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Holland may revive windmills

Windmills -- long silent in a country where hundreds of them once whirred -- may soon begin spinning again in the Netherlands, this time to solve a purely modern problem.

They are part of an ambitious plan under study by a panel of government-appointed experts which its proponents say could cut Holland's energy-import bill by $500,000 a day.

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Called the Lievense Plan, after the engineer from Breda who came up with the idea, it proposes building in the IJsselmeer, a freshwater lake northeast of Amsterdam with a huge circular dike 60 miles around its perimeter. There, 400 to 500 windmills would pump water to a higher level within the enclosed reservoir to be released through several hydroelectric plants built into the dike. The process would generate a quantity of electricity equal to that turned out by two large nuclear-power plants.

Although the plan was submitted by Lukas Lievense to the Ministry of Science several months ago, it was only recently made public. It is remarkable for many reasons, especially in that it suggests generating electricity by hydropower in a country that is completely flat and two-thirds below sea level. Hydroelectricity has been associated mainly with mountainous countries rushing with fast-flowing rivers.

Some Dutch environment have already expressed support for the plan, which calls for enclosing within the dike about 100,000 acres of the IJsselmeer where the country's fifth and final polder (land reclaimed from the sea) was to have been built. The so-called Markerwaard Polder, planned in the 1930s as a last attempt to create land in the IJsselmeer for a densely populated country, has been a topic of national debate for the past 10 years. Those favoring it argue that the Netherlands needs more land. Those opposed say a declining rate of population growth makes that unnecessary. The latter have said that what is left of the IJsselmeer should be preserved for recreation and fishing. The Lievense Plan would allow both to continue.

Also drawing praise has been the plan's apparent solution, not only to the problem of increasing energy shortages in the Netherlands as supplies of imported oil and domestic natural gas diminish, but to the problem of storing energy from the wind. Essentially, the plan would involve harnessing wind power and storing the energy in the form of potential energy of a head of water, which would be released only when that energy were needed.

About half the water pumped to a higher level inside the new reservoir, according to the Lievense Plan, would be pumped by hundreds of windmills scattered along the dike. The rest would be pumped using excess -- and at present wasted -- energy generated by coal-, oil-, and gas-powered electricity plants at night.

Mr. Lievense says that the water inside the reservoir would initially be pumped 35 to 45 feet higher than the rest of the lake but that it would have to be raised and lowered only about two feet daily to produce enough electricity to make the project worthwhile. He is waiting for a feasibility study to be published by the end of this year before projecting the exact cost of the plan. Meanwhile, he guesses the cost may be between $1.5 and $2 billion, compared with about $3 billion for nuclear-power stations that would turn out an equivalent quantity of electricity.

Mr. Lievense says the plan is flexible. Instead of enclosing a 100,000-acre area of water, for example, and letting the water fall 2 feet, the same amount of electricity could be generated by enclosing, say, a 50,000-acre area and letting the water fall from twice the height, or from 4 feet. "In principle, there's no difference," he says.

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