Een kijk op de VVGB-weigering door de ogen van een studente

Heb je een zin in een ander soort leesstof? Tijd om je te verdiepen in een kritisch academisch opinieartikel over de weigering van de VVGB, geschreven door een studente Metropolitan Analysis, Design & Engineering? Lees dan vooral verder!

Gone with the wind

A critical essay on the unexpected rejection of the VVGB for the Wind Park project in Amsterdam Noord

AMS MADE

Metropolitan Innovators

December, 2023

Abstract – This essay examines the dynamics surrounding the proposed wind park project in Amsterdam Noord through three theoretical perspectives: socio-technical, spatial justice, and ecosystems. The research explores the justification of the recent rejection of the Declaration of No Reservations (VVGB) by the Provincial Council, addressing the Provincial’s concerns related to housing, traffic safety, and the health of neighbours. Findings reveal potential procedural irregularities, raising questions about the fairness of the decision-making process. Additionally, the essay touches upon the procedural injustice experienced by local residents. The essay calls for a generalizable participatory plan to address stakeholder concerns and emphasizes the importance of upholding democratic integrity. From my perspective, the Provincial Council's decision seems legally flawed, necessitating a re-evaluation to ensure a fair democratic process.

Keywords – wind turbines, energy cooperatives, declaration of no reservations (VVGB), provincial council, socio-technical transition.

1. Introduction

Aaaaah….. the picturesque windmills of the Netherlands, alongside the iconic clogs, canals, and perhaps the renowned flexible marijuana legislation, it renders the country an iconic tourist destination. While windmills may no longer be a prevalent subject in Dutch societal discourse, wind turbines and the broader spectrum of renewable energy occupy a significant position on the political agenda.

A recent topic of the political agenda in Amsterdam has been the plan to build a 100% cooperative wind park in the Noorder IJ-plas to create renewable energy for 20.000 households in Amsterdam Noord, Oostzaan, and Zaanstad. Unfortunately, this project came unexpectedly to an end when the Provincial Council (PC) voted against the Declaration of No Reservations - ‘Verklaring Van Geen Bedenkingen’ (VVGB).  

In this essay, I will delve into the dynamics of the plan to build the wind park in Amsterdam Noord, and try to determine to what extent the PC can justify its decision. The dynamics of the project will be explained by providing you with the background story on the project (Ch2) and the governance structure of this socio-technical energy transition (Ch3). Next, Chapter 4 the topics of debate will be examined to determine justification. Lastly, Chapter 5 will discuss and conclude upon the chapters above. All this will be done using three perspectives of an metropolitan innovator: the socio-technical, spatial justice, and ecosystems perspective.

2. The story of the Noorder IJ-plas wind park

In collaboration with the three citizen energy cooperatives, NDSM Energie was planning the development of three wind turbines in the Noorder IJ-plas (Figure 1). This windpark would provide 20.000 households with sustainable electricity, but also adjust the landscape of 65 housing boats in the lake severely.

Figure 1. Potential location of the wind turbines in the Noorder IJ-plas. The red line represents the living boats in the lake (van der Bijl, 2019, Accessed on December 20, 2023).

The start of this project dates to the mid-2000s, catalysed by the environmental call of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth” (2006). A year later, the first energy cooperative in Amsterdam Noord was created, signalling the community's early commitment to sustainable energy. However, strict provincial requirements posed significant hurdles, momentarily impeding progress (NDSM Wind, 2023). A pivotal moment occurred in 2019 with the Dutch national 'Klimaatakkoord,' aiming for 70% sustainable electricity production by 2030 (MEZEK, 2019). In alignment, Amsterdam planned to construct seventeen new wind turbines by 2030 (Noord-Hollandse Energieregio, 2020; 2021). The wind turbines were envisioned not as profit-driven assets for corporations but as communal resources targeting 50% local ownership (Gemeente Amsterdam, 2021). This empowers residents in decision-making and economic benefits. The municipality's commitment to cooperative wind turbines and  the revised provincial regulations paved the way for the realization of the Noorder IJ-plas wind park.

