Clear strategy at home and abroad

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For Dutch power company Nuon, international development of wind projects has become an important part of its business. In 2001, it built the largest wind farm in the Netherlands, the 11.22 MW Amsterdam Havens West. It also announced plans for a 60 MW farm in Poland and established a foothold in Spain with the purchase of wind developer DESA along with 620 MW of Spanish wind projects under development.

"For us, the international market is already happening and we certainly weigh our investment decisions across a range of national markets," says renewables director Annemarie Goedmakers. "When it comes to wind energy we distinguish three or four separate types of investment decision. Firstly, there are markets like India and China where conditions are such that we can use our expertise in wind to produce electricity under normal market conditions."

Next is the green power market niche, says Goedmakers, citing Poland and Spain as examples. "Again your main aim is not your home market, but the local green market," she says. "Producing for the home green power market is the third option. We can either do this domestically or look to import power and certificates from foreign markets. But then there has to be reciprocity."

Finally there is investment in new technology, such as the two Vestas offshore turbines at Blyth in northern England and Nuon's bid for the Dutch government's Near Shore Windpark project (Windpower Monthly, February 2002). With the flurry of foreign activity, it is symbolic of the state of the home market that Goedmakers regards the approval of its 50 MW wind project in Noord Holland's Wieringermeer region as one of the most important events of the year domestically. With the four plant comprising the project "ready to be built" this should at least improve Nuon's production in 2002.

The liberalisation of the Dutch green power market for domestic customers has also been a success, she says, "We've gained twice as many customers as we've lost," she claims, though she won't give any figures on switching. "We reached 200,000 green power customers in August and this is now a normal commercial market so we will release the next figures when we pass the next milestone. Switching is always a very tedious process, rates all over the world are low, and we approached it with the clear message that our green electricity will be more expensive."

Insisting on the "premium brand" status of wind generated green power is critical to the long term success of the market, believes Goedmakers. As long as there remains a significant political element within the pricing structure of green power there will not be the stability needed to find the investment for significant offshore development.

That instability was highlighted with the Dutch government's sudden decision to end the ecotax exemption of small-hydro -- after Nuon had made investments in small hydro abroad because it had become an attractively priced power source for Dutch consumers. "That just scares investors. They ask: if they remove this now, what will they do next? And if we don't understand we can't explain it to them. However, we have had high level discussions with the ministry and I think they now appreciate that investors need security and a long term policy that continues in the same reasonable direction."

Dutch government targets of 1500 MW onshore and 6000 MW offshore are quite realistic, she believes. "If we want to clean up our electricity we have to find the space for cleaning it up, but you won't find it if you don't make it a priority. I hope it will be found, but we need much more drive at the national level."

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