In this rush to the seas, late-starting Belgium seems to have seized the lead. "We could soon have the biggest wind energy park in the North Sea," Deleuze told a local news agency. He anticipates the cabinet will pass the decree by summer, thus allowing the first project proposals to be approved by the end of the year. The ministry is optimistic that it will see construction begin by spring or summer next year.
"With Belgian territorial waters extending some 50 to 60 kilometres offshore, there is an immense amount of potential to be exploited," says the ministry's Peter Dellaert. "But realistically we are looking to see one or two large plants of 50 to 70 turbines in the one-and-a-half to two megawatt range. The emphasis is on the intensive exploitation of the available resources."
Applications to build offshore have already begun to trickle in, Dellaert adds. "To date, we have heard from Electrabel and the C-power consortium, but expect more, particularly from foreign companies," he says.
On May 15, Electrabel announced the signing of a construction contract for a 100 MW offshore wind farm by 2004, with plans to increase it to 400 MW. C-power hopes to build 50, 2 MW turbines eight kilometres off the coast between Ostende and Zeebrugge as soon as the legal framework is in place, confirms the group's Eric Meert. C-power is made up of Belgian wind turbine manufacturer Turbowinds, power company Interelectra and offshore specialist Dredging International.
With Belgium committed to securing 3% of total energy consumption from renewables by 2004 -- and with little renewables capacity at present -- offshore wind is hoped to make a significant contribution to reaching that target. "It is still too early to say how much will be met from the North Sea," says Dellaert. Some industry insiders are sceptical whether developments in Belgium will proceed more quickly than in neighbouring Netherlands. "It's always more difficult to get the necessary permits in countries with little history of wind development," says one representative of a Dutch firm with experience in the Netherlands and the UK, "But we're certainly interested in applying for a concession."
Belgium's invitation to the wind industry to take the offshore initiative contrasts sharply with the softly-softly approach of its Dutch neighbour. Plans for the Netherlands' near-shore pilot -- a government backed research project -- were first announced in 1997. Since then, they have inched towards realisation through a multi-phased consultation process, of which a final environmental impact report is expected for approval in the autumn (Windpower Monthly, March 2000).
After this point, companies who win supply contracts must apply for construction permits, usually a lengthy process. All in all, it is unlikely that the near shore project will be operational before 2002-2003.