Ministers talk tough on permit delays

Local authorities who fail to find sites for wind farms in the Netherlands will have to face the wrath of not one, but two government ministers. Both economics minister Annemarie Jorritsma, and environment minister Jan Pronk agree it is time to get tough. Just what they will do to authorities not giving due priority to renewables development remains to be seen.

Jorritsma says central government will consider selecting sites for new wind farms where local councils fail to take the initiative. But direct government intervention of this kind will require a united front, she advises: "I can't do this on my own and consequently I shall be conferring with minister Pronk," Jorritsma told parliament in late October.

The message seems to have been well received, for a little over a week later Pronk weighed-in on the subject, saying that "local councils who do not voluntarily co-operate with the placement of wind turbines will be compelled to do so." This objective will be an important consideration during the fundamental review of planning legislation now underway, he added.

In this joint offensive, the ministers are addressing the Achilles heel of Dutch wind policy-the absence of any mechanism for ensuring the implementation of national and provincial policy targets at the local planning level. With a commitment to 10% of electricity from renewables by 2020-and Dutch industry and major power suppliers claiming the Kyoto accord will seriously erode Dutch competitiveness-Jorritsma and Pronk are under increasing pressure to tackle the planning bottleneck stifling wind development.


To date the government has adopted a softly-softly approach. Last year the economics ministry launched a campaign of TV and print advertisements to increase public support for renewables. Earlier this year, Jorritsma asked recalcitrant councils to find suitable locations for new wind plant as a matter of urgency. The new talk of government initiated "selection" marks a significant change in national policy, which has allowed a planning culture to flourish stacked in favour of objectors to wind.

Whether the new tough talk is translated into action remains to be seen. Former member of the provincial executive, Geert de Boer, has been charged with creating a taskforce to oversee council compliance, but according to a government spokesman, "given the sensitivity of the situation, he is unwilling to talk to the press and wishes to carry out his duties quietly without interference."

Nor is his task likely to be made any easier by late breaking news of a Dutch Labour party wind plan which claims that Jorritsma's and Pronk's approach will lead to an increase in the number of solitary wind turbines, and hence increase popular opposition to wind. Instead, the Labour party proposes resolving the planning bottleneck by introducing a form of emissions trading at local council level.

Obligation trading

Rather than insisting that each council find appropriate sites, Labour outlines a plan where those who are unwilling or unable to fulfil their government wind obligation will be able to transfer that obligation to more suitable, or wind-friendly, councils, enabling these to build bigger, more efficient wind farms.

Whatever its eventual merits, the Labour party plan looks unlikely to provide any immediate relief for Dutch wind's supply-side bottle-neck. Politically and practically, demand-side stimulation of renewables presents far less of a problem, as Jorritsma demonstrated with her budget announcement that her ministry will be the first to meet 100% of its power needs-some three million kWh a year-from certified renewable electricity.

This means the ministry will join 7000 other consumers choosing to pay Rotterdam utility ENECO an additional NLG 0.07/kWh for the assurance that this revenue will be ploughed into renewables development. Some 110,000 Dutch consumers subscribe to comparable schemes run by utilities. Earlier in October, the home and foreign affairs ministry joined the growing list of government departments leading by example when it contracted ENECO to supply 20% of its electricity-some 870,000 kWh for 2000-as certified power. For its part, ENECO, which owns some 60 wind turbines (32 MW), is using its green electricity revenues to develop three wind farms which, the company's Bert Molenkamp reports, are suffering from "no more than the usual planning delays."