echo interview with Stefan Meierhans, Switzerland’s Federal Price Watchdog
elipsLife echo: Electricity, gas, petrol, health insurance, food, leisure – everything’s getting more expensive. People in Switzerland are dealing with sky-rocketing price increases. Is the public sector doing enough to counter the cost explosion?
Stefan Meierhans: Let's take the energy sector as an example: This summer I recommended that the Federal Council help people with their electricity bills. I’m mainly concerned with grid usage, which accounts for about one third of the electricity bill. While scarcity on the energy front restricts the room for manoeuvre, the situation is different for actual grid usage – which, I should add, is a monopoly area with regulated costs. I have been saying for years that we’re gold-plating the grids. When setting the grid usage price, an equity interest rate of 6.96% applies. This is absurdly high. At 1.75%, the interest on borrowed capital is also too high. This additional expense adds up to around CHF 350 million per year. I had already recommended to the Federal Council in 2017 that this interest rate be lowered. We’re still waiting in vain.
In addition to the energy component and grid usage, fees and charges are also due on the electricity bill. What’s the situation here?
The same applies. The grid surcharge alone, set by the federal government to promote alternative energy, amounts to 2.4 cents per kWh. On top of this, many cantons and municipalities also charge electricity concession fees and similar extras. Instead of being abolished or at least suspended, these are rising on average from between 0.9 and 1.0 Rp per kWh. This is another of my proposals that has fallen on deaf ears up to now.
Why doesn’t the Federal Council react?
The electricity companies are mostly owned by the cantons and the cities. In the form of compensation for grid use and as fees and charges, the electricity supply has been a cash cow for the public budget for many years now. Once you’ve become accustomed to such revenues, it’s difficult to do without them. That said, I’m still very annoyed that the federal government doesn’t do its homework, especially when it comes to grid use.
Does your recommendation on grid usage stand a chance of success?
In the autumn session, the Council of States voted 20 to 19 in favour of an adjustment of the interest on capital costs and that a corresponding request be sent to the Federal Council. This is a gratifying and noteworthy step forward, not least because it feels like every second member of the Council of States sits on the board of directors of an electricity supplier! There have also been two corresponding motions in the National Council. The current energy situation at last seems to be setting things in motion in politics. My job is never a short-distance run, but always a marathon.