POWER Digest (February 2014)

EU’s Highest Court Says French Onshore Wind Tariff Is Illegal. The Court of Justice of the European Union (EU) ruled on Dec. 19 that a French regulatory mechanism allowing network distributors—namely Électricité de France and non-nationalized distributors—to recover from final power consumers additional costs arising from an obligation to purchase wind-generated electricity at higher than market prices constitutes “an intervention through state resources.” The association Vent De Colère! (Wind of Anger) and 11 other anti-wind groups urged the French Conseil d’État (Council of State) to annul the 2008 ministerial order that allows full cost recovery from consumers instead of through a public service fund, as was previously required. The French council asked the highest court that interprets EU law to decide whether the offset mechanism is attributable to the French state and whether it constitutes an advantage granted through state resources.

“Funds financed through compulsory charges imposed by national legislation, managed and apportioned in accordance with the provisions of that legislation, may be regarded as State resources,” the Luxembourg-based court ruled. France must now annul the ministerial decree that introduced the tariffs within three months. The implications of the decision for similar subsidy programs established by other European countries was not immediately clear, though observers suggest the European Commission could cite the French case as additional support for action against Germany—whose management of renewable subsidies is under EU investigation—to force it to conform with notification and reporting obligations.

TEPCO Commissions Two Ultrasupercritical Coal Plants. Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) in December began commercial operation of two large ultrasupercritical (USC) coal units: the 600-MW Hirono No. 6 in Fukushima Prefecture and the 1-GW Hitachinaka No. 2 in Ibaraki Prefecture. TEPCO said in a statement both units achieved 45.2% efficiency, “the world’s highest thermal efficiency” among coal-fired thermal stations. Byproducts from the Hirono plant are expected to be used as raw material for cement. Japan plans to put online at least nine other coal units of more than 500 MW each by 2028, and it will build at least 12 new gas-fired units next year to scale back on the use of expensive crude and fuel oil plants. According to TEPCO, coal is expected to ensure stable supply because it is widely distributed by many countries such as China, the U.S., India, and Australia.

Tennet Gets Financial Boost for North Sea HVDC Offshore Wind Connectors. Tennet, a transmission system operator in the Netherlands and Germany, on Dec. 9 secured a €500 million ($680 million) corporate loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB) to co-finance the construction and operation of three offshore high voltage direct current (HVDC) lines—a total of 2.2 GW—that will connect wind farms in the North Sea to the German grid onshore: HelWin1, SylWin1, and DolWin1. The lines are integral to installing at least 6.5 GW of offshore wind by 2020, as required by Germany’s Energiewende. Tennet has already installed or is erecting a total connection capacity of 6.2 GW. The three HVDC lines are expected to be completed in 2014 and 2015.

Third Offshore UK Wind Farm Scuttled. Scottish Power, a subsidiary of Spain’s Iberdrola, on Dec. 13 canceled plans to build the 1.8-GW Argyll Array Offshore Windfarm off the coast of Tiree in the Inner Hebrides, which the company admits has “some of the best wind conditions of any offshore zone in the UK.” The company said the£5.4 billion ($8.86 billion) project was not financially viable in the short term, but noted that if cost reductions continued across the offshore wind sector, the project could become viable in the long term. Scottish Power, however, also said the project’s progress had been halted by the presence of hard rock, challenging wave conditions that could affect construction, and a possible environmental impact to the “significant presence” of basking sharks in the area. In November, just after the UK government announced new subsidy prices under a renewable energy support plan from 2018, RWE abandoned its£4 billion Atlantic Array offshore wind project off Devon, and Centrica said it was selling its stake in another major offshore wind farm, the Race Bank, off East Anglia.

Reliance Brings Second Sasan UMPP Unit Online. On Dec. 13, Reliance Power commissioned the second unit (rated 660 MW) of its 3,960-MW Sasan Ultra Mega Power Project (UMPP) in Madhya Pradesh, India. The unit started power generation in what Reliance said was the “shortest time of just about a month from boiler light up,” a feat made possible by “adopting innovative commissioning methods.” The Sasan UMPP is an integrated power plant and coal mining project. Four other units at the plant are under “advanced stages” of construction and should be commissioned this year.

L&T Starts Up 700-MW Supercritical Plant in India. Larsen & Toubro (L&T) on Dec. 9 put into operation the first of two 700-MW supercritical units at the Rajpura thermal power plant in Punjab. The second unit is expected to come online in March 2014. Coal for the Rajpura power plant, an estimated 6.75 million metric tons per year, has been secured through a fuel supply agreement with South Eastern Coalfields. Officials noted, though, that if there is a shortage, or Coal India does not provide coal, a provision allows imports of up to 10% to 12%. L&T has projects totaling about 11 GW under implementation on engineering, procurement, and construction basis across the country.

Ghana Commissions 400-MW Hydropower Plant. Ghana on Dec. 20 commissioned the 400-MW Bui Hydroelectric Dam in the Tain District of the Brong Ahafo Region. The $622 million project (funded by China and the Exim Bank of China) increases Ghana’s total installed power capacity by 20%, boosting plans by the West African country to become a regional powerhouse. The country, whose gross domestic product growth is estimated at 7% to 8%, seeks to increase its power capacity to 5,000 GW by 2016. ■

Sonal Patel is a POWER associate editor (@sonalcpatel, @POWERmagazine)