Analysis - Floating platforms hit troubled waters

WORLDWIDE: The future of offshore wind power in deep water may well rest on floating foundations but changes to legislation, finance shortfalls and technical problems have unsettled several planned floating projects over the past few weeks.

Norwegian multinational Statoil has stopped work on its four-turbine 12MW Hywind pilot project off the coast of Maine in the US. The decision was prompted by the state senate passing a bill to enable a University of Maine-led consortium to pitch for a power purchase agreement with the state’s energy regulator, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

The PUC had approved a term sheet for a 20-year agreement with Statoil in January, but the company argued that the new law effectively cancelled the agreement.

In a letter to the PUC on 3 July, Statoil vice president of wind business development Lars Johannes Nordli wrote that the company "cannot continue to spend its resources on this project without certainty that a contract for the project output will be finalised".

Spanish policies halt project

Work has also stopped at the Zefir floating project at the port of Tarragona in Catalonia, which was set to become Spain’s first offshore wind farm. Grid connections and environmental licences were in place for the 20MW first phase while Alstom, Gamesa and Acciona had all been contracted to provide turbines.

The developer, the semi-public Catalonia Institute for Energy Research (IREC), blamed the project’s demise on the Spanish government’s decision to freeze price support for any new renewables capacity. That led to Brussels dropping Zefir from its shortlist for EUR 30 million funding through the EU’s NER300 programme.

Project director Ramon Garriga said resurrecting the project would depend on policy changes from central government that would make it attractive again for the companies involved.

Delays in France

Work continues in France on the radical Nenuphar-designed Vertiwind 2MW vertical-axis turbine, but it is running well behind schedule. Unspecified technical difficulties have delayed onshore testing, originally scheduled to start in March 2013, until September. Offshore testing has also been pushed back by the protracted permitting process for a test site in the Mediterranean Sea. Nenuphar does not anticipate the turbine being installed in the water before mid-2015.

Rare success

However, no such problems are afflicting Glosten’s PelaStar floating wind project. A 1:50 scale model has successfully completed a three-week test and a full-size prototype is being  built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast in partnership with Alstom, which is supplying its Haliade 150-6MW turbine.

According to the UK’s Energy Technologies Institute, which is backing the project to the tune of £4 million (EUR 4.7 million), the prototype should be deployed at the grid-connected Wave Hub test facility off the coast of Cornwall early in 2015.

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