The voltage increase on the line between Bickigen (BE) and Chippis (VS) has been delayed due to appeals lodged with the Federal Administrative Court. Swissgrid is planning to modernise the extra-high-voltage line for future operation at a voltage of 380 kilovolts. This increase is important in order to eliminate a bottleneck in the Swiss transmission grid and to increase security of supply in the Valais and Central Switzerland.
On 10 February 2022, the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) granted planning approval for the voltage increase, thereby giving the green light for work on the extra-high-voltage line between Bickigen and Chippis and the associated construction measures. Various appeals against this decision have now been lodged with the Federal Administrative Court. This is expected to delay the voltage increase of the Bickigen – Chippis line by another two years.
Expansion of an important north-south axis
Swissgrid has a major interest in converting the line as quickly as possible to strengthen Switzerland’s security of supply:
- Compensating for a lack of energy production: The Mühleberg nuclear power plant was shut down in December 2019. As a result, there is a deficit in energy production in Central Switzerland amounting to almost 3,000 gigawatt hours. This corresponds to five percent of Switzerland’s energy production or the annual consumption of 700,000 households. In order to compensate for the electricity which is now no longer fed in to the Swiss electricity grid, more electricity has to be produced in the medium term in other Swiss power plants, such as the Nant de Drance pumped storage power plant, and transported to Central Switzerland. Alternatively, Switzerland must cover its electricity needs, especially in the winter months, through additional imports from abroad.
- Averting structural bottlenecks: The Swiss transmission grid is already showing signs of structural bottlenecks. The grid infrastructure in the canton of Valais is particularly affected. It is crucial to ensure the secure connection of the hydropower plants in the Alps with the consumer centres in Central Switzerland. This makes voltage increases like the one on the north-south axis between Bickigen and Chippis essential. This is the only way to transport the energy produced to other parts of the country, thereby ensuring security of supply throughout Switzerland.
Details of the Bickigen – Chippis project
The line built between 1963 and 1965 is 106 kilometres long and has 297 pylons. The line had originally been approved for a voltage of 380 kV, but to date it has only been operated at 220 kV. The planned construction work is necessary to ensure that the applicable ordinances and limits are always complied with when the line is operated at 380 kV, i.e. the Ordinance on Protection from Non-Ionising Radiation (NISV) and the Noise Abatement Ordinance (NAO). The existing electricity pylons will therefore be modified, but without altering the line route or the landscape. The environment affected by the construction work will be restored after the completion of the project. Reconstruction work is planned on 294 of the total of 297 pylons: the heights of individual pylons will be raised and their foundations reinforced, supporting structures replaced or conductors tightened.
Detailed information on the grid project and key milestones: www.swissgrid.ch/bickigen-chippis
Accelerating grid expansion
The period from the start of a grid project through to commissioning is currently around 15 years. However, objections and legal proceedings that take place in later phases always lead to significant delays in projects, so they can take up to 30 years.
The modernisation of the grid infrastructure is critical for the success of the Swiss government’s energy strategy. However, grid expansion cannot keep pace with the expansion of renewable energies. What is more, structural bottlenecks already exist in the transmission grid and Swissgrid regularly needs to instruct power plant operators to restrict production. That is why it is so important for grid expansion to be accelerated by efficient approval and authorisation procedures.