Energy: Without hydraulic fees, cheaper electricity


EnergyWithout hydraulic fees, cheaper electricity

An elected official wants to reduce household bills by reducing that of power plant operators. His idea is not unanimous.

The dam on Lake Zervreila in Graubünden

20min / Taddeo Cerletti

While Switzerland is notably faced with rising electricity prices and that she fears a shortage this winter, State Councilor Damian Müller (PLR / LU) wants the cantons to temporarily waive the right to levy the hydraulic tax. This is a tax that operators of hydroelectric power stations must pay to the cantons to obtain the right to use the hydraulic power of a public watercourse. Objective of the elected official: to lower household bills.

550 million francs at stake

The financial stakes are high. According to the senator, the cantons receive a total of around 550 million francs from the power stations for the use of water. The people of Lucerne therefore believe that cantons such as Valais, Graubünden, Aargau, Bern, Uri and Ticino – which provide more than 80% of hydroelectric production – should make an effort. “Sitting on a bench watching the water royalty flowing by is not possible in times of crisis. These cantons must contribute to relieve the consumers vis-a-vis the strong rise in the prices of electricity , explains it in theAargau newspaper.

“It is clear that they will oppose tooth and nail to a temporary suspension of this fee”, estimates the senator who is part of the Commission for the environment, regional planning and energy (CEATE) of the Council of States. But he points out: “Consumers today pay a much higher price for electricity than before. Added to this is inflation due to high energy prices. So we have to think carefully about the appropriate countermeasures.”

What the cantons receive via the hydraulic tax

Overview of the cantons' revenues from water royalties in 2016. The cantons of Valais and Graubünden are the main beneficiaries.

Overview of the cantons’ revenues from water royalties in 2016. The cantons of Valais and Graubünden are the main beneficiaries.

Project “The future of hydropower in Switzerland”

Two elected representatives from Romandie disapprove

His proposal has already been swept away by National Councilor Christophe Clivaz (Greens / VS), member of the National CEATE. For him, the high electricity prices are here to stay and the Swiss will have to take this into account in their budget. “But we are against a watering can policy that would affect all households. We prefer to target the measures for those who really need it, ”explains the Valaisan. In addition, it is unfair, according to him, to deprive the Alpine cantons of this financial windfall.

The president of the CEATE of the States, Élisabeth Baume-Schneider (PS / JU), is delighted “of the interest of the PLR ​​for the questions of purchasing power”. But the Jurassienne considers “inappropriate to isolate a divisive proposal, when it is a question of taking essential options as to the mix of measures to produce energy”, she explains, citing renewable energies, the efficiency or the projects resulting from the round table organized by the Confederation. “We must not create a diversion with isolated proposals and not lose sight of the common priority issues,” she disapproves.

And reduce the residual water flow?

Damian Müller also suggests reducing the residual water flow. According to the Water Protection Act, it is permitted to take a maximum of 20% of the flow of a watercourse so that it can continue to fulfill its natural functions. The senator proposes to raise this rate to 40, or even 50% in the event of a crisis like today. “Which would supply a thousand additional homes for a small hydroelectric plant,” he says. Of course, environmental protection associations should be involved.” Who are indeed likely to oppose it fiercely. Like Christophe Clivaz. “We refuse to worsen the situation of aquatic fauna even more”, criticizes the elected Green valaisan.

Science, conspicuously absent from crisis discussions

Damian Müller also criticizes the Federal Council in the management of the crisis. Indeed, Simonetta Sommaruga and her team take stock of the electricity shortage every two days. Representatives of the electricity, gas and mineral oil industry, the largest electricity companies such as Axpo, Alpiq, FMB and Repower, as well as the cantons are invited. But not the scientists. An error, according to the senator, who believes that specialists from ETHs and universities could establish scenarios on the electrical situation using calculation models, as during the pandemic. He also regrets the absence of a national task force responsible for anticipating the worst scenarios.

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