Citizens of Switzerland who dare to turn their thermostats above a balmy 19 degrees Celsius — 66 degrees Fahrenheit — over the winter may instead find themselves shivering in a prison cell.
The cost of natural gas in Europe has increased more than tenfold amid the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, while Russia severed natural gas shipments through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline last week. According to a report from Swiss news outlet Blick, the nation’s Federal Law on National Economic Supply permits authorities to fine and imprison residents who consume too much gas if energy rationing becomes necessary.
Those who fail to comply with the temperature mandates could receive sanctions between 30 and 3,000 Swiss francs, the equivalent of $31 and $3,090, Federal Department of Finance spokesman Markus Spörndli told the outlet. Those found intentionally violating the statute would receive up to three years in prison, and those found with negligent violations could be forced to pay 180 days’ worth of fines.
Beyond the temperature controls, residents will be unable to heat swimming pools, saunas, radiant heaters, or warm air tents, while hot water will not be allowed to reach temperatures above 60 degrees Celsius, or 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The member states of the Swiss Confederacy have until September 22 to voice concerns over the law.
In the United States, a heatwave that has threatened power supplies in California led utility company Xcel Energy to lock the thermostats of 22,000 people in Colorado at 78 degrees Fahrenheit in the interest of protecting grid capacity. The residents had previously opted into an incentive program that let the firm “ease the strain on the electrical grid” during the “hottest summer days.”
Switzerland produces 30% of its electricity from three nuclear plants. However, in reaction to the 2011 nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, Japan, the nation elected to phase out nuclear power by 2034 — a deadline that was recently nixed in light of uncertainty about future energy supply. Germany likewise announced that the country will keep two of its three nuclear facilities open as reserves through the winter while coal power plants resume operations to generate additional electricity.
Nevertheless, several European countries have already implemented energy usage restrictions or warned that such policies could be necessary for the coming months. While the legislature of Spain mandated that public air conditioning be set no lower than 27 degrees Celsius — roughly 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit — through the summer, French President Emmanuel Macron called for a 10% voluntary reduction in the nation’s power usage to avoid “last resort” consumption limits.
The European Union has adopted the official policy of becoming “a climate-neutral society” by 2050 in accordance with the European Green Deal and the Paris Agreement. Citing the failure of hydropower facilities amid drought conditions, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen likewise proposed a “mandatory target” for reducing usage in the European Union, of which Switzerland is not a member.
“If you look at the costs of electricity, there are peak demands. And this is what is expensive, because, in these peak demands, the expensive gas comes into the market,” she commented on Wednesday. “So what we have to do is to flatten the curve and avoid the peak demands. We will propose a mandatory target for reducing electricity use at peak hours.”
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