New law passed with new prices -- Some hope in Switzerland

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A legislative package dealing with electricity liberalisation and energy regulation -- including arrangements for a new fixed purchase price for wind and other renewables -- was passed by the Swiss parliament on March 23. Assuming there is no foundation for the law to be considered in a national referendum within three months of publication, it takes effect at the start of 2008, says Markus Ahmadi from Swiss wind group Suisse Eole. The fixed prices for purchase of renewables are backdated to the beginning of 2006, he adds.

Under the law, an annual sum of SFR 320 million (EUR 198.5 million) is to be made available for purchase of renewables. The sum will be raised through a SFR 0.0005/kWh (EUR 0.0003/kWh) levy on electricity prices, with 30% of the total earmarked for wind energy. The wind tariff could be raised to about SFR 0.20/kWh (EUR 0.13/kWh) from the current SFR 0.15/kWh (EUR 0.10/kWh), dropping annually for new projects says Ahmadi. The details, including the number of years for which fixed payments will be made, are to be set out in a new regulation.

Gas nuclear

Progress on the energy law -- and the boost it could bring for Swiss wind -- has been almost forgotten in light of the government's new energy strategy. While recognising the role of renewables, it focuses on large power stations, with gas plant in favour as a transitional technology until replacement and extension of existing nuclear plant. Responding to pleas from the electricity sector, the government is also to examine whether the permitting process for nuclear plant can be shortened. Action plans for supporting renewables and energy efficiency measures "with concrete suggestions for legislation and regulation" are promised, but not before the end of 2007.

Green energy supporters are exasperated. Six organisations, including the Swiss Greens party, Greenpeace and the Swiss motoring club, have launched an initiative for a federal referendum calling for Switzerland to meet its climate commitments with the emphasis on energy efficiency and new renewables capacity.

Wind development in Switzerland has been at a standstill for more than a year. The current purchase price, given the challenging topography in Switzerland, is not enough, says Robert Horbaty of Suisse Eole. The last machines to come online were two Enercon 2 MW turbines at Collonges back in December 2005. They operate with a load factor of 20%, says Horbaty. Switzerland has just 12 utility scale wind turbines installed at five sites with a total capacity of 11.25 MW. Power production from the turbines amounts to around 14.15 GWh/year, enough to meet the needs of about 4000 households.

Eight wind projects totalling 69.15 MW are currently in planning. If all get built, they would meet Switzerland's current target for annual wind generation of 50-100 GWh by 2010, which would require about 80 MW of installed capacity. One project may come online this year. Switzerland is aiming for 500 GWh of renewables capacity by 2010.

The Swiss wind energy potential is much higher, points out Suisse Eole. The country has suitable sites for 729 turbines, according to a government sponsored study, Konzept Windenergie Schweiz, from 2004. They could generate 1157 GWh a year, or 2% of Swiss power consumption.

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