Decision on pilot plant postponed -- Government cold feet offshore

The Dutch economy ministry has postponed its decision on the site of the Netherlands' long-planned Near-Shore Windpark and has instead convened a commission to re-examine the recommendations of the pilot project's feasibility study. A final decision on the 100 MW project, due in September, looked to be a formality after approval of a site eight kilometres off the coast at Egmond in February. But a re-examination of the study's recommendation for a maximum water depth of 15-20 metres is causing a delay to the end of the year.

The ministry's eleventh hour change-of-mind comes after an application by energy consultancy E-Connection to begin immediate work on two commercially sponsored 120 MW wind farms some 20 kilometres from the coast in a water depth of 23 metres. Offshore wind is already commercially viable, claims E-Connection, which heads a consortium including Vestas, ABB and Smit International (Windpower Monthly, September).

With commercial offshore wind plants striving to go ahead, there would seem to be no compelling need for the government's NLG 430 million pilot, or for the NLG 60 million subsidy reserved for the near-shore wind farm. The intention was to test the technology for taking Dutch wind further into the North Sea. Should the examining commission decide that the plans for the state sponsored wind farm require revision, the entire fate of the project could come under review.

The fact that the near-shore pilot plant is perhaps not needed to get offshore wind going will not be lost on the project's opponents. They object to the proposed Egmond site because the 80 metre turbines will be visible from land and be a danger to bird life.

Among those arguing for the necessity of a pilot project is Joop Lasseur, director of WEOM. Along with parent company NUON, engineering concern Stork and bankers ING, WEOM is a partner in Nordzeewind, one of three consortia interested in developing the near-shore pilot project. According to Lasseur, a commercial project may be technically feasible with available technology, but it would involve too great a financial risk to be of commercial interest to his consortium.

"Project development is about measuring and weighing risks," he says. "If you go straight into deeper waters, the risk of failure is greater." Turbine technology may be ready for offshore work, says Lasseur, but there are still questions about the foundations of dynamic structures in deep water "We have to get that technical data from somewhere before our investors will accept the risk."

E-Connection's Mathieu Kortenoever dismisses talk of unacceptable risk. He believes there is little testing that still needs to be done and that this can be carried out as easily at a depth of 25 metres as 20. Nor does he accept that E-Connection's application for permits to simultaneously develop the near-shore pilot and six offshore projects has created an either/or situation for the government. "Applications for projects within and outside the 12 mile zone are entirely distinct and involve completely different planning processes," he argues. "Better two wind farms than one."