Dutch protest Belgian project -- Ministers clash offshore

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The regional government of the Dutch Province of Zeeland has lodged a formal complaint with Belgium's administrative high court, the Raad van State, about Seanergy's planned 50 turbine 100 MW wind farm to be located 12 kilometres from the Belgian coast, on the Vlakte van de Raan by Knokke-Heist. The wind farm was granted a building licence by Belgium's environment minister, Magda Aelvoet on June 25.

The first ten Vestas V80 2 MW turbines are to be installed next year and connected via a 36 kV cable. An additional 40 turbines will be installed in 2004 and connected using a 150 kV cable. "In the broadest of terms we are opposed to this location on the grounds that it will interfere with shipping, bird life and fishing in the area. Moreover, it contravenes our joint agreement on the long term vision that the Westerschelde should be left undeveloped," says Jan Sanders of the provincial government.

It is asking that the permit be revoked on the grounds that there are "far too many uncertainties" about the impact of the wind farm. Although the permit makes Belgian Seanergy (a joint venture between electricity producers Electrabel and SPE and building company Jan de Nul) responsible for making good any damage caused by the project, the Zeeland authorities argue this provides insufficient guarantee. The regional council is particularly concerned about the impact of the turbines on radar and consequently the safety of shipping in the Westerschelde.

Sanders concedes, however, that the protest has little chance of success and is principally intended to "provide moral support for Belgian groups." He adds: "It might seem that it is an argument between the Netherlands and Belgium, but that is not really the case. Really it's an argument between the region of Flanders and the [Belgian] federal government." The city council of Knokke-Heist, the regional government of West-Vlaanderen in Belgium, and action group Don Quixote have also lodged complaints about the proposed wind farm.

Government displeased

The Dutch government, too, is unhappy about the choice of site, according to the transport ministry's Wim van de Weegte. He says the government believes, however, that an official complaint will serve little purpose as the project lies within Belgian territorial waters.

After voicing its displeasure in a series of ministerial meetings between the two countries, the Dutch government has limited its formal protest to a "diplomatically" worded letter from the (now-ex) secretary of state for transport, Monique de Vries to Aelvoet -- the letter is clear: "Should further decisions of this nature be taken, the Netherlands hopes that the interests of all involved will be taken into account."

Seanergy's plan to further expand the wind farm in 2005 by installing 50 more 2.5 MW turbines have already been rejected by Belgian energy minister Olivier Deleuze because of the late construction date proposed. Deleuze also refused permission for the construction of a 100 MW offshore wind farm proposed by Fina Eoila on technical grounds. The two rejected projects had been planned for an overlapping area, just 65 kilometres long.

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