Grid Locked Utility Giant E.on Threatens to Halt Wind Farm Investment

German energy giant E.on warned on Tuesday that the country's green energy revolution is at risk from delays in connecting offshore wind farms to the grid. The company said it will put two large projects on hold unless the grid operators speed up the construction of power lines.
Alpha Ventus, the first wind farm to be built off the German coast, went into operation in April 2010.

Alpha Ventus, the first wind farm to be built off the German coast, went into operation in April 2010.

Foto: Ingo Wagner/ dpa

Germany's plans for a radical expansion in offshore wind power generation are at risk of failure because of delays in hooking the wind farms up to the power grid, German power company E.on warned on Tuesday.

Mike Winkel, head of the company's Climate & Renewables division, told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper that E.on and other power companies will stop investing in offshore power if the grid operators don't speed up their construction of power lines to transport the power generated by the wind farms.

"The situation is disastrous," Winkel told the newspaper. "The grid operators aren't keeping up." He said grid operator Tennet was 15 months behind with work on linking the Amrumbank offshore wind farm, operated by E.on, to the grid.

"The grid operators overestimated themselves and underestimated the problems," Winkel said. "Secondly, they don't have sufficient financial incentives," he added, explaining that the regulatory authority doesn't pay an especially high return on their investments. Another problem, he explained, is that the suppliers aren't managing to manufacture the required cables. "Finally, authorities are causing major confusion over who is responsible for what, and they're not coordinating among each other."

Pessimistic Outlook

The German government plans to increase the share of green power to 35 percent of power consumption by 2020 from 20 percent at present. A decisive part of that increase is to come from offshore wind farms, seen as particularly suitable because the wind blows constantly at sea, which makes it a more reliable source of power than solar energy or wind turbines on land.

"We have a very big problem," said Winkel. "I'm pessimistic for the time after 2015 if nothing changes. No one will go on investing if the grid link is as uncertain as it is now, neither E.on nor others."

He said E.on plans two other major projects after Amrumbank, one in the North Sea and one in the Baltic. "But given the uncertain grid link, we can't make an investment decision at present." He said the problem with the link "poses an acute threat to Germany's energy revolution."

There has been growing criticism of delays  in building wind farms in the North Sea and Baltic. In January, the German Transport Ministry provided figures which outline the scale of the task Germany faces. The plan is to have 10,000 wind turbines in operation off Germany's coasts by 2030. It currently only has 27. The aim is for the windfarms to produce 25,000 megawatts of power -- so far, it's just 135 megawatts. Energy company RWE has also complained about delays in power line construction.

cro -- with wire reports
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