SFOE report underscores need for binding electricity trading regulations throughout Europe

Bern, 25.11.2003 - The underlying causes of the incident that occurred on 28 September 2003 are the unresolved conflict between the trading interests of the involved countries and operators and the technical and legal requirements for safe and reliable operation of the networks. There is clearly an urgent need for binding regulations such as those foreseen in the new EU ordinance (1228/2003) on cross-border electricity trading, which is due to come into effect on 1 July 2004. It will only be possible to prevent blackouts of the kind that occurred on 28 September if these regulations are implemented in an effective manner throughout Europe. At the request of the Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC), the Swiss Federal Office of Energy investigated the incident of 28 September, and in its report it proposes specific measures aimed at enhancing supply security in Switzerland and Europe.

When the power failure occurred on 28 September at 3 a.m., Italy was importing
approximately 24% of its electricity requirements. As a rule, the cross-border
transmission networks are fully capable of handling such high loads, and the failure of
a major supply line can normally be overcome without undue difficulty. But after a
flash-over occurred between a conductor cable and a tree on the Lukmanier line on 28
September, the operator was unable to restore power in the usual manner because the
discrepancy between the transmitted volume and the specified reference load was too
great. In view of this, Swiss network co-ordinator ETRANS immediately requested the
Italian network operator to reduce the excess load of around 300 MW, but the Italian
operator’s reaction to this request was too slow and thus proved to be insufficiently

The reasons cited by the UCTE (Union for the Co-ordination of Transmission of Electricity) in its interim report dated 27 October were merely the trigger for the blackout in Italy and the outages in some parts of southern Switzerland, but not their cause. One of the cited reasons concerns the possibility that there was insufficient distance between conductor cables and trees, but the report by the Federal Inspectorate for Heavy Current Installations (Inspectorate) confirms that the operators concerned carried out the necessary inspections (timber controls) in accordance with the regulations. The expertise prepared by the law firm of Binder (Baden) concludes that the Inspectorate fulfilled its obligations as supervisory authority for ultra-highvoltage transmission lines.

The Swiss Federal Office of Energy notes that effective current flows through
Switzerland in the direction of Italy have been deviating from the specified reference
loads for quite some time already. Reference loads are planned and specified in order
to ensure safe and reliable supply. The often enormous discrepancies are attributable to
decisions taken by Italian and French network operators and their regulatory authorities, who take insufficient account of the criteria governing network safety and reliability when allocating French, Austrian, Slovenian and Swiss transmission network capacities to electricity trading companies.

At present there are no comprehensive and binding regulations governing cross-border
network operation. It is therefore essential to introduce new provisions such as those
foreseen in the EU ordinance on cross-border electricity trading (1228/2003), which is
in the process of being finalised and is scheduled to come into effect on 1 July 2004.

Following the incident that occurred on 28 September, the Swiss Federal Office of
Energy proposes the following measures aimed at enhancing supply security in
Switzerland and throughout Europe:

- Proprietors of Swiss transmission networks should voluntarily establish a national
network operating company as soon as possible that functions as an independent
operator of the transmission network and thus complies with institutional
requirements on the single European market.

- Switzerland is willing to be of active assistance in the formulation and implementation of EU ordinance 1228/2003 on the newly formed committee of European electricity and gas market regulators.

- In the procedures for allocating transmission capacities to Italy for 2004 and after,
Switzerland would like to have a right of co-determination together with the regulators of Italy and France.

- Switzerland urgently needs a strong regulatory authority that is able to regulate
and control the market as an equal partner together with regulators of neighbouring countries and the EU Commission.

- The Swiss Federal Office of Energy examines further steps to create the necessary
institutions and competencies for Switzerland’s supply security and codetermination
on the European electricity market quickly. The commission of experts responsible for overseeing this transition is to issue a statement of position on 16 December 2003.

- Switzerland urgently needs comprehensive federal legislation governing the electricity industry, and a bill should be prepared for submission to Parliament – with consultation to take place in the form of a conference, if necessary – by not later than the second half of 2004.


Swiss Federal Office of Energy

Last modification 05.01.2016

Top of page