The project's realization depended on obtaining the VVGB from the Province—an approval requiring deviation from the established zoning plan. The approval process is intricately tied to spatial planning considerations, meaning that rejection can only occur if spatial planning were found inadequate. Prerequisites for securing the VVGB cover specified standards for noise, nature, shadow cast, safety, and energy generation while also protecting the surrounding environment (Omgevingsdienst Noordzeekanaal, 2023).

The procedural journey involved expert evaluations conducted by the 'Omgevingsdienst' (Environmental Services), who, in October 2023, issued a favourable recommendation for the issuance of the VVGB (Omgevingsdienst Noordzeekanaalgebied, 2023). This positive evaluation was subsequently endorsed by the ‘Gedeputeerde Staten’ (Executive Councils), affirming to the PC that the wind park adhered to proper spatial planning standards (Gedeputeerde Staten Noord-Holland, 2023). Nevertheless, the project encountered an unexpected twist on November 13, 2023, when a majority of the PC voted against the draft VVGB. The PC rejected the VVGB because of three topics of debate: health impacts for residents, traffic safety, and future housing construction (Provinciale Staten Noord-Holland, 2023).  

3. The governance of the socio-technical energy transition

Wind turbines play a crucial role in the energy transition, however, the tall, giant-like creatures alter the landscape significantly. As technology advances, societal and environmental acceptance becomes paramount, requiring a sustainable socio-technical transition (Chen et al., 2019; Geels et al., 2017; Rohracher, 2018; Xu, 2021). This shift involves managing not only the transition to a more efficient energy system but also addressing social and environmental considerations (Chen et al., 2019).

Understanding the governance of situations of transition is essential. Governance encompasses the systems, processes, and institutions through which communities are organized. Its rules are established in multi-stakeholder processes involving civil society, the public sector, and the private sector (Rocco, 2023a). The governance of the wind park is represented in the triangle below (Figure 2.)

Figure 2. Governance triangle of the Noorder IJplas windpark. Based on Rocco’s Governance triangle (2023a).

According to Geels’ Multi-level Perspective (2005), socio-technical transitions unfold via the interplay of processes across three conceptual levels: the micro-level, which corresponds to the niche; the meso-level, representing the socio-technical regime; and the macro-level, which is the socio-technical landscape.

At the niche level, radical innovations occur in small markets, allowing for learning processes and network building (Geels, 2005). These innovations, however, are not solely market-based innovations. Grassroots innovations are "enacted by local volunteers and activists," (Geels, 2019, p. 195) distinguishing them from market-driven innovations. The organisers of the wind project can be seen as radical niche innovators.

In contrast, the socio-technical regime represents the pre-existing and deeply rooted socio-technical system, encompassing its technologies, artifacts, actors, structures, norms, and rules. The socio-technical landscape refers to macro-economic factors that exist external to both the niche and the regime (Geels & Schot, 2007).

Currently, we are in the middle of the energy transition. Landscape pressures continue pushing and radical niche innovators are looking for the right window of opportunity (Figure 3).

Figure 3. The multi-level perspective theory on socio-technical transitions (Geels, 2005).

NDSM Energie thought they had seen that window. Technology had improved and legislation on wind turbines has changed in the socio-technical regime. In addition, pressures from the socio-technical landscape had become more severe. The urgency moving away from fossil fuels has become real, emphasized by scientists in the UNFCC climate change reports. This was also emphasized by governments worldwide via (non-legally-binding) agreements worldwide to halt temperature rising during the Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen (2009) and Paris (2015), and by, often youth-led, climate change activist organisations, such as Fridays For Future or extinction rebellion. In addition, the financial landscape of fossil fuels has changed over time. The expectation of, seemingly, unlimited economic growth abruptly came to a halt in the financial crisis of 2008. This impacted the long-term equilibrium and efficiency of the fossil fuel market severely (Joo et al., 2020). The transition became real, and evermore urgent.

