Optimism rises for start to offshore construction -- German approvals pass 5000 MW

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Four more offshore wind projects in German waters, each at 400 MW, were granted building permits in 2006. The Arkona-Becken Südost project, developed by E.ON Energy Projects, has been approved for a Baltic Sea site, while Nordsee Windpower's Global Tech 1 project, EOS Offshore's Hochsee Windpark Nordsee, and Plambeck Neue Energien's Godewind development are all destined for the North Sea. More than 5000 MW has now been granted construction permits (table). No building work has started on any project, however.

Along with long lead times in securing transmission cable permits -- most projects have yet to get all necessary permits -- developers have been struggling to find contractors willing, at an acceptable price, to undertake huge offshore projects relatively far out to sea using unproven technology. The problem was noted by developers of the Butendiek project in the North Sea when they announced its sale to Irish wind company Airtricity late last year.

Sentiments could be about to change, however. A new law dubbed The Infrastructure Accelerated Planning Act was passed in November requiring electricity transmission system operators to shoulder the cost getting offshore wind power to shore, slashing costs to be financed by wind developers by up to 25%. With network operators now holding round table discussions and taking steps to resolve transmission issues, developers are looking to the future with slightly more confidence, although some are still frustrated.

The law prevents wind developers from pursuing their own cable development plans should they wish, leaving them wholly reliant on the co-operation of the large network operators, many of which have offshore wind sister companies. "We have lost a chance here," says Frank Richert of Gesellschaft für Energie und Oekologie (GEO). "The wind lobby's proposals for solving the offshore cable financing difficulties were ignored, and the law takes away the possibility of independent development of international offshore transmission network projects." The industry's proposals had included the possible creation of a Danish-German network to which German offshore stations and Danish projects, including Horns Rev, could be connected.

Nonetheless, with the law's introduction many project developers expect to be able to progress into the construction phase. The first project scheduled to get underway will be the Borkum West 12 turbine offshore test station, with construction due to start in 2008 at the latest. It is supported by the federal environment ministry and energy companies E.ON, Vattenfall Europe and EWE all have a stake in the project, which will comprise 5 MW turbines supplied by Repower Systems and Multibrid.

Meanwhile, GEO's 25 MW GEOFReE offshore test station was granted a construction permit two months ago and is expected to get its final cable permit shortly. Construction of the five 5 MW units at a site 20 kilometres from the East Holstein coast in Mecklenburg Bay in the Baltic Sea should kick off around the same time as Borkum West.

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