Long read: Developing wind onshore is an organic process

In 1995, Dutch entrepreneur Alfons Wispels founded Raedthuys to develop onshore wind energy. What started with a single turbine on a farmer’s grounds in Zeewolde, Flevoland, developed overtime into a mature company that currently owns and operates 70 wind turbines located all over the country, has another 60 granted and now also develops solar energy. Last year, all business activities were united under one single brand; Pure Energie.

One of the two turbines at Kloosterlanden WF in Deventer. © Pure Energie

Wind Energy Magazine spoke to Pure Energie’s director wind energy Arthur Vermeulen at the office in Enschede. In his role, Vermeulen is involved from the start, when a project is still an idea, up to the moment financial close is reached and construction can start. He has been working in onshore wind for 27 years now, of which 16 years at Pure Energie and as such has witnessed from close-up how the onshore wind industry has developed ever since joining the company in 2004. Joining him at the table is communication officer Matthijs Oppenhuizen.

Back in 1995, the type of wind energy development depended on the policy by each municipality. In Zeewolde there was a favourable policy for solitary wind turbines on agricultural grounds, explains Vermeulen. The idea was to finance the wind turbine with capital from private individuals who would together own the wind turbine. For farmers this was not their core business therefore they asked parties like Raedthuys to manage the process and build the wind turbines. The first wind turbine was installed two years later, in 1997. In the eastern part of Flevoland, the policy was more favourable towards clustered wind turbines, in line position and further away from residencies.

Vermeulen: “When the financial participation periods came to an end, the company started to take ownership of the turbines and exploit these themselves, thus becoming an utility also.” The produced power was sold at the energy market (APX). Eight years ago the company started selling electricity directly to end users also. This business unit was branded Pure Energie. In 2019 the decision was made to bring all business activities under this name.

Organic process
Developing wind energy projects in the past was still a pioneering activity. Vermeulen elaborates: “At the start of this century there was no real local or provincial land-use planning. We just went out there and looked for possible locations and started talking to the local politicians to get their permission. In general we received more no’s than a yes.”

De Veenwieken WF, © Pure Energie

At some point the objective by the national government was formulated for 1,500 megawatts of onshore wind energy by 2010. Provinces slowly started to pay attention. However, it only really became part of their agenda’s in 2013, when the Energy Agreement was formulated, requiring 6,000 megawatts by 2020. The target was divided amongst the provinces who each started to formulate their land-use planning policies to facilitate this. “Our search area became more defined now”, said Vermeulen, “We would either approach owners of parcels that were identified for potential wind energy development or the other way round; these landowners approached us to help them develop.”

This does not mean that it is always easy to start developing projects. Oppenhuizen explains: “Whereas offshore there is currently one policy for developing wind and a more clearly stipulated process to realise it, onshore this can vary with each municipality. Each can have different requirements with regards to tip height limitations, minimum distances from the built environment, the type of citizen involvement and requirements for financial participation. Also, these requirements can change every four years when new elections take place.” Vermeulen agrees: “It is much more an organic process”

Both men also agree that it is not always easy for local politicians. Vermeulen: “They need to serve the local interest but at the same time decide on a project that serves a global interest.” Oppenhuizen elaborates: “In the eyes of a local community, three wind turbines might already seem a large project but on a national or global scale this is just a tiny contribution to the sustainability targets. This brings along quite a dynamic.” He provides the example of the wind farm De Veenwieken in the province of Overijssel where a height limitation of 150 metres was set to answer to the wishes of the community who wanted turbines without lights. As a consequence, it was not possible to use the full production potential for the location. Oppenhuizen: “You are basically moving the problem to another location as the ‘lost’ capacity would still be installed somewhere.”

“In Emmen we even withdrew a plan for a wind farm. Here the council also did not allow for wind turbines with tip heights above 150 metres. With the decreasing trend of the SDE, unfortunately this meant that our business case would become unviable,” explains Vermeulen.

