An Energy Perspective On the Dutch Elections – Part 2: What to do with coal-fired power plants in the Netherlands?

In a series of blogs, Ceciel Nieuwenhout and Gijs Kreeft, both PhD researchers at the Groningen Centre of Energy Law, will expand on energy related topics, which play a role in the campaign towards the upcoming Dutch parliament elections of March 15.
This is the second blog. For the first blog, which also includes a general overview of the Dutch political landscape, click
The Netherlands hosts ten coal-fired power plants. Three of these have only just been commissioned in 2015/2016 and are state-of-the-art installations. However, there are a few older plants, which were built during the 1980s and 1990s. Currently a public debate is on its way about whether or not the coal-fired power plants in the Netherlands need to be closed. In recent years the oldest and least efficient three installations were already closed. Now, the debate focuses on the premature closure of the two remaining older power plants from 1994 and 1995 and the three newest power plants.
In the current government, the topic lead to a clash between the Minister of Economic Affairs, Henk Kamp, of the Conservative Liberals (VVD) and the State Secretary of Infrastructure and Environment, Sharon Dijksma, of the Labour Party (PvdA).[1] Kamp is against early closure of the 1994 and 1995 installations, whereas Dijksma intends to close these in 2020 in order to reach the climate objectives of the Netherlands. In the end, they decided to postpone the decision and leave this to the new government.

One complicating factor in the debate on the closure of the power plants is the fact that coal-fired power plants are currently used for the generation of electricity through the co-incineration of biomass (woodpellets). For this activity they receive subsidy from the Dutch SDE+ scheme for the stimulation of renewable energy.[2] Questions are lingering about the characteristics of these co-fired solutions and whether or not this is energy produced from renewable sources, but the governing party VVD claims that it is necessary to keep this form of renewable energy in order to reach the 20-20-20 targets. It is also questionable whether or not the coal-fired power plants would survive economically without the biomass subsidy. For example:  the Hemwegcentrale, a coal-fired power plant from 1994, will not receive subsidies under the coming subsidy round. Consequently, the owner NUON is thinking about selling or closing this installation prematurely.[3] In December, the lower house has adopted a motion to request an immediate halt to subsidies for biomass in coal-fired power plants.[4]
During the election campaign, it seems that political parties do not want to burn their fingers on this complicated and technical issue. However, the topic will certainly be on the agenda during the formation of a new government. From the political programmes for 2017-2021, a clear division in the political spectrum can be discerned on this issue. For example, the conservative liberals (VVD) do not mention the closure of coal-fired power plants, but they have some general comments on the reduction of emission rights in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. This is in line with their argument that closure of a coal-fired power plant in the Netherlands will only lead to more emissions elsewhere. They want to improve the coal-fired power plants by using biomass. CDA (the Christian Democrats) agree with them.
On the other side, the social-democrats PvDA say they want to close all coal-fired power plants as soon as possible, starting with the eldest. Moreover, they only want to use second and third generation biomass (which means non-food crops), and refrain as much as possible from using it in coal-fired power plants. The social liberals (D66) would like to close the coal-fired power plants as soon as possible. They also do not want to use biomass in these plants. The same holds for the green party GroenLinks, the socialist party (SP) and a small Christian party (ChristenUnie).
The Freedom Party PVV does not take a stance on this issue. From its voting behavior, it can be concluded that this party is against premature closure of the power plants.[5] However, it is also against subsidies for renewable energy. As the coal-fired power plants currently profit from more than €2 billion worth of subsidies,[6] cutting these subsidies will also have consequences for the business case of coal-fired power plants and perhaps lead to premature closure after all…
Next blog: Where is the energy transition in the political debate?


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