Netherlands

Netherlands

Few believers in forecast boom

The year 2002 could see a record number of wind turbines built in the Netherlands according to figures released during the national renewable energy conference in late February. From existing building plans a minimum of 200-220 MW could be built this year, concludes national renewable energy magazine, Duurzame Energie. If realised, this will quadruple the average annual construction rate of 40-50 MW seen over the past five years. However, the extent of administrative chaos and general red tape regarding wind plant permits makes it unlikely that the government's targets will be met.

The extent of administrative chaos and general red-tape regarding wind plant permits in the Netherlands makes it unlikely that the government's targets will be met

The year 2002 could see a record number of wind turbines built in the Netherlands according to figures released during the national renewable energy conference in late February. From existing building plans a minimum of 200-220 MW could be built this year, concludes national renewable energy magazine, Duurzame Energie. If realised, this will double the existing record -- 105 MW in 1995 -- and quadruple the average annual construction rate of 40-50 MW seen over the past five years.

Historically, however, there has been little correlation between planned and achieved capacity, with many projects at an advanced stage of completion falling at the final permitting hurdles. Many in the industry were sceptical about the forecast. Albert Jochems of renewable energy consultancy Profin thought 100 MW a more likely figure and Nuon's director of renewables Annemarie Goedmakers said she wouldn't "stick her hand in the fire" for the accuracy of the prediction.

Professor Gijs van Kuik of the Technical University of Delft downplayed the significance of the forecast boom, arguing that even if the full 200 MW is built this year it will not be enough to bring capacity growth in line with government targets of 7500 MW on and offshore by 2020. The prospective boom is simply a confluence of projects which have been in planning for the past five years or so and has no structural basis. "If the government's targets of 1500 megawatt onshore and 6000 megawatt offshore are to be realised, at least 300 megawatt will have to be built every year," he told delegates visiting the third national renewable energy conference in Rotterdam.

Procedural delays

The barriers to meeting the targets are neither due to lack of technology or its high cost. Wind plant on good sites now generate at EUR 0.05-0.08/kWh, said Van Kuik. "That is commercially competitive power." Rather, the problem lies in procedures and permits. Developers of offshore plant cannot even apply for a permit until next year, he pointed out. "That is too late. It's a waste of precious time and it means that the first offshore wind farms will be operational in 2006." According to Van Kuik, notification has been lodged with the economy ministry of plans for 2500 MW offshore.

Profin's Albert Jochems, however, believes the government imposed moratorium on offshore development may be timely and allow for a more stable investment climate, more testing of multi-megawatt turbines, and time for the current "administrative chaos" surrounding siting permits to be sorted out.

Indeed, the Dutch Annual Energy Review, released on the eve of the conference, directly tackles the red tape problem. Economics Minister Annemarie Jorritsma promises the cabinet will look at ways of making the procedures for building wind plant simpler and quicker. There should be just one period of public hearings rather than separate public hearings for each of the various building, planning and environmental permits as is presently the case.

In the review, Jorritsma identifies an increased tension between the interests of energy provision and environmental and physical planning which is affecting not only new wind development but the construction of new power plants and new gas reserves -- specifically in the environmentally sensitive Waddenzee.

While the government believes it will meet its Kyoto commitments -- despite the scepticism of some recent independent assessments -- it is to build some extra security through the creation of a risk-fund to encourage investment in new renewable technologies whose "risk profile" falls outside the normal commercially accepted range. Over the next three years, Jorritsma is to make EUR 35 million available. The extra funds will not, however, be available for wind despite the uncertainties surrounding offshore investment.

"The Near Shore Wind Park already has significant government subsidies attached and the intention is that further offshore development shall be self-financing," says the economy ministry's Jan van Diepen.

The government's reassurances did little to silence criticism of its renewables policy in Rotterdam. Outspoken professor of environmental science, Lucas Reijnders, renewed his attack on the import of virtual green electricity. Dutch energy policy has only two claims to fame, he remarked: "We are leading the field in the import of virtual green power and we are the country whose power stations burn the most animal waste in Europe." Neither are reasons for pride, he intimated.

Singling out Dutch power company Nuon for special criticism, he cast doubt on the "reality"' of the green power imported by the utility, particularly, from Germany. "Even the institution that issues certificates in Germany can't understand where Nuon is getting its certificates," he said.

Nuon's Annemarie Goedmakers said the certification agency involved dealt with only a part of the power imported from Germany. The problems lay in the administrative confusion surrounding cross-border green power trade, with different mechanisms for importing green certificates separately and or attached to physical power. There was no doubt about the "reality" of Nuon's green power products, she said.

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