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Global Warming - Impact Zones

Impact Zone - The Netherlands

The Netherlands
The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming addressed our nation's energy, economic and national security challenges during the 110th and 111th Congresses.

This is an archived version of the committee's website, where the public, students and the media can continue to access and learn from our work.

In the sea, the Netherlands finds threats, hope

For the Netherlands the threat from, and the solution to, global warming can be found in the sea. As a low-lying country, the Dutch are particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise, floods, and storm surges. They have spent billions on a vast system of levees, dikes and flood gates. But they also see the solution to their problems in the ocean—they have the largest offshore wind farm development plan in the world. The iconic windmills that once helped to pump out water from floods are now updated for the new millenium to help reduce the pollution that is raising sea levels around the world.


Fighting the Sea

With a quarter of the country below sea level, global warming is taken very seriously in the Netherlands. The village of Petten is a dramatic example of the precarious position the Netherlands is in. Petten is a seaside village, but the sea isn't visible from any of the buildings. Instead, there is a view of the massive seawall holding back the crashing waves. This artificial hill is 42 feet high and about 150 feet thick at the base.

Because an extreme storm or sudden rise in water level would have devastating effects here and in many other areas of the Netherlands, government officials are not averse to investing large sums of money in order to ensure flood protection. Currently Dutch law requires North Sea defenses to provide a 1-in-10,000 years level of protection, but the government is considering raising that to 1-in-100,000 years.  This higher level of protection could require an annual investment of about $1.3 billion, or 0.2 percent of Dutch GDP.

This is in large part because the Netherlands has experienced the same sort of severe flooding America witnessed in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans. In 1953, the sea defenses were breached in Southern Holland by a storm surge. The resulting catastrophe claimed over 1,800 lives. In 1995, 250,000 people were forced to evacuate from endangered areas due to river flooding


Using the sea to fight back

The Dutch have a long history of countering the North Sea and the Rhine and Meuse Rivers with windmills to help pump water from flooded plains. Windmills are again being looked to as a solution for this low lying country, but now updated as clean, renewable wind turbines generating electricity off the Dutch coast.

One of the Netherland's primary areas of investment is in wind energy projects. The Egmond aan Zee Offshore Wind Farm was the first large-scale wind farm to be built off the Dutch coast in the North Sea. In April of 2007, 36 wind turbines became operational, with a generating capacity of roughly 108-megawatts - enough power for more than 100,000 homes. This $272 million project is jointly owned by Royal Dutch Shell and the Dutch utility Nuon, with the support of direct governmental aid.

Another 65 offshore wind turbine sites have currently been mapped out by the government. Such steps bring the country closer to meeting its goal of having 9 percent of electricity generated from renewable sources by 2010.

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