Government cancels hundred megawatt -- Bitterness in Belgium

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The Belgian government's decision to withdraw licences for a 100 MW offshore wind farm developed by national utility Electrabel has been branded a "great pity" by the leading renewables energy association, ODE. Association chairman Frank Snijders, says the organisation fears the decision to stop the Seaenergy project was politically motivated. It was clearly not a technical reason, he points out, otherwise licences would never have been given in the first place.

"It is not an objective opinion but politically-loaded, and that's what troubles us most. It is more important to have political support, there has been no consideration of the renewable energy point of view. This is not a good sign to the public, it suggests that there is no political support or social support."

Companies who have invested large sums in the project development should not be handled in this way, he adds. A smaller company than Electrabel would have been bankrupted by the government's sudden about-face. "A government should be glad. If they do not want offshore or onshore wind projects, it should make its position clear."

Electrabel, which was to build the wind farm in co-operation with Belgian dredging firm Jan de Nul, had been awarded operating permits for the Seaenergy project by the government back in 2002. Although Electrabel has never revealed the likely cost of the proposed project it was thought to be in the region of EUR 220 million.

Situated 15 kilometres off the Belgian northwest coast at Knokke-Heist, the installation of the first ten wind turbines had been due to start in Spring 2003. Another 40 wind turbines (80 MW) were due to be connected to the grid by 2004, with annual production estimated at 3 GWh.

But the project got bogged down in legal wrangles and political tussles. Protestors claimed the planned wind station would endanger migrating birds and create visual pollution. An Electrabel spokeswoman says the company is considering several possibilities but would not say whether it intended to appeal. Part of the problem is that Belgium is a highly-densely populated country, she says.

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