Huge offshore plant getting closer -- Under starter's order

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Following three years of feasibility studies and ministerial deliberation, the Dutch cabinet has finally approved plans for the Netherlands' first North Sea wind farm, a 100 MW demonstration project to be constructed some eight kilometres off the coast from the small Noord Holland town of Egmond aan Zee. The approval follows hard on the heels of the first formal applications to construct fully commercial wind farms further off the Dutch coast.

Plans for the 100 MW offshore were first unveiled by government environment agency Novem in May 1997. The "near-shore" project, Novem said, would help to develop the technical expertise that would eventually result in the harnessing of an offshore wind resource estimated at 4000 MW-6000 MW.

The cabinet says it chose the Egmond site ahead of alternative locations off the coast at Zandvoort and IJmuiden because of its superior "technical and economic feasibility" -- there is no interference with local shipping, tourism activities or bird migration routes, and the sea-bottom is stable. Because the installation of some 1250 MW of wind energy capacity in Dutch waters by 2020 is a vital element in the Netherlands' commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 6% between 1990-2008/2012, the government is providing a subsidy of NLG 60 million towards the estimated NLG 430 million project cost.

To date three consortia have expressed interest in developing the wind plant with the NUON/ENW led Noordzeewind group looking a particularly strong contender. With industrial heavyweights Shell and Siemens also showing interest, it is likely to be a closely fought contest. The precise configuration of the plant will depend on the eventual developer, but is likely to comprise a cluster of some 50-70 turbines in the 1.5-2 MW class, which will provide electricity for some 100,000 households. The plant is scheduled to remain operational for 15 to 20 years.

Although the cabinet decision has still to be approved by parliament, allocation of tenders is expected at the end of the year, allowing construction to begin in 2001 for a completion date of end 2002, start 2003.

More on the way

The near-shore project's long journey from drawing board to North Sea-bed has proved too leisurely for some in Dutch wind. Even before plans for the test plant have been finalised, the attention of at least one project developer has shifted further out to sea.

Stealing Novem's thunder at the time of its 1997 announcement, Greenpeace Nederland launched proposals to construct some 10,000 MW of wind plant in Dutch territorial waters. Four years later, the engineering consultancy responsible for the Greenpeace presentation, Bunnik-based E-Connection, has once again upped the pace and scale of Dutch offshore ambitions with its application to develop six wind farms 25-45 kilometres off the coast of Egmond and nearby IJmuiden.

According to E-Connection's Mathieu Kortenoever, the applications lodged with the transport and water ministry in December are for permits to develop two wind farms of about 100 MW, and four of about 1000 MW. E-Connection has applied for the permits on behalf of two consortia, one covering engineering, procurement, construction, service and maintenance, and the second covering financing, investment and operation. At this stage, Kortenoever will not disclose the names of any of the parties involved, but an unsubsidised project of this scale will inevitably require the participation of a company with deep pockets and considerable offshore experience.

Commercially viable

Depending on the speed at which the applications are processed, the first truly offshore wind plant could be operational in 2001 with the others following in 2002, says Kortenoever. Despite the fact that this would mean that fully commercial offshore wind farms were being developed simultaneously with the government-subsidised near-shore test project, Kortenoever rejects suggestions that E-Connection's plans may be premature.

"We are convinced that projects of this magnitude are already technically feasible and that the Dutch market for green electricity makes it commercially viable," he says. Kortenoever also hopes E-Connection will be involved in the near-shore project. Along with Rabobank, Triodos Bank, the Friesland Bank and Rotterdam-based power company Eneco, the consultancy is part of the Neshwind consortium's bid to develop the Egmond plant.

With the UK arm of Dutch utility Nuon -- Nuon-UK -- joining forces with Shell Renewables at Blyth in the UK to test Vestas 2 MW units (page 11), it seems clear that the race to build wind plant on the Dutch continental shelf is now under starter's orders.

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