Flemish environment minister Zuhal Demir (N-VA) faces a thorny problem after the most important of the government’s advisory boards gave its support to the construction of a new gas-fired power station in Vilvoorde.
The problem comes as Demir’s party is against the denuclearisation of Belgium’s power generation industry, but the committee decision, having been asked for, will now be difficult to ignore.
Demir had earlier come under fire when she refused to approve permission for the construction of two other gas-fired power stations, in Tessenderlo and in Dilsen-Stokkem, both in Limburg province. Her decision was a blow to the plans by the federal government to lay the groundwork for an eventual closure of Belgium’s nuclear power capacity – something N-VA opposes.
When she took office as environment minister in October 2019, Demir made her view known, vowing she would oppose permits for any facility that would produce more CO2 than the nuclear alternative. That threat became a promise when she refused permits for Tessenderlo and Dilsen-Stokken.
The committee’s decision places Demir in a tricky situation, by making it virtually impossible to continue to oppose the power station. To make matters worse for her, Elia, the network manager, has just last weekend agreed subsidies for the future plant, although Engie/Electrabel, which will operate the facility, is still missing an environmental permit.
The environmental licensing committee for Flemish Brabant has now forced the minister’s hand by approving the power station, while imposing certain conditions.
“The nuisance and the effects on people and the environment and the risks to external safety, caused by the requested project, can be limited to an acceptable level, subject to compliance with the permit conditions,” states the advice.
“The permit for the application can be granted for an indefinite period.”
Those conditions match the ones called for by the provincial advice committee of Flemish Brabant, and were acceptable to Engie/Electrabel. It now remains to be seen whether Demir can find a way to continue to reject the positive advice received.
A spokesperson for the minister commented, “This is just one of the pieces of advice. The minister will make an informed decision based on all elements in the dossier.”