The approval process for hydropower projects in Switzerland could be simplified and streamlined under plans put forward by the country’s government.

The current approval procedures for the construction of new plants and the expansion and conversion of existing plants is too long, with some projects taking more than 20 years, ministers were told in a meeting on 2 February. The Federal Council therefore wants to speed up the procedures for the most important hydropower and wind turbines, but without making any concessions in terms of nature, environmental protection and monument protection.

There is currently no planning for water and wind energy that takes the whole of Switzerland into account. In addition, there are no federal regulations for efficient and comprehensively coordinated cantonal planning and approval procedures for the construction of such plants.

The Federal Council therefore proposes that the Confederation draw up a concept with the locations of the most important hydropower and wind turbines, which serves as a guideline for cantonal structural planning. A concentrated cantonal planning approval procedure is to be introduced at cantonal level for the approval of these plants. In addition to the building permit, it should include all other permits such as clearance or water protection permits and the right of expropriation. In this way, the Federal Council wants to prevent a project being divided into several stages at different times and the project being able to be challenged in each stage up to the Federal Supreme Court. In the future, there will only be one appeal that will clarify all legal issues. 

The consultation opened by the Federal Council will last until May 23, 2022.