Offshore wind farms in Belgium
As an energy source, wind is inexhaustible. The generation of wind-powered electricity is free of waste and harmful gases. Wind farms reduce CO2 emissions and help us meet the sustainable and renewable energy targets imposed on Belgium by the European Union. For Belgium, offshore wind energy is an important source of renewable energy. The core European objectives include a 20 % reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels and extraction of 20 % of our total energy from sustainable sources. In this context, the Belgian targets are : a 15 % reduction in CO2 emissions and a 13 % share of sustainable energy in end-user power consumption.
The Minister for the North Sea has taken the initiative to devote an area of 238 km² in the Belgian part of the North Sea to the production of renewable energy under the Marine Spatial Plan of March 2014 (FR, NL). This area is known as the wind turbine area and occupies about 7 % of the Belgian North Sea.
There are plans to build between 409 and 433 turbines in the wind turbine area by 2020, yielding a total capacity of 2,230 to 2,280 MW. This means that, in principle, wind farms will account for around 10 % of total Belgian electricity generation and will power close to half of the homes in Belgium. Given a 50 % capacity factor for wind farms and an installed annual electricity capacity of 20,000 MW in Belgium, we can assume that by 2020 offshore wind farms will account for 5 % of the total, or a quarter of the energy which Belgium is required to generate from sustainable sources under the core European objectives. Offshore wind energy is therefore an important share of the national 13 % sustainable energy target.
The process of actually setting up a wind farm project calls for several permits, including a domain concession and an environmental permit for the construction and exploitation of the wind park.
The licensing procedure for every wind farm project is subject to the law on the Protection of the Marine Environment (20 January 1999, Belgian Official Journal 12 March 1999) and two royal decrees, KB VEMA of 7 September 2003 (amended on 26 December 2013) concerning the procedure for licensing and authorising the activity and KB MEB of 9 September 2003 (amended on 26 December 2013) concerning rules on the assessment of the environmental impact.
The following procedure for permission to build and operate a wind farm is based on the two royal decrees mentioned above.
The applicant submits an environmental impact study (EIS) to the Scientific Service Management Unit of the North Sea Mathematical Models (MUMM) of the OD Nature. MUMM then produces an environmental impact assessment (EIA). As a part of its assessment MUMM may, where necessary, carry out or commission additional tests and studies. There is also a public consultation process : public consultations are arranged over 45 days in Belgium and, where the potential exists for a cross-border impact, consultation with the countries in question is also organised.
On the basis of this EIA and the results of the public consultation, MUMM passes its recommendations to the Federal Minister for the Marine Environment. In its recommendations MUMM considers the project's acceptability to the marine environment and any conditions that might be required to assure its acceptability. The Minister then decides whether or not to grant the environmental permit. Depending on the complexities of the case, it can take about 6 to 8 months from submission of the application to the final decision of the Minister.
Besides the environmental permit procedure there is the matter of obtaining a domain concession for the proposed project area. The application is submitted to the General Energy Directorate of the Federal Public Service Economy, SMEs, Self-Employed and Energy, which advises the Minister for Energy. The domain concession is granted by the Federal Minister for Energy (Royal Decree of 20 December 2000, Belgian Official Journal of 30 December 2000, amended by Royal Decree of 28 September 2008, Belgian Official Journal of 30 October 2008) for the proposed project area. A domain concession may be granted before the environmental permit, but will not come into effect until the environmental permit is in place.
Finally, there is another procedure for the laying of cables (Royal Decree of 12 March 2002, Belgian Official Journal of 09 May 2002). Applications are made to the General Energy Directorate of the Federal Public Service Economy, SMEs, Self-Employed and Energy, which advises the Minister for Energy.
Since the beginning of 2016 nine projects have been granted permits to build and operate wind and/or energy farms in the Belgian part of the North Sea.
In the wind turbine zone we have, from north to south:
- Mermaid, the most northerly farm in the north west of Bligh Bank;
- Northwester 2, which is situated below Mermaid;
- Belwind (stage 1) on Bligh Bank;
- Nobelwind to the north and south of Belwind on Bligh Bank;
- Seastar to the north west of Lodewijk Bank and the south east of Bligh Bank;
- Northwind on Lodewijk bank;
- C-Power on Thornton Bank;
- Rentel between Lodewijk bank and Thornton Bank;
- Norther, the most southerly farm to the south east of Thornton Bank.
Three of the nine licensed wind farms are already operational, i.e. C-Power , Belwind and Northwind.
In the initial, stage, in 2008, C-Power built the first 6 wind turbines (with gravity base foundations) on Thornton Bank in the Belgian marine area, 27 kilometres off the coast of Zeebrugge. At an output of 5 MW per wind turbine this offers a capacity of 30 MW. The first electricity from offshore wind turbines was produced and fed into the Belgian grid in 2009. In stages two and three 48 wind turbines in total were installed. In these stages the wind turbines were placed on jacket foundations. At an output of 6.15 MW per wind turbine this offered a capacity of 295.2 MW. The 54 wind turbines at the C-Power wind farm have been fully operational since July 2013 and offer a total capacity of 325.2 MW. They provide green energy for 300,000 homes.
