Grid operators: climate goals out of sight due to nitrogen restrictions

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Construction of high-voltage lines
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The necessary expansion of the electricity grid is being delayed considerably by the deadlock over nitrogen. The network operators warn that the climate goals for 2030 will be jeopardized if the construction of new high-voltage lines, among other things, comes to a standstill.

Dick Weiffenbach, general director of the umbrella organization Netbeheer Nederland, estimates that 25 to 75 percent of the projects that the network operators are working on are in danger of coming to a standstill. Now that the so-called building exemption has been abolished, it is necessary to investigate how much nitrogen is released per project.

That takes so much time that those projects are delayed for years. “Nitrogen is a huge bummer”. says Weiffenbach. He wants his sector to be given an exceptional position and not end up at the back of the queue when nitrogen space is available. On Thursday, the House of Representatives will debate the nitrogen problem.

Off the gas

In order to achieve the climate targets, companies and households must get rid of gas as much as possible in the coming years, the government believes. The combustion of natural gas releases the greenhouse gas CO2.

Instead, much more use must be made of sustainable energy, mainly from solar panels and wind turbines. But to make this energy transition possible, the electricity grid must be considerably upgraded.

In some places the grid is already so busy that no new solar panels or wind turbines can be connected. And companies that want to electrify their production will be placed on a waiting list.

‘Part of the solution’

But nitrogen is also released during the construction of new energy infrastructure. Many projects, especially in nature reserves, are now having difficulty obtaining a permit because there is not enough room for nitrogen. Weiffenbach is afraid that others, such as farmers who are without a permit through no fault of their own (the so-called PAS reporters), will be given priority.

“The network operators are not part of the problem, but part of the solution,” he says. Nitrogen emissions from the construction of new pipelines and high-voltage substations are small and, moreover, temporary. And ultimately, electrification will also reduce nitrogen emissions, argues Weiffenbach. For example, the construction sector is increasingly working with electric vehicles.

Bitter pill

Minister Jetten (Climate and Energy) calls the fact that projects can be delayed “a bitter pill”. For projects that are really crucial for the energy transition, he will look at how a permit can be issued more quickly for each situation.

According to Jetten, it has also been agreed in Europe to give priority to such building plans in order to achieve the climate goals. “So we will also want to apply this in the Netherlands, and get these projects licensed as soon as possible.”

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