The UK – which has the largest offshore wind industry in the world – has been excluded from a European forum that supports and facilitates the development of energy and offshore grids in the North Seas
The decision to exclude the UK from the forum has been criticised by a leading European political leader and by wind energy trade bodies.
Frans Timmermans, an executive vice-president at the European Commission who is leading the Commission’s work on the European Green Deal and European Climate Law, reportedly described the decision to exclude the UK as “not necessary.”
Responding to the change, WindEurope chief executive Giles Dickson told OWJ, “Europe wants huge volumes of offshore wind in the North Seas.
“Countries around the North Seas need and want to co-operate on where they put their offshore wind and how they connect it to the energy system. That way they will be able to reduce costs and ensure the energy produced flows to where it is needed.
“The UK has around half the offshore wind in the North Sea today and plans to build much more. It makes no sense to exclude the UK from co-operation on offshore wind in the North Seas.”
RenewableUK director of strategic communications Luke Clark said, “Low-cost renewable energy is central to the UK and the EU meeting ambitious net zero emissions targets.
“Co-operation on offshore wind is therefore clearly in the interest of the UK, the EU and the many businesses operating across both markets.
“It is vital that energy and climate is a top priority for an ambitious deal that helps both sides achieve our climate targets and supports investment in new industries”.
Development of energy from offshore wind and grid connection systems between countries is a long-standing energy priority for the EU and countries bordering northern seas.
Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden are currently members of the North Seas Energy Cooperation (NSEC), but since its departure from the EU on 31 January 2020, the UK is not.
The European Green Deal emphasises the importance of offshore wind in meeting the EU’s 2030 and 2050 climate and energy objectives and stresses the importance of regional co-operation. At a NSEC ministerial meeting on 4 December 2019, NSEC countries and the Commission agreed to continue and reinforce co-operation under a new three-year work programme.
The work programme for 2020-2023 puts a particular emphasis on developing cross-border offshore wind and grid projects – so-called hybrid projects – with the potential to reduce costs and space of offshore developments.
The NSEC countries have committed to defining a regulatory framework for offshore windfarms that have a grid connection to more than one country. Such hybrid projects will be important in pooling assets and infrastructure and will help to reduce the cost of deploying offshore wind.
The countries have also recognised that space in the North Seas is ‘finite’ and will collaborate on maritime spatial planning to “be able to utilise the energy potential of the North Seas.”
They also plan to better co-ordinate planning and development of offshore and onshore electricity grid expansion to facilitate the expansion of offshore wind and will develop “concrete plans” for potential joint cross-border offshore windfarms that “generate benefits for all participating parties.”
The work of the NSEC will also provide input into the Commission’s planned communication on offshore renewable energy, which is due to be published later in 2020.
Responding to questions from OWJ, a Commission spokesperson said, “The Commission is firmly committed to making Europe climate neutral by 2050 and working with all of our partners around the world to tackle climate change. We count on the UK – which shares our commitment to climate neutrality by 2050 – to remain an important ally in our climate action.
“The development of the renewable energy potential in the North Sea is a long-standing energy priority for the EU and the concerned member states.
“The European Green Deal emphasises the importance of offshore energy in meeting the EU’s 2030 and 2050 climate and energy objectives and stresses the importance of regional cooperation between member states, the North Sea Energy Cooperation being a role model in this respect.
“The North Sea Energy Cooperation supports the implementation of internal market rules and financial schemes – such as the Trans-European Network for Energy regulation (TEN-E) and the Connecting Europe Facility – and helps shape new EU policy approaches to foster offshore energy in the North Sea.
“In this context, Article 128(5) of the Withdrawal Agreement applies to the North Sea Energy Cooperation. This means that, as a rule, the UK cannot be party to this group, though in exceptional circumstances the UK can be invited to participate when it is necessary in the interest of the EU.
“Energy is one of the issues covered by the draft Negotiation Directives adopted by the Commission. Future EU-UK cooperation on energy matters, including on offshore wind in the North Sea, will be addressed as part of the negotiations on the Future Relationship.”