Huge plans but solid markets lacking -- Dutch and Belgian North Sea

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Officially there was no expansion of wind power capacity off the coastlines of neighbouring Belgium and the Netherlands in 2007, leaving Nuon and Shell's 108 MW Egmond aan Zee station the sole offshore contributor in either country. In reality, however, seven new turbines in Dutch waters did start delivering electricity to the grid at the tail-end of the year. The machines were the first to come online in a group 30 Vestas 2 MW units installed by late December as part of the 60 turbine 120 MW Q7 project being developed by Econcern and Eneco Energie in the North Sea, 23 kilometres off the coast of IJmuiden. The entire project, which started construction in 2006, is due to become fully operational this month, says Econcern, taking Dutch offshore wind capacity to 228 MW.

For the time being that will be the end to new plant coming online off the Netherlands' coastline. The demise of the Milieukwaliteit Elektriciteits Productie (MEP) incentive program (page 78) left the country without an offshore market for just long enough to bring investment to a grinding halt. At the end of last year, Econcern's Dirk Berkhout bitterly labelled the government's inaction as a "missed opportunity for the Netherlands." There is potential for 6000 MW of wind power off the Dutch coastline, enough to supply 20% of Dutch power consumption, according to Eneco's Jeroen de Hass. Both men pleaded for consistent long term legislation.

They may see their wish fulfilled. The government has set new goals for offshore wind calling for another 450 MW in addition to the Egmond aan Zee and Q7 projects to be built by 2011 and 6000 MW by 2020. How that is to be achieved remains unknown, however. While the Dutch government has replaced the MEP with new legislation and a price structure for onshore wind, there are no rates for offshore wind. Furthermore, economic affairs minister Maria Van der Hoeven says no licences will be issued for new offshore plant until sometime in 2009.

Given the major role given to offshore wind in meeting the Netherlands' renewables targets, the delay is "incomprehensible," says the Netherlands Wind Energy Association. No further projects can now come online before 2012/13, it points out. Without the planned 450 MW of offshore development, the government will now miss its 2011 renewable target. Yet more than enough capacity is waiting in the wings. Frustration among prospective developers is rising.

Just last month, German energy group RWE announced plans to build 2 GW off the Netherlands (page 32). Nuon has plans for 100 MW off Wieringermeerdijk and Evelop, part of the Econcern Group, has exclusive rights to the site for its planned Scheveningen Buiten offshore wind farm, being developed with Ballast Nedam. Expected to be over 300 MW, the plan was to have it running in 2011.

Similarly, Irish Airtricity's plan for its 284 MW West Rijn offshore station, still to be fully permitted, is likely to be delayed. According to Wind Service Holland, an advisory firm, Airtricity's project may not come online until 2016 at best. The company's other planned development in the Dutch North Sea, the 350 MW Breeveertien II project, is not now expected online until 2018, if then, putting in peril the 2020 target too.

Belgium first

Belgium should see its first offshore turbines come online this year. The first six Repower 5 MW turbines in the first stage of C-Power's EUR 800 million, 300 MW Thornton Bank project off Zeebrugge are to start production in September. The second and final stage will come online in phases between 2009-2011. An even bigger project by Belwind, another offshoot of the Econcern stable, is due to start site work this year. The final planning permits were granted last month for the company's 330 MW Bligh Bank project 46 kilometres off the Belgian coast. It, too, is to consist of 5 MW turbines and is due for commissioning in 2009-2010.

While the only other big offshore wind project firmly planned in the country remains the 180 MW Eldepasco project, due for construction on the Bank Zonder Naam, the Belgian government is expected to implement policy that could pave the way for another 3000 MW, at least if it heeds the admonition of last year's Commission Energy 2030 report (page 80).

Based on Belgium's current purchase price of EUR 107/MWh over 20 years for the first 216 MW of offshore wind and EUR 90/MWh for subsequent capacity, the report estimates that achieving a goal of 3800 MW would cost around EUR 27 billion. Providing sufficient transmission capacity could add as much as another EUR 700 million, it says, and increased system costs for balancing wind production and demand another EUR 150-200 million.

"If prospects are positive, go for it with strong determination," the commission advises government. "If prospects range from dubious to negative, have the realism to call it off and reorient."

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