Belgium’s Energy Future: New Gas Power Plants, a Paradox? (Analysis) – Belgium

While the European Union wants to make itself less dependent on Russian hydrocarbons, the De Croo government supports the construction of two new gas-fired power plants. illogical?

the context

There is a paradox. The acceleration of the energy crisis is due to the war that the Russians are waging in Ukraine. The European Union immediately mobilized to make its 27 members more independent from Gazprom. And Belgium, whose imported natural gas comes from Russia for 40% according to Creg (electricity and gas regulator), for its part decides to build two new gas-fired power plants to generate electricity of the nuclear compromise between the liberals and the ecologists. It is all the more strange since these two power plants were only envisaged in Plan A presented to the government, ie the plan according to which all nuclear power plants would be closed in 2025, as envisaged in the Belgian law of 2003 on the exit from the atom. In addition, the European Commission, which is responsible for prosecuting illegal state aid, had failed to approve the “capacity payment mechanism” (CRM), which allows phasing out nuclear power to be subsidized by other means of power generation, including tandem gas Kraftwerke is part, only on condition that the entire Belgian nuclear fleet is decommissioned. However, this is not the case for Plan B, which was barely mentioned a year ago and which was eventually chosen by the De Croo team, as it was decided to extend Doel 4 and Tihange 3 until 2035. Added to this obvious contradiction, Belgium must again ask the European referee for the green light for this bizarre CRM. The new gas plants must also be built before winter 2025, because it is not certain – on the contrary – that the two nuclear power plants reactors whose shutdown already was planned will be operational at that time. The Engie project has already received approval for the planned gas plant in Awirs near Liège, in contrast to the plant in Vilvoorde, which was rejected by the Flemish authorities. It will be necessary in the coming weeks to organize a selection between the projects that were not selected in last year’s auctions, either that of Luminus in Seraing or that of Eneco in Manage. All of this takes time. Several voices, including that of the President of MR Georges-Louis Bouchez, have been raised to predict that the new gas-fired power plants may not be ready by winter 2025, d likely not restarted yet.” For Francesco Contino, energy expert and professor at of UCLouvain Polytechnic, “we don’t seem to care that we are determined that these two factories will be completed on time”. Much of the administrative process has already been completed. “In any case, I think that in three years we shouldn’t worry about the winter,” he adds. Remember in 2014 when microcracks led to the shutdown of Doel 3 and Tihange 2: we feared a power outage and major load shedding operations. In the end there was not the slightest blackout.” Because of or thanks to climate change, winters are also becoming milder. In reality, gas-fired power plants have to support weather-dependent wind and solar infrastructure depending on demand or efficiency. They do not serve as a basis for electricity production In view of the price of gas and the CO2 emissions of these plants, that would be absurd.Belgian electricity transmission manager Elia, who according to scholarly probability calculations is responsible for forecasting electricity capacity for the coming years, has warned the government that additional capacity must be provided Market are paid according to their ability to produce a certain amount of electricity there at a certain point in time”, specifies Professor Contino. A bit like a bodyguard who is paid not to intervene on every street corner, but to be able to intervene if the customer he protects, is in danger.” Even if Europeans head towards a gas price cap, it could all get expensive. Because the annual auctions, which determine the electricity generation capacity, have to take into account the now expanded 2 GW of the Doel and Tihange power plants. However, the capacity of the gas-fired power plants envisaged in Plan A will be revised downwards in Plan B. As a result, the return on investment for the operators of these power plants decreases. They risk, and it is logical, to demand compensation in the form of subsidies. “In any case, we have to assume that energy prices will remain high or continue to rise in the coming years,” announces Francesco Contino. Renewable energies are capital intensive. Tensions in the electricity market and fossil fuels are driving prices up constantly, coupled with increasing demand… Now investments in gas-fired power plants can also be attractive for molecules other than natural gas, such as hydrogen and especially synthetic methane.” Synthetic methane, which from Renewable electricity and captured CO2 can work very well in a conventional gas power plant, especially if it is a new generation. The advantage is that its production is carbon neutral as this gas recycles recently captured CO2, unlike fossil gas whose CO2 was absorbed by nature millions of years ago. In terms of hydrogen, new power plants can absorb 30 to 50 percent by volume to generate electricity. An advantage for Belgium, which wants to become a hub for green hydrogen (product based on renewable energies). It is therefore to be hoped that the new gas power plants will also and quickly represent an investment for these molecules, which emit much less carbon but are currently still expensive. There is also the problem of the gas source for these two future power plants since, as mentioned above, Belgium, like the rest of Europe (especially Eastern Europe), is heavily dependent on Russian hydrocarbons. As we know, Europeans look for a parade by diversifying their supplies. In particular, with Norway, the EU’s second largest supplier, with which Belgium has just signed a new agreement, or with Qatar, with which Germany has started negotiations. But also by importing liquefied natural gas (LNG). The latter is transported by ship in liquid form at a temperature of -161 °C and must be regasified in ad hoc terminals to be used as fuel. It can replace gas transported by gas pipelines. The United States is a big producer thanks to its shale gas and is quite keen to export it across the Atlantic to block Vladimir Putin’s interests. The Gulf States, Egypt and Algeria are also LNG suppliers. They have also been approached by the von der Leyen Commission, which wants to hold talks with the smallest LNG exporter you can see. The problem is that global production of LPG is limited and mostly sold upfront, including to large Asian customers, led by the Chinese. In addition, the liquid methane regasification terminals (the construction cost of which amounts to one billion euros per terminal), although they have multiplied in recent years, are currently already being used to capacity. That of Zeebrugge is of course a win for Belgium. The gas carrier Fluxys sells nine billion cubic meters there, or half of all Belgian consumption. It is planned to expand the terminal further by 2024 and to build new loading ramps there. So in two years. An eternity given the energy crisis.

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