German sceptic site Readers Edition has a good story today about the Alpha Ventus windpark, Germany’s first offshore windpark, which officially started up with much media hype last April. It’s made up of twelve 5-MW turbines. It’s a €250-million pilot project that serves to spearhead several other coastal power plants in the coming years.The wind farm is operated by energy companies Eon, Vattenfall and EWE and is supposed to provide power to about 50,000 households. The project has been heavily criticised by environmentalists because of its threat to migratory birds.
But for now environmental problems are the least of concerns for the project’s backers. Technical problems have hampered the project from the get-go. Today it has been reported that two of the twelve wind turbines had been shut down for weeks.
Originally estimated to cost €189 million, the Alpha Ventus park has been plagued by cost overruns and delays. In late summer and autumn of 2008, bad weather made installation of the first 6 turbines impossible. Then the equipment to install the monster turbines was not available. Next there were major problems with the transformer facilities.
A few weeks ago the temperature of the bearings in the turbine made by Areva Multibrid was too high and thus they had to be taken out of operation. Now the turbines have to be removed from their 500+ ft. high towers and the bearings have to be replaced. Repair works will take weeks and extend into late summer. It’s still unclear if the other four of the Multibrid turbines have a problem. The remaining 6 turbines are made by Repower and are reported to be running smoothly. There are no reports on how high the costs for the troublesome dismantling and repair works will run.
And if that weren’t bad enough, the construction works on the massive Bard Offshore 1 commercial windparks have been delayed as a 300-foot foundation column crashed onto the construction ship Wind Lift 1 three weeks ago. Now other turbines have to be thoroughly inspected. The Bard project foresees the installation of 320 five-megawatt class turbines over the coming years. The cost for the first 80 Bard turbines alone is climbing far beyond original estimates. First they were estimated to cost over €500 million. Now it’s estimated costs will exceed a billion euros. German online newspaper projects the costs will even reach €1.2 billion.
The promoters of the offshore projects cannot say they weren’t warned of the risks of installing windparks in the North Sea’s harsh conditions. The Nysted offshore windpark and Horns Rev park in Denmark are examples, and have struggled with big problems. For example in 2007 a transformer malfunction occurred at Nysted just 4 years after being commissioned, causing a months-long shutdown. At the Horns Rev windpark there were problems with the turbines only 2 years after they had gone into operation. World leading turbine manufacturer Vestas had to remove all 80 turbines, haul them onshore and perform extensive repairs. Luckily these turbines were only of the smaller 2 to 2.3-MW class, and so much easier to do repair works. Repairs and maintenance on the 5-MW monsters will be much tougher and expensive.
But as long as windpark companies continue to have the full backing of wasteful governments, costs won’t matter.
UPDATE, 17 June 2010: I’m delighted to see one of my favourites, James Delingpole, has featured this post at his blog here. Thanks!