Lippens wants to link Knokke to the “energy island”

  • The idea of constructing an artificial island for wind farms off the Belgian coast has been in the public domain since January 2013.
  • Léopold Lippens is now suggesting that there should be hotels and a golf course on the island.

The headline in De Standaard reads “Knokke bid to annex the energy island.” Count Léopold Lippens, the seaside town’s mayor, has announced that he hopes for a ‘win-win’ agreement if the daring concept of an artificial island ever becomes a reality. What might such an agreement include? The Count believes that hotels could be built on the island, together with a golf course, a marina and other sports facilities. In this scenario, there could even be a bridge linking Knokke to the island.

Lippens isn’t happy that the information has been leaked to the press. “There isn’t much news for the media to report at the moment, so they are fastening onto stories like this,” he said when we contacted him.

The background is the plan for North Sea regeneration, proposed by minister Johan Vande Lanotte of the SPA and approved by the Council of Ministers in May 2013. It includes the construction of an ‘energy atoll’ to be built on the sandbank near Wenduine, level with Zeebrugge. The atoll would be an artificial island shaped like a doughnut, with a well in its center. The water in the central well can be emptied out when the windmills are producing large quantities of energy, or during periods of low demand – during the night, for example. Alternatively, when electricity is required to meet high demand from consumers, or to replenish the network, the center of the doughnut is refilled, with water passing through a turbine and so creating electricity.

While the plan was under consideration, the secretary of state for energy, Melchior Wathelet, ruled out the possibility of subsidies, declaring that the island would be ‘self-sustaining’.

This is what has proved to be the sticking point for the mayor. “If this island is constructed right in front of our town (not, in fact, the current proposal), we need to get something out of it. We are a long way from that at present. The problem is that we need to be sure that the energy companies will pay for the island. And there is no certainty of that. There’s a risk that tax-payers will take the hit.” He points to the example of wind farms, supported by the public purse. He does not hesitate to label them as “a waste of money”.

When we asked him whether he was suggesting that renewable energy is not in fact essential, he retorted: “I am not saying that we should not support this sort of energy. But we need to do it in the right way.”

He then ended the conversation, saying “in this case, the state is going to have to pay for the wind farms for years. It’s utter madness.”

Vande Lanotte has responded in the Flemish press, through his spokesman, Els Bruggeman, who said: “It’s good that the energy island is inspiring creative thinking. However, there are no plans at present for a bridge or for hotels on the island.”

On Thursday evening, Sarah Vandecruys, the other spokesperson for the minister’s office, sought to calm the mayor’s financial concerns. “We are aware of Knokke’s views, but they are very premature. If the private sector developer wants to create this sort of facility, they will be able to do so, but it is not a matter for us. And I must stress that there has never been any question of the state paying for the island. We will make the space available, but it will be for the private sector to make the investment.”

ANN-CHARLOTTE BERSIPONT

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