Wallonia: Learn from the past, build the future

Jean Van Pamel, FEDARENE Treasurer and Inspector General at Wallonia Region, discusses the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, 2021 floods, and energy crisis on his work, emphasising the need to address energy poverty and accelerate the development of renewable energies.

Wallonia: Learn from the past, build the future

A conversation with Jean Van Pamel

Belgium is a small but complex country, with different levels of governance. This is something our Treasurer Jean Van Pamel knows very well and must navigate on a regular basis, as General Inspector of the Wallonia region. We asked him a few questions about his work and the main challenges he has to deal with.

Belgium is currently in its third crisis: first covid, then the floods of 2021, and now the energy crisis. How have these impacted your work at the region and how are you responding?

With these crisis, energy poverty affects more and more people and our industries (big and small) have a lot of difficulties to survive. To deal with this situation, budgets have increased significantly, coming from different funding streams. This growth led to a restructuration of teams and a reprioritisation of activities, with energy poverty very high on the agenda. Teams have been strengthened, including our own but also the ones we work with and that help us implement our measures, such as the Public Centre for Social Action (CPAS).

The CPAS is at the front line to manage requests from people in precariousness. Some extreme cases are entitled to benefit from direct investments from our administration – we directly make contracts and pay the entrepreneurs to install a stove or change a chassis in their home, for instance. Strengthening the CPAS thus allows to hire new energy managers to deal with these cases, or to provide direct premiums.

The energy crisis has accelerated a lot of things in the sector, including the development of renewable energies. We can use this impetus to build the energy system of tomorrow.

Jean Van Pamel

Following the floods of 2021, we have also started to review our approach related to land use planning and the organisation of areas with a significant flood risk. In these zones, we are planning adaptation and mitigation risk measures. We had to rebuild roads, bridges, part of the gas and electricity network. All this helps us prepare for future extreme events as well.

Talking about the electricity and gas network, we are currently in a changing energy system. What’s the current situation in Belgium, and your take on the potential evolution?

Energy sources at Belgian level are evolving. We are going towards electrification of the energy sector. The electricity demand is increasing. While the system was previously very much centralised and top-down, mainly coming from nuclear centrals, we are now realising that we need to diversify our energy supply and have many sources of renewable energy production. But the horizon is difficult to define.

The government would like to create new hightension lines to be able to bring the newly produced clean energy (from offshore wind and other sources) to the industries and citizens to be consumed, but there is some resistance. One thing is for sure: we need to act fast, because any decision on this matter will take several years to be implemented.

Jean Van Pamel is FEDARENE Treasurer. He is also Inspector General at Wallonia Region.

This interview is part of our publication “Sustainable Regions in Action 2023”. Find out more by clicking here to discover best practices from FEDARENE members as well as an overview of our activities.