Major grid upgrade for offshore plans -- Belgium considers options

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Grid improvements necessary for wiring up Belgium's Thornton Bank offshore wind farm will be ready this year, says national grid authority Elia. By upgrading the high voltage stations at Koksijde and Slijkens and linking them with a new 150,000 volt underground cable, the local grid will be able to cope with 600-700 MW of offshore wind power, says Elia. This is more than enough to accommodate C-power consortium's 300 MW wind farm, 27 kilometres off the Belgian coast on the Thornton sand bank.

Elia is also studying the costs of connecting another 2000 MW of offshore wind power to the national grid, as envisaged under a government energy strategy. These costs are likely to be enormous, says the company's Frank Vandenberghe. Belgium's grid is set up to import power from neighbouring countries to the coastal regions, so the prospect of carrying up to 2000 MW inland from offshore is a whole new story, Vandenberghe told Belgian daily the Gazette van Antwerp.

"The additional power from the offshore farms will be equivalent to two nuclear reactors," says Vandenberghe. "It will require a very high voltage connection. Presently we are estimating costs for the construction of a 38,000 volt overhead cable and alternatives using underground connections." Although an overhead cable would be cheaper, public resistance would likely kill this option.

Elia's Lisa Mulpas stresses the study is still in its earliest stages. "It is far too early to make even a rough estimate of the costs of the different alternatives," she says. But the company sees no problems in carrying out the offshore grid upgrade alongside the modernisation needed to prepare Belgium for the liberalised pan-European power market. "Both programs are part of our business plan," says Mulpas. She says that once Elia has reported on what is technically possible and the cost, it is up to the Belgian government and power regulator to take it further.

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