Market Status: Belgium - Wallonia ahead but sector waits for new framework

BELGIUM: The wind sector is growing at different speeds in Belgium's two distinct main regions.

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The Wallonian state government in the south plans to continue its expansion of wind energy in 2011, although changes to wind's legal framework may dampen growth.

Green certificates to encourage wind power boosted the sector last year, particularly onshore wind in French-speaking Wallonia, where an extra 163.5MW was installed. Overall, around 348MW was installed in the whole of Belgium last year, 165MW of that offshore.

"Last year was a reasonably good year for wind energy in Belgium, especially in Wallonia," says Jacopo Moccia, policy officer at the European Wind Energy Association. He says this was due mainly to the certificate system working well. Rather than applying feed-in tariffs to boost take-up of wind, Belgium has green certificates that guarantee a price of EUR90/MWh for every new wind installation, explains Jim Williame, head of Belgian renewable energy cooperative Ecopower. However, prices for certificates are going to be lower from 2011, he adds.

The Wallonian government is due to revise the legal framework in the first half of this year. Bruno Claessens, wind expert at Apere, an association that promotes renewable energy, suggests the industry is waiting to see how this will change before agreeing new projects. By January 1 this year, only 117.3MW had been consented, while 858MW worth of projects were being studied; in January 2010, 273MW were authorised. Nonetheless, Claessens says that Wallonia currently has 442.3MW of installed capacity and that this figure should reach around 530MW by the end of 2011.

The year was less remarkable for the onshore wind sector in Flanders, which only added 19.5MW capacity. "Flanders has always been behind Wallonia in terms of installed capacity," says Jacopo. He suggests the dense population in Belgium's northern region is one reason for it lagging behind. But he insists there is hope for the future. "They have had numerous barriers to wind development in the past that are being slowly lifted, such as restrictions on building wind turbines on agricultural land," he says.

Dr Fawaz Al Bitar, wind adviser for Edora, the federation for renewable energy producers, says the very low growth in the region in 2010 should be followed by more significant installation in the years to come, given the projects that have already been accepted.

Al Bitar says both regions now need to study the electricity network in order to analyse how best to integrate wind. In Wallonia, the network operator has already commissioned a study to see how the network should be reinforced and where the regional government plans future wind farms, notes Al Bitar. "Without adequate reinforcement in the south and east of the country, the networks risk being overloaded in the relatively short term," he warns.

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