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What is Zurich’s ‘clean energy’ referendum and what does it mean for you?

On November 28th, voters in Zurich will go to the polls to vote on whether to ban oil and gas heaters. Here’s what you need to know.

The blue, yellow and red flames of a gas heater up close
Zurich will go to the polls on a clean energy referendum. What does it mean for you? Photoby Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Among the questions being asked of Zurich (and Swiss) voters in the final round of referendums in 2021, one relates to energy and heating. 

Specifically, it is a proposal to ban oil and gas heaters in Switzerland’s most populous canton. 

The proposal has been put forward by Zurich councillor Martin Neukom (Greens), who hopes to improve the canton’s carbon footprint with the idea. 

READ MORE: What’s at stake in Switzerland’s Covid referendum on November 28th?

Here’s what you need to know. 

What is Zurich’s ‘energy referendum’? 

Zurich’s energy referendum, to be held on November 28th, hopes to phase out gas and oil heaters in the canton of Zurich. 

According to the proposal, this will not be done immediately but will instead take place at the end of the heaters’ life cycle. 

The referendum requires that they are replaced with climate-neutral solutions, such as heat pumps, biogas or other environmentally friendly heating systems. 

Why is it being held? 

Neukom and other advocates of the vote want to phase out oil and gas burners due to their negative environmental impacts. 

Oil and gas heaters produce an estimated 40 percent of Zurich’s CO2 emissions. 

While these are slowly being phased out, there are an estimated 120,000 remaining in Zurich. 

Around half will be replaced at the end of their lifetime, Swiss media reports. Neukom said simply waiting for owners to phase out the burners would “take too long”. 

If the vote passes, heating in Zurich will almost completely be done by renewable sources within 20 years. 

Referendum: Why are the Swiss voting on nursing conditions?

Are there any exceptions? 

The vote has included protections for people on lower incomes, as well as where installing a different system would be difficult or impossible. 

If the costs of installing a different system are more than five percent higher than the costs of an oil or gas heater across its entire lifetime, then a new oil or gas heater can be installed. 

Advocates argue that replacing the systems will make them more cost effective in the longer term. 

Will it pass? 

Members of the Greens, the FDP, the Social Democrats, as well as a handful of other parties support the idea. 

The Swiss People’s Party and the EDU are against the plan. 

READ MORE: How can you save on your household energy bills in Switzerland?

While polling has not yet been done on the topic, Zurich would not be the first canton to put in place such a change. 

Both Freibourg and Basel City have put in place similar rules, with the cantons boasting a renewable energy rate of 97 percent and 94 percent respectively. 

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