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EU plans to boost offshore wind power

The European Commission is to publish a proposal for the implementation of an action plan by the end of this year aimed at boosting investment in offshore wind farms by its member states.

Addressing the opening session of the annual European Wind Energy Conference being held in Brussels, Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs yesterday said that offshore wind energy has promising prospects and the EU wants to make sure that member states are encouraged to invest in this type of renewable energy.

Commissioner Piebalgs' announcement fits perfectly with Malta's intention to develop a fully fledged offshore wind farm in the coming years.

During the electoral campaign, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi announced that one of his administration's main projects would be the development of a multi-million euro wind farm 20 miles off the island's coastline capable of producing between 75 and 100 MW of clean energy. This will amount to 20 per cent of all Malta's energy needs and will help the island to reach its renewable energy targets for 2020 agreed with the EU last year.

Mr Piebalgs said that offshore wind energy is one of the most environmentally friendly types of energy and the EU wanted to encourage it.

He said that offshore wind energy faces the same challenges as onshore wind energy - slow reinforcement and extension of the electricity grid, the need for improved grid management tools that will allow for large scale integration of wind energy and delays in authorisation procedures.

"A maritime grid infrastructure is needed for the development of offshore wind energy and without it no offshore wind farms will be built. The EU can play an important role in dealing with these challenges and this is the background of the proposal to adopt an Action Plan by the end of this year," he said.

Commissioner Piebalgs said that the impact of offshore wind energy on the local environment as well as competition for space with other marine users creates the need for improved maritime spatial planning mechanisms as well as effective consenting procedures.

"Through its action plan, the Commission would aim to resolve certain aspects of this industry such as supply chain issues resulting from lack of skilled personnel, shortage of auxiliary services and competition from a booming onshore market."

He said that in terms of actions to be included in its plan, the Commission should aim for quality rather than quantity, identifying key areas where the EU can provide clear added-value in facilitating the development of offshore wind.

Of the current renewable energy technologies in the EU, wind energy has delivered the most promising results. With an increase of more than 8,500 MW last year, the total capacity in December 2007 was close to 57,000 MW. This accounts to nearly four per cent of EU power demand.

Following an EU summit last month dealing with energy issues, Dr Gonzi said that the government had already established contacts with foreign companies on the possibility of developing an offshore wind farm and will soon launch an initiative to better explain how this project is to be executed. As to whether the project should be a public or private initiative, Dr Gonzi said that at this stage the government is leaving all its options open.

Malta currently produces only 0.36 per cent of its energy needs from alternative sources of energy. By 2020 it has to reach a 10 per cent target.

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