Competitor error benefits consortium -- Belgian offshore back again

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The administrative confusion surrounding Belgian offshore permit procedures, which earlier this year stymied Seanergy's 100 MW Knokke-Heist project, looks as if it will benefit another developer. The C-Power consortium is now saying it expects to start its Thornton Bank project two and a half months ahead of its original schedule. The group's general manager, Filip Martens, says it is all a matter of having the right Royal Decrees.

In Belgium, a Royal Decree is the executive act that stipulates the detailed procedures for obtaining and issuing building and environmental permits. Earlier this year, the Seanergy application was suspended pending further review because the Raad van State -- the supreme administrative council -- ruled the procedures had not been correctly followed (Windpower Monthly, May 2003).

C-Power had also earlier announced it was suspending plans for Thornton bank. "Because our applications for building and environmental permits were based on the same Royal Decrees as those questioned in the Seanergy case, we decided it was too risky to use them to proceed with what will be a EUR 500 million investment. Consequently we have formally withdrawn our old applications," says Martens. "However the results of the environmental and geological surveys have been submitted and are currently being examined by the relevant experts. Now we have heard that the Raad van State has approved the new Royal Decrees." Once published, Martens says C-Power will re-submit under the new decrees.

With the data already being reviewed, the official consultation round can be opened just 30 days after the publication of the new decrees, says Martens. That means the developer will come out ahead of the original schedule under which permits were due to be finalised in the second quarter of 2004.

The public consultation takes 60 days, but having mounted a comprehensive information campaign over the summer, Martens is confident the plans will survive without serious opposition, enabling construction to start in 2005. If all goes smoothly, the group will be able to start taking supply bids in the order of EUR 420-480 million in September.

The group, comprising Belgium's largest power distribution company, Interelectra, marine engineers Dredging International, Belgian turbine manufacturer Turbowinds and Wallonian financial concerns SRIW Ecotech Finance and SOCOFE, has now been joined by France's SIIF Energies -- a Paris-based renewables investment concern owned 50% by Electricité de France and 50% by private investors. SIIF, which has taken a 20% stake in the group, currently holds 300 MW of wind worldwide, part of a 550 MW green generation portfolio.

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