Goodbye nuclear and hello wind -- German environment ministry heads offshore with big plans

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Offshore wind power has become an integral part of Germany's decision to phase out 7455 MW of nuclear power plant by the end of 2010. "Phasing out nuclear power goes hand in hand with phasing in more wind power," declared Rainer Baake, head of the federal environment ministry, at an offshore wind energy conference in Berlin last month. At the conference he outlined a strategy to install up to 25,000 MW of wind turbines offshore by 2030, generating 70 to 85 TWh a year -- about 16% of Germany's electricity consumption last year.

"We need at least 15,000 MW of wind energy in Germany by 2010," to achieve Germany's climate targets," said Baake. "As potential growth on land is now limited, 3000 MW of this will be offshore. "At the end of 2000, Germany had 6100 MW of installed wind power capacity and expects to add up to 2000 MW on shore this year. Baake was speaking only days after the German government and electricity industry signed the final agreement for nuclear's demise. The agreement, which made headline news around Europe, allows for the nuclear capacity to be replaced by energy saving and more coal and gas fired generation as well as more wind.

The offshore wind strategy consists of four phases, beginning with a study of environmental and ecological aspects and pilot project and licence granting up to 2003. In the next phase, up to 2006, several small wind stations of up to 40 turbines each will be licensed and installed, and by 2007, the first 500 MW of offshore capacity will be built, according to the plan. This will be followed by two expansion phases foreseeing 2000-3000 MW installed by 2010 -- assuming an average turbine size of 3 MW -- growing to 20,000-25,000 MW by 2025-2030. Baake stressed, however, that the environment ministry strategy has not yet been co-ordinated with other ministries.

On the drawing board

To date, 18 mostly huge offshore projects have been proposed by wind plant developers -- not all of them publicly announced -- in the North Sea and Baltic Sea (table). Co-ordinating applications is the federal shipping office, Bundesamt für Schifffahrt und Hydrographie (BSH), the licensing authority for German territorial waters outside the 12 mile zone (22 kilometres). The offshore wind plant plans needed to be co-ordinated with other uses including shipping routes, military shooting practice areas, seabed telecommunications, underwater electricity cables, national parks, flora and fauna habitat areas, and bird protection areas.

Locating suitable sites could become a major barrier to Germany's offshore wind plans. Within the 12 mile zone, sites are almost completely ruled out by the existence of large nature protection areas. As a result developers have concentrated on more distant sites where the economics of offshore plant installation are a deal more uncertain -- and require larger turbines. Perhaps furthest ahead with the right machine is German Enercon, which will install an onshore version of a 4.5 MW unit it is developing for offshore use near Magdeburg early next year. Series production in small numbers should begin in 2004 to 2005, Enercon's Claus Pescha reported at the conference, which was organised by the environment ministry and the German wind energy institute, DEWI.

While the federal environment ministry is bullish about its strategy of offshore expansion, the BSH is struggling with the task of creating a licensing procedure for wind plant outside the 12 mile zone. The authority is torn among the pleas of developers anxious to get a licence and gain experience at sea, the warnings by state governments which have their own legislation governing the waters, and environmental and nature groups that demand installation of just one pilot project and full acceptance of new bird protection areas, even before they have been approved.

BSH's president, Peter Ehlers, is quite clear about his task. "We must stick to the letter of the law, the regulations for installations at sea. But it would have been better if politicians had tackled this issue five years ago."

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