Two projects nearly ready and two still in waiting -- Belgians steal policy lead on Dutch

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Dutch and Belgian offshore projects shared mixed fortunes in 2003. Developers of two projects, the Dutch WP Q7 and the Belgian Thornton Bank, ended the year poised to set starting dates for construction, while uncertainty still surrounds the Netherlands' Near Shore Windfarm (NSW) and, to a much greater degree, Belgium's Seanergy project.

NSW developers Nuon and Shell are due to take a final decision on investment once they have obtained the long awaited environmental permit, while the Seanergy consortium is awaiting a ruling from Belgium's highest court, the Raad van State, on whether it can proceed with its 100 MW project at Knokke Heist (table).

In terms of policy initiatives, the Belgians have stolen a lead on the Netherlands. Despite extensive industry consultations, the Dutch government has still not resolved the problem of finding an equitable system for licensing new offshore projects. Neither has it decided how to handle grid connection and reinforcement. It is unclear if these issues will be resolved in 2004, effectively extending the moratorium on further offshore developments.

levelling the field

Belgium, however, recently issued a North Sea zoning plan which makes sites available for some 2000 MW of wind turbines. It has also announced that grid modifications necessary to connect large renewable projects will be partly absorbed in general high-voltage grid charges. The move has been welcomed by Thornton Bank developer C-Power, as levelling the playing field even further for wind power development.

"It is one of the elements that can create a better bench mark with traditional fossil fuel energy production. Let us remember that the cost of restructuring the grid in the 1970s and 1980s is not found in the kilowatt hour price of the nuclear industry," says C-Power general manager Filip Martens.

"Along with the [zoning plan], it underlines the government's willingness to stick out its neck to get offshore wind up and running -- it shows that this is a firm policy of the government to get this kickstarted. That is exactly what the market needs: a solid legal framework."

Martens continues: "There is a long path to walk: the financial market has to be convinced of the maturity of the sector and one of the key issues is to bridge the technology world with the financing world and to create an environment of mutual trust. Now we need the manufacturers to stick their hands in the fire and say that they guarantee their turbines will work for ten years."

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