The Swiss parliament has approved plans to phase out nuclear power, promote renewable energy and boost energy efficiency. It is a compromise of a proposal put forward by the government, but faces opposition by a majority of the political centre-right.
The Senate on Monday followed the House of Representatives in agreeing a first series of measures ending more than two years of parliamentary debate.
As part of the controversial package, Switzerland’s nuclear power plants can operate as long as they pass regular tests carried out by the nuclear safety inspectorate. The government wanted to set a deadline for each of the country’s five reactors to shut down.
Following the nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011, a broad alliance of environmental groups and the Green Party forced a nationwide vote, scheduled for November, calling for nuclear power stations in Switzerland to be closed down after 45 years of service at the latest.
The new energy strategy also foresees a production boost of renewable resources to 11.4 terawatt-hours by 2035, nearly four times the current output.
Consumers will have to pay an additional 0.8 centimes (0.8 cents) per kilowatt hour to help promote renewable energy.
To help investment in renewable energy resources, including hydro, solar, wind and geothermal power, parliament has decided to ease regulations for the construction of power plants in nature reserves.
Major hydroelectric power plants, which are struggling because of an overcapacity on the market and a substantial drop in prices as a result, will benefit from government subsidies. However, opponents criticise such financial assistance as useless.
The Energy Strategy 2050 also tackles energy efficiency, aiming for a 43% drop in energy consumption of individuals by 2035 compared with data from 2000.
A special programme to encourage environmentally-friendly renovations of buildings will be fed with CHF450 million ($459 million) annually from a levy on CO2 emissions, an increase of 50% on the current tax.
During the debates in parliament over the past two years, Energy Minister Doris Leuthard repeatedly said the new energy strategy would allow Switzerland to reduce energy imports from abroad, improving its security of supply, and creating new jobs in Switzerland.
Switzerland imported 76.6% of its energy from abroad according to 2014 figures from the Federal Statistics Office.
The rightwing Swiss People’s Party and the Association of Small and Medium-sized Entreprises say they will decide at the end of the month whether to challenge the latest parliamentary decision to a nationwide vote. They have to collect at least 50, 000 signatures within 100 days.
For its part, parliament is likely to tackle discussions on a second series of measures, including a reform of the system of energy taxes, later this year.
Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch and agencies