Policy improvements prompt optimism -- Belgium gets serious

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While modest so far, wind development in Belgium seems firmly on the up, with good prospects thanks to new policies from both regional and provincial governments. While in 2008 Belgium's wind sector installed just 104 MW, that was an improvement on the previous year's record of 93 MW for a single year and 2009 is expected to be better still.

Renewed pledges by both federal and regional governments to support wind development and the announcement of a number of significant policy initiatives in 2008 meant that 2009 is set to be "a peak year" for project authorisations, according to the Flemish Wind Energy Association (VWEA) in Dutch-speaking Flanders.

"First there are the various provincial wind plans, the other is a major change coming at the regional level," says VWEA. Provincial plans have been published in west and east Flanders as well as Antwerp, while the Flemish government has approved a draft decree that will speed up and simplify authorisation of new wind power projects and abolish several restrictions, such as those for wind farms on agricultural land. "Until now, wind farms in agriculture could not be licensed," notes VWEA.

During 2008, new wind turbine installations were fairly evenly split between the two halves of Belgium, Flanders and Wallonia, with the country's cumulative capacity reaching 384 MW by the end of the year. Wind power in Belgium now generates around 600 GWh annually.

The French-speaking southern region of Wallonia is leading the way, although it installed slightly less in 2008 than Flanders. The 50 MW that went up in Wallonia, brought the region's wind capacity to just over 200 MW, according to the regional association for the promotion of renewable energies, APERe. That was less than half the forecast 120-130 MW of licensed projects slated for completion in Wallonia in 2008. But with more positive wind support policies having been in place longer in Wallonia than in Flanders, nearly 300 MW is currently under construction, says APERe, or has permits in place.

In Flanders, around 260 GWh of electricity now comes from wind power, says Organisatie voor Duurzame Energie (ODE), the Flanders association for renewable energy. Wind capacity increased by 54 MW in 2008 so that by the end of the year 110 turbines totalling 181.4 MW were operating. The big milestone, adds VWEA, was the installation and commissioning of six Repower 5 MW turbines for the 30 MW first phase of C-Power's 300 MW Thornton Bank offshore wind farm (page120).

Onshore, just 12 turbines totalling 24 MW were installed in Flanders, in effect representing another disappointing year. The region's slow planning process has long hampered development there -- in 2007 just 20.6 MW was installed. But according to VWEA, planning was not the only issue stalling development. "The stunning increase in global wind and associated long lead times for wind turbines was behind the rather limited increase in Flanders," says the association's Chris Derde. "For 2009 we expect a much higher growth with an increase of 40 to 50 MW. Our objective for 2020 is 1000 MW and there will be increased construction speed." Flanders is kicking off 2009 with the repowering of one of the oldest wind farms in Europe. Fourteen Vestas 850 kW turbines are to replace the 23 HMZ Windmaster turbines that have stood on the wall of Zeebrugge harbour since 1987. The repowering will upgrade the wind farm from 7.9 MW to 12 MW.

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