4. The rejection of the VVGB

After understanding the governance of the situation, it is time to examine the concept-rejection of the VVGB. These arguments come from minutes of the PC debate on December 13, 2023. For the rejection to be finalised, it needs to be approved by the Executive Council. The following Chapter will examine the main reasons of the PC for rejecting the VVGB during the respective debate.

Concern on housing

One of the focal points emerging from the PC’s VVGB debate revolves around concerns related to future residential development. Various parties, including BBB, VVD, and PvdD, argue that the initiators of the wind park overlooked potential hindrances of shadow cast for residential development posed by the wind turbines (Provinciale Staten Noord-Holland, 2023). This contention aligns with concept of the 'Tragedy of the Commons' (Hardin, 1968) in the ecosystem perspective. This is an economic dilemma where individual pursuits of self-interest lead to the exploitation of shared resources, resulting in excessive consumption and detriment to the collective well-being of society.

In the context of the wind park, the shared resource is the available surface area. The wind turbines not only utilize the areas of erection but also cast shadows across the surroundings, occupying additional ground space. In this economic equation, the initiators of the wind park serve as the individuals, and the neighbouring properties as ‘the commons’. This shadow effect, as noted by Lifshitz-Goldberg (2010), could diminish the value of properties neighbouring the wind park. Consequently, one could argue that the wind park has the potential to deplete available surface area and negatively impact the potential of this surface for residential developments.

Contrary to these concerns, akin to current residential areas, the initiators of the wind park have proactively engaged in agreements with the neighbouring municipality of Zaanstad. These agreements entail the commitment to mitigate potential hindrance from cast shadows on new residential buildings by strategically turning off the wind turbines when necessary (Commissie Leefomgeving, 2023). Beyond mitigating hinder, there are arrangements by initiators of the wind park offering  benefits to the neighbourhood, including the opportunity to purchase renewable electricity at fair price and receive compensation through the 'omgevingsfonds' (neighborhood fund) or 'omgevingsregeling' (neighbourhood arrangement).

In light of these measures, the argument presented by certain political parties appears incorrect. The initiators of the wind park have evidently taken into account and act upon the potential hinder to the development of new residential areas. Consequently, the ‘tragedy of the commons’ is no longer that tragic.

Concern on traffic safety

A significant factor contributing to the rejection of the VVGB pertained to concerns about traffic safety around the traffic node of the Coensplein (Provinciale Staten Noord-Holland, 2023).  In March 2023, the Department of Waterways and Public Works, Rijkswaterstaat, requested an analysis of the road image, analysing consequences of the construction and operation of the wind turbines for traffic safety. This analysis was conducted by traffic expert office Goudappel.

During the analysis, Goudappel discovered that a potential unsafe situation could occur on the highway from Oostzaan towards Coensplein. The highway is complex, adding wind turbines may lead to distraction for some of the drivers. The remaining eight out of nine highway routes at Coensplein were considered to be safe (Goudappel, 2023). The initiators were still discussing mitigation possibilities with Rijkswaterstaat to combat the distraction, allowing for safety on the road. The wind turbines could be partly hidden from the view from the highway, ensuring that drivers can stay focused. This is a usual process during construction projects next to highways (Goudappel, 2023).

Right before the Provincial Council’s debate, the Rijkswaterstaat sent an incomplete and premature report to the Provincial Council. This report did not include the mitigation measures, and stated that the construction would create an unsafe traffic situation (Goudappel, 2023). It still remains unclear for the initiators why Rijkswaterstaat released the incomplete report to the Provincial Council, while still discussing the mitigating options with the initiators of the wind park. This has led to confusion within the Provincial Council (Provinciale Staten Noord-Holland, 2023), and raised questions from the initiators about the jurisdictional consequences of such actions.

