Behind the offshore scene in Germany

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While Germany shows little outward sign of offshore wind energy developments -- even among the handful of approved projects -- plenty of activity backstage is trying to move things forward within the country's tedious and complex permitting process. The federal shipping office, Bundesamt für Schifffahrt und Hydrologie (BSH), has announced eight public hearings for offshore projects before the government's summer break in June, with more to be scheduled in the second half of the year.

One hearing is on permitting of part of the cable route for the 12-turbine Borkum West plant by Prokon Nord. Lack of a cable permit is one reason the plant has still not been built despite its 2001 approval. Otherwise, with the exception of an application at the early stages of approval, the other hearings will revolve around advanced progress of six wind stations outside the 12 nautical mile zone in the North and Baltic Seas. At the hearings, up to 80 interested parties -- who have already had the opportunity to peruse at least 1000 pages of detailed investigations into the environmental and other impacts of the projects -- will be able to ask questions and request more information.

"We can't say for sure, in view of the number of hearings in the first half year alone, whether permit decisions can be made before the end of the year," says Nico Nolte of BSH. Over the last three years, conditional permits have been granted to pilot phases of four offshore projects in German waters and two prototype installations (table).

One political debate is causing at least six developers to worry about the slow progress. A proposed amendment to the German renewable energy law, the Erneuerbare-Energien-Gesetz (EEG), states that offshore projects for sites in nature and bird protection zones will not qualify for EEG premium payments unless they are permitted before January 1, 2005. The catch is that this will not only apply to existing protected areas, but also those proposed by the federal environment ministry or the European Commission under existing directives or the Natura 2000 program. Projects permitted after the deadline will have to sell their generation on the open market, without it being given a priority power tag.

Legal offshore expert Jörg Kuhbier from Hamburg says the proposed EEG amendment discouraging offshore plant in protected areas may be unconstitutional because the deadline is arbitrary and denies equal treatment to all. He says a developer who receives a permit, but no EEG privileges, just weeks after another developer wins a permit with privileges could take legal action with a good chance of success.

hit by deadline

A later round of amendments to the new EEG could repeal the proposal if it becomes law. Meantime, projects proposed for protected areas that could be hit by the deadline include Winkra's Pommersche Bucht plans, the proposal by Offshore Wind Power Development for Adlergrund and Arcadi's Ventotec Ost 2 project, all in the Baltic Sea. Affected North Sea projects include Winkra's Nordsee Ost, Energiekontor's Weisse Bank, Butendiek's Weisse Bank 2010 plus GEO's Uthland and the Dan Tysk project on the Danish-German border.

Achim Ernst of Winkra is keeping his fingers crossed that the EEG amendment will not be passed, but even if it is, Winkra is working on meeting the deadline. The project developer has successfully completed a two year nature impact assessment for Pommersche Bucht as a standard part of the permitting procedure, Ernst says, and hopes for the necessary BSH permit before the end of the year. On the positive side, he says, the Pommersche Bucht public hearing is in early June -- and BSH permitting has been hastened by a partial standardisation of the process. Winkra anticipates a swifter permit decision for Pommersche Bucht than for the pilot phase of its Nordsee Ost project, the hearing for which took place a year ago; a decision is expected by summer.

No hurry to build

A group of ten offshore developers, Offshore Forum Windenergie, is complaining that the proposed EEG amendment could derail the government's offshore strategy, which calls for 500 MW of wind plant to be installed in German waters by 2006, 2000-3000 MW by 2010 and 20,000-25,000 MW by 2025-2030.

But even where permits are granted, developers seem in no hurry to start building. "Construction won't really get going until 2007 or 2008, and whether 3000 MW of offshore capacity will be commissioned by 2010 as the government anticipates is a maybe," says Ernst.

Companies are waiting for larger and well tested offshore turbines to become commercially available, he says. Machines currently used for offshore stations are too small for German projects, most of which will be sited many kilometres from the coast and need to take full advantage of economies of scale. The 3 MW machines planned for the 240 MW Butendiek project are "probably the lower limit," says Ernst.

Prototypes of large machines are starting to materialise but still have to be tested and brought into series production. Winkra intends to install an Enercon 4.5 MW unit about 500 metres off the port of Wilhelmshaven in water depths of three to six metres, possibly before the end of the year. Repower Systems' 5 MW prototype is planned for installation in Brunsbüttel this spring, and Prokon Nord will install a 5 MW prototype based on the Multibrid technology it acquired from Pfleiderer earlier this year (Windpower Monthly, April 2004) at Bremerhaven in early summer.

The government of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, a state bordering the Baltic Sea in eastern Germany and keen to develop an offshore wind industry, is attempting to clear the way for approval of a flagship project within its 12 nautical mile zone, despite local opposition, mainly coming from the tourism sector. State environment minister Wolfgang Methling has been particularly supportive in helping the project through permitting.

"It's not that we get specific support, but rather that no additional obstacles are placed in the way," says Andree Iffländer of Offshore Ostsee Wind (OOW), the company developing the 21-turbine Baltic 1 offshore station in parallel with its 315 MW Kriegers Flak project. The projects would be linked by a common cable connection to shore.

fast track procedure

Kriegers Flak has an official hearing this month. In parallel, planning procedures for Baltic 1 are about to begin. With the new fast-track procedure, both projects could get a final permit decision at about the same time, says Iffländer. The regional processes for Baltic 1 -- which involve co-ordination among several Mecklenburg-Vorpommern authorities -- will run concurrently rather than consecutively.

Taking a lesson from other offshore developers with permitted projects, OOW -- a 50/50 joint venture between wind financing company WPD and developer Wind-Projekt -- hopes to speed its progress by including the cable route to land in its planning applications for Baltic 1 and Kriegers Flak, rather than as a separate planning item.

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