Wind energy plants use the kinetic energy of airflow to rotate turbine blades. The mechanical energy that is produced in this way is converted by a generator into electricity.
The first wind energy facility in Switzerland was put into operation in 1986 near Soolhof (Langenbruck, canton of Basel-Landschaft) and had an output of 28 kilowatts. There are currently almost 40 large wind energy facilities in operation in Switzerland which produce a combined total of around 140 gigawatt hours of electricity. The largest wind park is on Mont Crosin in the Bernese Jura near St Imier: this facility comprises 16 wind turbines with a total output of 37.2 megawatts. Other large facilities are in operation in the Rhône Valley (canton of Valais), Entlebuch (canton of Lucerne) and on the Gütsch (above Andermatt, canton of Uri).
In Switzerland, wind energy plants produce two-thirds of their electricity during the winter, i.e. precisely when we need more energy for heating and electricity for lighting. This means that wind energy is an ideal supplement to hydropower plants and solar installations, which produce the highest quantities of electricity during the summer.
The cantons are responsible for determining the most suitable locations for the use of wind energy. The Federal Energy Act stipulates that the cantons have to define suitable regions for the use of hydropower and wind energy in their structure and zoning plans. In its wind energy concept, the federal government describes how the various interests, including energy supply, noise abatement, protection of nature and the landscape, civil aviation, national defence, etc., have to be taken into account by the cantons in their planning processes.
The Federal Energy Act stipulates that wind parks with a level of production of at least 20 gigawatt hours per annum are of “national interest”. When during the planning or licensing of a wind park of national interest the various interests are weighed up, energy production has to be placed on the same footing as other national interests.