Starting gun fired in tight offshore race -- Support for less than 500 MW

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With the Dutch government finally issuing its strategy guidelines for offshore wind power development, the race is on for companies to submit their environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for approval. With projects likely to be selected on a first come first served basis and money available for less than 500 MW of new development, competition is set to be fierce.

When the Dutch Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) was opened up for wind development at the end of 2004, the government was staggered by the number of applications for project permits it received. Just under 80 projects were initially registered, all with their sights on just 48 locations up for grabs. Many projects were for over-lapping areas while there were only subsidies available for a few of them, says Ronald van den Heuvel of the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management's North Sea Directorate, which is in charge of project processing.

The flood wave of applications led to the Ministry of Economic Affairs put a stop on subsidy requests in May last year in order to re-assess its budgetary position. Just a few weeks later, the ministry for transport, public works and water management brought all project processing to a stop. February 2006 saw the process kick-started again.

Limited budget

Now just 25 of the 78 projects initially registered are believed to be at a stage where they are ready to submit EIAs, although just two or three have filed them so far, says Van den Heuvel. E-Connection was the first company to do so. The economy ministry's offshore budget is still limited, however. Only enough money is reportedly available for 700 MW of projects to proceed by 2010.

Two projects totalling 228 MW -- the 120 MW Q7-WP wind farm and the 108 MW Egmond aan Zee project -- are already guaranteed a chunk of the money, having secured develop-ment permission back in 2004. So the 25 projects racing to submit EIAs are competing for just 472 MW worth of subsidy, enough for a few projects at most. "It really is first come first served," warns Van den Heuvel.

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