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Offshore focus for trans-Europe grid

Increased funding for transmission projects that could allow large quantities of offshore wind to connect into European electricity grids is due to be passed by the European parliament this month. New guidelines for trans-European electricity and gas networks identify seven priority projects to boost electricity interconnection capacity between member states (Windpower Monthly, May 2002).

Three of the projects earmarked for up to 20% EU funding will aid integration of offshore wind energy. The projects are an interconnector between the UK and continental Europe; an interconnector linking Ireland with the UK mainland; and increasing interconnection capacity between Denmark and Germany and other Baltic Ring countries. Without interconnection between countries to strengthen local grid networks, many planned offshore wind farms off Ireland's east coast, around some parts of the British coast and in the Baltic Sea would be unlikely to go ahead.

This is a particular issue in the Irish Sea where hundreds of megawatts of offshore wind are planned, but will not go ahead unless the weak Irish grid can link up to Britain, says Christian Kjaer from the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA). The promotion of an Ireland-UK interconnector to a European "priority" will give the Irish regulator more authority to overcome possible objections, such as from incumbent utility ESB, Kjaer claims.

The European energy network guidelines are being updated to take account of policies to liberalise markets and improve security of supply. After pressure from EWEA, the EU Commission incorporated into the guidelines the need to facilitate renewables' as one of its central principles.

No extra cost

EU funding will focus on the priority projects which the Commission believes will do most to complete the internal energy market and ensure security of supply. They were taken from among a total of over 220 detailed "common interest" electricity and gas projects -- a European utility wish list for grid reinforcement and interconnection.

The Commission stresses that its decision to increase funding from 10% to up to 20% for a small number of priority projects does not mean an increase in the overall Community budget for energy networks. In 2002 EUR 21 million was set aside for trans-European energy infrastructure. European members of parliament were expected to vote on the guidelines on June 3.

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