Europe prioritises transmission

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As part of its proposed new energy policy for Europe (page 28), the EU Commission has "sounded the alarm over the current state of energy infrastructure" and is proposing priority actions to speed investments in "the most critical bottlenecks," among them building transmission connections to offshore wind power in northern Europe.

It proposes appointing a European co-ordinator to pursue the offshore wind links alongside three further co-ordinators who will speed three additional infrastructure projects with a "most critical" designation: a power link between Germany, Poland and Lithuania, an interconnection between France and Spain and the Nabucco gas pipeline bringing gas from central Asia, the Caspian region and the Middle East to central Europe.

The Commission also wants to harmonise regional planning across Europe by strengthening co-operation between transmission system operators. These are to take on more responsibility; it will become their job to monitor and analyse development planning at regional level.

Planning and authorisation procedures should be streamlined, says the Commission, so that important projects can be completed within five years instead of often ten or more years. It will invite member states to "set up national procedures within which planning and approval of projects of European interest should be completed within a fixed delay of five years." In a further proposal, it suggests examining the need to increase EU energy technology funding "in particular to facilitate the integration of renewable energy into the grid."

In effect, the Commission is admitting that its Trans-European Energy Networks guidelines -- the most recent version with 42 projects of European interest in force since September -- are failing to speed vital projects to the extent that is needed. "European energy networks are operating close to their physical limits with the risk of temporary supply interruptions and many member states continue to remain isolated from the rest of the internal market," points out the Commission. "With only EUR 200 million of annual investment in cross-border grids, the situation appears particularly dramatic for the electricity sector since more than 60% of the projects declared of European interest face significant delays mainly due to the complexity of authorisation procedures."

The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) welcomes the proposals, particularly the plans for European co-ordinators to oversee vital infrastructure projects and the Commission's call for a roll-out of offshore wind power development -- and for a European offshore grid.

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