Oil giant plans for offshore series -- TotalFinaElf starts in Belgium

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Oil consortium TotalFinaElf, one of three companies to have proposed 100 MW wind power stations in Belgian waters, is also planning to exploit offshore wind potential off the French and Spanish coastlines. "The Belgian offshore wind project is our most developed," says the company's Frederik-Johan De Vos. "But we also intend to establish offshore projects in France and Spain." He reveals that the plans for France include a 40 MW plant in the Mediterranean, near the Languedoc coast, a 70 MW project near the Cotentin peninsula and a 40-80 MW project near Finistère, the most western point of Brittany.

Meantime, TotalFinaElf is waiting for the Belgian Commission for the Regulation of Electricity and Gaz (CREG) to pronounce on applications lodged by it and two competitors for 100 MW wind power stations in the North Sea. The other companies are Belgian consortiums C-Power and Seanergy. C-Power involves electricity distributor Interelectra, construction company Dredging International and wind turbine manufacturer Turbowind (allied with Denmark's Bonus), while Seanergy is a joint venture between electricity producers Electrabel and SPE and building company Jan De Nul (Windpower Monthly, April 2001). The TotalFinaElf and Seanergy applications are for overlapping sites after TotalFinaElf announced its plans in the summer -- for a site already earmarked by Seanergy for an expansion of its 20 MW pilot to 100 MW.

Available skills

The TotalFinaElf project, christened Eolia, is for 40, 2.5 MW turbines in two straight lines stretching from eight to 17 kilometres off the coast. The aim is to keep visual impact to a minimum. The proposed foundations are piles driven into the sea bed off Zeebrugge in water depths of three to 15 metres.

"TotalFinaElf wants to use its offshore oil industry know-how in an innovative project that respects the environment," says Frederik-Johan De Vos. "In the whole of Europe, the demand for renewable energy is growing. Many of our industrial sites are located near the European coasts, which provides for potential synergy effects. The skills we have available within foundation and structural calculations, rotating machines, offshore platforms and the integration of motors with different speeds in networks, are immediately applicable in wind energy projects."

The company plans to bring the power ashore in Zeebrugge and will lay its own cable. If it wins a permit from the government -- and if the price on offer for the power is right -- the projects will be developed in two 50 MW phases, the first to be carried out in 2003, the other in 2004. TotalFinaElf will only proceed, however, if the economic framework makes the project viable, says De Vos.

"During this planning period, wind technology is still evolving," he points out. "Our engineering offices are searching for the best technical solutions. Those studies will also indicate how much money is needed." The turbine technology has yet to be selected, but the oil-concern is talking of technological partnerships with companies "such as Alstom, Jeumont Industrie, Nordex or ABB."

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