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Belgium

Belgium

Consent at long last for Thornton bank -- Belgian far offshore

After a nine month wait, Belgium's C-Power consortium has won approval for its 216-300 MW wind farm to be sited 27 to 30 kilometres off the Belgian coast on the Thornton sandbank between Zeebrugge and Ostende. The consent from national regulatory authority CREG clears the way for the government to issue a development permit, allowing the consortium to apply for the necessary construction and environmental impact permits.

"We want to have all the permits finalised by the second quarter of 2004, enabling us to complete the soil samples, etcetera, that year, so we can begin construction in 2005," says C-Power's Filip Martens. "You should never sell the skin of the bear before you've shot him, but it would be quite surprising if there were any major problems now," he adds. Martens says a far offshore project has much broader public support than near-shore proposals." A recent survey showed 82% of Belgians favour offshore wind development.

The development consortium -- comprising Belgium's largest power distribution company, Interelectra, marine engineers Dredging International, Belgian turbine manufacturer Turbowinds and Wallonian financiers SRIW Ecotech Finance and SOCOFE -- was one of two groups competing for the right to build wind farms on Thornton Bank. CREG rejected a proposal by the Zephyr group, headed by Shell and Belgian national power generator SPE, to build a 330 MW project on the site.

"I think we won because we were careful to avoid conflicts with other users such as the military and fishing interests, and we respected the existing sand-winning concessions," says Martens. Experience helped, he adds. Dredging International has been involved in four previous offshore wind farms, while Interelectra is the operator of Belgium's largest wind farm, at Zeebrugge.

Split formation

C-Power's plan is based on a two groupings of 60 turbines in water depths ranging from ten to 20 metres. At present, the 3.6 MW GE unit is earmarked for the project, giving a total capacity of 216 MW. The permit application, however, allows the option to use any turbine up to 5 MW capacity. "We are keeping a close eye on technological developments, and we will make a final selection in the second quarter of 2004," says Martens.

Getting the power to shore is a main technological challenge. The developers plan to interlink the machines with 33 kV cable. To avoid losses, the power will be stepped up to 150 kV by a transformer before it is transported via buried cable 40 kilometres to a switching station near Ostende. "There is already some experience of this sort of problem in traditional grid transport and connection, so it only has to be made applicable to the wind turbine sector," Martens says.

"With such a substantial investment, we will be looking to plug into the grid as early as possible, so the first stage should come online in 2004, with completion scheduled for 2005 to 2006," he says. Power distribution will be handled by Interelectra, which will use the green certificates generated by the project to cover its federally imposed renewables obligation. With estimated annual output of 710-1000 GWh, or around one-third of Belgium's renewables target for 2010, the consortium will also be a seller on Belgium's new market for green power certificates.

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