Norway’s long-anticipated launch of major offshore wind power projects officially took off on Tuesday, when Oil & Energy Minister Terje Aasland announced plans to put large areas of the North Sea out to bid. The goal, he said, is to create an entirely new “industrial adventure” using expertise from the offshore oil business to increase production of renewable energy.
It was likely no coincidence that the government’s offshore wind power launch came just as yet another climate conference was getting underway in Canada. The announcement also came shortly after the government agreed to suspend more offshore oil field licensing in the Arctic and after more reports that Norway is failing to cut enough of its carbon emissions. At the same time, Norway has become an even more important supplier of gas, oil and electricity to Europe. Europe needs all the energy Norway can send as a “reliable and friendly” producer after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February.
“The government wants offshore wind energy to develop new industry in Norway, prod more innovation and technological development, and increase our production of renewable power,” Aasland said at a press conference. “In order to meet these goals we want to have close dialogue with the offshore wind business and other users of offshore areas.”
His oil and energy ministry now expects to start issuing licenses for offshore wind power turbines during the first quarter of next year. Sites for the wind power installations will first be offered in the areas of the North Sea known as Utsira Nord, due west of Haugesund, and Sørlige Nordsjø II, southwest of Lindesnes and bordering on Denmark’s territorial waters.
Aasland believes close cooperation with private business is important, also when it comes to how licensing documents should be drafted, pre-qualification of bidders, an auction model and state support programs. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that Aasland wants to contribute as little state funding as possible but wouldn’t yet say what’s likely to be budgeted.
His ministry and the rest of the government caught criticism earlier this year, when their so-called “radial” offshore wind plans were first announced, because they will send all electricity generated back to the Norwegian mainland by cable. Many private players also want to be able to export the electricity directly from the platforms.
The state’s own proposals for its offshore wind power projects are now being sent out to hearing, with a response deadline just a month from now and right after the holiday season, on January 6. Some hail the “fast tempo” to get feedback and projects underway, with the leader of industry association Offshore Norge hoping it continues: “This is a big day for the establishment of an offshore wind industry and offers some predictability for developers and suppliers that will take part on the Norwegian Continental Shelf,” stated Offshore Norge boss Hildegunn Blindheim in a press release.
Another industry organzation, Energi Norge, stated that it thinks export of electricity from offshore wind can be bigger than Norway’s hydroelectric exports. Many politicians, though, don’t want to see much of it exported, pushing instead for the domestic market to bring high electricity rates down.
“We’ll produce much more electricity from offshore wind than we need ourselves,” contends Jon Evang of Energi Norge, stressing that it’s also important for Norway to contribute to the shift to renewable energy in Europe.
Norway’s huge state-controlled oil, gas and energy company Equinor has already expressed its interest in taking part in both the Utsira and Sørlige Nordsjø projects. Equinor has been active in offshore wind projects off the coasts of both the UK and North America, and claimed state financial support will be necessary, expecially during the first phase of offshore power development.