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First German wind farm at sea opens

Germany opened its first offshore wind farm Tuesday, inaugurating twelve windmills towering almost as high as the Washington Monument over the North Sea.
Image: An aerial view of the offshore energy park Alpha Ventus in the North Sea
The Alpha Ventus wind farm sits in the North Sea, about 27 miles north of the island of Borkum, Germany.POOL / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Germany opened its first offshore wind farm Tuesday, inaugurating twelve windmills towering almost as high as the Washington Monument over the North Sea.

Experts said that the Alpha Ventus project is a late arrival for a country that deems itself in the vanguard of clean energy and announced plans for the farm almost a decade ago.

"There have been delays and things have been pushed back because the interest in big investments was not very strong," energy expert Claudia Kemfert of the DIW think tank told The Associated Press.

Great Britain and Denmark have already several hundred megawatts worth of offshore wind power on the grid. Kemfert said she thinks Europe's largest economy is going to catch up as 25 other German wind farms in the North and Baltic Seas consisting of some 1,650 more windmills have already been approved.

"I think Germany is highly competitive in this field," Kemfert said.

Alpha Ventus, which is only a test field, will produce some 60 megawatts, enough for some 50,000 households onshore.

Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen on Tuesday called the project a pioneer project "that will push wide open the gate to the age of renewable energies."

Ulf Gerder of the wind power lobbying group BWE said the project is further offshore — 45 kilometers (28 miles) — and in deeper water — 30 meters (100 feet) — than any other European wind farm.

There was no alternative to such difficult projects, he said, because almost all of the German coastline consists of national park land or sea bird refuges, he said.

"If one takes environmental concerns seriously, one cannot build windmills there," Gerder said.

In the long run, mastering extreme conditions might be an advantage, he said, because much of an estimated offshore potential of some 140,000 megawatts across the European Union will likely not be built near shore.

Completion of Alpha Ventus came only after the German government shored up its offshore wind power subsidies in the beginning of 2009, guaranteeing for 12 years 15 euro-cents (20.3 cents) for each kilowatt hour.

The government also promised some euro200 million in credit guarantees during the last year's recession.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government announced in November that it would throw out the decade-old plan to abandon nuclear power by the year 2021. She says nuclear power is needed to meet Germany's climate change prevention goals.

Former Environment Minister Juergen Trittin, now a prominent figure for the opposition Green Party, told the AP if offshore wind power is to have a future, nuclear power has to be phased out as quickly as possible.

"Those who want to invest look very closely if they have to compete with old nuclear plants producing very cheaply," Trittin said.