1 October 2018

There is still space in Limburg for renewable energy

By summer 2019, the largest solar park in the Benelux region will be a reality. This is a project by LRM (Limburgse Investeringsmaatschappij), the City of Lommel and Nyrstar, with the support of the Flemish government and ING in Belgium. 

Work on this ambitious project starts in October 2016. On the 240-hectare Kristalpark industrial estate in Lommel, 100 hectares, equivalent to 200 football pitches, have been earmarked for 300,000 solar panels. This is sufficient to generate enough green electricity for every household in Lommel, Neerpelt and Overpelt. And, of course, for the companies based at the sustainable industrial estate. 

The major challenges and learnings in a nutshell:
  • Create support for your project in advance. Explore the options for stakeholder management. That demands time and energy, but you regain that during the authorisation process.
  • Call in specialists for the authorisation procedure for a big project like this.
  • Dare to go for it, think big and out of the box: these projects are necessary for realising the energy transition. Thinking out of the box is possible right up to policy level. The government realises that now is the time to tackle the transition in a major way, or we will not meet the Flemish – let alone the Belgian and the European – climate objectives.
  • Yes, there is a financial return, on condition that your business plan is positive. One project will obviously be riskier than another, so look for a financial partner you trust and that will be part of your story.
  • Project cost: EUR 66 million. Project has been financed by ING Lease, and the lease contract for the solar panels ends in 2033.
You need space to make an impact

What is distinctive about this project and other climate investments that LRM has made is the desire to make a difference. Their Limburg base has a major part to play in this. Stijn Bijnens, CEO of LRM: “There is still space in Limburg, and that’s an advantage because renewable energy needs space if you want to work in a way that makes an impact. We launched the idea for this park in October 2016 during the Flemish Climate Summit. Policymakers and administrators were enthusiastic from the word go.

"Investments in renewable energy are becoming the healthiest part of our portfolio nowadays." – Commercial Director of ING Lease Filip Indigne
Six percent

The Kristalpark will be the biggest solar park in the Benelux region, with a capacity of 99 MWp. That will meet 6 percent of the Flemish climate objectives for 2020 for solar energy. LRM Head of Corporate Affairs Jeroen Bloemen: “The green power sockets at the business park are an added advantage: businesses will immediately be able to plug into the solar park. That is unique. We will start off by installing the park on the ground, with the intention of also installing the same number of solar panels on the roofs of business premises in the future.”

The tale of the ladybird spider

In 2016, it looked as though the stars were all aligned for this project, until the discovery of the ladybird spider. It turned out that the land where the park was due to be built was also the habitat for a unique population of spiders, insects and butterflies. When the plans for the park became known, they brought protest from local nature conservation associations and the Flemish Natuurpunt Vlaanderen. Stijn Bijnens: “When we were confronted with their objections we were faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, you had this special biotope, but on the other this land was actually registered as industrial land. Because we don’t believe that ecology and economics are mutually exclusive, we got together with Natuurpunt Vlaanderen and local nature conservation associations to find a solution.”

"There is still space in Limburg, and that’s an advantage because renewable energy needs space if you want to work in a way that makes an impact. "– Stijn Bijnens, CEO of LRM
Getting things done

After eighteen months of negotiating we reached a compromise which all parties could agree on. Stijn Bijnens: “We widened the green buffer so that the ladybird spiders could continue to live here undisturbed.” This compromise received criticism from business organisations, which argued that it would create a precedent for future projects, a criticism which Stijn Bijnens firmly rejects. “Yes, it is true that we sacrificed an area of industrial land for the benefit of nature, but this compromise did mean that no objections were filed during the authorisation procedure. Now something is happening, whereas a trench war would have produced nothing. We took a fairly pragmatic view. Getting things done is our priority.” Jeroen Bloemen adds: “As a result of this compromise, the business park has also become more attractive: to prospective businesses that will have greater legal certainty in terms of basing themselves here without risk of objections; and to employees who will be going to work in a nicer environment.”

Solar energy as a stable asset

ING Lease is one of the partners helping to realise the project. The solar panels are being purchased via a contract with ING Lease. Commercial Director of ING Lease Filip Indigne: “Investments in renewable energy are becoming the healthiest part of our portfolio nowadays. Projects involving wind and solar energy constitute very stable and good assets for marketing at a later stage. Customers like LRM themselves also fully appreciate the strength of these assets.” 

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