Belgium

Belgium

Minister keen on green credit trade -- Nuclear phase out

Belgium's energy minister, Olivier Deleuze, has announced plans to phase out nuclear power, with wind power likely to provide the lion's share of the renewables sources earmarked to help replace the missing capacity. The country's existing seven reactors will be shut down after 40 years of use, with the first plant deactivated in 2015. The bill, drafted by Deleuze, is the result of a pledge to find alternatives to nuclear power made by Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt when he took office three years ago.

A government body, the Ampère Commission, has published ambitious figures for renewables for 2020, with 5.4 TWh of wind, 0.38 TWh hydro power, 0.5 TWh solar and 3.5 TWh biomass. If Deleuze has his way, the market for renewables will be structured as an obligation on electricity retailers (and large consumers) to obtain a proportion of their supply from green sources, facilitated by green credit trade. But while legislation to this end is well advanced, it is complicated by the federal arrangement of the country. Flanders and Wallonia, the two main regions, are each devising their own obligations, both to start this year with differing targets for the proportion of green power. The Brussels region has yet to set up its obligation system, which would apply to large consumers directly connected to the high voltage network.

Deleuze says that once the regions reach a common position on the structure of an obligation, he will sign it into law. In a veiled threat he says that while he as federal minister will not impose a green certificate trading agreement on the two regions, "Europe can assert itself" if needs be. "I think an important market for green certificates will grow. The main advantage is that we can let the free market work and won't have to spend taxpayers' money to reach our ecological targets." Deleuze foresees green certificate trade being linked with trade in C02 emissions credits.

Sceptical

The decision to drop nuclear has not come as a surprise but many remain sceptical that the plans will go ahead. In Belgium, nuclear reactors are responsible for 58% of the electricity produced, making the country the world's second most dependent on nuclear power after France. Natural gas and coal meet the rest of the country's power needs.

Energy producer Electrabel, which runs the nuclear reactors, claims it is unrealistic to close them completely. "Apart from renewable sources, only nuclear plants don't produce C02," says a spokesman. "To reach the Kyoto standard, about 1200 wind turbines must be constructed onshore. For the moment only 86 are licensed." Among these is a 3 MW extension to a wind plant along the Boudewijn Channel completed by small company Electrawinds together with Electrabel. The plant now consists of 14, 600 kW turbines supplied by Belgian company Turbowinds which supply 27% of the wind power in Flanders.

Deleuze, however, is confident that his plans will not be abandoned. "It doesn't disturb me," he says. "Because I have important objective allies, the American, German and Japanese pension funds. The fund managers know very well that anti-nuclear parties are making up part of most European governments. They won't buy shares of energy companies that aren't prepared to abandon their nuclear plants." He doubts that new nuclear plants can be built. "The banks and financial groups aren't very interested in lending money for projects that become profitable only after many years," he says.

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