What is it all about, in a nutshell? The system of green power subsidies was set up in 2002 to reward both individuals and companies for efforts made to generate sustainable energy, via solar panels or wind turbines for example.
What the former Flemish Energy Minister Freya Van den Bossche (socialist) didn't know, was that the system would run out of hand. The subsidies for solar panels that people installed on the roofs of their houses were generous, which triggered a massive success. An enormous number of people started installing solar panels, as they were promised a grant of 450 euros per megawatt/hour that their panels would generate, and this for a period of 20 years.
Price caps to end
The minister did not want the government but the distributors to pay the bill. Distributors were allowed to shift the bill to the suppliers. The subsidies were such a huge success that things completely ran out of hand. Suppliers such as Electrabel or EDF-Luminus, and companies that manage the infrastructure such as Eandis and Infrax therefore decided to have their consumers pay the bill.
The socialist minister for Consumers' Affairs in the previous government, Johan Vande Lanotte, saw this coming and prevented them from raising the bill by freezing electricity rates. The measure was imposed until 1 January 2015 and was not extended. Mr Vande Lanotte and the socialists have in the meantime been ousted from both the federal and the Flemish government.
As the companies couldn't raise prices, they made debts, and they also had to pay interest on that. All this triggered a massive bill of 1.7 billion euros.
"An enormous skeleton in the closet"
The new Flemish Energy Minister, Annemie Turtelboom (Flemish liberal) announced that the cost is presently estimated at 1.7 billion euros last week. This is the amount of cash that still has to be paid out in subsidies.
Companies postponed paying out the bill until next year, as they can only raise their prices from 1 January. According to estimations, this will result in consumers paying 30 to even 40 or 48 per cent more, according to the source and according to your supplier.
The system of solar panel subsidies was revised in 2009. Consumers installing soler panels now are getting substantially less money for generating solar energy. The system of individuals having solar panels installed on their roof, has completely collapsed. But the old bill from the past still has to be paid, Ms Turtelboom warns. She described it as "the discovery of an enormous skeleton in the closet" when she took office this summer.