Learning by doing in Dutch NorthSea -- Construction starts on 108 MW for completion next year

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Work on the Netherlands' first major offshore wind power station -- the long awaited 108 MW Nearshore Wind Farm (NSW) -- is to start this year. The go-ahead to construction was given in May by the governing boards of the two owners of the project, energy company Shell and Dutch utility Nuon. The developer, Noordzeewind, has awarded a turnkey construction contract to Bouwcombinatie Egmond, a joint venture of Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas and Dutch offshore contractor Ballast Nedam.

The wind station will consist of 36, Vestas 3 MW turbines. The site covers some 30 square kilometres ten to 18 kilometres off the coast from Egmond aan Zee. Water depths range from 16 to 22 metres. Completion is expected in autumn 2006.

Proposed in 1997, NSW is a pilot project to research environmental effects and technical aspects of producing wind power in the rough waters of the Dutch North Sea. Total cost is around EUR 200 million, some of which will be supported by the Dutch government. In addition to a EUR 92/MWh subsidy under the Electricity Production/Environmental Quality legislation, the plant will benefit from funding from the national CO2 reduction plan administered by the Ministry of Economic Affairs as well as a tax break under the Energy Investment Incentive.


Ballast Nedam's heavy lifting vessel, the RMS Svanen, will install the wind turbines, which have hub heights 70 metres above sea level. At the end of this year, power cables will be laid between the national grid connection point at Velsen and the wind farm's transformer site in the Corus steel works at IJmuiden. In the spring, the foundations are to be installed, with the piles driven 30 metres into the seabed.

For Nuon, rumoured to be divesting its wind interests in Spain and Germany, the company's Ludo van Halderen says, "[NSW] is fully in line with Nuon's policy to make the energy supply more sustainable and to expand energy production in its core countries of the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany."

Shell Nederland's Rein Willems goes on to say, "As a learning project, this wind farm is important for the Netherlands and the whole offshore industry. While government subsidies remain critical for any industry in the early stages, the investment will bring economic competitiveness that much closer. And so the knowledge and experience we accumulate in this project will play a key role in making the ever increasing demand for energy even more sustainable."


Ballast Nedam, one of Holland's largest engineering concerns, has already done much of the preparatory work, including seabed surveys and wind resource monitoring at the site. The company will be working alongside Vestas under a so-called lump-sum contract.

"On the positive side, we can work very closely with Vestas to manage the interface among the turbine components and ensure that the turbines work as a whole," Van de Brug says. "At the same time we are both being asked to cover each other's risk -- and that contravenes the first rule of risk management: only manage risks in areas you know."

In its relationship with Evelop, which has secured government start notices for 3900 MW of offshore wind on 11 sites in Dutch waters, Ballast Nedam is going for a much more pro-active role as a full partner. "We will be looking to exploit as many sites as possible under a Design Build Maintain and Finance (DBMF) construction," says Van de Brug. "Basically we will own the rights to those areas of the seabed and we expect that market parties will come to us to provide a complete turnkey project," he adds.


Van de Brug says DBMF is becoming the standard in major onshore infrastructure projects and prefers this arrangement. "It's an interesting challenge because it means we have to operate as project developer and as builder -- and keep those sometimes conflicting roles apart. But that is not too difficult. You simply have to remember that in this case you are looking to make your money as a developer, not by maximizing your profits as a builder."

Ballast Nedam's advantage lies in its vessel, Svanen, which was originally designed for laying bridge foundations and could, if needed, lay the foundations for a 23 MW wind turbine -- extrapolating from current foundation weights. "As the turbines get bigger, the Svanen is really coming into its own," says Van De Brug. As a sign of Ballast Nedam's confidence that the Dutch offshore wind market might at last be happening, the company is moving Svanen from Malmö in Sweden, where it has been sitting for two years.

Ballast Nedam first became involved in the offshore sector in 1999 when it joined the Dutch Offshore Wind Energy Converter (DOWEC) project with turbine manufacturer NEG Micon (since merged with Vestas) and a number of Dutch wind energy research institutes. "Actually, we were the first company to sink true offshore monopiles -- at the Dronten wind farm in the IJsselmeer," says Edwin van De Brug, referring to an early offshore project in Holland's largest inland sea. Offshore wind, he says, is a logical extension of the company's expertise in major bridge-building projects.

Site studies galore

With the Dutch government having slapped its second moratorium on offshore wind development in just 18 months (Windpower Monthly, June 2005), Ballast Nedam is not likely to get really busy in Dutch waters until 2007. The only other project with a chance of proceeding before then is Evelop's already approved Q7 120 MW proposal, for which it is seeking financing. Meantime, the government has issued start notices in response to 54 applications for more than 10,000 MW of offshore wind plant on 25 sites.

"Of course we are now in a race to see who can get their flag up first," says Van de Brug. "Everybody has done a global feasibility survey and seen that these are the good sites, so now of course we are in the ludicrous situation that everybody is doing environmental impact studies for the same bits of seabed, but at the same time, at least something is happening, and as a result those global feasibility surveys are becoming much more detailed."

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