Summary: Novelties in the VREG’s amended Technical Regulations Distribution Gas and Electricity concern closed distribution grids, congestion management, flexible connections, and the injection of biomethane in the natural gas distribution grid. The Flemish Orders approving these Regulations were recently published in the Official Journal. However, one could question the competence of the Flemish Government in approving these Regulations.

Abstract: Nieuwigheden in de gewijzigde Technische Reglementen Distributie Gas en Elektriciteit van de VREG betreffen gesloten distributienetten, congestiebeheer, flexibele aansluitingen en de injectie van biomethaan in het aardgasdistributienet. De Vlaamse Besluiten houdende goedkeuring van deze Reglementen werden onlangs gepubliceerd in het Belgisch Staatsblad. Men kan zich echter vragen stellen bij de bevoegdheid van de Vlaamse Regering om deze Reglementen goed te keuren.

Résumé : Des nouveautés dans les Règlements Techniques Distribution Gaz et Electricité amendés concernent les réseaux de distribution fermés, la gestion des congestions, les raccordements flexibles et l’injection de bio-méthane dans le réseau de distribution de gaz naturel. Les Décisions flamandes approuvant ces Règlements ont récemment été publiées dans le Moniteur belge. Toutefois, l’on peut questionner la compétence du Gouvernement flamand lorsqu’il s’agit d’approuver ces Règlements.

On 15 May 2012 the VREG, the Flemish Energy Market Regulator, adopted new Technical Regulations for the Distribution of Gas and Electricity1. The Flemish Government approved these regulations by issuing two orders, which were published recently in the Official Journal2.

The Technical Regulations were amended to further implement the third Energy Package. The terminology used in these Regulations also conformed to that of the Energy Decree.

The most significant amendments concern:

  • Closed Distribution Grids: The Energy Decree covers the construction and exploitation of closed distribution grids (chapter VI). The Technical Regulations supplement these provisions with technical prescriptions. According to these prescriptions, operators of closed distribution grids enjoy certain freedom when they lay down for example, procedures, terms in model contracts and forms for the operation of the closed distribution grids. However, these documents should be disclosed, e.g., to the ARP or the VREG, whenever these authorities request for them (Art. I.6.1.4). Furthermore, the concerning DSO will remain competent to adopt a Connection Regulation.

The Technical Regulations also introduce two new notions: Downstream Access Point (Achterliggend Toegangspunt) and Coupling Points (‘Koppelpunten’)3.

The first one, Downstream Access Point, is the access point for producers or consumers from the closed distribution grid. This notion was introduced so that it could be clearly distinguished from access points to public grids.

The second notion, Coupling Points, refers to points where closed distribution grids and the public distribution grid are connected to each other. This notion is used to distinguish from Connection Points. According to the VREG the notion is inspired by the coupling models that exist among DSOs, or between a DSO and a TSO. Coupling Points would theoretically be the most pure term because closed distribution grids are rather a form of distribution grids a connected grid user4.

However, the Technical Regulations specify clearly that installations behind different access points may not be connected to each other without explicit permission from the DSO (Art. III.5.1.3). Similarly, the Technical Regulation Distribution Electricity also prohibits installations from being produced behind different coupling points (Art. III.8.1.5).  

  • Congestion Management: The Technical Regulation Distribution Electricity sets out a modified congestion management. All requests for connection and the corresponding capacity reservations should be treated in the order requested (first-come, first-served), but the electricity DSO should give priority to CHP or renewable energy installations (Art. III.3.3.24). Capacity reservations will only be valid for a period of 2 years. Capacity reservations are neither marketable nor transferable (Art. III.3.3.31).  
  • “Flexible connections” are also formalized, despite opposition by FEBEG, the Federation of Belgian Electricity and Gas Companies5. Flexible connections are connections for which the producer would agree not to inject electricity if, at anytime, the grid were to be saturated. The Technical Regulation Distribution Electricity states that the electricity DSO may decide to allow for an “abnormal” connection, depending on the characteristics of the local electricity distribution grid or if the installation of the grid user causes harmful interferences or excessive voltage fluctuations (Art. III.3.1.3). Furthermore, for projects with a global production capacity of 1000 kVA or more, or for projects where a temporary limitation of the production would be necessary in n-1 situations, the DSO may impose limitations on the production based on objective criteria, if exceptional exploitation circumstances require it and provided that these limitations have been embedded in a contract (art. III.4.4.2).  
  • Injection of Biomethane: Although no injection points currently exist on the distribution grid in Flanders, the Technical Regulation Distribution Gas allows for the possibility to inject biomethane in the natural gas distribution grids. The injection is, however, limited to the middle pressure grids of categories B and C. The operator of the coupled grid can demand that the biomethane fulfill certain conditions, e.g., regarding the composition of the gas.

Other amendments to the Technical Regulations concern improvements in certain processes and provisions regarding the introduction of smart metering.

However, it should be noted that the Flemish Government’s approval of the Technical Regulations might not conform with European law. According to Art. 41(6) of the third Gas Directive and Art. 37(6) of the third Electricity Directive, the regulator is competent for fixing or approving the terms and conditions for the connection and access to national networks and the provision of balancing services, for example. In the parliamentary preparations regarding the implementation of the third Energy Package at the federal level, the Council of State noted that a provision allowing the King to lay down the federal Technical Regulations would violate European legislation6. The Flemish Technical Regulations were drafted by the VREG and only approved by the Flemish Government, according to Art. 4.2.1 §3 of the Energy Decree. Nevertheless, one may wonder whether such approval, even without any amendments, conforms with European law, since such approval is not theoretically necessary for the Technical Regulations to enter into force.