Swiss wind fights on after tax refusal -- Small projects in the works

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The millennium year was a disappointment for the Swiss wind industry -- and the introduction of a new energy saving and renewables program, EnergieSchweiz, at the end of January holds little hope for improvement. No new wind installations were installed last year and in September the country's voters turned down three initiatives to increase taxes on non-renewable energy that potentially would have boosted wind.

EnergieSchweiz replaces Energy 2000, an expired ten year program, but aside from stressing the need to expand the use of renewable energy, it is vague on detail and relies largely on voluntary measures. A CO2 tax is to be introduced, but not until 2004 at the earliest, from which companies cutting CO2 emissions would be exempt. Energy 2000 had also aimed to reduce CO2 emissions, though it failed to do so.

Despite the lack of policy push for renewables, Walter Schmied of Swiss wind organisation Suisse Éole refuses to be downhearted. "When they rejected the three initiatives, the country's voters did not automatically say no to renewable energy," he says. Suisse Éole also welcomes EnergieSchweiz, which it was instrumental in drafting, and says it is to receive "a substantial grant" and will be "doing what it can for the branch."

Installed capacity in Switzerland is now 2.8 MW. Another 25 MW could be added if five planned projects are approved. But Swiss Éole is realistic. "I think we can reckon with 3 MW new capacity for 2001," says the group's Robert Horbaty. "Though this may be small progress by other standards, it would still more than double current Swiss capacity."

Swiss Éole is now pinning its main hope on a new electricity market law, due to come into force on April 1, 2001, which will oblige grid operators to buy all renewables generated electricity at a premium price of CHF 0.15/kWh, "opening new perspectives for wind energy manufacturers." But this law may go the same way as the three renewables initiatives. "The unions in particular are against market liberalisation and are well on the way to collecting the 60,000 signatures needed for forcing a referendum on the law," says Horbaty. "If enough signatures are collected by April 1, the law is put on hold and there will be a referendum in December, and that would be the end of it," he adds. Without it, "EnergieSchweiz will be a very half-baked affair."

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