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Green certificates and prosumer tariff: signs for “rich” and signs for “poor”

A text by Guy Jucquois, full professor emeritus of the University of Louvain, member emeritus of the Royal Academy of Belgium.

Driven by favorable ecological winds and encouraged by the published opinion of a senior official of the same current affirming, according to some, “that the laws should be changed if they were not suitable”, a simple citizen wonders about the question solar panels. What is it actually? The lawsuit, too little publicized, brought by a plaintiff representing the non-profit association “Touche pas à mes green certificates”, against the Walloon Region, the latter acting, she says, for the “common good”. The plaintiffs, 19,577 Walloon households, benefited from various advantages including the famous “green certificates” then promised, still according to the plaintiffs, for a period of 15 years, to which the defendants retort, in particular, that only 10 years were guaranteed and not 15. This is the subject of a dispute which also raises various questions of law which will then be mentioned in passing.

Such an interesting offer

The primary purpose of this “Carte Blanche” is to compare the parties’ theses on certain points. A first point would already be to question the title of this text. With the aim of encouraging installations aimed at supplying renewable energies, the political power of the time offered certain Walloon households particularly interesting conditions in the placement and use of photovoltaic panels. Attracted by the offer, 19,577 households embarked on what was clearly an excellent operation. Indeed, the installation of the panels cost them nothing, on the contrary, because the electricity produced was consumed on site or bought back by the network. The famous green certificates also financially rewarded those who had placed panels in such conditions. We can think that these households came from underprivileged sections of the population. From what we know, they are more of the middle class, generally upper. No reproach to address them individually, why would they have refused an interesting offer from the public authorities? But collectively and politically? Indeed, after a few years, the political power had changed and the successors had inherited a slate all the more unwelcome, among other things, because the general situation had changed profoundly. Many citizens then wondered why the previous political power had favored certain citizens.

Differences in treatment

But, before continuing let’s quantify the two camps: the first, through the voice of the Walloon Region, would be more than one and a half million Walloon households, the second, grouped together in the ASBL, less than twenty thousand households. Moreover and beyond the eloquent figures, let us add that the initial situation had changed considerably. European and Belgian, federal and regional provisions had since been adopted with the same perspective of promoting renewable energies, but in a very different way. For the vast majority of Walloon citizens who wanted to contribute to renewable energies by also placing panels, the Region has turned out to be much more parsimonious and aid has become scarce or has simply disappeared. Individuals were most often forced, therefore, to borrow from banks and, where appropriate, to become “prosumers”, which constitutes a very different financial regime from that of their predecessors, the holders of “green certificates”. “. In addition to this important difference in treatment for the installation of panels, there is also the question of “green certificates”, which have now disappeared for a large number of households. These differences in treatment between a few thousand beneficiaries of regional largesse and the rest of the Walloon population are obviously very badly perceived and experienced.

There is, however, yet another aspect of the matter that requires our attention. It concerns the financial and budgetary aspects as well as more general provisions relating to resources and the use of energy. The CWaPE did the accounts for the Walloon Region. Decisions were taken in 2014 – 2015. It was necessary to reduce the subsidies to the installations and to rationalize the transfers of electricity, the whole “in good father of family”. Those who had not been able to profit financially from the regional “windfall”, by investing amounts which they would recover largely afterwards, as well as all those who considered that the distribution of public funds was not acceptable under such conditions remained , as the expression goes, on the “tile”. From this was born the lawsuit under way today. The defendant rightly states that, if the Walloon Region had not rectified the situation in 2014-2015, the electricity bills of all Walloons would have increased by at least € 250 annually until 2027. As expected, the plaintiff contests this encrypted data. The defense asserts, for its part, that the Walloon Region should act in this way and that it has protected the general interest. In view of all the figures, it is indeed difficult to dispute this last element.

Beyond what appears to be the heart of the dispute, other important legal questions arise or will arise in prosecution. The first, which immediately comes to mind, is the legal qualification to be given to the proposal initially emanating from the public authorities and on what, legally, could or should be based such a proposal. A second question concerns the responsibility of public authorities when they engage in a future which is, as everyone knows, uncertain. A third is even more delicate, but it seems necessary to us to ask it. It is about the retroactivity and the proactivity of arrangements made at a given point in time. We know the world is changing, and apparently fast nowadays. Consequently, to what extent can the public authorities decide and commit – especially in favor of such a small percentage of the population – to a distant future that we know nothing about in the light of twenty years?

>>> The chapter, the title and the sub-titles are from the writing. Original title: “Signs of the ‘rich’ and signs of the ‘poor'”.

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