Corrected: No early finish planned for Dutch-Belgian power capacity upgrade

Author: Joachim Moxon


(This story has been changed to say the Brabo project's first phase is to increase the amount of capacity available for power to flow from the Netherlands to Belgium, not Norway to Belgium as previously published.)

A capacity upgrade to increase the amount of Dutch electricity that can flow to Belgium to 4.5GW from 3.5GW will not be completed before winter, a spokeswoman from Belgian transmission system operator Elia has said.

The work is the first phase of the Brabo project, which also involves an upgrade of an existing line between Belgium’s Zandvliet and Doel and the construction of a transformer at the Doel station.

The Doel project has sparked controversy over a proposed law to extend the life span of the 400MW nuclear reactors Doel 1 and 2, with opponents saying the continued life of the plants will slow down the first phrase of the Brabo project.

“[Completing the first phase of the Brabo project] is not possible and the same considerations for nuclear safety would apply with or without Doel 1 and 2 in operation,” an Elia spokeswoman told ICIS.

“We need to build a transformer on the Doel site and rebuild an existing line to change it to an import line. Because it is a nuclear site, the schedule needs to take into account the safety concerns demanded by operator Electrabel and we cannot ignore that.”

Belgium’s power supply has been curtailed since March 2014 due to prolonged outages of the 1GW nuclear reactors Doel 3 and Tihange 2. The Belgian grid was structurally dependent on imports last winter, with supply almost doubling year on year, according to Elia’s 2014 annual report.

Black-outs last winter were only avoided due to mild temperatures, energy minister Marie Cristine Marghem has repeatedly said. The government has called for the lifespan of nuclear reactors Doel 1 and 2 to be extended beyond 2015 to prevent supply margins this year from becoming even more critical than last winter. The opposition says the operating permit for Doel 1 should not be renewed and the extension for Doel 2 should be limited to March 2016. The government’s proposal will be presented in the plenary session in the Belgian government on 3-4 June.

The Belgian system could get tight as early as September this year, the Elia spokeswoman confirmed.

“Maintenance schedules have been affected by the need to prepare for winter and several production units will not be available,” she said.

The 950MW Tihange 1 will be unavailable from 20 June to 9 September while the 1GW Doel 4 will be unavailable from 29 August to 4 October, transparency data shows.

The second and third phase of Brabo aims to strengthen the grid infrastructure around the city of Antwerp. This is to enhance the security of supply in the Antwerp harbour and to ensure that the grid can cope with volatile north-south flows. Phase two is in the permitting stage and is scheduled for completion in 2019 while phase three will be completed by 2023 at the latest.