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Energy ministry announces winter brownout plan

11:50 04/09/2014

The federal government’s plans for selectively turning off the electricity supply to certain areas this winter – the so-called brownout – have been announced by interior minister Melchior Wathelet.

The brownout plan is a precaution in case power supplies run short this winter, as a result of the closing of nuclear reactor Doel 4, which follows the closures of Doel 3 and Tihange 2. Both of those closed in 2012 after structural defects were found. Doel 4 closed last month after an oil leak was discovered, which authorities say was an act of sabotage. Doel 4 will take at least until the end of the year to repair.

The brownout plan divides Belgium into six zones, each representing consumption of 500 megawatts. If a blackout threatens, zone six will be turned off. That zone includes municipalities across the country, with the exception of the provinces West Flanders, Namur and Luxembourg.

The next time a blackout threatens, zone five will be turned off. In this way, the government aims to ensure that the measure does not always affect the same people. The energy ministry has provided a map to show residents which zone they live in, and brownouts will always be announced a week in advance.

Brownouts will take place in the early part of the evening, between 17.00 and 20.00, and last no longer than three hours. Network manager Elia will issue a warning seven days in advance, to allow residents to make arrangements. 

Larger towns and cities are generally not included in the plan, partly because of population density and partly because electricity cabins in cities are more difficult to turn off. In the Brussels-Capital Region, only Uccle and Auderghem are affected.

The free zone also includes most of the country’s Seveso plants – industrial installations subject to strict safety rules, where an arranged switch-off of electricity would be too dangerous.

The government has also provided tips to householders on how to manage in a brownout. They include: avoid decorative lighting to save energy; turn off devices like computers and DVD players completely instead of leaving them in standby; if the power goes off; have a charged laptop on hand; use a torch rather than candles. When the power comes back on, the ministry advises, don’t switch everything on at once; give the system time to recover.

Written by Alan Hope