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Who’s afraid of the dark?

As the autumn chill sets in, the fear of rolling blackouts this winter is growing. The record attendance of more than 300 people at a seminar on the risk of power shortages, organized by the Federation of Enterprises in Belgium (FEB-VBO) on September 29, 2014, shows the need for more clear and accurate information.

How likely are we to experience blackouts this winter? What can be done to mitigate the risk? What will be the impact of power cuts on citizens and companies?

Solidarity and Communication

At the seminar, Catherine Fonck, the now former State Secretary of Energy, called for “solidarity”. If everybody contributes to energy-saving measures, Belgium could reduce energy consumption by 300-500 MWh, approximately the capacity of the Doel 1 nuclear reactor, which may just obviate the need to implement the rolling blackout plan this winter. The ultimate goal is to not cut anybody off from power. A representative from FEBEG, the Federation of Belgian Electrical and Gas Companies, agreed: through common actions, individual cooperation and solidarity, energy shortages could be avoided.

A communication plan, developed by the FPS Economy, along with CEMAC (Crisis & Emergency Management Center) and Synergrid, will be rolled out starting today, October 15. Its objective? To proactively inform the general public and encourage companies and citizens to decrease their use of electricity. Everybody is called upon to do their part. The communication plan will primarily be conducted through social media, schools, and in public transportation.

Vision Needed

With the fear of power outages, the country needs a credible and comprehensive long-term energy policy. The current situation is not tenable. Businesses need predictability and stability, also when it comes to the security of the energy supply. Frank Vandermarliere, Chief Economist of Agoria, the technology industry association, has recently argued that the nuclear question is “causing a great deal of uncertainty and is harming investments.”

Energy is important for the future of Belgium’s industry, and the new federal government will have to show vision and leadership not only this winter, but for 2025 and beyond. It is already encouraging that in Charles Michel’s government the energy portfolio has been ‘upgraded’ from a state secretary to a ministerial post. AmCham Belgium looks forward to working with the minister, Marie-Christine Marghem, to meet the concerns of business.

Photo credit: flickr / Derek Gavey