For almost a year the infrastructure ministry has been reviewing applications from 59 investors that are competing for 40 projects in the Polish Baltic Sea. The investors, with a potential 20GW pipeline of work, now face a serious threat to progress. According to the environment ministry and the State Geological Institute most of the area is rich in shale gas and reserves of aggregates and it says the area should therefore be excluded from offshore wind activity. Bogdan Gutkowski, the president of the Polish Offshore Wind Energy Society confirmed the problem was serious. "Currently we are considering what steps to take to solve it," he said.
Unofficially, the wind industry believes only four out of the 40 licences for offshore wind farms are likely to be given the go-ahead from the infrastructure ministry once it has taken the environment ministry's views into account. These licences are likely to go to PGE, Orlen and Kulczyk Investment - the first two state controlled.
The shale gas and aggregates problem occurred unexpectedly. Two months ago the environment ministry said it had no objections to the locations of the proposed offshore wind farms, but the State Geological Institute's findings changed all that. The Institute has concluded that the Polish Baltic shelf contains between 14.8 billion to 371 billion cubic metres of shale gas.
It is thought that some of the companies applying for offshore wind permits, upset with the government's change of view, are planning to issue a formal complaint to the European Commission. Investors have some hope that the environment ministry's opinion is not binding on the infrastructure ministry. Mikolaj Karpinski, a spokesman for the infrastructure ministry, said: "It is possible to designate areas for wind farms where no conflict will occur."
What is now becoming clear is that the Polish government had never planned for such a big expansion of offshore wind farms in the Baltic Sea and the necessary grid investments to support them.
According to the country's National Renewable Energy Action Plan only some 0.5GW of offshore wind farms were foreseen by the government by 2020 and a further 1GW by 2030. These planned targets have not, however, discouraged investors attracted by the shallow Baltic waters and favourable wind conditions. According to the Polish Maritime Institute, the realistic potential of Polish Baltic waters lies between 7.1GW and 17.9GW installed producing 34.7TWh and 83.3TWh respectively, depending on the capacity of the turbines used.