Belgium unprepared for phasing out nuclear power by 2025: grid operator

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgian grid operator Elia has warned the country could face serious power shortages after it phases out nuclear power in 2025 if the government does not act to speed up investment in alternative energy supplies.

FILE PHOTO: High-voltage power lines are seen next to cooling towers of Doel's nuclear plant of Electrabel in Doel near Antwerp, Belgium, January 4, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

Belgium’s nuclear reactors are set to be phased out from 2022 to 2025. Elia, in a study released on Friday, estimates the country will need an additional 3.9 GW of capacity from 2025 to replace the power generation from its seven nuclear reactors.

That is higher than its previous forecast of 3.6 GW, made in a similar study in 2017.

Neighboring countries, including Germany, are accelerating an exit from coal while others are cutting back on nuclear power generation, reducing Belgium’s ability to import electricity.

The Belgian parliament passed legislation in April aimed at spurring investment in gas-fired power generation and building 4,000 megawatt of new offshore wind farm capacity by 2030. The study, co-sponsored by Elia and energy agencies, said more efforts are needed.

While some action has been taken over the past year, “we are not yet ready for any scenario. It is still five minutes to midnight,” Elia said.

The company called for Belgium’s caretaker government and next federal government to continue developing a planned capacity remuneration mechanism (CRM) - whereby generators receive a payment for being able to generate electricity on demand - to ensure a safety net.

If no action is taken on the CRM, Elia warned there would not be enough investment to ensure the needed 3.9 GW new replacement generation capacity would be put in place in time for the nuclear exit.

“The accelerated coal exit in neighboring countries (the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Italy, France and especially Germany) will have an adverse impact on our ability to import electricity in the winter months,” Elia said in a statement on the study.

Over the next 10 years, coal-fired and nuclear power plants with a total capacity of around 100 GW will be shut down in Europe, mostly in Western Europe, it said.

Neighboring countries’ accelerated exit from coal means Belgium would need up to 1 GW of additional capacity from 2022 to 2025 while the reactors are being phased out, Elia said.

Belgium risked an unprecedented power shortage this past winter when six of its seven nuclear reactors were offline, although it managed after the government scrambled to secure alternative power supplies.

Renewing some of the reactors for a few more years would still require replacement capacity, Elia said, as the reactors would need to be upgraded - a process that could run into the winter months.

“Each scenario requires appropriate measures and there must be clarity soon about the consequences and the action to be taken,” Elia said.

Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Bate Felix; Editing by Susan Fenton