Analysis: What next for Bard?

GERMANY: When the Bard Group and its six subsidiaries cease to operate in summer 2014, due to lack of follow up offshore wind contracts, life for the group will not be over.

A Bard 5MW turbine rotor

Owned 85% by a Hamburg-based Treuhandgesellschaft (trust company) and 15% by a member of company founder Arngolt Bekker 's family, Bard said it is not entering insolvency proceedings.

"For insolvency, an over-indebtedness would have to exist, but this is not the case," a Bard spokesman stressed. "All aspects in the winding-up of operations will be financed. All debt payments will be made. There is a redundancy plan for all those losing their jobs."

The group will continue to exist, not least because it has three North Sea offshore projects to deal with. Although the spokesman admitted that the Diamant and Euklas wind farms have only "theoretical value" as their planned locations very far from shore mean they have no chance of being developed before 2030, he said the 400MW Veja Mate is a different matter and Bard Engineering "still aims to sell the project".

There are complications, however. To avoid annulment, the extension — granted in November 2012 — to the original Veja Mate permit requires construction start by 30 June 2014. It looks likely, therefore, that Bard will soon apply for another extension.

Assuming this is granted, permitting authority BSH (Bundesamt für Seeschifffahrt und Hydrographie) will impose discrete milestones, such as a date for presenting the basic design, which will put pressure on Bard for a swift divestment. In the first permit extension, such milestones were not included because the schedule would have had to be discussed again with the expected new owner.

Progress on Veja Mate is problematic, however, because the permitted route for the two cable systems transporting electricity from the Veja Mate transformer station to the BorWin 2 converter station are to run through the Bard Offshore 1 wind farm, which was fully commissioned in August 2013. The structural works for the six cable crossings, and later on service and maintenance of these Veja Mate cables, could compromise the future integrity of Bard Offshore 1 and its cabling.

Bard Offshore 1, developed and built by Bard, is owned by project company Ocean Breeze, which in turn is owned by HypoVereinsbank, part of Italian bank UniCredit. Getting it fully commissioned in August 2013 had taken more than three years, with many setbacks and cost overruns. UniCredit may therefore not be keen to face new safety and security of operation issues, especially if it hopes to sell Bard Offshore 1.

The routes for BorWin 2 and the cable systems, being built by transmission system operator Tennet, were permitted by the BSH in April 2012 after consideration of alternative cables system routes north or south of Bard Offshore 1. Although the North Sea 2009 spatial planning rules require that cable crossings should be avoided as far as possible, the additional cost of around EUR 20 million of a longer route appears to have contributed to the decision to run them through an existing wind farm site.

However, the case is far from closed. The BorWin 2 permit document notes that the cable crossings "require clarification" and the permit decision for these cable systems is "subject to an additional procedure". Whether agreement can be reached or an appeal will be lodged, possibly by UniCredit or the Bard Group, before the Hamburg administrative court remains to be seen. An appeal could be accepted as reason for allowing a second Veja Mate permit extension, taking off the pressure for a quick sale.

Even though proceeds of Veja Mate's sale would likely go towards paying off Bard Group's obligations to UniCredit in connection with Bard Offshore 1, the divestment could be delayed by UniCredit efforts to stop Veja Mate cables potentially jeopardising operational security of its Bard Offshore 1.