The North Sea is set to soon be one of the biggest power stations in the world thanks to joint offshore wind investments from the Danes, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. Energy Minister Tinne Van der Straeten presented here the details of the project for an artificial island off the coast of Ostend and a second wind turbine zone at sea. The Belgian North Sea should eventually produce by the equivalent of three nuclear reactors.
The announcement of the details of the Princess Elisabeth Zone project comes at a critical political moment for Belgium. We are suffering, like other countries, from the effects of the war waged by Putin against the West. But in addition, this is part of a nuclear phase-out agenda, the terms of which were set 5 years ago under the Michel government and made effective by the De Croo government.
Given the rise in prices and fears of shortages, the closure, however announced for months, of Doel 3 has caused a media psychodrama. A few days before the date of the judgment, we witnessed a festival of partisan instrumentalization on the part of several government parties (especially CD&V and MR). Festival that raised unrealistic expectations and floods of comments on the incompetence of politicians. This mixing of air did not lead to anything. A solution for the population and nothing concrete.
What is happening in the North Sea in terms of energy is very concrete. Too concrete to generate as much media intensity as the stirring of air as political communication. This second wind zone will nevertheless stir up a lot of air, but with a view to producing electricity for households and businesses.
What is at stake in the North Sea is the cornerstone of our energy policy. There is already a large park off Zeebrugge, this one larger and further from the coast will go from La panne to Ostend. Together these two parks could produce up to 18 TWh per year on average. Doel 3 produced an average of 6 TWh per year. (Addendum following the remark of a listener: A production therefore equivalent to three nuclear reactors. But beware, this is the disadvantage of wind power, intermittently whereas Doel produced almost continuously. Other energy sources, demand management and/or interconnections to compensate).
The North Sea is becoming the bedrock of our energy future. Because the most interesting aspect of what was announced yesterday is not so much this new park but an artificial island of 5 hectares, which will play the role of a huge electric prize to connect the offshore parks of Denmark, Netherlands and Germany between them. Together these 4 countries aim to build in 8 years, in 2030 65 GW of installed power, and in 2050 150 GW. What provides a European energy autonomy whose almost existential importance we feel today.
Obviously this has a cost: nearly 2 billion euros for this artificial island and its cables and interconnections, partly covered by subsidies but the essential will be paid via the invoice, as today nuclear or gas. The final cost of the electricity produced is not yet easy to establish, the Creg, the regulator, had in its time checked the too optimistic projections of the government. In particular, the wind turbines placed very close to each other, since we have little space, grant less than announced and make production more expensive by 5%. But this possible additional cost is in any case much less important than the increase in the price of gas.
The project is not won yet. Above all, it is still necessary to bring out of the ground the high-voltage lines which must make it possible to connect this immense maritime hub to our businesses and our homes. There are two projects that must be carried out: Ventilus in Flanders and the Hainaut loop in Wallonia. Two files, where Elia, the network manager, is currently in very complicated negotiations with local and regional authorities.
Of course, the North Sea parks and the interconnections will not be enough to ensure the future. Other unknowns must be lifted. In particular the extension or not of two or more nuclear reactors and under what conditions. Controlling consumption, gas-fired power stations, other investments in renewables are at least as important issues.
The project is long term. This is generally what we have great difficulty in achieving in Belgium. The failure of our preparation for nuclear phase-out is a failure that has its roots in 20 years of short-termism. It’s a whole political generation that has failed, as Philippe Walkowiak wrote. Here the federal government is embarking on a long-term project, it is rare enough to be reported.