Industry not convinced of government intentions -- Slow but steady in Belgium

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The fledgling Belgian wind energy sector is spreading its wings and expanding. Though growth is hardly rocketing -- and some wish things would move a little faster -- the mood is largely one of optimism. The wind industry can look back on 2005 with some pride, says the Flanders association for renewable energy, the Organisatie voor Duurzame Energie (ODE). Five projects in Flanders were realised with a combined capacity of 45.6 MW to push Belgium's total to 118.4 MW. Wind energy production increased in 2005 to 135 GWh, reports the Flemish electricity market regulator. The largest of the five projects is the Kluizen dock wind farm of 11 Enercon 2 MW turbines in the Port of Ghent, developed by Belgian energy firm SPE and Ecopower.

More are expected this year. One of the largest in Flanders is for sports clothing and shoe manufacturer Nike which is expected to install six 1.5 MW turbines in Laakdal. The German wind group SeeBa is investing EUR 13-15 million in the project, to be built on a 62 hectare site by the Albert Canal. Also in Flanders, two Vestas 2 MW turbines are to go up by the Rupel tunnel in Puurs.

In Wallonia, work has started on the 16 MW Marbais wind farm of eight 2 MW turbines, the largest yet built in Wallonia and costing EUR 19 million. It is being developed by Belgian renewable energy firm Air Energy and is due for completion in September. Air Energy, established in 2001, has already installed five wind turbines in Perwez and four in Gembloux-Sombreffe.

Siting policy

ODE says that wind power is an increasingly important part of the energy resource mix in Flanders, where in a year of typical winds, 100 MW will deliver 200 GWh, enough for more than 50,000 families. Most of the turbines are situated in port sites or industrial areas, near motorways and railways, dykes or canals, following the Flemish government's planning policy. The largest number are in Zeebrugge which plays host to 30 turbines.

Belgium has potential for 1900 MW of wind plant, or 600, 3 MW turbines, says ODE, before the offshore potential is considered. Site work is to start this year on the 200 MW-plus Thornton Bank offshore project (page 78). When complete it will meet one third of the Belgian renewable energy target for renewables to provide 6% of electricity by 2010. Wind currently supplies 0.4%.

The Flemish government stresses it is keen to emphasise wind power and has embarked on several studies of potential in the region. Wind is expected to provide 40% of the target. Projects are envisaged in the harbours of Antwerp and Ghent and in more industrial areas in Ypres and Lommel.

But for Rik van de Walle of Harelbeke-based renewables project developer Aspiravi, the pace is far too slow, with construction permits taking four to five years to obtain. Aspiravi has recently completed an 8 MW project in Lommel and it hopes to install another 8 MW project this year in Gistel. Talks with turbine supplier Enercon are underway. A second line of turbines at Lommel is being considered to double the project's capacity, along with installation of a two, 2 MW turbines in Tielt and three 1.5 MW turbines in Perwez.

"We have got enough to do on several sites but there is not one really big project," says Van de Walle. He is not totally convinced the Belgian government is behind the industry. He believes the 2010 targets for renewable energy will be met, though he doubts the targets for wind are achievable. "It is not the amount of megawatts that is important but the amount of megawatt hours," he adds.

Green certificates

There is still no resolution of the squabble over trade in renewables certificates -- on which the Belgian green energy market is based. As one industry insider says, sometimes Belgium should be seen as three countries, Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia. The Flanders energy regulator says negotiations are continuing regarding trade of green certificates between the three regions. For Wallonia and Brussels there is mutual acceptance of each other's certificates, but the Flemish system is more isolated. The first two base the system on emission reduction, while Flanders bases its green certificates on megawatt hours.

Although talks are focused on mutual acceptance, the real issue is the underlying economics, Van de Walle says. The Flemish certificates are worth EUR 110, while the Wallonian certificates are worth around EUR 90. So for a developer it makes more sense to invest in a wind plant in Flanders, unless there is a project with better wind speeds in Wallonia.

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