Belgium Needs Gas-Fired Power Plants But Sends Investors Ambiguous Signals
The coalition agreement between the four parties composing the new Belgian federal government is keeping almost every option for the development of power production open. Candidate investors interested in constructing new gas-fired power plants still await real incentives. Meanwhile, Belgium risks experiencing some dark and cold winter evenings.
Traditionally, the majority of Belgium's power production was secured by seven nuclear reactors. In 2003 the government decided to phase out the tree oldest reactors in 2015. Since then, rumors that a new government would abandon the nuclear get off were latent. And new governments were plenty. The 2013 government decided to postpone the closure of one nuclear reactor with ten years, till 2025. The new coalition agreement (2014) foresees the two others to stay active at least for some months, but completely leaves open their further future. Three other nuclear reactors lie idle for the moment, two because of fundamental technical faults, and one because of sabotage by still unknown persons.
Today, in the Belgian economical interest zone in the North Sea, 181 wind turbines are operational. Together, they have a capacity of 712 MW. By 2020, offshore wind farms have the ambition to supply in 10% (2.200 MW) of the Belgian electricity needs. Until a few weeks ago, new project developers were waiting on the building permission for a new HC cable to connect the coast with the central part of Belgium. The designs for the new wind farms already were completed some years ago, but without a new HC cable, nobody dared to subscribe an investment decision. With the actual 712 MW Belgium is world leader in deep water wind energy, as most British and Danish turbines are constructed near the coasts.
Frozen gas projects
Several building permissions for new natural gas fired power plants were awarded during the last years. Together, the twelve planned installations represent a capacity of 5.125 MW, about the same as the combined capacity of the five largest nuclear reactors. However, none of this gas-fired power plants as seen even the first construction steps.
The reasons are clear. Nuclear production is much cheaper. And on sunny and windy days, when power production (capacity) is bigger than power consumption, renewable have a legal priority. The result is that existing gas powered plants are not working during large parts of the year. Some of them even are mothballed by their owners. As long as the closing of the nuclear plants stays uncertain, nobody will be eager to invest in gas-fired installations. However, the Federal Planning Bureau estimates that till 2050 there is a need of a production capacity of 1.250 MW… every year, the equivalent of tree CCGT-plants. They have to replace out-of-date and closed power plants, to fill in the growing demand and to provide a backup for variable production from renewables.
With several nuclear plants down for an unknown period, the previous government had started a tender for a strategic reserve, to be used on cold and dark winter days. Tender is maybe a too nice word. For example, E.on received a signal that it will need to rerun its mothballed gas-fired power plant in Vilvoorde not on the conditions it proposed on the tender, but on conditions to be imposed by the Creg.
Gas countries offers electricity (from gas)
In the Netherlands, several gas-fired power plants have been built during the last years. As consumption didn't follow the growth in production capacity, several gas-fired plants have (partly) been mothballed or aren't running often enough to be rentable. Some of them are very close to the Belgian frontier. The owners of the Sloecentrale (435 MW) and the Clauscentrale (1.305 MW), Delta and Essent, have addressed the Belgian government with an original suggestion –and are awaiting an answer. They suggest building a new transborder cable, to connect their plants directly with the Belgian grid. This way, it would be 'Belgian' plants and the interconnection capacity between both countries wouldn't be affected. The Sloecentrale is located about 30 km from the border, the Clauscentrale less than 5 km. Both cables however would need to pas one of the large rivers in the Low Countries.
Coal, no way
More gas-fired plants, longer living nuclear installations, demand-cutting measures, adding Netherlands power plants to the Belgian grid… there is no decision yet and the life-time of a coming decision is unsure. But one thing is sure: contrary to neighbouring Germany, nobody in Belgium wants a come-back of power production from coal.