The great electricity cultivation battle: environmental protection is shaky, but the radical attack fails
The Council of States is struggling to expand renewable energies – and is considering fundamental ideas. The most important protagonists in a short portrait.
There were sometimes heated statements that echoed through the usually somewhat more moderate Council of States. The discussion about an expansion of renewables left hardly anyone cold, not least against the background of a looming supply crisis in the coming winter months. This was due to a conflict of goals: On the one hand, the small chamber pushed the pace and doubled the Federal Council’s previous goals in terms of the medium-term expansion of renewable energies. By 2035 – with the exception of hydropower – it must be 35 terawatt hours, by 2050 at least 45.
Then the discussion turned to the conditions under which the expansion should take place. At first everything looked as if the bourgeois majority would sacrifice environmental protection for security of supply. But then everything turned out differently. A council debate narrated by its five main protagonists.
Beat Rieder, the one left alone
In fact, he had laid everything clean. Beat Rieder, Walliser Solarturbo (centre), did not want to simply write into law any number of additional terawatt hours that Switzerland would have to build in the coming years. As representative of the Commission majority, he had defined target values for each energy resource. In a second step, he then wanted to prepare for implementation by giving the expansion of renewable energies almost unrestricted status in the constitution. Environmental protection would not have been curtailed, but downright undermined. In the commission, lawyer Rieder was still met with approval. But the tide turned in the parliamentary debate.
Rieder was already defeated with the first project. At the latest after the angry vote by SP Councilor Roberto Zanetti, the discussion for the center politician resembled a rearguard action. Zanetti beat Rieder’s own words from the NZZ around the ears that the Council of States must honor the constitution. A low blow, as the Federal Office of Justice had just called back a solar offensive as unconstitutional, which Rieder had helped design.
That caught. Last but not least, FDP President Thierry Burkart took the same line, which also made public resistance audible. Rieder defended himself, but countered the criticism as a “first-class political failure”. In the end, however, he was left with little more than the support of his own faction.
Martin Schmid, the fundamental one
No, he’s in no hurry. Martin Schmid (FDP) from Graubünden, representative of the Graubünden energy companies and Swiss gas industry, does not want to produce a hasty shot. “What we have to do here, we have to do for the next decade, the next few decades,” he said.
Schmid is particularly bothered by the long process times before new power plants can go into operation. In the area of tension between environmental protection, security of supply and climate protection, it is a matter of rearranging the priorities. This does not require court decisions, but politics. For him personally, the case is clear: security of supply comes first. Consequently, Schmid finally voted with Rieder against environmental protection – and thus opposed the opinion of his party president.
But Schmid didn’t seem all that comfortable with it. Already in his initial vote, Schmid expressed his distrust that Parliament should be solely responsible for decisions on the direction of the future. “I think we should have this discussion with our people,” said Schmid, and continued: “I wonder if we shouldn’t even ask the people about these issues.”
Roberto Zanetti, the defender of environmental protection
He did not skimp on pithy words. “This is an environmental coup that you want to do here,” said Roberto Zanetti. Environmental law would “virtually be blown up” if the Commission’s proposal were to go through, he warned. The longstanding SP member of the Council of States and President of the Swiss Fishing Association vehemently defended himself – and finally won thanks to civil help.
Zanetti admitted that one would probably have to intervene in environmental law. But what the majority of the commission around the middle national councilor Rieder is proposing goes far too far. Anyone who has a heart for fish and sympathy for landscape pearls cannot approve of that. In addition, political compromises would be violated, he said with a view to the initially planned changes in the residual water quantities. However, his argument that the legislative article planned by the majority of the commission was unconstitutional was also heard by some citizens.
Zanetti appealed to his colleagues: It is not the task of the Council of States, which likes to see itself as a “chambre de reflexion”, to set any signs or hammer in pegs – and then, if necessary, let the second council correct the arrogance. The man from Solothurn also insisted on pointing out comma errors in the draft law – as evidence of what he saw as a lack of diligence. “Not only the Federal Office of Justice would make their hair stand on end, but also the Federal Office for Spelling,” he noted.
Jakob Stark (SVP/TG), the bourgeois brakeman:
The SVP Council of States has already sided with Left Green in the Environment and Energy Commission. He showed understanding for those who now wanted to ignite the turbo in the expansion of renewables, especially in view of the frustration that the expansion had not progressed faster so far.
Nevertheless, Stark called on his colleagues to exercise moderation. The Thurgau, who sits on the Axpo board of directors, emphasized that there is a chance for an energy policy alliance from the left-green to the right. The security of the power supply is one of the country’s greatest political challenges, and one must react to this with a law that is supported by all parties, said the former government councillor. In other words: Instead of tactics, starting with a maximum variant in order to get as much out of it as possible, the compromise should be aimed at right away.
As a commoner, Stark was still in a lost position on the commission. It was different yesterday in the Council of States: There he received support from Heidi Z’graggen, Uri’s Central Councilor and President of the Federal Commission for Nature and Heritage Protection. “It takes the right amount,” she warned. And at the latest when FDP President Thierry Burkart spoke up, it was clear: the bourgeoisie are anything but united on this issue.
Simonetta Sommaruga, Keeper of Balance
SP Federal Councilor Simonetta Sommaruga did not have an easy starting position on Thursday in the Stöckli. Rarely has it been so clear how different their two hats can be: As Minister of Energy as well as Minister of the Environment, she had the role of maintaining the balance between protecting and using nature.
Not simply because the pendulum clearly swung in the direction of power plant expansion at the beginning of the debate. Under the impression of an impending energy crisis, it was noticeable that the councilors wanted to take a big step towards renewables. “It is important today that you give a signal,” Sommaruga supported, “in the future, security of supply will finally – I would say – be rated highly”. Sommaruga was happy to take the momentum of the small chamber with her. Somewhat surprisingly, she announced that the Federal Council wanted to follow the Commission’s more ambitious expansion targets: Plus 35 terawatt hours by 2035, which corresponds to a doubling of the Federal Council’s original targets.
But then she slipped into the role of a reminder. “In terms of content, individual proposals by the majority of the Commission weaken nature conservation too much, and politically this proposal is not or hardly capable of a majority in a referendum,” she reassured the citizens who wanted to sacrifice environmental protection for the desired targets.