Some 100,000 households in Flanders can expect a higher electricity bill in the immediate future, as a result of a ruling by the Constitutional Court this week.
The case was brought by the Flemish energy regulator Vreg, against a plan by the Flemish government to compensate householders who installed solar panels with a digital meter, but allowing them 15 years to continue benefiting from the so-called roll-back counter.
What that means is that the customer pays a fee to the network distributor when they take electricity from the grid, but the counter works in reverse when they are contributing to the grid with the solar power their installation generates.
The arrangement was introduced by the Flemish government two years ago, as an incentive to home owners to install solar panels, as a means for the government to achieve its environmental targets for clean energy. The advantage was offered to any home owner who installed solar panels before 31 December 2020.
But those householders woke up this week to find that the highest court in the land had struck down the advantage they had been offered.
All households already equipped with a digital meter will start paying the full tariff for their power, without the roll-back counter, from the day on which the Court’s ruling is officially published.
The ruling effectively means that homes with solar panels will no longer be compensated when they produce more energy than they use, and feed that energy back into the grid.
For the homes not yet equipped with a digital meter and still using an old analogue meter, the roll-back counter still works. But the rush will now be on to switch those consumers over to digital, which is a legal requirement.
The network distributor, however, could be facing a lot of closed doors when they turn up to carry out the conversion, as the workman will be there to close off a financial benefit for the home owner.
One consolation is that those early adopters who have been eligible for the roll-back counter since 2019 will not have to pay back any difference from which they were able to benefit. The change starts in the next few days, and is not retroactive.
The arguments presented by the Vreg were that the regulator alone has authority to determine tariffs for energy, and not the Flemish government. In addition, the rule is discriminatory, offering a substantial advantage to those who installed solar panels before 1 January 2021 over those who came later, as well over those who never installed solar power at all.
“Politicians should not take this lightly,” Flemish energy minister Zuhal Demir (N-VA) said. “Too many people will suffer because of this.” Her office will study the ruling before the government faces the question of how, if at all, those consumers who were led astray by the government promise might be compensated.