Minister side-steps renewables issues -- Dutch energy policy debate

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Any hopes of getting answers on future targets and subsidies for renewable energy from the Dutch government were dashed early last month after a long awaited parliamentary debate was called to a halt. For two-and-half-hours, economic affairs minister Laurens Jan Brinkhorst carefully side-stepped questions until parliament decided to suspend the debate until after the third Tuesday of September, when the Dutch budget is announced.

"The minister refused to name any figures, goal or targets for the renewables sector," says Ruud van Leeuwen, project development manager of sustainable energy developer Evelop. "This debate was originally scheduled for May. Once again, it is a clear signal that the ministry does not take the renewables sector seriously. The market needs to know, even if the answer is an unfavourable one, it is better than this uncertainty."

Diederick Samson, the renewables specialist from the Dutch labour party PvDA, shares Leeuwen's views. "The debate had hardly started, the minister would not answer anything," he says.

In particular, companies involved in the development of offshore wind power stations in the Netherlands need answers on the government's policy and goals for the sector, stresses Samson. Perhaps the only good thing, he adds, is that Brinkhorst's plans to bring subsidies for the sector down to zero have still not got parliamentary approval because of the postponement. It gives the industry a few more weeks, he says.


The wind power sector had hoped that at least Brinkhorst would discuss his energy report, Now for Later, submitted for parliamentary approval during the summer (Windpower Monthly, September 2005), although industry members are unimpressed with its contents. Van Leeuwen calls it "very disappointing" on the subject of renewables.

Cees Bakker, chairman of the renewable energy organisation ODE in the Netherlands, says he had not expected much from the debate. "Minister Brinkhorst is a star at saying the wrong things at the wrong time. I hope he is away from parliament very quickly."

Mathieu Kortenoever of project developer E-Connection says that Brinkhorst's report "gives no hints whatsoever on goals or ambitions for renewables." It might be fashionable having a "road map to wind energy" but there are no specific details, he adds: "I am not too optimistic."

Brinkhorst's presentation of a new energy policy follows his introduction in May of an 18 month moratorium on subsidies to offshore wind power. The wind industry now expects the government will aim for an offshore wind power target of 700 MW by 2010. Around 220 MW of the 700 MW is already accounted for by two projects, so it is expected that the remainder will be issued in two tranches, with 240 MW issued in 2007. Only two years ago the target was 1500-2000 MW by 2010. A target of 6000 MW by 2020 has also been bandied about by the government. Meantime, an onshore target of 1500 MW by 2010 is on the way to being already met.

Fading targets

"This may make you think we are making some progress there," says Van Leeuwen, but when the target comes under scrutiny, the original plan was for 1500 MW by 2000, a target never met. "All the time the government is diluting the target and now it is an ambition not a target," adds Van Leeuwen. "At least if the targets were made official in parliament, project developers know where they are-it is all so volatile."

Many believe the Netherlands' once leading role in wind power development is being taken over by countries like the UK and Belgium. "We are rapidly giving up the lead we had in wind energy," says Van Leeuwen.

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