Langerlo biomass plant to file for bankruptcy

Summary

The plant in Genk owned by Graanul Invest was due to be converted from a coal depot into a biomass plant, but the energy agency has refused to extend the deadline

Green targets in doubt

A controversial biomass plant in the Langerlo neighbourhood of Genk is expected to file for bankruptcy this week, the plant’s manager told TV channel Kanaal Z. The closure will mean a saving of €2.2 billion in subsidies scheduled to be paid out by the government of Flanders over the next 10 years.

The official reason for the closure is the Flemish Energy Agency’s refusal to extend the deadline for the plant – a former coal depot – to convert to biomass and become operational. If it misses the deadline, it loses the subsidy.

But over the last year, there has also been a change in opinion on the use of biomass, in which organic material – in this case wood pellets – is burned to generate electricity. While wood pellets are nominally a renewable resource, it now appears that biomass generation is only viable with government subsidies. It is also less environmentally friendly and sustainable than previously thought.

The previous owner of Langerlo, German Pellets, went broke, and the plant was taken over by Graanul Invest of Estonia, which planned to import wood pellets from the Baltic states. The company has now decided to end its investment as the loss of the subsidies seems inevitable.

The decision frees up €2.2 billion, offering the opportunity to scrap raising household electricity bills that was meant to cover the cost of subsidies. However, the closure of the plant (pictured) will affect the government’s ability to meet its energy targets for 2020, imposed by the EU.

Langerlo would have produced more energy than all the solar panels currently installed in all of Belgium. In his plan for 2020, energy minister Bart Tommelein called for 280 new windmills and 6.4 million solar panels, 200,000 of them on homes. With the closure of Langerlo, those numbers will have to be radically reviewed.

Photo: Sanne Stassen/Wikimedia

Sustainable energy

The five main renewable energy sources in Flanders are biomass, biogas, wind energy, solar energy and water power. The renewable energy sector has grown sharply in recent years, with wind and solar energy production especially on the rise.
Agency - The Flemish Energy Agency is responsible for implementing the government’s sustainable energy policies. Its central tasks are to promote rational energy use and environmentally friendly energy production.
Green energy certificates - One of the principal measures to promote sustainable energy are the certificates the Flemish energy regulator (Vreg) awards for electricity generated by renewable energy sources. Since the regulations were tightened in 2012, investments in renewable energy installations have declined.
Obstacles - According to the Flemish Energy Agency, the main challenges in local renewable energy production are the region’s short coast, limited height differences and direct sunlight, and high population density.
11

new wind turbines created in Flanders in 2013

6 030

million kilowattage of green energy in 2012

6

percentage of green energy used in Flanders in 2012