The municipality of Purmerend will continue to make more than 1,200 homes free of natural gas in the Overwhere-Zuid district, despite a hole in the budget of at least one million euros. The city council decided to do so on Thursday evening. The plan is now to stop the so-called ‘testing ground’ within the framework of the Natural Gas-Free Neighborhoods Program (PAW) when the money has run out.
In December last year, an evaluation of the first phase of the project, in which 88 homes were cut off from the gas, showed that connecting homes to a heat network cost more money than had been budgeted in advance. For the next phase, the municipality will be at least one million euros short of a budget of more than 8 million euros, according to the implementation strategy presented at the time.
That turned out to be no reason for the council to definitively stop the project on Thursday. 8 of the 37 municipal councilors indicated that they wanted this.
The rest agreed to a ‘block-by-block’ approach, in which the Overwhere-South district will be divided into four blocks that will be made gas-free. Each time a block has been completed, it is reassessed whether removing the next block from the gas is still financially feasible. In the meantime, the municipality hopes to be able to bring in the missing money through additional subsidies.
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The condition is still that it will not cost anything for the residents of the homes that will become gasless. In the run-up to the decision on the project, the idea arose among several parties in the city council to ask for their own contribution to close the financial gap. But according to responsible alderman Paul van Meekeren (Sustainability, D66), support among residents will then shrink too much. The municipality is aiming for a minimum participation rate among residents of 85 percent.
A recent survey by research agency Motivaction among nearly 900 residents of Purmerend shows that half are negative about making their homes natural gas-free because they think the costs are too high.
€ 7.3 million in subsidy
The aim of the project in Purmerend, which was set up in 2017, is to eventually remove 1,276 buildings, housing association houses and private owner-occupied houses in Overwhere-South from the gas, mainly by connecting them to a district heating network from a biomass plant. About 75 percent of the buildings in the North Holland municipality are already connected to this. Purmerend has received a subsidy of 7.3 million euros from the government for the living lab.
Purmerend was the first municipality within the PAW, an initiative of the Ministry of the Interior with the aim of realizing the agreements from the Climate Agreement about the energy transition in the built environment, where private owner-occupied homes were cut off from gas.
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The progress of the project has been halted since last summer, after it turned out that connecting homes to a heat network took more effort, time and money than expected in advance. There was talk of “a laundry list issues”, Said project manager Jaspert Verplanke at the time. As a result, the original schedule, whereby the district should have been completely gas-free by 2022, is no longer achieved.