What is more important for Switzerland: safe electricity or climate change? A survey provides answers
The Association of Swiss Electricity Companies (VSE) has polled the population and has formed a clear opinion. But theory and practice are often far apart, as Schaffhausen shows.
To understand politics, a look at the physics book is good: For example, if there is less pressure in a container than in its surroundings, then a vacuum is created. The situation is much the same with Swiss climate policy. Although the country is committed to global climate goals, the population has felt too little pressure to accept the CO₂ law. Security of supply, environmental protection and costs have been the main forces that have pitted politicians against each other for almost a year now.
Now a representative survey wants to create new momentum. On behalf of the Association of Swiss Electricity Companies (VSE), the opinion polling institute GFS Bern asked the public about their attitude towards electricity. The verdict is final, according to a press release published on Tuesday: “53% of respondents give security of supply as their first priority – ahead of climate-neutral energy production (25%) and affordable electricity prices (21 %)”.
The result becomes even more differentiated when looking at the answers to the questions. For many, environmental and climate protection is not a contradiction in terms, on the contrary: 85% of respondents see the expansion of wind, hydro and solar energy as practical environmental protection. This would contradict the common narrative that maintaining biodiversity and climate change are opposites. Slightly less, but still 70% of respondents would also restrict the right to complain to advance renewable energy expansion.
Discussions around a power station at the Rhine Falls
However, what it actually looks like can currently be seen in various parts of the country, most recently at its northern tip. On Monday, the cantonal council of Schaffhausen adopted a law amendment by 48 votes to 4, which could make possible a hydroelectric power station at the Rhine Falls.
A natural spectacle as an electricity supplier: it has a long history. Voters in Schaffhausen have repeatedly said no to such considerations. The government council last took the project to the polls in 2014, but it clearly foundered there with a rejection by more than 58% of the population. Now follows the next extremely cautious step in this direction. The government considers that the people have finally adopted the Energy Strategy 2050 three years later.
resistance is coming
Even if the clear result in the cantonal council does not suggest it: the resistance is now programmed again. PS National Councilor Martina Munz was one of the most vocal opponents of a hydropower project at the Rhine Falls in 2014. She also now says a new power station is a “no go”. But she doesn’t think it’s a problem that the cantonal council is now preparing the legal ground for it: “The law states that there will be a compulsory referendum if the Rhine Falls are allowed again.” The people would have the final say anyway, “each specific new construction project would then be evaluated by the public”.
Despite the GFS survey, Munz has no doubt that voters will continue to send hydroelectric plants down the river in the future. “There are many other ways to create the energy transition. The population does not want a hydroelectric plant at this stage. It’s entirely possible that Munz is right. It is part of the central essence of politics: it rarely sticks to theory as strictly as physics does in individual cases.