Research - 17.11.2015 - 00:00 

Tailwind for the energy strategy

The promotion of energy efficiency and renewable energies continues to be popular with the population. This is revealed by a survey conducted by the HSG among 1,095 Eastern Swiss people.
Source: HSG Newsroom


18 November 2015. A distinctive majority of the interviewees indicated a favourable attitude towards the development of wind energy projects, which were the focus of the survey. Whereas a low-level impact and the involvement of local investors had a positive influence on acceptance, the study concerning the conservation of the landscape pointed to a certain readiness to compromise. In the Chur Rhine Valley, where a wind power plant was built in 2013, the interviewees regard their expectations relating to impact on the landscape and to noise as favourably exceeded.

The study is based on a geographically representative survey conducted in 16 districts of Eastern Switzerland. Besides capturing the mood in connection with current energy issues, the study focused on people’s attitudes towards wind energy and the acceptance of possible wind energy projects in the region. The study was conducted under the academic aegis of the Institute for Economy and the Environment (IWÖ HSG) of the University of St.Gallen on behalf of the Cantons of the Grisons, St.Gallen and Thurgau and the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE).

Reduction of dependence on foreign countries

In answer to the question as to how the future power supply in Switzerland should be safeguarded, the interviewees expressed an unequivocal preference: more than 90 per cent would like a promotion of energy efficiency and renewable energies. Conversely, the construction of new nuclear (11 per cent) or gas-fired power plants (6 per cent) met with as little approval as power imports from abroad (11 per cent). 72 per cent noted that the present-day Swiss power supply is not independent of foreign countries. A similar picture emerged when people were asked about their ideas concerning the future of cantonal energy. A large number of the participants would agree with the advancement of solar energy (85 per cent), hydroelectric power (80 per cent) and wind energy (68 per cent) on their cantonal territory.

Favourable attitudes towards wind energy

A distinctive majority of the interviewees (76 per cent) would accept the development of wind energy both at a national level and in their more immediate surroundings. In this respect, no significant differences between the Eastern Swiss cantons were observed. Often heard reservations about wind energy appear to be shared only by a minority of the population: only 9 per cent of the interviewees discern a nexus between wind energy plants and health problems. Possible conflicts of interest with tourism, too, are qualified by the study: a mere 22 per cent of the participants would feel disturbed by a wind energy plant in a skiing area. Whereas 69 per cent of the interviewees consider wind energy an important source of renewable energy in Switzerland, only 33 per cent share the notion that wind energy is an unreliable source of energy since the wind does not blow all the time.

Environment-friendliness and local involvement boost acceptance

On the basis of a selection experiment, the study analysed the properties of a wind energy project that have an important impact on societal acceptance. The result shows that a minimisation of ecological effects, a careful choice of location and the involvement of local investors have a favourable impact on acceptance. Locations on industrial estates and in business parks or on productive agricultural land are given preference over wind energy plants in significant landscapes (areas included in the Federal Inventory of Landscapes and Natural Monuments) or close to residential areas.

The participation of municipalities and their inhabitants in the economic benefit of power generation from wind energy, as well as an option of being involved in the planning of wind energy projects, are also rated positively. The influence of these factors indicates that existing participation options fulfil an important function. A necessity for cantons weighing up the involvement and objection options, on the one hand, against project developers’ request for speedier procedures, on the other hand, to bring about a shift in favour of the former, cannot be derived from the results.

A willingness to compromise with regard to landscape conservation

Even though the location of a wind farm has an important influence on acceptance, the results of the survey point towards a certain willingness to compromise on the part of the population. A majority of the interviewees (69 per cent) would be willing to accept changes in the landscape in order to ensure power supply and to avoid the risks of nuclear energy. The search for wind energy project locations has to be balanced between ecological and economic criteria. Thus locations in areas that are valuable in terms of landscape meet with comparably low acceptance; yet 49 per cent of the interviewees would even consent to the erection of wind energy plants in Federal Inventory areas under certain conditions – for instance if a surface equivalent to that of the wind farm were to be ecologically upgraded elsewhere.

Haldenstein: residents’ expectations favourably exceeded

The interviewees in the Chur region, where Eastern Switzerland’s only large-scale wind farm to date was realised in 2013 indicated that they favoured a further extension of wind energy. When asked about their experience with this plant in comparison with their expectations before its construction, many residents appeared to be favourably surprised. The changes to the landscape are rated less severe, and the shift towards a positive attitude is even more marked with regard to noise emissions. Here, fears about the noise of the plant in operation have largely proved unjustified – fewer than 10 per cent of the residents interviewed perceive the effects of the wind energy plant in this respect as (rather) negative.

Planning basis

“The results obtained from the interviewees provide the Confederation and the cantons with an empirical basis for planning in the field of wind energy,” says project leader Rolf Wüstenhagen, Director of the Institute for Economy and the Environment (IWÖ HSG) and Professor of Management of Renewable Energies. “All in all, the Eastern Swiss people interviewed have a positive attitude towards wind energy and consider it to be a contribution towards domestic power generation. If the authorities create appropriate general conditions for the realisation of carefully planned projects, they will also be able to count on the support of a large majority of the population.”

Picture: sajola /