Examining this situation through the lens of spatial justice reveals that we, as the initiators of the wind park, perceived a form of procedural injustice within the democratic process. Procedural justice refers to the (un)fairness evident in the negotiation and decision-making processes or within the governance structures of the built environment (Rocco, 2023b). In addition, it shows that knowledge and power are intrinsically linked. Drawing on Foucault's perspective (1977), the intertwining of knowledge and power becomes evident. According to Foucault (1977), power is grounded in knowledge and uses knowledge as a tool. Simultaneously, power creates and shapes knowledge in alignment with its undisclosed intentions (Foucault, 1977). The incomplete advice from Rijkswaterstaat shaped the decisions made by governmental bodies, showcasing how knowledge, when incomplete or biased, can influence the exercise of power. This raises concerns about the fairness of the decision-making process.

Concern on health of neighbours

The central point of concern, and heated topic of the debate, was based on the potential health impacts for neighbouring residents (Provinciale Staten Noord-Holland, 2023). While wind turbines have spatial implications, they also evoke strong emotions that transcend rational arguments (Sijmons & Van Dorst, 2012). From a rational standpoint, the project aligns with all health requirements for both individuals and their environment. The wind turbines are designed to stay well below the 45 dB noise boundary (Derikx & Velthuijsen, 2023), and shadow cast will be limited to one hour per year (Booij, 2023). However, it's essential to acknowledge that neighbours may still experience some inconvenience.

According to the RIVM, under the current norm of a 47 dB background noise allowance, approximately 8% of individuals exposed to 47 dB noise from wind turbines report severe inconvenience. While proven wind turbine noise may indirectly impact sleep quality, there is no conclusive evidence linking it to health problems such as cardiovascular diseases, metabolic disorders, cognitive effects, or mental health issues (RIVM, 2023).

Despite the project's compliance with health standards, the challenge lies in navigating the inherent difficulty of change in the spatial environment: the socio-technical transition. This reluctance to change is deeply rooted in the fundamental importance of maintaining a stable daily setting. Humans not only shape their surroundings but also derive a significant part of their identity from the stability of the world around them. When alterations occur in this environment, individuals often experience increased volatility (Sijmons & Van Dorst, 2012).

Through the lens of distributive justice, this volatility is completely understandable. Distributive justice, focused on equitable distribution of benefits and burdens (Rocco, 2023a), reveals a scenario where a minority, the 65 houseboats in the Noorder IJ-plas, might experience significant inconvenience, contrasted with 20,000 households enjoying affordable, renewable energy and governmental bodies progressing toward sustainability goals. In such cases, fostering participation and collaboration with local residents becomes imperative. Otherwise, the stakeholders may experience procedural injustice (Rocco, 2023a). The initiators of the wind park conducted a large-scale participation programme with local residents, the programme beforehand approved by the municipality (Amsterdam Wind & NDSM Energie, 2023). Nevertheless, critical sounds came from residents saying they did not feel heard. This indicates that there would have been room for improvement (Provinciale Staten Noord-Holland, 2023).

While it is crucial to acknowledge the physical and mental well-being of local residents during wind park development, it's important to acknowledge that the rejection of the VVGB hinges on non-compliance with proper spatial planning (Van Bentem & Keulen, n.d.). Hence, political concerns alone cannot justify the VVGB rejection.

5. Discussion and conclusion

The intricate landscape of wind turbines intertwines with complex socio-technical processes and multi-dimensional governance structures. Stakeholders, occupying diverse positions in the governance triangle, all have different opinions and concerns. Providing an overview of the governance situation and current status of the socio-technical transition has clarified the dynamics of the wind park project. While this essay predominantly aimed at evaluating the justification and coherence of the rejection of the VVGB, it became evident that this rejection was rooted in political motives and an incomplete argument on traffic safety.

