Since liberalisation of the electricity market, Dutch power imports have climbed from 17% to 20% of supply and now amount to 4000 MW. Energy security requires an import capacity of only 1300 MW, points out Greenpeace's Diederik Samson. The excess capacity is used solely to meet demand for cheap power from Dutch utilities and heavy industrial users such as the Dutch railways, electronics giant Philips, and steel concern Hoogovens.
Backed up by a report from the Netherlands' Energy Research Centre showing that German coal fired power stations emit 1.5 times as much CO2 per kWh as Dutch equivalents, Greenpeace is aiming to boost public awareness of the environmental consequences of current energy policy. "If we were to propose building two new nuclear power stations in the Netherlands, there would be a national outcry, but nobody bats an eyelid about plans to increase import capacity by 25%, and that amounts to the same thing," says Samson.
Pressure to come clean
Awareness of the issue does seem to be growing. With the green power market set to be liberalised on July 1, demand for Dutch power companies to come clean on the source of their grey power is increasing. The influential Dutch consumer's association (Consumentenbond) has asked power companies Essent, Nuon, Eneco and Remu to give complete information regarding the origin of both their conventional and green electricity. At the same time the organisation has asked economics minister Annemarie Jorritsma to make the provision of this information obligatory.
"The government has changed its position," says Samson. "Originally it said the market should sort things out itself, but after the discussion on import capacity Minister Jorritsma has agreed that if the market fails to set up a transparent system, or labelling system, she will introduce legislation and also lobby for the same system to be implemented in the EU."
For the power companies, Jan Korf of utility association EnergieNed, says the Greenpeace action throws into relief the contradiction between the liberalised market's demand for cheap power and the environmental demand for reduced emissions. "If customers are really concerned about the origin of their power, then a Europe-wide labelling system can be introduced on the model of the Dutch green energy labelling system. Dutch power companies are prepared to work alongside Greenpeace, the consumers association, government and business to bring that about," he says.
From grey to green
While dismissing claims that Dutch power companies are currently unable to give an account of their power sources -- "only the 10% purchased on the Amsterdam power Exchange is really anonymous" -- Samson welcomes the call for grey power labelling. He says that it would greatly increase the efficiency of the existing ecotax mechanism. "At the moment, the Dutch ecotax is very black and white. It only distinguishes between green and non-green, zero rated and fully rated. We could use it much more powerfully as a tool by charging different rates on power from different sources -- from wind and solar at one end of the scale to lignite and nuclear at the other."
Apart from its publicity function, the court case should also put an end to any further short term increase in imports as the physical limits of the Netherlands high voltage system have been reached. The respite may however, be short. "The Raad van State is renowned for its thoroughness but not for its speed, and unfortunately, it's not unknown for it to deliver a verdict long after everything is already built and operational. We hope to avoid that situation here, and we are also going to parliament and asking members of parliament to address this issue with the minister," says Samson.
Meantime, heavy power users are threatening legal action if import capacity is not increased -- without access to cheap power, they argue, Dutch companies are at a major competitive disadvantage.