Belgian Court of Appeal rejects lawsuit against Flanders’ grid-fee for residential PV

On November 22, Belgium’s Court of Appeal in Brussels ruled against a lawsuit challenging the grid-fee for residential PV installations with a capacity of up to 10 kW, which was introduced in 2015 by the government of the Flemish-speaking macro-region of Flanders.

According to a statement from the region’s energy regulator VREG, the lawsuit was filed by local company Zonstraal VZW and two private citizens against the government’s 2015-2016 tariff, and the associated fees. They claimed the grid-fee for PV negatively affected those who installed solar modules on their roofs. As a result, VREG said the 2017-2020 tariffs, including the grid-fee for residential PV, will be maintained.

“The Flemish PV sector supports that solar owners pay their fair share of grid costs,” director of the local solar association PV-Vlaanderen, Bram Claeys, told pv magazine. “While the prosumer tax is definitely not without fault, the court’s decision in favor of keeping it in place was not unexpected. Even with the prosumer tax, small PV systems remain very interesting investments for households and small businesses. This was the case before the court decision, and remains the case tomorrow. So we are unfazed and just keep on working hard to increase solar PV’s growing contribution to Belgium’s energy mix.”

The association hopes the prosumer tax will be dropped when a new capacity-based distribution grid tariff system comes into play. This will probably occur in 2020, according to Claeys.

Regarding another lawsuit against the 2015-2016 tariff, which has been ongoing since the autumn of 2014, VREG said it did not know when a final ruling would be issued.

Prosumer fees

The prosumer tax is a fixed annual fee based on the inverter capacity of a PV system. This, according to Claeys, leads to inverters being systematically undersized, in order to reduce the prosumer fee. The fee is, on average, €90/kW, but can vary depending on the distribution network operator. The prosumer tax is only applied to the PV system installed under net metering. “A residential PV owner can opt to install a bidirectional meter, and sell all the injected power on the market. In that case, the prosumer tax is not levied. But very few people use this option, because prices for small PV electricity are very low,” Claeys told pv magazine.

Despite maintaining the grid-fee for residential PV, Flanders’ commercial PV segment has recently regained momentum, following a series of initiatives by the region’s Energy Minister Bart Tommelein, to further support solar projects exceeding 10 kW.

In October, Tommelein announced that the duration of support for mid-sized solar and wind power projects was stretched from 15 to 20 years for wind and was reduced from 15 to 10 years for solar. The change of the duration of support, however, has not reduced the support levels, just the period over which the support is awarded.

“These technical modifications,” Claeys said at the time, “are a much-needed breath of fresh air for investors in middle sized rooftop solar projects. At the same time, we need to see more fundamental measures to go above and beyond current projections of renewables for 2020, so we have a shot at closing the gap towards the Belgian renewables target.”

Belgium’s second largest macro-region, the French-speaking Wallonia, will introduce a similar grid-fee for PV starting from 2020.