Belgium?s Walloon region sets ambitious wind energy target

Meet Philippa Jones, the EWEA blog’s new correspondent who this month explores plans for wind power in Belgium’s French-speaking region.

Belgium is not known for its quick negotiating skills. It took politicians 541 days to agree a new government after the incumbent administration resigned in April 2010. After 30 months of negotiations, the leaders of French-speaking Wallonia finally submitted plans to revise legislation governing the development of wind power in the region last December.

Renewable energy producers are disappointed with the plans and last month submitted their views to the regional government, insisting that changes must be agreed quickly to allow the industry to move forward.

Wallonia recently agreed a target of producing 4,500 GWh a year of electricity from wind farm by 2020, up from1,200 GWh today. EDORA, the organisation representing renewable energy producers, is thrilled the region has defined an ambitious energy target and has proposed meeting this target through linear annual targets, thereby avoiding a chaotic rush to the finish in eight years’ time.

The idea of creating a “positive” wind map, showing the areas where turbines could be built, is also to be welcomed, says the organisation. It estimates that on average the region needs to build 80 turbines a year to move from the 246 in action today to 700 by 2020. Last year, only around 30 turbines were installed in Wallonia and until new legislation is agreed little is likely to happen in 2012.

Despite his enthusiasm for the general thrust of the Walloon government’s proposals, Fawaz Al Bitar, EDORA’s wind power expert, is nonetheless worried. He wants the proposed criteria, which will be used to allow or not the construction of wind turbines, to be tightened. He says they remain “not objective enough” and “open to interpretation”. This lack of clarity could “lead to numerous court cases,” he warns.

Biodiversity is one key area where the proposal is far too vague, according to EDORA. It is demanding clearer guidance on the way impact assessment studies are performed to assess the biodiversity worth of any potential wind farm site. EDORA also wants the regional government to allow wind farms in forests that are “of little worth in terms of biodiversity” and to set down clear criteria so there is no confusion as to what it meant by “poor in biodiversity”. Such rigour should also be applied to the method chosen for measuring potential noise pollution, says the organisation.

Proposals by Wallonia to oblige private companies to allow communes and Walloon-based citizen cooperatives to have a significant stake in wind farm projects also need careful handling, insists Mr Al Bitar. He sees few problems in allowing local cooperatives to get involved, but he insists that unless any notion of giving preference to local actors is carefully defined, the government risks breaking EU competition law.

EDORA should find out later this spring whether its amendments have been taken into consideration. But given that local elections are planned in October and that wind power is such a sensitive subject, some fear that the issue could become a political hot potato and agreement on the legislation delayed. Indeed, the organisation says it is “surprised” and “worried” that the Walloon government’s proposal does not contain a transition period between the old and the new systems and underlines the importance of allowing those schemes for which an impact study has already been carried out to go ahead under the existing system.