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EU wants Swiss in common energy market

Jan. 18, 2011 at 10:02 AM   |   Comments

BERN, Switzerland, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger has urged Switzerland to join the EU electricity market in a bid to gain a compact consumer with large hydropower storage capabilities that could protect the European grid from outages.

Brussels plans to introduce a common, liberalized power market and would like to see non-EU members Norway and Switzerland take part.

Norway is a traditional fossil fuel producer but it also has major hydropower storage facilities -- just as Switzerland does.

By liberalizing its power market and integrating it into the EU's, Switzerland could play an important role in the European Union's future energy mix, Oettinger said last week at an energy conference in Bern.

Surrounded by EU members, Switzerland could use its geographic position in the center of Europe, its excellent infrastructure and its hydro-storage capacities to "become one the important energy storage players in Europe," Oettinger said, according to remarks prepared for delivery at the Swiss conference.

"It could deliver users in the EU hydropower when the wind in the North doesn't blow, and the sun in the South doesn't shine," he said. "That way, Switzerland could keep its role as a power hub in Europe."

Brussels and Bern are negotiating the look of such a venture. Switzerland has liberalized its commercial power sector but not its private one. It had planned to do so by 2014 -- too late for Brussels' liking. The EU wants to Switzerland to make a decision this summer.

The talks have to overcome certain roadblocks. Oettinger said for Switzerland to play a major role in European energy decision-making, it had to completely integrate its market, meaning that it would have to adopt the full set of EU regularities.

"These are the preconditions for an agreement," Oettinger said. "It would be hard to imagine that Switzerland could keep its market rules, which differ from the EU's, and at the same time demand a key role in the future energy market of the EU. This would distort the starting conditions in an unacceptable manner."

A tiny landlocked Alpine country, Switzerland already shares the EU's targets of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent, boosting energy efficiency and the level of renewables in the energy mix to 20 percent, all by 2020 compared with 1990 levels.

In November, the 27-member body outlined its energy infrastructure priorities for the next two decades, saying some $270 billion have to be invested into "smart" power grids, electricity highways as well as new oil and gas pipelines.

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