Approvals but German offshore lags behind -- No action until 2004

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The promise of tens of thousands of megawatt of offshore wind plant in German waters still looked good on paper last year, but no wind turbine installation is planned before 2004. This puts Germany far behind its North and Baltic Sea neighbours in this fast-developing new sector of wind power generation.

The federal shipping office, Bundesamt für Schifffahrt und Hydrologie (BSH), has only given two permits for projects so far and expects to announce decisions for at least six North Sea projects this year. Following a site permit from the BSH, developers must get authorisation for the cable route to shore, involving the BSH and the relevant state authority, and a permit from the shipping police.

"The German politicians and authorities are having great difficulty in granting permits for the large test plant. They want everything researched in advance and for this reason we expect offshore development to be stretched into the long term," is the view of Thorsten Herdan, director of the wind division at Verban Deutscher Maschinen und Anlagenbau, the German association of industrial plant manufacturers, who talked to Danish financial newspaper Børsen in January.

One company with initial BSH approval is Prokon Nord, which has a permit to build a 60 MW, 12 turbine pilot project near Borkum island in the North Sea. The project, located 40 kilometres from shore, only makes economic sense if 5 MW turbines are used, says Alexander Klemt of the company. As yet, no 5 MW machine is available. "We hope to get both the permit from the shipping police and the permit from the BSH for the cable route from the station to the 12 sea-mile zone border in spring 2003," says Klemt, referring to the border between state and federal jurisdiction in waters off Germany. Authorisation for the cable from land to the border was granted by the local state authority in May 2002. Klemt expects construction to begin in 2004 with installation of the first six 5 MW turbines, assuming these are obtainable.

Developer Bürger-Windpark Butendiek also received a permit at the end of last year for a 240 MW project 30 kilometres from the island of Sylt and 50 kilometres south of the Horns Rev plant. The company expects to begin construction next year, with commissioning in 2006.

Germany has around 30 offshore projects under development for up to 58,500 MW. The sites are concentrated mainly in the North Sea outside the economic 12 sea-mile zone, but seven projects with a capacity of around 4600 MW are also being developed in the Baltic Sea.

Offshore wind development enjoys remarkable cross-party political support, particularly from north German state governments who hope that it will enliven industrial activity and employment in the economically weak coastal regions. Federal economics minister Jürgen Trittin has announced his support of a pending amendment to the German renewable energy law, which will add four years to the 2010 commissioning deadline for high premium payments. Furthermore, the subsidy will run for nine years instead of the current six.

Network connection of offshore turbines beyond 2010 is a serious problem, however. "The existing network will provide sufficient capacity until the end of the decade," says Trittin. "Now the government is investigating which model is most suitable for meeting the need for more transmission capacity beyond that."

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