Court reverses offshore approval -- Order for 100 MW lost

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Construction of Belgium's 100 MW Seanergy offshore wind plant, originally scheduled to begin this month, has been indefinitely postponed following a ruling by Belgium's highest administrative court, the Raad van State. The court, which had earlier given its go-ahead to the project for a site some 12 kilometres off the Belgian coast on the Vlakte van de Raan sandbank near Knokke-Heist, reversed its decision in response to an appeal from local councils.

The court upheld a complaint by an 80-year-old resident of Knokke-Heist that the project would spoil her sea-view, and it also cited objections to the government's handling of the application procedure as the reason for the reversal. Some observers believe the decision was politically motivated.

Belgian utility Electrabel, which along with construction concern Jan De Nul has worked on the project since 1998, says government incompetence is to blame for the fiasco. The permit was granted in August, but was left lying on a ministry desk awaiting ratification, claims Electrabel's Francoise Vanthemsche. The delay in securing ratification invalidated the approval, which must be applied for again. "When we will be able to begin construction is currently unknown -- certainly not this year -- and we have suspended all preparatory work," says Vanthemsche. "We are now reviewing the situation with our contractors." Turbine supplier Vestas Nederland is still seeking further clarification from the developers.

For the federal government, Annemie Vermeylen of the environment ministry denies the allegations of incompetence. The permit, which in Belgium takes the form of a ministerial decree, is based on two royal decrees which were granted in December 2000. "These decrees required an advice from the Raad van State before being signed by the minister and the king," says Vermeylen. "The draft version of the two royal decrees had to be adjusted following the advice of the Raad van State, which is why it took three months."

Moreover, she points out: "With legal action underway, Electrabel clearly has an interest in blaming the government." She also questions Electrabel's commitment to the government's renewable energy policy: "Many observers believe they would like a return to the nuclear option," she says.

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