No plans yet for offshore integration -- Germany in deep water

Germany is looking at 500 MW of offshore wind power by 2006, 3000 MW by 2010 and 25,000 MW by 2030 -- all of which must be integrated into the onshore transmission system. But if all the development foreseen by the environment ministry goes ahead, offshore wind capacity will equal that of the entire transmission capacity of the E.on Netz network, stretching from Schleswig-Holstein in the north to Bavaria in the south. Yet plans for integrating offshore wind do not exist and transmission capacity is already running short in northern Germany.

Against this background, German energy agency Deutsche Energie Agentur in Berlin is hoping to help the industry devise a plan. It is talking to wind power developers and network operators before making a contribution to the debate. One unexplored avenue is the Viking Cable, a planned and licensed 600 MW link between Germany and Norway which recently lost the import contract underpinning its construction.

The main problem, says the agency's Jan Rispens, is that offshore developers are competing fiercely. "Each acts as though it will bring its own cable to shore," he says, even though there is little chance that environmentalists will allow a criss-cross of high voltage cables to disturb the protected Wattenmeer, which stretches along Germany's North Sea coast. "No feasibility study has been carried out," Rispens observes.

Too late to join up

"Suggestions that Deutsche Energie Agentur and network operators like E.on Netz could set up an infrastructure company to finance offshore cables are premature," says Rispens. At least one project developer is also sceptical. "It's too late. We've done all the work already, so why should we get someone else in and then have to pay them network charges," says Alexander Klemt of Prokon Nord, the first to receive a licence for a North Sea wind plant in German waters.

Competition is also fierce for existing network capacity -- and onshore developers will win the race because they can build faster, says Rispens. "Unless something is done by 2005 to 2006 there will hardly be any network capacity left onshore for offshore wind to use," he warns. Getting new lines built is a difficult process. After years of protest from citizens, E.on Netz recently abandoned plans for a high voltage line between Stade and Lübeck, choosing to upgrade a series of existing high voltage routes instead.

Network charges

Furthermore, a mechanism is needed to pay for network expansion, Rispens says. As things stand, the costs of new network can be rolled over to customers through network usage charges. But already these network charges are under extreme scrutiny by the federal cartel office. Faced with massive network expansion, Eon Netz, operating in northern Germany, would have to pass on the considerable costs to its customers in the form of higher electricity bills.

"The EU directive on renewable energy says a mechanism must be found for passing on the cost of infrastructure expansion," says Rispens. He agrees that the EU proposal for renewables to be included in a primary energy base in each member country (Windpower Monthly, September 2001) suggests the costs should be shared by all consumers.

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