An overhead high-voltage line in West Flanders is the most feasible solution for the Ventilus project. This is evident from a new report by the German high-voltage expert Dirk Westermann. Westermann thus confirms the conclusion from an earlier report. Mayors (and citizens’ movements) from the region oppose this above-ground track, partly because they are concerned about the health risks. They want Ventilus to go completely underground, but that is not feasible in the short or medium term, says Westermann’s report.

    Nils Schillewaert, Lonne van Erp

Het geplande traject van de Ventiluslijn (bron: ventilus.be)

The Ventilus high-voltage line must bring energy from offshore wind farms to land and at the same time strengthen the West Flemish electricity grid. The high-voltage line would therefore run right through the province, from Zeebrugge to Avelgem. (Although the exact route has not yet been finalized.) It is crucial for the energy supply that Ventilus gets there, but for years there has been loud protest from local residents and local authorities who rally behind their concerned citizens.

Het geplande traject van de Ventiluslijn (bron: ventilus.be)

The planned route of the Ventilus line (source: ventilus.be)

The Ventilus line must be a fairly heavy high-voltage line, with a transmission capacity of 6 GigaWatt. Local residents, but also entrepreneurs, for example, who threaten to get the line over their heads, are therefore concerned about the health risks. Previous studies have shown a (statistical) connection between living under a power line and childhood leukaemia. (Note: this is not the same as a causal relationship. There is currently no evidence that childhood leukemia is actually caused by the magnetic radiation of a power line.)

The citizens’ movements, supported by the majority of the mayors of the region, advocate leaving the Ventilus line completely underground which, they say, would significantly reduce health risks. Moreover, such an underground line would not disturb the view, unlike the high pylons associated with an overhead overhead line.

But previous reports showed that although such an underground Ventilus line would entail technical problems and could jeopardize security of supply. An overhead line would be more stable. Because the protest continued, the Flemish government appointed an “intendant”.

This government-appointed expert was tasked with formulating answers to the questions and concerns of citizens and local authorities. But the conclusion in his report was also clear: an aboveground Ventilus line is actually the only viable option.

    VIEW – “There is now a very good chance that the high-voltage line will largely come above ground”, says Anne Vanrenterghem the new report in “VRT NWS Laat”:

    5 billion euros more

    In addition to technology and concerns about health risks, cost is also an important element in the discussion. According to network operator Elia, a completely underground Ventilus line would cost just under five billion euros more than the above-ground alternative. This additional cost would end up on the bill of the Flemings. And that is difficult, especially since energy bills are already spectacularly high today anyway. The cost price is therefore also an argument in favor of an above-ground Ventilus line.

    And yet the West Flemish mayors and civil movements do not want to simply accept this. In consultation with the Flemish government, it was therefore agreed at the beginning of September that the mayors themselves could put forward an expert who would re-examine the options that are on the table. It was called a “double check on the technology”.

    Dirk Westermann

    That expert has become the German Dirk Westermann and in his report he agrees with the previous conclusions of the intendant: an overhead high-voltage line in West Flanders is the most feasible solution. The reasons are mainly technical, it would be the most robust solution. According to the expert, the technology to run Ventilus completely underground is not yet available at the moment.

      On Monday evening, the chiefs of cabinet of the deputy prime ministers sat down with Westermann to discuss his report. Flemish Minister of the Interior Bart Somers confirms that the report is in line with that of the intendant. “As far as we are concerned, the conversation with the mayors and citizens should from now on be about the preconditions and the accompanying and compensatory measures,” he writes on Twitter.

      Bart Dochy (CD&V), mayor of Ledegem, is not yet completely convinced: “We note that an underground track is not considered completely impossible, but that the technology is not there yet. But the report also states that underground direct current is the technology of the future and that makes us a little happy.”

      Dochy does regret that the “alternative that the mayors had put on the table has not been thoroughly investigated”. He is therefore looking forward to the planned meeting with Westermann next Wednesday. “We are waiting to see what answers we get on Wednesday,” he concludes.

      WATCH – “It would be good for everyone if technology evolves to such an extent that the underground variant could become a reality,” says Dochy in “VRT NWS Leave”:

      Dochy reads in the report that underground high-voltage lines will be used more often in the future. He therefore regrets that Westermann does not immediately play the card of the “technology of the future”. But that technology simply isn’t there yet, according to the report.

      This is also confirmed by Guy Vloebergh, who has already was appointed as an expert (or “intendant”) by the Flemish government. “Underground technology is in full development, but that takes time. Building a main network in underground technology is not yet possible, because that technology still does not exist. That development will take more than ten years. technology is yet to be commercialized, so we are talking about 2src4src or later.”

      What’s in the new report on Ventilus? Listen here to the conversation with political journalist Lonne van Erp in “The morning” on Radio 1:

      CD&V in a difficult position

      It is ultimately up to the Flemish government to make the final decision, but it is not yet fully aligned on this dossier. Both Open VLD and N-VA have already openly expressed their preference for an above-ground Ventilus line in the past, but they have not yet fully convinced their coalition partner CD&V of this.

      The Christian Democrats are forced into this dossier because the vast majority of the concerned West Flemish mayors come from their party. CD&V naturally wants to support its mayors and, moreover, West Flanders is a very important province for them electorally. Having to give in on this dossier could therefore cost them important votes in the next elections.

      But it has been agreed within the government that a final choice will be made on the basis of Westermann’s report. Now that it also points in the direction of an overhead line, the choice seems obvious. Hilde Crevits, vice-minister-president for CD&V, said in “De Afspraak Op Vrijdag” at the beginning of September: if it turns out again that Ventilus can only go above ground, then the discussion is closed.

      Review the full conversation about Ventilus in “The Appointment on Friday” in September:

        Then the question remains when the knot will be finally made. In principle, this can already be done at the next Council of Ministers, which is scheduled for Thursday 1src November. Hilde Crevits is not yet back from sick leave. She became unwell during the budget negotiations at the end of September and, in principle, will not return to work until November 14.

        Crevits is, however, an important voice in the negotiations, not only because she weighs most heavily at the negotiating table for the Christian Democrats, but also because she herself comes from from the region in question. If they want to have her at the table when the decision is made, the government may have to postpone the decision a bit.

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