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TSO TenneT tells Germany: ‘No more offshore wind links’

TenneT has told the German government it will be impossible to build further offshore transmission links without major regulatory changes, raising serious questions about the timeline of the country’s offshore wind ­programme.

Dutch-German transmission system operator (TSO) TenneT, which bought northern Germany’s high-voltage grid from E.ON in 2009, is legally – and exclusively – required to build subsea electrical links to offshore wind farms in the German North Sea as and when they move into the water.

However, the potential scope of that responsibility has grown hugely since March, when Germany thrust offshore wind to the centre of its future energy policy following the Japanese nuclear disaster.

As Berlin has taken steps to make it easier for offshore developers to secure finance, TenneT’s project pipeline has stretched to breaking point, the company tells Recharge.

TenneT spelled out its position in a letter delivered to a handful of German agencies, including the environment and finance ministries, blaming its finite financial firepower and the inability of its subcontractors to deliver projects within the likely time frame.

“It’s not possible for us to build more connections under current conditions,” says a TenneT spokesman. “And there is every reason to believe there will be a need for more connections in the near future.”

TenneT has completed two offshore links – for Alpha Ventus and Bard Offshore 1 – and has seven more under development, each expected to accommodate multiple offshore wind farms.

Those nine “clusters” will carry 5GW of electricity to land. But the progress of Germany’s emerging offshore wind sector could skid to a halt if that is the limit for the foreseeable future.

Under the existing system, TenneT must bear the full cost of building the links, and will then be compensated over several decades by German ratepayers.

Compensation would have to be “higher and faster” before it would be possible for the TSO to take on any new projects, the spokesman says.

In the first half of the year, TenneT, which is owned by the Dutch government, chalked up a net profit of €93m ($125.4m) on revenues of €4.66bn.

But the Arnhem-based company also reported interest-bearing debt of €1.83bn, with chief executive Mel Kroon saying there must be a “sharp watch on costs” given its upcoming investment programme.

TenneT acknowledges its legal responsibility to build the transmission lines but says it needs more time. “In theory, the government could force us to make these connections – it’s part of the law,” the spokesman says. “But we’re writing to the responsible officials to say we cannot fulfil this task.

“It’s a new business and we’re responsible for the quality and security of supply. We need to learn from the projects that are being installed. If all the other projects are already under way, it’s not possible to employ anything useful you might have learned.”

A supply chain under pressure

Beyond finance, TenneT insists there is no way the still-immature supply chain – consisting almost exclusively of Siemens and ABB Cables – can handle any more high-voltage offshore transmission projects before at least 2015.

TenneT’s most recent contracts were awarded in August for two offshore clusters – the 900MW Dolwin2, set to accommodate PNE’s Gode Wind 2; and the 690MW HelWin2, set to accommodate E.ON’s Amrumbank West.

Those deals went to ABB and Siemens respectively, and are due for commissioning in 2015. But delays are expected even before the projects enter the water.

Siemens, which is building four of TenneT’s outstanding projects, says that either HelWin1 (to accommodate Norsee Ost) or BorWin2 (to accommodate Global Tech 1) is likely to miss its 2013 deadline.

Siemens “will probably only be able to install one of the two facilities as scheduled within the 2012 window”, a spokesman tells Recharge, as work generally takes place between May and September. Siemens “will do its utmost to ensure commissioning dates are delayed as little as possible”, he adds.