Germany's offshore wind energy targets threatened by delays

Germany’s offshore wind parks, being built to replace most of the nuclear reactors closing in the next decade, are likely to miss construction targets because of delays in connecting turbines to the power grid.

Bloomberg reports that the country’s biggest utilities, EON AG (EOAN) and RWE AG (RWE),  have threatened to halt investment in wind projects unless obstacles are removed, which RWE blames mainly on slow permitting and problems with acquiring cables and transformer stations.

The difficulties undermine the government’s aim to have 10 GW of sea-based turbines, or the equivalent of about nine atomic plants, installed by the end of this decade, according to the wind industry’s main lobby group.

About 0.2 gigawatts were in place at the end of last year.

“We won’t reach 10 GW by 2020, and everyone in the industry knows that,” Hermann Albers, the head of the BWE wind- energy lobby, said in an interview in Berlin. Grid operators, which are responsible for the connections, and their suppliers have underestimated the challenges of connecting projects that can cost upward of 1 billion euros ($1.3bn), he said.

The sluggish start to Germany’s offshore wind expansion is a setback for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s plan to transition to a nuclear-free energy mix based on 80 per cent renewable sources by 2050.

The German government says the delays won’t affect its goal of shutting all nuclear reactors by 2022 and raise the share of renewables to 35 per cent of the total installed capacity from about 20 percent last year.

The utilities say the delays may affect longer-term commitments. Fritz Vahrenholt, chief executive officer of RWE’s Innogy unit for renewable energy, predicted a possible “collapse in investment activities” in German offshore wind farms unless the issues are resolved.

Grid operator TenneT TSO GmbH told RWE that hooking the utility’s 1 billion-euro Nordsee Ost wind farm up to the grid will take 12 months longer than expected, Vahrenholt said last month in Essen, Germany, where RWE has its headquarters.

EON’s Amrumbank West project in the North Sea will be delayed by about 15 months, said Carsten Thomsen-Bendixen, an EON spokesman. The Dusseldorf-based utility said it can’t make an investment decision on two other projects in planning in Germany because of the problems.

The utilities are concerned about who will compensate them for the delays, which in the case of RWE’s Nordsee Ost farm may cause damages in the “three-digit million-euro range,” Vahrenholt said. They also want to cut red tape in permitting wind farms.

German Developer Windreich AG rejected the utilities’ warnings as “doom-mongering.” TenneT will connect “nearly on time” Windreich’s Global Tech I, MEG 1 and Deutsche Bucht projects with a combined capacity of about 1 gigawatt, Chief Executive Officer Willi Balz said in a statement late yesterday.

Germany’s environment and economy ministries last month set up a group that will also include grid operators, regulators and industry officials to discuss issues including permitting and liability to speed up grid connection. The group will make recommendations to Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen at the end of next month, said Thorsten Falk of the Offshore Stiftung, a group that promotes offshore wind energy.

“The 10-GW can be reached in principle if a broad solution for the grid connection issue can be brought on its way quickly,” Falk said in e-mailed remarks. “Whether this will be a precision landing or delayed by two years doesn’t matter for the overhaul of the electricity supply. The actual power output is what matters, not the megawatt figures. Initial experience shows that those are exceeding projections.”

The start of construction of the HelWin 1 converter platform will be delayed by about a year to May 2013 as the licensing and permitting process “turned out to be more complex than planned,” Torsten Wolf, a spokesman for Siemens, the main contractor for both projects, said by phone.

German authorities should draft a long-term offshore grid development plan and clarify who’s legally responsible to compensate for grid connection delays, TenneT said in a statement posted on its website yesterday. It suggested forming a “German direct-current network operator” that would plan, finance, build and run power lines to connect the wind farms and bring their output south, where companies including Daimler AG and BASF AG run factories.

“The current structure is not suitable to accomplish the ambitions of the energy transition,” it said.

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