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Pressure on electricity supply means higher prices this winter
Belgium is facing electricity supply shortages and rising bills for consumers as output from the country's nuclear power stations fails to keep up with demand, experts have warned.
Consumer association Test-Achats says energy bills are certain to increase this winter, after it was announced that the Tihange 3 reactor will be shut down for five months longer than planned. It will now not reopen until after the cold season, in March instead of late September.
According to Professor Damien Ernst, an energy expert at the University of Liège, rising wholesale electricity prices mean the average annual household bill could be €100 to €150 higher this year.
He said that with the country's power stations currently operating at about a third of their normal capacity - 2,000 MW out of a potential 6,000 - Belgium has to import energy from its neighbours on the "extremely tense" wholesale market.
According to Ernst, this Monday evening at about 21.00 will see the season's first big spike in the price Belgium pays for electricity, with wholesale prices expected to be 10 times higher than usual at €411 per megawatt hour.
He said it was worrying that such a price surge was occurring so early in the year. "These price peaks are likely to continue and be more frequent in the cold months," he added.
Supply problems are especially possible in November - when only one of Belgium's seven nuclear reactors will be operating, bringing capacity down to just 1,000MW. If November is cold, demand will far outstrip supply.
Danielle Devogelaer from Belgium's Federal Planning Bureau told VRT: "There is an increased likelihood that a number of towns will have temporary power cuts. The electricity supply in November will not always be sufficient to meet the total demand."
Belgian federal energy minister Marie-Christine Marghem said: "We remain very vigilant. We continue to observe the supply day by day."