Wallonia kicks off as Flanders flounders -- Belgium full of promises

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While there has been little progress on harmonising Belgium's three green certificate systems -- one for each federal region, Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia -- there has been significant improvement in terms of getting more wind power capacity installed. French speaking Wallonia in the south saw 74 MW come online last year, bringing its wind power capacity to 130 MW of Belgium's cumulative total of 287 MW at the end of 2007. This year Wallonia expects to double its existing megawatt. Another 120-130 MW in licensed projects are planned for completion.

In contrast, development in the country's Dutch speaking Flanders region -- where the permitting process is more cumbersome -- remains slow. The Flanders association for renewable energy, Organisatie voor Duurzame Energie (ODE), reports installation of ten new turbines totalling 20.6 MW, taking its cumulative capacity to 157 MW. ODE estimates that wind power is generating around 320 GWh of electricity a year in the region, some way off its 900 GWh by 2010 target which requires 450 MW of installed capacity. Wallonia's target is for 350 GWh of wind generation by 2010.

In general the outlook for the Belgian wind market looks promising, with greater federal and regional support pledged for renewables. Against the backdrop of Belgium's growing political instability, the imperative to form a new long term energy strategy and meet its climate change obligations has remained a stable force throughout. Plans to phase out nuclear will proceed and new tax incentives for renewables will be introduced, particularly with offshore wind in mind.

No legislation has yet been proposed, but whatever the government decides, it will base its strategy on the Commission Energy 2030 report, published last June. The commission analysed various scenarios to meet Belgium's energy needs to 2030, looking at potential goals for wind power of 2000 MW for onshore wind (considered the maximum potential), and as much as 3846 MW for offshore. Concessions have already been granted for 846 MW of offshore development.

The report stresses that reaching the goals will not come cheap. The cost of purchasing green certificates, which provide an additional revenue stream to renewables generators, could be as high as EUR 7 billion for onshore wind over 20 years. With offshore wind, essential for meeting the goals, the cost could run to EUR 27 billion, says the Commission.

As the industry waits for a new market structure, one developer confident in growth is Air Energy. Its plans, if realised, will take its capacity from 54.5 MW at the end of 2007 to around 350 MW in the next few years. In December, Air Energy commissioned its 22 MW Fosses-la-Ville/Mettet project, developed in partnership with MESA, a subsidiary of Compagnie Nationale à Portefuille. This year Air Energy expects to commission at least two further projects with a combined capacity of 24 MW and it has 112 MW seeking construction permits and a further 200 MW under development in Flanders and Wallonia, it says. It has also signed an agreement to develop 20-30 MW of wind projects in Flanders with Winstone bvba, a company with a Belgian wind development portfolio of 100 MW.

Belgium's leading power company, Electrabel, is set to build the country's largest onshore wind farm to date. In January it signed an agreement with local municipalities to jointly invest in a 40-50 MW project in the east of the country. The project's 20 turbines will span the borders of Belgium's three federal regions. Electrabel says it hopes they will gradually enter operation from 2010.

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