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18 augustus 2015

Dutch mayors fight windmills at sea

A recent announcement that around 700 windmills will be set up 10 nautical miles from the shore has caused a major stir in beach towns such as Noordwijk, Katwijk, Wassenaar and Zandvoort. The four mayors of the towns have rolled up their sleeves to make a point towards Minister Henk Kamp. Fear of losing an 'endless seascape' has caused this uproar. The Don Quixotes of the 21st century are taking a stand. JOEP DERKSEN reports.
Mayors in the ‘land of windmills’ have teamed up to fight against... windmills. The start of the windmill clash was on 23 December 2010. At that time, the Dutch government announced in the Staatscourant (state newspaper) that Eneco would be allowed to set up a windmill project called 'Luchterduinen'. Municipalities are allowed to object to this decision, but because this news was announced two days before Christmas apparently not one single civil servant of the coastal towns and villages took the time to read through the Staatscourant. And after a few weeks, the time to object had passed.
Currently, platforms are built in the North Sea at 12 nautical miles (19.3 kilometres) from the coast. These windmills should provide power to 150,000 households. This development has apparently led the Dutch government to undertake more initiatives regarding the use of windmills. The sea is an excellent location to place these 200-meters-high windmills. There should be no angry civilians complaining about the noise, it was thought. Yet, the NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”) mentality is still alive. The villages and cities near the coast are strongly opposed to the arrival of an additional 700 or so windmills even closer to shore, at 10 nautical miles (18.5 kilometres).
An action group (what else?) was set up and more than 17,000 signatures against the windmills were collected via the website www.petities24.com/verzetwindmolens. Even the mayors of four beach villages took a political stand and went to the beach of Noordwijk. As a public statement they signed picture postcards to send them over to the responsible minister, Henk Kamp. With these postcards they tried to convince the minister to reconsider his decision to have the windmills placed at a distance of 18 kilometres from the coast. There is fear that the number of tourists will dwindle, because they can't see the sun sink into the endless sea anymore.
And why are 17,000 people so afraid of windmills? A green way of turning wind into electrical power? Okay, it is true that these windmills suck up a few billion euros in government funding. But at this moment, there's no real alternative in green energy. There are some interesting developments, such as tidal energy. But these are still in an experimental phase. Later this year five turbines will start operating between the piers of the Oosterscheldedam, thus creating energy. These turbines are sort of windmills under water. The Dutch company Tocardo developed the turbines and they will supply enough power for over 1,000 households.
It is an interesting alternative, but comes too late to make sure that the Netherlands will reach its ultimate goal in 2020. In that year, 14 per cent of all energy usage should come from renewable sources. In 2013, this number was only 4.5 per cent. For the next few years, the government wants 700 windmills to be built at sea, creating about 2 per cent of the total electricity use in the Netherlands.
But these numbers cannot convince the mayors of the coastal areas to give in to the proposal. They continue their fight against the windmills. At least where it concerns their own back yard, or should we say ‘back water’. Jos Wienen, the mayor of Katwijk, states, “We are in favour of windmills, but we want to have them placed in IJmuiden Ver (at 23 nautical miles from the Dutch coast). We don't want to have a fence of windmills along the coast. Then we will have an industrial landscape near the beach. Place these windmills a little further away; then you can also set up more of these windmills.”
His colleague, Noordwijk mayor Jan Rijpstra, totally agrees. “At IJmuiden Ver, more than three times as many windmills can be placed, with a total of 6,000 megawatt. And realising this alternative costs just a little more: only 70 euro cents per household per year (equivalent to 5.3 million euros). Place these windmills at IJmuiden Ver and as a nation we can make a giant leap towards renewable energy!'
However, Kamp is not convinced. He has written in a letter to Parliament that IJmuiden Ver is not a realistic alternative. He prefers wind regions offshore just before the coast of the provinces Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland. According to Kamp, IJmuiden Ver is too expensive compared to the current windmill plans. The Dutch government has started a procedure to appoint two strips in front of the Dutch coast for the arrival of the windmills.
And what do the tourists think? The Holland Times spoke with some German visitors to Noordwijk and, basically, they don't care whether the windmills will be placed 10 miles from the shore or not. “Of course we will still come to Noordwijk when the windmills have been placed. We also have windmills near our beaches in Germany,” one tourist said.
Still, the mayors persist in their resistance to the arrival of the windmills. Wienen says, “We have to stand up against this threat of the arrival of 700 windmills near our beaches. The time has come to speak up. It is now or never. The experience of the endlessness of the sea is at stake.”

(This article was written for The Holland Times).