Above or below ground: will final report on new high-voltage line end Flemish saga?

On Friday, German expert Dirk Westermann will present his report on Ventilus, the new high-voltage line that will transport electricity from wind farms in the North Sea to the Belgian hinterland. But even before the results are known, several mayors are questioning his neutrality.

In recent months, the Ventilus project has caused quite a stir, as there is still disagreement over whether the 82-km-long high-voltage line should be above-ground or underground. The Flemish government already took the decision to build the Ventilus high-voltage line above ground in early September. But in order to satisfy the local West Flanders mayors, an additional study was launched, which was to re-examine the conclusions of previous reports, as well as an underground alternative.

The new report will be delivered on Friday by German professor Dirk Westermann, an expert in underground electricity connections, who was appointed at the intercession of the mayors. But those same mayors are now burying Westermann's report before anyone has even read it.

"If it cannot be done underground, then it must be done above ground. We can not wait any longer to decide."

"Westermann himself indicated in a conversation with the citizens' movements that he finds it difficult to do anything that is not in line with Elia's interests," Bart Dochy (CD&V), mayor of Ledegem and face of the protest, told Gazet van Antwerpen. Dochy points to the links between Westermann University and Elia, the transmission system operator that wants to build Ventilus above ground.

Still, CD&V, Dochy's party, wants to put an end to the saga. "An objective report has been requested from an expert. Once his report is there, we should dare to make a decision based on those conclusions," someone within the CD&V party management told Gazet van Antwerpen. "And if it cannot be done underground, then it must be done above ground. We can not wait any longer to decide."

Meanwhile, the cabinet of Environment minister Zuhal Demir (N-VA) informed that there are no indications that Westermann's report will be incomplete. "The intendant's report and the mayors' proposals have been handed to him with a request to discuss them in his report." Therefore, according to the cabinet, there is no reason to assume that a decision on the dossier cannot be taken this month.

Ventilus is to bring green power generated in wind farms in the North Sea ashore for further distribution. Currently, only Zeebrugge has a sea cable coming ashore from the North Sea. With Ventilus, there will be a second undersea connection to the UK.



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