WIND

Where now for renewables in the Netherlands?

The Netherlands has seen consistent growth in wind and solar in the last decade, but the Freedom Party’s election victory means this is now at risk even if Geert Wilders is unable to form the coalition he would need to govern.

RICHARD HEAP

December 4, 2023

  • Renewables in the Netherlands grew eightfold in 10 years to 2022
  • However, the anti-renewables Freedom Party won the Dutch election
  • This will amplify anti-wind sentiment even if it cannot form a coalition

 

The Netherlands is the dark horse of the European renewable energy world. The country has seen an eightfold rise in renewables capacity in the last decade, but gains less attention than powerhouse neighbours France, Germany and the UK.

The International Renewable Energy Agency reported in its 2023 annual statistics briefing in March that renewables in the Netherlands increased from 4.2GW in 2013 to 32.8GW in 2022. This was driven by a 35-fold rise in solar to 22.6GW during the decade and a more-than-trebling of wind capacity to 9.3GW in the same period.

That wind figure includes growth in offshore wind from 228MW in 2013 to 3.2GW in 2022, and is now nearer 5.4GW with two recently-completed projects. They are the 1.5GW Hollandse Kust Zuid by Vattenfall, BASF and Allianz, which was inaugurated in September; and the 759MW Hollandse Kust Noord scheme by Shell and Eneco where turbine installation completed in October.

Predictability has been key to the growth of renewables in the Netherlands over the last decade. Political support has been consistent, and the country has avoided the bureaucratic inertia and boom-and-bust cycles that have affected other countries in Europe. But is that predictability now under threat?

On 22nd November, the right-wing populist Freedom Party led by Geert Wilders won the most seats in the Dutch general election (37 of the 150 available), and became the largest party in the country’s parliament for the first time. He did so with populist right-wing policies including a ban on mosques; a referendum to leave the European Union; and a commitment to stop military aid for Ukraine.

The result also sent shockwaves through the renewable energy sector. The Freedom Party’s energy policies include an end to building new wind and solar farms; leaving the Paris climate change agreement that came into force in November 2016; and to increase support for oil and gas extraction in the Dutch North Sea. Anti-renewables policies would make life harder for developers and investors in the Netherlands.

Yet we are optimistic about the future of the Dutch renewables market. The Freedom Party’s policies may have appealed to around a quarter of Dutch voters, but they will be a huge turn-off for many in the other three quarters. It will be hard for any party to enact hard anti-renewables policies if it cannot find like-minded coalition partners.

Political wilderness

The two weeks since the election have shown the scale of the challenge for Wilders, as he has so far been unable to secure the partners needed to form a coalition.

The second-largest party in the Dutch parliament is the Labor-Green Alliance led by former European Union climate chief Frans Timmermans, which won 25 seats in the election. Timmermans has already ruled out an alliance with Wilders.

The third-largest party, the centrist conservative Freedom & Democracy Party, which won 24 seats, said it saw no appeal in a formal coalition but would consider propping up a Wilders-led minority government; and the fourth-largest party, the New Social Contract Party that won 20 seats, saw “no basis” to join a coalition with Wilders and warned that the Freedom Party’s policies could breach the Dutch constitution.

It isn’t impossible for Wilders to form a coalition government and become the prime minister, but the last two weeks have shown it will be difficult. Even if he manages it, there are no guarantees his radical anti-renewables energy policies will stay intact. We therefore expect to see continued support for wind and solar in the Netherlands.

But let’s not be blasé. There are still threats for the industry. The fact that a populist right-wing party led by a climate change denier can win most votes in an outwardly liberal European country should give us cause for concern. It means that Wilders has a far larger political platform to spread scepticism about renewables, with the impact that could have on backing for the industry and investment. We would also expect to see populist anti-renewables parties feature in elections in other European countries, and the leaders of those parties may not be stymied in the same way Wilders is.

Then there is the likely re-run of the Biden-Trump presidential race in the US in 2024, where we expect arguments about renewables and the climate to feature heavily. We may not see Wilders become Dutch prime minister, but the fact he won a quarter of the votes shows populist policies and anti-renewables leaders are not going away.

That must remain in the minds of renewables investors as 2023 draws to a close.