Belgium wind farm a go after EIB loan

ZEEBRUGGE, Belgium, July 2 (UPI) -- A once-languishing Belgian offshore wind power project has completed a comeback with $420 million in financing from the European Investment Bank.

The Northwind project, slated for a sandbank 23 miles from the port of Oostende in the North Sea, closed on the financing 14 months after the effort was rescued by a management shake-up that brought in the development team behind the successful 55-turbine Belwind project.


The Northwind financing, announced Thursday, will cover the construction and operation of the 216-megawatt wind farm, which is expected to be completed in mid-2014. It's designed to generate enough energy to cover the annual electricity consumption of 230,000 households.

"The EIB is pleased to play a part in these challenging projects contributing to climate action and to economic growth," Pim Van Ballekom, EIB vice president with responsibility for financing operations in Belgium, said in a statement.


"By financing the Northwind project, the EIB is again demonstrating its capacity and support to mature offshore wind projects that are ready for immediate implementation."

The financing announcement "ends a series of intense negotiations and deliberations" with the EIB that made possible "one of the largest financial investment transactions in Belgium in recent years," Northwind NV's Chief Executive Officer Frank Coenen said.

"The complex and difficult financial process started in November 2011, and now paves the way for the construction" of the wind power plant, he added.

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Coenen was instrumental in the building of the first phase of the 330 megawatt offshore Belwind wind farm, which became operational in 2010. He was tapped by the Northwind project's remaining owners -- including the Colruyt discount supermarket chain -- after original partners Electrawinds and Depret dropped out following an April 2011 shake-up.

That move brought an additional $19 million in capital and a commitment from Danish turbine-maker Vestas Wind Systems to enter the effort.

"In the middle of the financing phase for Belwind, Europe was going through an economical and financial crisis, making the financing of Belwind in 2009 very challenging," Coenen said. "With these difficulties still fresh in their memories, investors are looking today for solid projects developed by a stable and trustworthy team, such as this one."


Northwind is the third EIB loan to a Belgian offshore wind project, following investments in the Belwind and C-Power efforts, which together amount to $1.3 billion in support of "Belgium's drive for self-sufficiency in green energy within the framework of EU policy."

Under the deal, Vestas will oversee the supply, installation and commissioning of 72 three-megawatt turbines, along with a 15-year service and maintenance agreement.

"This is a very important milestone for Vestas, as we look to strengthen our position within offshore," Vestas chief sales officer Juan Araluce said. "We are truly committed to the development of offshore wind energy and we are extremely proud to receive another strong customer commitment to our V112 platform technology."

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Shortly after the EIB was announced, GeoSea, a subsidiary of the Belgian DEME Group, revealed it had signed a contract with Northwind NV for the construction and installation the wind farm's foundations.

The contract includes the installation of 73 steel monopiles and transition elements as foundations for the turbines and the transformer station.

GeoSea said it will use its newest installation ships -- designed for the installation of offshore and far shore wind farms -- for the project.

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