albert Rösti, said. “Banning this source of energy is also wrong, since we don’t know whether safer technology will be developed in 20 or 30 years.”

Rösti said the government strategy is too expensive.

“The new law will introduce a green energy strategy that is not financially sustainable,” he said. “A 43% reduction in energy consumption within 20 years can only be achieved with a huge cost increase, especially when it comes to fossil fuels, and that will cost the public and the economy.”

The party calculates that the strategy will cost the average family of four an extra CHF3,200 ($3,195) per year, he added.

‘Hypothetical numbers’

Other political parties dismiss the Swiss People Party’s calculations. Roger Nordmann, leader of the leftwing Social Democrats’ parliamentary group, called them “false speculation based on hypothetical numbers”.

He said the new law would only raise energy prices very slightly, adding up to “a maximum of CHF40 per household per year.”

According to Nordmann, energy costs will ultimately fall because of better efficiency and reduced energy usage built into the 2050 strategy. Further economic benefits will come through fewer imports of fossil fuels plus innovation and renewable energy, he added.

Martin Bäumle, the Liberal Greens‘ party president, largely agrees with Nordmann but is still supporting the People’s Party referendum, which he thinks will allow voters to “confirm and legitimise” the proposal.

“That will increase pressure on the political parties to take additional steps in the direction of energy change, towards ending nuclear energy and promoting renewables,” he said.

Translated from German by Veronica DeVore

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR