Fifth column: Smart energy

Summary

Flemish energy minister announced last week that every home in Flanders will have a smart meter by 2019. Politically speaking, it is a move with some risk

The meter is running

Starting in 2019, every home in Flanders will get a “smart meter”, which will register its electricity and gas use per hour. This will encourage a more efficient use of energy, make meter-reading visits a thing of the past and will open the market to a number of innovative services.

Flemish energy minister Bart Tommelein (Open VLD) announced the introduction of the smart meters last week. Politically speaking, it is a move with some risk.

Energy has been a sensitive issue for years, as it touches the electorate directly in the pocketbook. Tommelein’s predecessor, party colleague Annemie Turtelboom, introduced a tax on energy – nicknamed the Turtel tax – that was so unpopular, it led to her resignation.

Tommelein (pictured), too, must avoid a reputation of being responsible for rising energy prices. But that’s not easy, as a rise is expected due to the transition to renewable energy.

Electricity prices are the object of a bitter fight between the government coalition majority and SP.A, the opposition party that held the energy portfolio in previous governments. The majority blames SP.A for the “solar panel disaster”.

To facilitate the introduction of solar panels, SP.A ministers set up a generous subsidy programme, which buckled when it became too successful. And for which the Turtel tax was meant to compensate.

SP.A says that other parties were responsible for the problem, too, and that it halted the subsidies in a timely manner. Still, every time the socialists criticise energy policies, they are reminded of their share in it. Nonetheless, the opposition has reproached both the federal and Flemish governments for being insensitive to ordinary people’s rising energy bills.

The introduction of the smart meters is another episode in this ongoing debate. SP.A has pointed to a study that states that the introduction of smart meters will cost more than it will ever yield.

Tommelein has decided to push on. The introduction of smart meters will happen gradually, and he has made provisions for the owners of solar panels. Without these provisions, the smart meters would cost them dearly.

With the taxes that have been introduced in recent years, having solar panels has turned out to be far less profitable than was projected. Indeed, many solar panel owners have started to wonder whether their investment was really worth it after all.

Photo courtesy tommelein.com