Glacier initiative: Council of States cramming solar offensive


climate change

Patent solution or quick fix? How the Council of States wants to tackle the climate and energy crisis at the same time

The compromise is in place: Parliament has agreed on the central points of the indirect counter-proposal to the glacier initiative. This clears the way for the referendum to be withdrawn. However, there was another topic to talk about in the Council of States.

On Thursday morning, the Council of States decided on the indirect counter-proposal to the glacier initiative.

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The glacier initiative is actually about climate protection and CO2-Reduction targets. But the Council of States also packed the energy crisis into the indirect counter-attack. In the debate on Thursday morning, an ambitious, possibly even presumptuous goal was pursued: massive solar expansion is intended to both defuse the energy crisis and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. That actually sounds too good to be true. But from the beginning.

By 2050, Switzerland is to become climate-neutral. Parliament wants to enact the net-zero target into law – this is what the indirect counter-proposal to the glacier initiative envisages. If this goes through, the initiators of the glacier initiative will withdraw their request. But only under one condition: Parliament may not defuse the draft law as passed by the National Council in the summer session.

Council of States approves CHF 2 billion for building renovations

The National Council wants to invest two billion francs to replace climate-damaging heating systems. While the preliminary advisory commission of the Council of States wanted to halve this sum, the Council of States now followed the big chamber. The decision was narrow with 23 to 21 votes.

If the Council of States has its way, the money should not only flow into heating systems, but also into building renovations in general in order to improve energy efficiency. The initiative committee of the glacier initiative can live with that. The way is now clear to withdraw the referendum, it announced in a first reaction. However, the committee is likely to wait until the bill passes the final vote.

Energy turbos want to pack various desires into the template

There was another topic to talk about. Without further ado, the Council of States decided to use the bill to press ahead with the much-discussed solar offensive as quickly as possible. A solar obligation is planned for new buildings. The cantons can grant exceptions under certain conditions. Federal buildings and infrastructure should also be optimally used for solar power production.

In addition, there are huge projects in the Alps for which environmental protection regulations have to be relaxed. The proposal is controversial. According to the proposal by the State Council, the large-scale solar systems could be built without prior environmental impact assessments.

This requires a change in the Energy Act. At the request of Beat Rieder (middle/VS), this part should be decoupled from the counter-proposal to the glacier initiative after the consultation and declared urgent. The Energy Turbos of the State Council want to pack their most important desires together in the bill in order to smuggle them through the councils as quickly as possible, as Rieder himself admitted in the debate.

Beat Rieder (Middle/VS) wants to remove obstacles for Alpine solar systems as quickly as possible.

Beat Rieder (Middle/VS) wants to remove obstacles for Alpine solar systems as quickly as possible.

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The proposal is a door opener for additional electricity production. “We have stood still for years with corresponding projects,” emphasized Rieder. He calculates with two terawatt hours of solar power – just as much as is needed to close the power gap in winter. For Rieder, an opportunity on a silver platter: “We want an urgent federal law by the end of September that will allow us to realize two terawatt hours of electricity at short notice.”

The small chamber even lowered the entry threshold. She accepted an application from Benedikt Würth (Mitte/SG), according to which systems with an output of 10 and not just 20 gigawatt hours would be funded. These must supply at least 45 percent of the electricity in winter.

Federal Councilor Simonetta Sommaruga also welcomed the accelerated approach. She is also willing to make certain concessions:

“It’s about securing security of supply for next winter – not about projects that win a climate policy beauty prize.”

The Swiss Foundation for Landscape Protection (SL) reacted with disappointment and called the decision a “black day for landscape protection”. This is a “free pass” for large solar systems in the “undeveloped and unused Alpine region”. “With the support of the Federal Councilor, the Council of States catapulted itself back to the early 1960s,” says the statement.

Will template become a non-starter?

Even in the Council of States, not everyone feels comfortable that things should go so quickly. Warning voices rose from opposing political camps. Roberto Zanetti (SP/SO) called for the template not to be overloaded: “If we overdo it with these lighthouse projects, we risk a non-starter.”

Othmar Reichmuth (Mitte/SZ) also expressed a lack of understanding about the linking of the solar offensive with the glacier initiative. Exactly that is to be discussed in a week within the framework of the law on a secure power supply. Reichmuth warned of unforeseeable consequences: “If we take this apart, we will also override cantonal legislation.”

The SVP also questioned the thematic mixing. Jakob Stark (SVP/TG) spoke of various “duplications”. That gives the impression of a salami tactic, criticized Stark:

“If we want to do everything at the same time, we won’t do anything in time.”

Despite the concerns, the urgency of the energy crisis prevailed in the end. In the end, the Council of States said yes to Rieder’s proposal to decouple the solar offensive without a dissenting vote. Whether the law will be declared urgent will only become clear after it has been discussed by the National Council.

The consultation in the National Council will continue next week

According to federal calculations, the counter-proposal to the glacier initiative, as proposed by the National Council, would cost around CHF 400 million a year. With the reduction in the amount for building renovations decided by the Council of States, it would still be around CHF 300 million per year.

The indirect counter-proposal to the glacier initiative is now going back to the National Council. The deal is already on the agenda for next week.


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