Together, the companies represent a value of some €315 million. In addition, Flanders Region would inject about €200 million in capital to allow Vl. Energie to take a stake in wind energy company Aspiravi and solar power company Enfinity.
The project has three main goals. First and foremost if the Flemish Region's ambition to break the stranglehold on the electricity market enjoyed by Electrabel and SPE, both French interests. This is not the first time the Flemish government has stepped in to level the playing field in a particular sector. Flanders was behind the setting up in 1996 of Telenet as a competitor to Belgacom.
According to supporters, the immediate result of the Telenet initiative was to push prices down and end the Byzantine system whereby customers would sometimes have to wait for months for a simple telephone line. Critics, however, point out that the monopoly of Belgacom has simply been replaced by a duopoly where one party controls the phone lines while the other controls the cable. And prices, though lower now than before, are still higher than in most European countries.
The Flemish government was also behind the creation of IMEC in Leuven, which carries out research into nanotechnology, and the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology (VIB), which is involved in some very lucrative biotech areas.
The other aims of Vl. Energie are to help meet European targets for green energy use and the export of green energy technologies, which could lead to a number of profitable spin-offs, such as those in which IMEC and the VIB are involved.
• Electric shock A survey by consumer organisation Test Aankoop last week revealed that ordinary households pay far more for their electricity than similar consumers in neighbouring countries - up to 43% more. The federal government has been unable or unwilling to rein in Electrabel, but the Flemish government now seems ready to intervene.