Cities must allow solar energy for residential heating, declares Amsterdam Court of Justice

The Municipality of Amsterdam cannot compel residents of the new ‘Sluisbuurt area’ to only have the option of energy provided from the district heating network, an outdated and controversial system that utilizes excess heat from Amsterdam’s surrounding industries. Residents who want the option of renewable energy as an alternative to natural gas must be given that option.

This was declared by the Amsterdam Court of Justice on Wednesday the 29th of April marking a massive step forward for the fossil-free movement which now has a legal precedent to further advocate for cleaner energy. 

Amsterdam Fossil Free has campaigned furiously to prevent residents of Sluisbuurt (a new housing project) from being connected to the Amsterdam district heating network without any greener alternatives. The Sluisbuurt housing project is intended to be connected to the controversial Diemen biomass power station, which would burn trees harvested from around the world, to power these homes. The non-profit has campaigned for solar panels and heat pumps as a worthy alternative to natural gas or district heating to provide the
necessary energy for heating.

Bring in the solar panels and windmills
The Amsterdam Court  argued that green energy, generated from solar panels or windmills, count as worthy “equivalent” alternatives to the outdated energy systems originally proposed by the municipality to heat over five thousand new homes. After the Court’s ruling, Vattenfall, who will operate the Amsterdam heat network, has serious doubts about the economic feasibility of district heating now that it is no longer mandatory. 

Independent builders, large project developers, and energy cooperatives who are eager to start implementing their own innovative energy-generating techniques now have the legal backing to move ahead. They are no longer confined to the constrictions of the district heating network. The case is still subject to appeal but this marks a tremendous step for a coalition of climate activists and clean energy advocates that has been gaining momentum in Amsterdam and the rest of the Netherlands.

Municipal run Waste-incinerator provides heating for thousands of Amsterdam homes

National implications
The consequences of the verdict could be national, explains Mischa Meerburg, chairman of Amsterdam Fossil Free. “The judge now declares that municipalities can no longer say: you get district heating from fossil-fuel sources, period”. This decision also pressures the City Council to fulfill its commitment to making post-Covid19 Amsterdam a “Donut Economy” city. Promoting and implementing renewable energy is a crucial part of a fossil-free economy. 

This ruling also puts the future of the Diemen biomass power station of energy giant Vattenfall in jeopardy. A power station that has faced fierce opposition from local residents and can only operate a heat network if sufficient homes are connected. Uncertainty about the number of consumers puts their business under pressure. Amsterdam Fossil Free hopes that this ruling and combined pressure from citizen groups against biomass plants, such as the Diemen power plant, will put an end to the use of fossil-fuel energy in the city of Amsterdam.      

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