Vestas Offshore has done its job well and the Bligh Bank turbines are almost ready to run – though reaching this point has been no easy ride for the project developer.
“Vestas Offshore has done a fantastic job,” says Frank Coenen, CEO of Belwind, the company in charge of Bligh Bank. “They are very professional people, and open to new ideas – the ‘plug-and-play’ installation method they developed for this project is a first in the offshore wind industry.”
With all 55 turbines in place and just a week’s work remaining for Vestas Offshore once the grid connection is made next month, the construction phase has been a great success, Coenen says. Yet he and his colleagues have not had an easy ride at Bligh Bank.
The original main partner, Econcern, went bankrupt in 2009, but the banks remained on board. The European Investment Bank stepped in with a loan of €300 million and a consortium of banks provided the remaining €180 million needed to keep the project afloat
And though finance was the biggest issue, dealing with the “old” Vestas also caused some headaches, Coenen says: “They were difficult to negotiate with, and getting technical information was almost impossible.” Reliability problems with the V90–3.0 MW turbine were another source of worry when the project was being planned in 2007.
But the Bligh Bank consortium kept faith with Vestas and the new turbine. Their patience was justified when Vestas returned the V90–3.0 MW to the market in 2008 and became more customer-friendly. “Vestas is much easier to work with now,” Coenen says. “They are more willing to negotiate and to take on some of the risk, and more open with technical information.”
Working within Belgium’s federal structure has also brought complexities. At national level, Coenen praises government foresight in granting licences and setting aside an offshore zone exclusively for wind power. Unfortunately, he says, on other important matters - the division of responsibility is not always clear-cut.
For the moment, Belwind is concentrating on its new role as a power producer, Coenen says. After that, it will be time to look to the second phase of the project, which will add a further 165 MW of generating capacity.
“I don’t want to say too much about phase 2 at this stage,” Coenen says. “But yes, I’m sure we will be going ahead.”