UK to tender bids in June for offshore wind network

UNITED KINGDOM - The United Kingdom is likely to open the first round of a bidding process in June for a transmission network to link the country's offshore windfarms with the onshore national grid under a new regulatory regime.

The first tranche of grid connections is valued at $22 billion and is subject to the completion of the final round of consultation on the tendering process. Setting up this infrastructure to transmit electricity from offshore windfarms to the mainland is part of a strategic initiative by the UK to boost the share of renewable energy in its total energy mix.

A new regulatory regime for offshore transmission is being jointly developed by the Office of the Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Ofgem is the official regulator of gas and electricity industries in England.

The current regulations for connecting offshore windfarms to England's national grid are restrictive in nature. The existing rules allow either the windfarm developer or National Grid Plc to build the link in England.

While in Northern Scotland, only the developer or Scottish and Southern Energy Plc are permitted to set up the link. In Southern Scotland, it is the developer or Scottish Power Plc, which is now integrated with Iberdrola SA. Under the new regime, Ofgem will award licenses through a competitive tendering process to new companies to develop and operate every tranche of the transmission assets. The new regulation aims to encourage participation from new companies in the industry as Ofgem expects this will lead to competitive pricing, increase efficiency in operations, promote innovation and reduce regulatory costs. Winning bidders will be known as Offshore Transmission Owners. The new regime will be completely effective from June 2010.

Ofgem will be responsible for executing all aspects of the competitive tendering process. The energy regulator has appointed Ernst &Young, Royal Bank of Canada Capital Markets, and Willis Group Holdings Limited as financial consultants to provide assistance for the first round of the bidding process. The consulting process is expected to be complete by May 6.

In the first round of the tendering process, licenses will be awarded to develop, own and operate offshore transmission assets for existing windfarms. This bidding process is expected to be completed in June. The tendering process for building transmission assets in new windfarm projects is likely to start in June 2010.

According to DECC, constructing offshore windfarms off of Britain's coast has the potential to generate up to 33,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity. This is estimated to be sufficient to provide power to 10 million homes. Projects capable of producing 8,000 MW have already been planned.

The UK, with a capacity to produce 597 MW of wind power, is currently the global leader in offshore windfarms. In order to achieve its renewable energy targets of 2020, the country will have to generate about 30%-40% of electricity from renewable energy sources.


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