But with just 228MW operational so far, and nearly two years after the completion of its second offshore wind farm, progress towards seeing further wind turbines in the water is painfully slow.
After years of minimal action, in 2009 the government at last issued construction permits for 12 offshore sites with a total combined capacity of nearly 4GW. The sites are being developed by six companies or consortia: RWE Innogy, a consortium of British energy company SSE and Dong Energy of Denmark, Dutch Energy company Eneco, German wind turbine manufacturer Bard Engineering, Dutch wind developer E-Connection and Netherlands-based energy firm Nuon. The projects vary in size from 120MW to 350MW.
The developers are now competing for subsidies under the country's Subsidieregeling Duurzame Energie (SDE) incentive programme. The tendering process closed on March 1 and the Dutch government expects to announce the winners at the end of May. The production subsidies will run for 15 years, starting July 2015. During 2009 the government upped the total amount of SDE support on offer to offshore wind from 450MW to 950MW, but this still means that around nine wind farms will go away empty-handed.
Meantime, the government is working on a longer-term framework for the third round of offshore development to reach the 6GW goal. It is currently considering how to identify and allocate future sites and favours concessions for large development zones rather than the current system of licences for smaller sites. One drawback of a system of zone concessions is that it will require a change in the law, delaying the process by at least 18 months. The ministry for economic affairs proposes that financial support should be granted at the same time as the concession and recommends that the SDE subsidy arrangement remains, but be financed through increases to electricity bills. Economic affairs minister Maria van der Hoeven has said that the timetable for reaching 6GW is tight and requires urgent action, but maintains it is achievable.
But Jaap Langenbach, director of market monitor Wind Service Holland, is sceptical. Judging by the country's record so far, adding an extra 5GW is more likely to take 20 years, he says. "The targets will not be met," he adds. "Everybody agrees on that." The money is not there and by the time it is finally allocated, the Dutch offshore wind industry will have lost out to Germany and the UK, he says.
With a far smaller area of the North Sea at its disposal, Belgium is showing its bigger neighbour the way. Its first offshore project plant came online last year - C-Power's six turbine 30MW first phase of Thornton Bank. Shortly afterwards, the country's second wind farm began construction; installation of all 55 monopile foundations was completed in February at the 165MW Belwind project on the Bligh Bank, 46 kilometres off Zeebrugge. The Vestas 3MW turbines are expected to be fully operational this year.
The project is being built by a consortium of six Belgian and Dutch investors and lays claim to some unique features. It is located furthest offshore and in the deepest water of all the grid-connected projects. And, despite the challenging financial climate, last year it became the largest wind farm to be financed on a non-recourse basis. This bucks a trend in the European offshore sector for the majority of projects to be financed by big utility owners.
At the end of 2009, the 216MW Eledepasco project was granted the final licence that allows construction and operation to go ahead. The project will be sited on the Bank zonder Naam (Bank without a Name), 37 kilometres offshore. It is being developed by Electrawinds, Depret, Aspiravi and Colruyt Group. The consortium is in negotiations with three short-listed turbine suppliers and hopes to begin construction of the wind farm in 2011, completing in 2012. Electrawinds also received a site licence last year for its 288MW Rentel project, while a further concession was granted to Eneco for its 300MW North Sea Power project.
Under Belgium's green certificate system of support, offshore wind projects receive EUR107/kWh for up to 216MW and EUR90/kWh for any output beyond that capacity.