The debate itself revealed procedural irregularities, with Council member Van der Waart even proposing to postpone it due to the late arrival and lack of revision of Rijkswaterstaat's report by the Executive Council (Provinciale Staten Noord-Holland, 2023, p.  2, 10, 11). Despite this, the debate proceeded, resulting in the rejection of the VVGB. The paradox emerges: the rejection could only be rejected when not adhering to proper spatial planning, yet the basis for rejection rested on political and incomplete grounds. Consequently, it becomes challenging to justify the Provincial Council's decision.

Such a deviation from fair democratic processes raises concerns about the loss of trust in our democratic system. Over almost two decades, a group of engaged citizens dedicated their free time to a cause they believed in—an admirable display of proactive citizenship. While this does not automatically justifies approval, it does underscore the importance of a fair democratic process that values and respects citizen engagement.

Nevertheless, a fair democratic process is a two-way street. Despite the fact that it is not a legal reason to reject the VVGB, it does worry me to hear that local residents experienced procedural injustice in the participation plan. Therefore, I would advise to create a generalisable participatory plan, based on the communicative planning theory of Healy. This approach entails bringing together stakeholders in the urban planning process, encouraging their active participation in collaborative decision-making, and ensuring that the viewpoints of all involved parties are respected (Healey, 1996). This role could be taken up by an ‘metropolitan innovator’ - a neutral mediator during conversations and participation processes. Such innovator would play a pivotal role in ensuring procedural justice for local residents in complex participatory situations like the wind park project in the Noorder IJ-plas.

From various perspectives explored in this essay, it is apparent that the decision of the Provincial Council is legally flawed. For now, I hope that the Executive Council will see no other option but to declare the rejection of the Provincial Council unjustifiable.  Until then, I will spread this word of truth and fight against procedural injustices. It is okay to lose, but the rules of the game should not be changed. Beyond this, the essay highlights the broader issue of participatory processes demanding greater attention. The call to action is clear: be vocal when unfair democratic processes unfold, this is essential to maintaining the integrity of our democratic system.

6. References

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Booij, D. (2023). Windturbines Noorder IJ-plas & Cornelis Douwesterrein – akoestisch onderzoek. Bosch & van Rijn. Retrieved December 8, 2023, from https://noordholland.bestuurlijkeinformatie.nl/Agenda/Document/57d8bcae-33c5-4665-9719-899ca4fd4a9d?documentId=3f8e8723-32ca-4f8a-b8f5-8d1a00d3d92c&agendaItemId=66db1b19-5acc-4364-9894-aa449b91f190

Chen, B., Xiong, R., Li, H., Sun, Q., & Yang, J. (2019). Pathways for sustainable energy transition. Journal of Cleaner Production, 228, 1564-1571.

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Omgevingsdienst Noordzeekanaalgebied. (2023). Motivering besluit (ontwerp) verklaring van geen bedenkingen (vvgb) van Provinciale Staten Noord-holland ten behoeve van Windpark Noorder IJ-plas. https://noordholland.bestuurlijkeinformatie.nl/Agenda/Document/57d8bcae-33c5-4665-9719-899ca4fd4a9d?documentId=4d3c2284-a79e-45e1-9197-b23fe2bbfd17&agendaItemId=66db1b19-5acc-4364-9894-aa449b91f190  

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Rohracher, H. (2018). Analyzing the socio-technical transformation of energy systems. Oxford Handbook of Energy and Society.

Sijmons, D., & Van Dorst, M. (2012). Strong feelings: Emotional landscape of wind turbines. Sustainable energy landscapes: Designing, planning, and development, 67.

Van Bentem & Keulen. (n.d.) Zoek de verschillen: de vvgb en het bindend adviesrecht van de gemeente Accessed on 2 December 2023, retrieved from https://www.vbk.nl/blog/zoek-de-verschillen-de-vvgb-en-het-bindend-adviesrecht-van-de-gemeenteraad-vergeleken  

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