Renewable energy

Chris Derde, Manager at Fortech

Which challenge formed the inspiration for your project?

At the end of the last century, the renewable energy wind sector emerged in Denmark and Germany. Technological developments made wind energy an attractive option for electricity generation.

In our own region, the river Waas area in Belgium, we wanted to start harvesting wind power. We started the Wase Wind cooperative with four childhood friends by arranging finance for the wind turbines, both from ourselves and by involving as many people as possible. This also means that we are responsible for their investment.

We make sure that our business is financially healthy, but we do not need to make an excessive profit. Managing the invested money properly and continuing to pioneer are our main tasks – to producing 100% renewable energy – is our goal.

What was the innovation with which this problem was approached?

In 2000, we wanted to start up a renewable energy company with a small group of people. For years, the energy industry had been dominated by mergers and acquisitions and was in the hands of large companies. Both our company form and the technology were new. Our company structure separates ‘Fortech’ from ‘Wase Wind’, which enables us to limit the risks for the co-operators and allows us to supply profitable wind power.

We also chose the most efficient wind turbines. At their commissioning they were the largest and most powerful in the Benelux, driven by cutting-edge technology.

Since we began Wase Wind, it has become a cooperative of 2,000 people who, together, invest in wind power in their own region. The wind power is consumed by these cooperators, both in homes and in local businesses as well as in community buildings, such as sports centres and town halls.

Each customer co-invests and the profit is then also shared between them. Wind energy does sometimes meet with opposition because people have concerns about the visibility, about the shadows from the turbines or the noise they generate. But our neighbours have been our biggest fans, because we maintain close contact with them and address any inconvenience. For example, we throw parties to which everyone is invited and we host 750 students from schools in the region every year.

What effect did Triodos Bank have on the company?

When we obtained the necessary permits in 2004 for our first wind project and started its implementation, the traditional large banks stayed away from financing our project. They had no knowledge of the emerging wind sector. Triodos Bank did however and financed our project with proper conditions.

Triodos Bank also contributed knowledge about aspects including guarantees from the manufacturers that later turned out to be badly needed. Triodos Bank was therefore crucial to the start up of our projects and has remained our partner for the subsequent ones, even when other banks started queueing up to finance later projects.

What effect has the company had on the sector in which it operates?

As pioneers in the Belgian wind sector, we have played a leading role in the Flemish sustainable energy sector organisation ODE (Organisatie Duurzame Energie) and from there started up the Flemish Wind Energy Association.

We soon included all the wind companies operating in Flanders and set up cooperative initiatives with colleagues in Wallonia. VWEA has become the ‘voice’ of the wind sector as a result of high-quality consultation in study groups, and is now recognised as such by the government. Thanks to patient and considered consultation within the sector and with the government, wind energy regulations could be refined incrementally, so that the necessary guarantees are provided for both the energy companies and the people they serve.

What effect has the company had on the community?

Three wind turbines alongside a major motorway in Kruibeke, Belgium, have been producing electricity from wind energy since 2005. This production corresponds to half of the household consumption of the 15,000 residents of greater Kruibeke.

The company also constructed the ‘Braemland II’ wind project on the opposite side of the E17 motorway in Melsele. This has produced green electricity for 2,300 families since 2009. The electricity is offered by the cvba (cooperative) Wase Wind to families and agricultural and other companies in the river Waas area.

How does Triodos Bank share the vision behind the project?

Triodos Bank shares a clear long-term vision on sustainable energy with Wase Wind. In addition to building more capacity from sustainable energy sources, it is important to invest in a more resilient, socially embedded and balanced energy system. New technologies, such as the connecting of the various local players, contribute to the creation of short, efficient and decentralized chains.

The effect is increased further by local embedding in the towns, companies and communities that make use of the energy that’s generated. Sustainable models like Wase Wind’s become about more than the environment alone and also focus on wider social benefits.