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Light on the horizon

For a country with so much goodwill towards wind power, the Netherlands has been singularly slow in establishing a market for modern day windmills. A succession of crooked strategies, wrong decisions and genuine misunderstandings have littered the tortuous path of Dutch wind energy development. In the meantime Denmark and Germany have become major European wind markets -- a role the Netherlands had at one time coveted for itself. The tale is one of doom and gloom and frustration is rife.

Despite it all, Dutch wind energy has trudged slowly forward and the political will remains to get wind turbines up and running. At the moment Holland has about 130 MW of installed wind power capacity (see map) and government policy is to expand this to 1000 MW by the year 2000 -- a target recently confirmed by Koos Andriessen, Minister of Economic Affairs. Although Andriessen seems to be alone in his belief that the Netherlands can achieve an eight-fold increase in installed wind plant within six years, there is now a glimmer of hope for a brighter future.

The main bottleneck hindering the rapid installation of wind turbines has been lack of sufficient financial incentive -- the price paid by utilities for wind produced kilowatt hours has not been high enough, despite the 30% capital subsidies on offer from government. But now, negotiations on a standard price for wind power, between the electricity distributors' organisation, EnergieNed and the association of wind turbine owners, Pawex, could be about to enter a new phase. The talks foundered in stalemate over a year ago, but last month Andriessen, pressured by parliament, promised to step in and mediate. Stan Dessens, his director general for energy, was due at the negotiating table last month with representatives of both EnergieNed and Pawex to see if existing obstacles could be cleared. Their discussions may prove to be the vital thread by which Dutch wind energy can be dragged out of its gloomy past.

A fair price

Arguing on behalf of Pawex is Peter Blom of Triodos Bank. The bank has long invested in wind energy and is an active wind farm developer, both in the Netherlands and abroad. With several years of experience operating wind plant, Blom sounds authoritative when he says: "For financially sound wind development you need an electricity price of about NLG 0.15/kWh. In some windy areas, like Friesland, you can make it pay at slightly less than that." At the moment only some of the negotiating utilities say they would be willing to pay the necessary NLG 0.15/kWh. Ernst van Zuylen, president of Pawex, agrees with Blom: "EnergieNed has put forward an offer of NLG 0.1225/kWh and that is not enough for commercial operation," he says.

Needless to say, EnergieNed has a different view of the situation. The association's Hans van Bemmelen says private wind turbine owners get a good price for their kilowatt hours. He is unwilling to discuss the exact amount, but says: "The price for electricity from wind has to be comparable with the price we pay other private electricity generators. At NLG 0.091/kWh, wind energy already falls into the most profitable category. We have to stick to this standard agreement. If we don't, other private generators will start grumbling." He also points out that wind developers are also paid a subsidy from the utility sector's envrionmental action programme, MAP. This amounts to an additional NLG 0.044/kWh on top of the basic kilowatt hour rate. "Together with what we're offering, that should be enough," says Bemmelen.

Members of the wind community disagree. Henk den Boon, from consulting company Energy Connection, which has developed projects with Triodos, says: "If the Dutch government, like Denmark and Germany, had chosen to pay a decent price for wind power, development would have been faster. Only recently has the relation between price and performance of Dutch built turbines become comparable with that of Danish and German turbines." Investment subsidies have also effectively meant that the government has protected the domestic industry, he says. "Up to a certain level that can be justified, but there comes a time when your industry will start to lag behind in the international race towards a better price/performance level," says den Boon.

Dick Koomans, director of NedWind, Holland's largest producer of wind turbines, bristles at the suggestion his company has been protected against foreign competition. He feels the home industry has suffered from Holland's "don't buy Dutch" syndrome, like so many other industrial sectors in the Netherlands. "In Denmark they buy Danish windmills and in Germany they buy German. Only in Holland do they think that the best turbine by definition is a foreign one. Luckily for us, investors abroad tend to think differently," he says. At the moment NedWind is supplying 20, 500 kW wind turbines for installation in Palm Springs, California. Markets in China and India are also looking good, says Koomans.

Although he does not agree with Den Boon on the "protection" issue, Koomans says capital subsidies led technology strategy up a blind alley. "In the recent past turbine builders in the Netherlands were concentrating on large capacity machines, to get the most out of the per kilowatt installed subsidies, instead of looking to generate the most kilowatt hours possible," he says. "They didn't look at the rotor swept area." As a result, the rotors on Dutch wind turbines have historically been too small, a design failure which has now been rectified," says Koomans. "The philosophy was a high installed capacity on spots with strong winds," he adds. With space in increasingly short supply, these sites are now few and far between and wind turbines capable of viable operation in lower winds are needed. "I see a development towards different classes of turbines in accordance with the different classes of wind climate," he says.

Finding enough sites for wind turbines has been the other major bottleneck to development. Holland is the second most densely populated country in the world -- peopled by a race known for its stubborn self-will. As a result, the Netherlands has developed a complex legal system for arriving at decisions on spatial organisation, a system which has proved to be an effective block to the wind plant planning process. One solution would be to develop fewer sites, using larger turbines, but Blom fears that the people of Holland will not be prepared to accept large machines. As one of the members of Windparken Nederland, Triodos is only too well aware of the problem. It has yet to get permission for a wind farm near Zeewolde in Flevoland, despite months of talks. "I believe we could install about 400 MW in the Netherlands, but after that we're going to get problems. I can't see us installing 1000 MW on land," he says.

Ernst van Zuylen from Pawex is not so pessimistic. There have been and still are siting problems with wind farms, he says, but in general there should be enough space for the proposed 1000 MW. He also points out that an agreement exists between the Dutch central government and the provinces requiring them to find sites for the planned 1000 MW. In most provinces these sites have now been selected, but, as Van Zuylen admits, this is no guarantee that turbines can be erected. Even if the province agrees, the local councils and the citizens still have democracy on their side and could put a stop to individual projects.

Aid from Brussels

According to Henk den Boon, though, selection of sites does not have to be a problem. "If people have something to gain, they are perfectly willing to look at a wind turbine," he says. "Especially farmers, who have a hard time nowadays, are eager to earn the NLG 5000 per hectare we are willing to pay. That is more than they earn from wheat."

Encouraging farmers to offer land for wind turbines has given rise to yet another problem, though. Agricultural areas are usually sparsely populated and consequently the grid has a capacity of only 6 kV or less -- not enough to cope with large wind power input. In windy Friesland, 200 MW of wind plant is planned although total load is only about 300 MW, according to Ruud Ligthart from Friesland utility, NUON. "If we want to reach 200 MW of wind power the grid needs strengthening," he says. Last year the province applied for NLG 100 million from the European Union's funds for regional development, money usually reserved for aiding less well-off members (Windpower Monthly, November 1993). The EU has not looked kindly upon the request so far and a revised application for NLG 35 million is currently wending its way through the bureaucratic process in Brussels.

In Den Boon's experience, the cost of expanding net capacity for connection of a wind farm is in the order of 10% of the total investment -- not a prohibitive level. "That is as long as the utilities are willing to pay their share. If you put the burden solely on wind energy than you have a problem. But our experience with the Kreekrak project (Windpower Monthly, October 1993) is that you can make reasonable agreements with the utilities on this point." Den Boon's optimistic view of the complexities of paying for grid expansions reflects a generally upbeat view of the future. The industry clearly feels that teething troubles with the market are now reduced to a dull and diminishing pain and that Holland can still jump onto the bandwagon pulled by Denmark and Germany.

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