Flanders denies request for environmental permit for Vilvoorde power plant

Flanders denies request for environmental permit for Vilvoorde power plant
Environment minister Zuhal Demir. Credit: Belga

Flemish Environment Minister Zuhal Demir (N-VA) on Friday rejected an application by Engie for an environmental permit for a new 870-MW gas-fired power plant in Vilvoorde.

However, Minister Demir gave the go-ahead for a 900-MW plant planned by the TDS company in Tessenderlo.

This is the second time Engie's application has been rejected by the environment minister, who said the utility company did not provide its project with "all the best techniques available to best reduce its emissions."

She added that the Engie plant, although smaller in capacity, would emit more pollution than the one to be built in Tessenderlo, which intended to use the most innovative techniques available.

However, the TDS project is subject to additional conditions. The company will have to ensure that it is climate neutral by 2040, and it is required to plant 30 hectares of additional trees, 12 ha. of them in the first two years.

Engie expressed disappointment at the minister's decision. "We regret that the minister has refused the permit after a positive advice from the provincial and regional environmental licensing committee," the utility said.

Engie spokesperson Hellen Smeets said the project in Vilvoorde had taken into account "the lowest possible ammonia emissions" for a large gas-fired unit.

She added that, after the previous refusal, the company had worked with the Engie Laborelec expertise centre, "which has internationally recognised knowledge around this theme" and "carried out an in-depth analysis of the best available techniques on an industrial scale to keep emissions as low as possible."

"We will now thoroughly analyse the rationale for the decision when we receive it," said the spokesperson, insisting that the project "will respect all applicable regulations."

The debate in Flanders on the authorisation of new gas-fired power stations is closely linked to the debate at the federal level on the scheduled closure of nuclear reactors, which needs to be offset by an increase in gas-fired units to maintain electricity production at the required levels.

Minister Demir, whose Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (N-VA) party is in the opposition at the federal level, did not hide her irritation with the federal government.

"If I was sure we would keep the nuclear plants, this discussion on the need for environmental permits would not be necessary at all," she said. "Not even for Tessenderlo."

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