Swiss MPs back ban on electric heaters

MPs in Bern have backed a plan to phase out the use of more than a quarter million electric heaters in Switzerland by 2025.

Swiss MPs back ban on electric heaters
Photo: Ryan Bourne

Members of the lower house of parliament voted on Monday in favour of the plan, earlier recommended by an environment committee.

The proposal, which is subject to approval by the senate, would require the replacement of electrical heating systems, regarded as energy guzzlers, with more efficient alternatives.

The federal cabinet is being asked, in conjunction with the cantons, to present a legal framework to abolish existing electric heaters.

The government has already lent its support to such a policy.

The federal energy department is examining, in the context of its 2050 energy strategy, the legislation needed to replace heaters and water heaters that rely on electricity.

Switzerland currently counts more than 250,000 electric heaters in operation, according to a report from the ATS news agency.

These consume the equivalent of the electricity produced by the Mühleberg power station, one of Switzerland’s four nuclear plants.

Last year, the government abandoned plans to replace such plants as they reach the end of their lifespan.

The last of the nuclear reactors, which currently provide almost 40 percent of the country’s energy, is scheduled to go offline in 2034.

As a result, the government is encouraging renewable energy and conservation to replace this supply.

Power-thrifty heat pumps are among the options seen for replacing electric heaters.

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‘Truly historic’: Switzerland shuts down a nuclear power station for first time

One of four Swiss nuclear power stations was permanently disconnected on Friday after 47 years of service, marking a first in Switzerland, as the country begins to gradually phase out atomic energy.

'Truly historic': Switzerland shuts down a nuclear power station for first time

The decision to press the “off” button for good at the ageing Muhleberg plant in western Switzerland came amid soaring upkeep costs, and leaves the wealthy Alpine nation with three remaining nuclear plants in service.

“This is the first ever decommissioning of a power reactor in Switzerland,” Swiss energy company BKW, the plant operator, said in a statement.

Since it was commissioned in November 1972, the plant had pumped out some 130 billion kilowatts per hour of electricity, which is enough to cover the current electrical consumption of the Swiss capital Bern's some one million inhabitants for more than a century, BKW said.

The shutdown of the plant officially began at 12:30 pm (1130 GMT), with the decisive button-push transmitted live on Swiss television.

But the full decommissioning process is expected to take around 15 years, with reuse of the site likely possible from 2034.

'Truly historic'

“This is truly a historic day,” Swiss Environment Minister Simonetta Sommaruga told public broadcaster RTS earlier this week.

“The halt of the Muhleberg nuclear plant provides opportunities (for growth) of hydraulic energy and solar power,” she said.

The plant had become the site of repeated protests amid a raging debate about nuclear safety in Switzerland that intensified following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

In the aftermath of Fukushima, Switzerland announced plans to phase out nuclear energy and close its four plants, but no clear timeline has been set.

In early 2013, Muhlberg's operating license was even extended indefinitely, but just months later, its operator announced its plans to shut it down.

But the decision to close the plant, which has covered around five percent of Switzerland's energy consumption, was not politically motivated, BKW said.

“This was a business decision,” the company told AFP in an email.

“If we had wanted to keep running our plant in the long term, we would have needed to invest heavily to respond to the technical requirements stipulated by the Swiss Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI),” it said.

But the closure does mark a clear first step in Switzerland's planned nuclear phase-out, leaving three plants in operation: Gosgen, Leibstadt and Beznau.

The latter houses two reactors, including one that turned 50 earlier this month, making it Europe's oldest functioning reactor and the third oldest in operation worldwide.

But despite their advanced age and Switzerland's stated ambition to gradually exit nuclear — which accounts for about a third of its current power generation — there are no immediate plans to shut down the remaining  reactors.

In a popular vote three years ago, the Swiss rejected a call to speed up the phaseout of the plants by decommissioning all reactors over the age of 45.

As a result, the reactors can run for as long as ENSI deems them safe, or for as long as their operators find it financially viable to invest in the required safety upgrades.