Belgium - Bright future beckons if regulations resolved

BELGIUM: The outlook for wind power in Belgium is bright, especially if the government acts in 2012 to bring more regulatory certainty to the market. Installed capacity is forecast to increase by 541MW in Wallonia and 342MW in Flanders, and to double offshore, adding 195MW.

If French-speaking Wallonia is to reach its goal of producing 4,500GWh of wind energy a year by 2020, it must rise to the challenge of installing 600 to 700 new wind turbines over the next eight years. To help achieve this, the government is due to revise the rules governing the wind-power sector in the first half of the year.

"This is essential ... to reduce the considerable number of licensing cases taken to court," says Fawaz Al Bitar, wind advisor for Edora, the federation of renewable-energy producers. The Wallonian government is also planning a number of changes including an update of the support system for renewable electricity, he adds.

In 2011, Wallonia installed 99.3MW of capacity, nearly losing its crown as Belgium's top region for new wind installations to Flanders with 92.3MW, according to Al Bitar. Only a year before, Wallonia installed 163.5MW and Flanders only 19.5MW. The dramatic closing of the gap between the two regions was made possible by new rules allowing companies in Flanders for the first time to install turbines on agricultural land. Offshore capacity remained static at 195MW, with no new turbines installed in 2011.

Air Energy, Windvision, EDF-Luminus and Greenwind are the main players in Wallonia, sharing between them almost two-thirds of the market, while Electrabel, Aspiravi, Electrawinds and EDF-Luminus share a similar portion in Flanders. "There hasn't been a massive appearance of new actors since the new installations in 2011 correspond to projects begun at least three years ago," says Al Bitar.

While Flanders saw significant growth in installations in 2011, growth is hampered by the lengthy licensing procedure, according to Tine Deheegher, project manager for VWEA, the Flemish Wind Energy Association. He describes the process as a piece of art, adding that "you need a minimum of two years to obtain a licence and build a turbine".

Some of the rules involved in gaining a building licence or environmental permit are clear, according to Deheegher, "but some are very blurred or subjective", he says. He suggests that legislation covering wind turbines should be streamlined and notes that the Flemish government is working on a single building and environmental permit for the sector.