A bag of mixed fortunes for eager developers -- Dutch and Belgian North Sea

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While 120 MW of offshore capacity was commissioned in the Netherlands in 2008, the rest of the year was one of marking time for the Dutch offshore wind sector with legislation in limbo once again. Total offshore capacity in Dutch waters is now 228 MW, from two projects of Vestas turbines, the 120 MW Princess Amalia (formerly Q7) wind farm, commissioned last year by Econcern and Eneco Energie in the North Sea, off the coast of IJmuiden, and the 108 MW Egmond aan Zee project, owned by Nuon and Shell, operating since 2006. They will remain the country's only operating offshore wind assets for some years to come, even though proposals for at least 5 GW are in the queue for construction permits.

The industry was dealt an unexpected blow at the end of 2008, followed by another just weeks later. First off was bad news for Evelop, part of the Dutch Econcern group, when its long planned 300 MW Scheveningen Buiten offshore wind farm, already granted exclusive rights to the site, was refused a construction permit in December. As Evelop was still busy licking its wounds, approval for Airtricity's 260 MW West Rijin offshore wind farm in January gave the industry reason to stay positive, but the feeling was short lived.

Airtricity's 72 turbine project, 40 kilometres off the Dutch North Sea coast, has just one hurdle to go before it can proceed -- approval for financial support under the Dutch renewable energy incentive program, Stimuleringsregeling Duurzame Energie (SDE). While this had been expected next month or soon after, it is now looking like November, at the earliest.

Under the SDE, which came into force last year, the Dutch government wants to see another 6.5 GW of offshore capacity built by 2020. The offshore rates were expected to be announced early this year, in time for when the next round of SDE funding allocations opens in April, but late last month offshore developers discovered they would again be spending a year in limbo.

According to economic affairs minister Maria van der Hoeven, final rates for offshore will now be confirmed by November 1, in time for a government call for proposals from project licence holders for 450 MW of capacity, to be completed by 2014, three years later than originally scheduled. The only licence holder so far is Airtricity. Power purchase prices are capped at a maximum of EUR 18.6/MWh for 15 years, or 2897 hours of operation at the equivalent of full load each year (a capacity factor of 33%). Energy Centre Netherlands, which advises the government on energy prices, will finalise the rates shortly before the tender is issued.

Airtricity, owned by Scottish and Southern Energy, is hoping to get building approval from the Dutch government for a second project, its 350 MW Breeveertien II wind farm in the North Sea. While the firm is the only current eligible applicant for the government's planned call to tender, others are waiting in the wings. Airtricity's projects are two of 17 applications from six offshore developers submitted, according to Wind Service Holland, with just West Rijin approved so far. The remaining applications are all for 300-500 MW developments.

Belgium kicks off

In Belgium, the offshore wind industry has more reason to celebrate, having seen the country's first offshore wind turbines installed last year and another project approved for construction. The commissioning of six Repower turbines with a combined capacity of 30 MW at C-Power's Thornton Bank offshore wind farm late last year is just the start of the company's planned 300 MW project. When fully completed it will generate more than 1 TWh a year.

On the heels of Thornton Bank is Belwind on the Bligh Bank, a EUR 900 million, 330 MW project granted construction and operation permits early last year. Evelop is developing Belwind in two 165 MW phases of 110 Vestas 3 MW turbines. It is due online in 2010. A connection agreement has been signed with grid operator Elia, which is contributing EUR 25 million towards the costs of the undersea cable which will connect the plant to its 150 kV Blondeellaan substation in Zeebrugge. Elia will also buy all the green certificates, with each certificate representing one MWh of electricity generated, at the legally stipulated minimum price for a period of 20 years. Trade in green certificates, with prices currently averaging around EUR 107/MWh, and co-financing arrangements are key elements of statutory renewable energy policy in Belgium.

Another offshore project, Eldepasco, has had a site concession since 2006, but applications for construction and environmental permits were only filed on December 12, 2008. Planned for construction on the Bank Zonder Naam, 35 kilometres off the Belgian coast, the EUR 500 million plan is being developed by a consortium comprising Electrawinds, Depret/Artes-groep, Aspiravi and Colruyt. It is slated to be 216-252 MW in capacity but to consist of just 36 turbines, indicating the use of 6 MW turbines, which severely limits the choice of turbine supplier. The project is scheduled to come online in 2011, if all necessary permits are secured to plan. Annual output will be around 765 GWh, says Electrawinds.

The three projects are just the start of Belgium's planned offshore development. The country wants offshore capacity to reach 2-2.3 GW by 2020, possibly rising to 3.8 GW by 2030, a volume seen as the maximum exploitable potential in the area designated for offshore wind use by the Belgian government.

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