Analysis: Brazil offshore developer reveals Alstom and Siemens negotiations

BRAZIL: Global turbine giants Alstom and Siemens officially deny they are negotiating to supply Brazil's only offshore wind project, the 11.2GW Asa Branca colossus off the north-east coast in Ceará state. However, Eólica Brasil, the project's developer, has revealed offers from both companies.

Siemens 6MW turbine blade might have to be built in Brazil to satisfy BNDES conditions
Siemens 6MW turbine blade might have to be built in Brazil to satisfy BNDES conditions

Eager to up the project's profile and clinch finance, Eólica Brasil CEO Marcello Storrer is out to demonstrate that an initial 12MW pilot and a 258MW demonstrator are on course for construction by 2016 and 2018, respectively. Furthermore, he hopes to follow this with three 270MW commercial phases into the 2020s.

Storrer showed Windpower Monthly numerous documents tracing the project's progress to date, including preferential supplier agreement (PSA) offers from Siemens and Alstom — specifically for Siemens SWT 154-6MW and Alstom's 6MW Haliade turbines. He puts the manufacturers' reticence down to negotiation sensitivity.

Meanwhile, national wind association Abeeolica also denies knowledge of the project. "False", says Storrer, claiming to have presented Asa Branca to association leaders. What is certain is that the full 11.2GW project was first announced in 2002 and has since been splashed across the global renewables media. It also won the Dorothy Stang prize for socially responsible innovation in 2010.

Abeeolica's denial stems from mutual enmity, reckons Storrer. He openly attacks the association's utility members for allegedly keeping wind power marginal to protect much larger hydro and thermal power interests.

Even so, Brazil's onshore wind potential is estimated at 350GW and prices at recent wind power auctions have bottomed at $50.2/MWh. There is "simply no economic reason, for an off-taker to sign a [more expensive] power purchase agreement (PPA) offshore," says Brian Gaylord, Latin American consultant at Make Consulting.

Gaylord also believes Asa Branca's target timeline is "not feasible given the project's current status. The supply chain "is currently quite occupied ramping up capacity and experience with onshore wind."

Yet Storrer highlights an innovative turbine platform from US firm Offshore Wind Power Systems of Texas (OWPST), which has formed a joint venture with Eolica Brasil called Servemar, to further develop Asa Branca.

OWTPS' so-called Titan floating and jack-up platform is designed to enable full turbine assembly and installation onshore. "A standard tug boat can tug it out to site," says Storrer. The platform is then jacked up and the tripod supports penetrate the seabed. A prototype of a similar design by a former OWPST partner is currently being tested in the Baltic Sea.

"It's fast and not a single installation vessel is used," said Storrer, estimating installed costs at just $3 million per megawatt.

Demonstrator waters are just 7-12-metres deep and 3-8 kilometres from the coast, easing cabling. Coupled with high capacity factors — which Eolica Brasil expects to exceed the 50% measured nearby onshore — Storrer claims Asa Branca could sell power at around $65/MWh; attractive enough for "a private PPA".

He admits, however, that the outcome of environmental and grid applications, at least a year off, remain unknowns.

Final costs could vary largely, says Gaylord, as soft loans from Brazilian bank, BNDES, a chief driving force behind the national wind sector, come with 60% local content conditions. Alstom, whose alleged offer is only for the 12MW pilot, is a BNDES registered manufacturer. Siemens, whose alleged offer is for 810MW, is not.

Still, Storrer hopes for BNDES finance by developing an industrial cluster linked to the project, "making supply towers, blades, hubs, bedplates and bearings." But even if that did not bring a Siemens deal to 60% local content, "we can always get finance from abroad," he ventures. "If Siemens Financial Services invests 10% of the capital expenditure, we shall have a deal with them."

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