C-Power was followed by Belwind. In September 2009, Belwind began the construction of 55 wind turbines on Bligh Bank, 46 kilometres off the coast of Zeebrugge. This farm became the world's furthest from the shoreline. The foundations were made from monopiles, driven 35m into the sea bed. The Belwind wind farm came online in December 2010. With 55 wind turbines, each with an output of 3 MW, and an Alstom Haliade test turbine of 6 MW, this offers a capacity of 171 MW, which provides green energy for about 160,000 Belgian homes a year.
Northwind the third operational wind farm, lies 38 km off the coast of Zeebrugge on Lodewijk Bank. This park has been in operation since May 2014 and has 72 turbines each with an output of 3 MW. It offers a capacity of 216 MW. This wind farm supplies more green power for 250,000 Belgian homes.
Thanks to these 3 wind farms some 710.000 Belgian homes are currently using green energy from 182 offshore wind turbines with a capacity of 712.2 MW. This makes Belgium a world leader in this new technology.
By 2020, a further 6 wind farms will be built in the area set aside for renewable energy in the Belgian North Sea. The 6 wind projects, which are already licensed, have reached various pre-construction stages.
On 18 January 2012 (amended on 19 October 2012, 28 March 2013 and 26 August 2014) NV Norther was granted an environmental permit to build and operate its offshore wind farm in the south east of Thornton Bank, 21 kilometres off the coast of Zeebrugge. A total capacity of 378 MW is planned for the Norther farm, based on 45 wind turbines with an output of 8.4 MW. This farm will provide green energy for some 350,000 homes.
On 15 February 2013 (amended on 3 December 2015) Rentel NV was granted an environmental permit to build and operate its offshore wind farm in the north west of Thornton Bank and the south east of Lodewijk Bank at a distance of 31 km from the coastline. The Rentel farm will have a total capacity of 294 MW provided by 42 turbines, each with a capacity of 7 MW. This farm will provide green energy for around 280,000 Belgian homes.
On 13 April 2015, THV Mermaid was granted an environmental permit to build and operate an offshore energy farm in the north west of Bligh Bank, at a distance of 50 km from the coastline. Mermaid is therefore the furthest licensed wind project from the shoreline. The Mermaid farm will have a total capacity of 232 to 266 MW provided by 27-41 wind turbines. This farm will provide green energy for 250,000 to 290,000 Belgian homes. The THV Mermaid was also granted an environmental permit to build and operate a pilot project involving wave energy converters with a total capacity of no more than 5 MW. A permit has been granted for one test field, at which one or more wave energy converters can be placed in the space between the wind turbines.
On 18 December 2015, NV Northwester 2 was granted an environmental permit to build and operate an offshore wind farm in the north west of Bligh Bank, 51 kilometres from the coastline. Between 22 and 32 wind turbines are planned for the Northwester wind farm, giving a total capacity of 217 to 227 MW. This farm will provide green energy for 240,000 to 250,000 Belgian homes.
On 7 October 2015 Belwind NV's environmental permit to build and operate an offshore wind farm was partially transferred to Nobelwind NV and the conditions of transfer were set. As a result, Nobelwind received an environmental permit to build and operate an offshore wind farm of 50 turbines of a capacity of 3.3 MW on Bligh Bank some 47 kilometres from the coastline. With a capacity of 165 MW, this farm will provide green energy for some 160.000 Belgian homes.
On 7 February 2014 NV Seastar was granted an environmental permit to build and operate an offshore wind farm to the north west of Lodewijk Bank and the south east of Bligh Bank at a distance of 41 kilometres from the coastline. A total capacity of 246 MW is planned for the Seastar wind farm, which will have 41 wind turbines. The wind farm will produce green energy for 270,000 Belgian homes.
All things considered, we can safely say that once operational, the farms will give us between 409 and 433 wind turbines in the Belgian part of the North Sea. Taking into account the 182 currently operational wind turbines, this means that the amount of electricity generated by wind farms will increase threefold, and that between 2.2 and 2.3 million Belgian homes will be using green ‘North Sea Energy’ by 2020.
The consequences of the installation of windmills on the marine ecosystem have to be monitored. As foreseen in the environmental permit, OD Nature coordinates a monitoring programme to estimate the positive and negative effects of the windmills at sea.
For this monitoring, MUMM collaborates with INBO, ILVO, Marine Biology Section of Ghent University, INTEC. The results are available (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2016, 2017, 2018). Also the integrated report on the impact of offshore wind farms (2013) is available.
Grontmij Vlaanderen carried out a sociological sea view survey regarding the monitoring programme for offshore windmill parks.