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Heat/cold storage addressed in the Covenant Policy on Soil Development


At the end of last year the Covenant Policy on Soil Development and Plan of Action Emergency Locations was published in the Netherlands Government Gazette (Staatscourant). The covenant means a change in soil policy and shift of authorities from the central government to the provinces and municipalities. Given the need for a clear regulatory framework for heat/cold storage (WKO) and in anticipation of further regulation, the covenant specifically addresses WKO.

Efficient and sustainable use of the subsoil
The covenant is entered into between the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (VROM), the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Watermanagement and the Association of Provincial Authorities (Interprovinciaal Overleg), the Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG) and the Association of Waterboards. It aims to amend soil policy in order to benefit from opportunities offered by an efficient use of the subsoil (e.g. for thermal energy, CO2 and gas storage) and to enhance coordination between different policy objectives (e.g. energy, water, biodiversity, soil and spatial planning).

Transition to integrated soil policy
Under the covenant the government shall develop a vision on the sustainable use of the subsoil, taking into account opportunities and treats in relation to the use of the subsoil. On the basis of the covenant parties aim to integrate the use of the subsoil, groundwater management and soil remediation into the soil policy. This requires further innovation, a clear vision on the use of the subsoil, research on the effects of the use of the subsoil and agreement on the interaction of soil objectives and renewable energy (in particular WKO), agreement on groundwater management and the control of soil pollution risks. The covenant requires parties to prepare an implementation plan (referred to as the 'National Vision of the Subsoil'), which will set out the required amendment of laws and regulations and will contain further details on the allocation of authority. In addition, parties are required to develop an innovation program to ensure that the subsoil shall be integrated in spatial developments.

In order to acquire knowledge on the opportunities of the subsoil the covenant stipulates that a study will be conducted over a period of 5 years. In addition, the central storage site for geoscientific data on the Dutch subsoil DINO shall be expanded to become the basis for the registration of the subsoil.

The covenant furthermore deals with large scale groundwater pollution and decontamination of so-called 'humane emergency sites' that require decontamination on the basis of article 37 Soil Protection Act. This document will, however, not further elaborate on these issues. Below we will solely focus on WKO.

Lack of regulation of WKO
In the search for the reduction of CO2 and environmental- and resource-friendly energy supply, the subsoil is to an increasing decree being used for heat/cold storage, gas- and CO2 storage. In particular in relation to WKO further regulation is deemed necessary. Licenses for WKO are allocated on the basis of first come first served and a clear system to weigh interests is lacking. The increased use of WKO gives rise to legal questions as the thermal influence of a heat/cold system on the surrounding subsoil can affect neighbouring premises. The current lack of a clear regulatory framework gives rise to issues with respect to the allocation of available sites, the ownership of thermal energy as well as safety and environmental risks. These risks are acknowledged by the Dutch government.

Taskforce WKO
At the request of the Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment, the Taskforce WKO has on 23 March 2009 published the report "Green light for Thermal Energy". The report focuses on incentives for WKO, the conditions that would need to be met and the role of the government. In its report the Taskforce distinguishes 3 concepts to avoid interference: (i) the 'groundwater' concept; in this concept the permitting procedure shall include the development of a masterplan for the areas at risk of interference that shall serve as policy rules for the permit allocation; (ii) the 'spatial planning' concept; where the zoning plan will include data on the subsoil such as the percentage of groundwater that may be used per site, and (iii) the 'economic' concept; introducing a system of tradable rights for the use of groundwater, heat and cold.

The Taskforce has indicated to prefer the second concept, but acknowledges that in areas with limited subsoil activity the first concept may also be used. In anticipation of further regulation following this report, WKO is addressed in the covenant.

National Vision of the Subsoil
The covenant stipulates that, unless in a particular project any other form of renewable energy is deemed more efficient, (large scale) WKO shall be implemented in large construction projects (both new development and renovation). It furthermore states that it needs to be examined whether the effects of WKO on the soil and water system will have to be monitored. This will be further elaborated on in the National Vision of the Subsoil that is expected to be published this spring. It is expected that this document will also address the issue of interference. In addition, further arrangements need to be made in order to stimulate the coordinated use of WKO in areas with large scale groundwater pollution so as to facilitate the control and remediation of such pollution.

The covenant itself therefore does not solve the abovementioned issues of interference and conflicts of interests, but merely forms the basis for the National Vision of the Subsoil. It is expected that the report of the Taskforce WKO will help to define the future policy on WKO as will be set out in the National Vision.

As a result of the motion Samson (dated 10 December 2009) the government shall simultaneously with the National Vision publish an action plan for geothermics.

If you have any questions or remarks regarding this Newsflash please do not hesitate to contact:
Cecilia van der Weijden
Jacqueline Feld


Portrait of Cecilia Weijden
Cecilia van der Weijden
Jacqueline Feld