How an association fights wind power in Switzerland

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lack of energy

Fundamental resistance: How an association is fighting wind power in Switzerland single-handedly – and why it should soon have a problem

The network of wind power opponents is growing – and with it the resistance to renewable energy. But now the wind is changing in the national parliament.

The network of wind power opponents is growing.

Gaetan Bally / Keystone

Any resistance is fundamental. This is how the position of the “Freie Landschaft Schweiz – Paysage Libre” association, which is fighting a fight against windmills in Switzerland, can be summarized. The association’s manifesto contains sentences such as “wind energy is making the country’s energy problems worse without solving them” or “wind turbines have little potential”. The wording is absolute, leaving not an inch of doubt. And the association is very successful at it.

4000 wind turbines for Switzerland?

Last summer, the Federal Office for the Environment published a report on Swiss wind power. Due to technical progress and political interest, the potential for electricity from wind turbines in Switzerland has risen sharply within a short period of time: from 3.7 terawatt hours in 2012 to almost 30 terawatt hours. That would be about half of Switzerland’s annual requirement, with a large part of the electricity production falling during the winter. So when Switzerland has to import large amounts of electricity from abroad.

The catch: such numbers would require the construction of well over 4,000 wind turbines. This contrasts with the reality of almost 40 large plants. Production is sluggish at 140 gigawatt hours per year, and expansion has recently been extremely sluggish.

Paysage Libre is partly responsible for this. Founded in 2011 as an umbrella organization of ten organizations, the wind power opponents today span a network of 45 associations with a total of 5000 members. The association is currently establishing regional sections. There are already six, with Schaffhausen, Schwyz and Aargau to be added soon.

That sounds complicated, but there is a system: Because the association does not have the right to lodge a complaint, it structures its resistance in the affected communities with a local branch. Some of these also feature Paysage Libre’s board members, but most of them stay in the background.

Alone on the floor

This is also the case in Rickenbach, on the Lucerne border with the canton of Aargau. “A local committee was formed there, which launched and won a referendum against a planned wind power plant without consulting us,” says Elias Vogt, President of Paysage Libre. The support from the association was limited to organizing an information event. And, not unimportant: Paysage Libre produces visualisations: “Since we have been showing the population what 180-metre-high wind turbines look like in the forest area, the mood at the ballot box has always changed,” says Vogt.

The protest works on the one hand through politics, otherwise the only option is to go to the judiciary, if necessary to the Federal Supreme Court. Paysage Libre claims over 55 percent success when a specific project is voted on. That’s what it says on the website. This also includes parliamentary decisions and municipal meetings.

The federal government, on the other hand, only expects referendums, so the balance sheet looks leaner: “The Federal Office of Energy is aware of 24 votes in which voters from Swiss municipalities decided between 2012 and 2021 on the construction of wind farms. The wind farm project was approved 19 times,” said a letter from the Federal Council last September.

Paysage Libre is increasingly fighting alone. On request, environmental organizations such as WWF, Greenpeace or Pro Natura say that they do not work with Paysage Libre. As a representative, the WWF writes: “As part of the environmental alliance, the WWF is committed to constructive solutions in the expansion of renewable energies.” The associations also see potential in wind power. It sounds similar with Bird Life. The bird protection association has previously taken legal action together with Paysage Libre.

Frontal attack from the Environment Commission

In Parliament, the wind is turning visibly under the impression of an impending energy shortage, especially in the winter months. On Tuesday, the Environment and Energy Commission (Urek) passed a legislative proposal that aims to accelerate the expansion of wind energy.

According to the media release, the construction permit for wind energy projects in the national interest that have a legally binding usage plan are now to be issued by the canton. In addition, the instances will be tightened until Switzerland produces one terawatt hour of electricity from wind power. It is a frontal attack on Paysage Libre’s community-level local opposition model. The major environmental organizations, on the other hand, support the proposal in principle.

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