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Production site with wind mills © wienerberger Belgium

The Power of Wind: wienerberger Belgium Relies on Green Electricity

Fair winds for the energy supply of the future: wienerberger Belgium is setting standards for the transition to clean electricity at its site in Beerse.

07.02.2024 6 min

The Beerse brick plant in Absheide is one like many others – but only at first glance. Situated between small woods and on the banks of a canal, it has two wind turbines on site. Their rotor blades turn majestically in the wind, generating the electricity that is used at the plant. Here, in a quiet little Belgian town not far from Antwerp, wienerberger Belgium is driving the transition to low-emission and renewable energy sources. What’s more, the green electricity generated on the site benefits both brick production and the local community.

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families benefit from the project

wienerberger Belgium: Electricity from Wind and Solar Power

wienerberger Belgium has long had its sights on generating electricity from wind and solar power. “In 2005 we began conducting feasibility studies at our plants to evaluate their potential for generating green electricity. Our first solar project went into operation four years later, our first wind turbine in 2013,” says Kurt Cornette. As Technical Director he is responsible for technical and operational support at the Belgian production plants: “I am passionate about renewable energies, in both my private and professional life. I love the thrill of finding the best solutions for our production sites.”

However, projects to harness renewable energies frequently run into obstacles. The company’s first planning application for a wind power plant was rejected due to lack of support from the local community. “But we learned our lesson: If you want to build a wind power plant, you have to get the local population and council on board. We now engage in dialogue with local people to gain acceptance for our projects. That’s how we did it in Beerse, too,” explains the industrial engineer who specializes in electrical energy.

“If you want to build a wind power plant, you have to get the local population and council on board. We now engage in dialogue with local people to gain acceptance.”

Portrait

Kurt Cornette

Technical Director at wienerberger Belgium

Organization at the Plant: A Strong Team for Wind Power

But back to Beerse: Some ten years after the rotor blades of the first wind turbine began turning at wienerberger Belgium, two new wind power plants were taken into operation. They were the result of a collaboration between wienerberger Belgium, the power company Eneco and the Campina Energie cooperative. At the production site, a 10-member team led by Philippe Nowak is responsible for the organization and coordination with Eneco.

“Originally, the spot where the two wind turbines now stand was used for storing bricks and raw materials. There was a lot to be considered: from finding a new storage site to ensuring that brick production could continue smoothly during construction as well as safeguards for when the rotor blades ice up in winter,” says Kurt Cornette. Financing and the day-to-day operation of the turbines are the responsibility of Eneco. The sale and purchase of the electricity is governed by a long-term contract – a so-called Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) concluded between Wienerberger and the energy supplier. 

Six people press on a read button together © wienerberger Belgium
At the touch of a button: In March 2023, the wind energy plants were taken into operation in the presence of wienerberger Belgium’s CEO Caroline Van de Velde, the Mayor of Beerse and the Minister President of Flanders.

Wind Power for Beerse: Local Dialogue is Essential

From the local community to neighbors and employees at the site – they reap the benefits but also bear the burdens of the wind turbines. So how did everyone in Beerse manage to pull together? “My colleague and Public Affairs Manager for Sustainability, Anita Ory, together with Eneco, engaged with the stakeholders. They did a fantastic job,” says Kurt Cornette proudly.

At information events, the project partners discussed the benefits of the scheme with local residents who were also able to raise any objections they had. Those who were interested were invited to go on an excursion to an existing Eneco wind turbine. Here, residents of Beerse had the opportunity to witness wind power at first hand and were able to talk to people living in the neighborhood.

Two wind turbines behind houses © Eneco

Wind Power in Summer: Barbecues with Shadow Protection

How can you prevent wind turbine rotors from casting shadows? The answer: by using a special software. During the summer, the software shuts down the wind turbines before they begin casting shadows over nearby houses. This enables people in the neighborhood to relax in their gardens or have a barbecue while enjoying the sun with no annoying flickering shadows. With this solution, wienerberger Belgium goes well beyond the legal requirements. 

Energy Transition: Participation in Renewable Energies

Another special feature of the project: The wind power plants are part of a unique participation model. “We developed the project according to the principle ‘Wind from everyone, Wind for everyone.’ This way, the neighbors and the town of Beerse benefit from the wind power,” Kurt Cornette notes.

The 90 families who live closest to the turbines were able to choose one of three options: For wienerberger Belgium to pay a portion of their electricity bill. Or to opt for an “Eco voucher“ – which is commonly used in Belgium to buy goods and services with added ecological value. Alternatively, they can even receive a share of the profits from the turbines thanks to a partnership with Campina Energie. Families enjoy these benefits for the first 15 years from the date the wind turbines are taken into operation. 

“We developed the project according to the principle ‘Wind from everyone, Wind for everyone.’ This way, the neighbors and the town of Beerse benefit from the wind power.”

Portrait

Kurt Cornette

Technischer Leiter bei wienerberger Belgien

Decarbonization: Production with Renewable Energy

Today, the Beerse plant uses approximately half the locally produced wind power for brick production. The remainder is fed into the electricity grid. In addition, solar panels with an electrical output of 7.1 Megawatt-peak (MWp) have been installed on the roofs of wienerberger Belgium’s plants. Moreover, since 2021 the company has only purchased energy from renewable sources that have a guarantee of origin. These measures thus also contribute to reducing wienerberger Belgium’s indirect CO2 emissions (Scope 2). Another leverage for decarbonization is electrification. Read more here: Production and Transport: Committed to the Energy Revolution.

What’s more, the successful project in Beerse has set a precedent. wienerberger Belgium is currently planning a total of three wind turbines, one at the nearest production site Nova, which is only 5 kilometers away, and two on other sites belonging to IOK, a cooperation partner specializing in waste management – and other nearby companies want to follow suit. “We have taken the first step to establishing wind power in the region. I am proud that our success is having such an impact and that we can share wienerberger’s expertise across borders,” says Kurt Cornette. For wienerberger Belgium, the roll out of sustainable energy is not a project for the distant future, but one it is right in the middle of.

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