There’s nothing like a good popular referendum to get the ball rolling on a new plan. California uses such a method all the time and look how well things are working out for them! (*cough*) Well, a similar vote just took place in Switzerland and the people have spoken in favor of a mandatory plan which will eliminate all nuclear power from the country over the next couple of decades and replace it with… something. (NY Times)

Swiss voters on Sunday backed the government’s plan to ban new nuclear plants, provide billions of dollars in subsidies for renewable energy and help bail out struggling utilities.

Provisional final figures from a binding referendum showed support at 58.2 percent under the Swiss system of direct democracy, which gives voters the final say on major policy issues.

The Swiss initiative mirrors efforts to reduce dependence on nuclear power elsewhere in Europe, partly in response to Japan’s Fukushima disaster in 2011. Germany intends to phase out nuclear power by 2022; Austria banned it decades ago.

Were I not such a perpetual cheerleader for the idea of democracy, moments like this would have me wondering if perhaps this whole “voting” thing is overrated.

The good news is that they aren’t just shutting down all the nuke plants tomorrow. Switzerland actually has a tremendously successful nuclear power program with an excellent safety record. Their nuclear plants currently supply more than one third of the nation’s total energy needs and do so for very reasonable prices. But the new plan will forbid the construction of any more plants (or replacement facilities) and allow their five plants to go offline at their end of life schedule dates. The first of those hits in two years. In roughly 30 years they will all be gone under this scheme.

So now they need to replace a third of their energy but they don’t want to use more fossil fuels. (Is any of this beginning to sound hauntingly familiar to speeches we heard during the Obama administration?) They plan to get part of the way there by ramping up their hydro-electric capacity. That’s always a good plan, but there’s only so many places you can build dams. So you know where they’re getting the rest, right? They’ll need to boost their solar and wind energy production to at least four or five times its current levels. (At the moment they account for a whopping 4% of their juice on the grid.) How do you get there? Why, they’re going to charge consumers more money and provide subsidies to the renewable energy interests!

That’s just perfect. And if you’re not having bad flashbacks by now and hearing names like Solyndra whispering in your ear then you haven’t been paying attention. We’ve already tried that here and we’ve got egg on our faces. And that’s in a huge country with a lot of different terrain. Take a look at where Switzerland is on the map. How much solar do you think they’re going to get going? I’ll grant you they might up their wind energy output on some of the slopes where it doesn’t get too cold in the winter, but color me dubious.

Their government energy minister is telling them that the voters will each only have to pay about 40 bucks per year more to make all this happen. Critics with experience in the energy industry predict it’s going to be something closer to three thousand. That debate should sound familiar to you as well. Do they not have access to American newspapers in Switzerland? Somebody should buy them a subscription. It might be an eye opening experience.