Political clarity and consistency
Vermeulen: “For a project to succeed it is very important that the responsible politician, like the alderman in the municipality, firmly supports the project and sends a clear message to its community as to the why. It is okay to take the time to properly prepare the environmental research before starting the formal process. It is also a good thing that citizens are given a formal saying, this is part of our democracy which we should treasure. However, there is too much time wasted on political bickering and this is in no one’s interest. It delays the project and creates unclarity.”

De Veenwieken WF, © Pure Energie

“The average lead time is ten years. This could also be four years,” he continues. He provides the example of the Drentse Monden en Oostermoer wind farm that has already been going on for twenty years. “The first ten years the initiative was put on hold due to lack of political will. Both province and the municipality were looking at each other,” he explains. Oppenhuizen agrees: “There should be quicker decision making and when a decision is made then stick to it.” The Elzenburg-De Geer wind farm, near Oss, is a good example where the municipal council has, in his opinion, done everything well. “They were meticulous and clear and just set out to do it as initially planned. This provides more peace for everyone involved. And it worked, there were hardly any appeals.”

The discussion should also be more qualitative. Vermeulen: “We can see it with the RES (Regionale Energiestratagie). Often the ambition for the energy transition is there with the municipal councils. They set very ambitious targets but then don’t always know how to proceed. The frameworks in the RES are not always fitted. When it already goes wrong at the basis, then you are off to a poor start.”

“They often have never dealt with wind turbines before, and that’s no blame on them. Most people never dealt with wind turbines before. We on the other hand have been doing this for 25 years”, he says, “we know what we are talking about. Come and talk to us.” Oppenhuizen agrees: “They are often hesitant because we are a commercial player but in practise sometimes the participating parties end up contacting us one by one with questions anyway. Why not invite us at the start, even if it is just over coffee!”

Well-informed citizens
Vermeulen and Oppenhuizen think that if politicians show more firm support to a project and are better informed then this could also help the local community to understand wind energy better and possibly take away some of the objections towards it. Vermeulen: “It’s a shame that we cannot always use the full potential of a project location as it also means that the revenue is lower. Revenue that could have been used for the community.”

He refers to the general thought that bigger turbines mean more impact. “In practise it doesn’t really matter for your experience whether you see a wind turbine with a tip height of 150 or 200 metres. In fact, larger turbines are in general more modern and have less noise impact. For cast shadow the rules dictate a restriction of 6 hours per year. This remains the same however many turbine you place or how ever tall they are.”

Another misunderstand, according to Oppenhuizen, is that one megawatt solar energy is the same as one megawatt wind energy. “We should stop talking about megawatts. In fact, metres, that of the hub height and rotor diameter, not megawatts determine the output. And it is the output that is the most important factor now that the SDE is getting lower!” he says. He illustrates this by referring to the Kloosterlanden and De Veenwieken projects. “In both locations we installed 2.35 MW turbines but at De Veenwieken they are 20 metres higher so the output is higher.”

Citizen participation
Participation of citizens in a project is seen as a way to gain more social acceptance for the project. In the RES it has even become a requirement. The Kloosterlanden project in Deventer, consisting of two wind turbines which became operational in 2015, was Pure Energie’s first real project with an energy cooperative. Here the cooperative, Deventer Energie Coöperatie, owns 25% of the project. Since then, the company always works together with energy cooperatives when developing new projects. They have a strict policy on this; the risks should be evenly spread so participation should take place in all phases.

Having an energy cooperative on your side makes the meetings with the councils more easy and provides a higher chance of success, explains Oppenhuizen. “I don’t necessarily believe that involving an energy cooperative shortens the development process or makes the project less expensive. However, offering the local community the possibility to financially participate could, besides financial gain, lead to an increased feeling of involvement in the project. Also, as an outsider we have little to none understanding of the sentiments within the community so working with a local partner helps.”

The idea of working with other parties is not entirely new to the company so the switch to the participation model was a swift one. Vermeulen: “When you look at it, the foundation for citizen participation was already laid with the first wind project in 1995, although, back then, the reason for participation was different, pure economical, and not yet per se as a means to engage the local community. The private investors were not yet organised and did not have to be from the local community.“

“The real turn towards this model came when we won a tender for the development of one wind turbine in Den Bosch,” he says. Here the council required that local citizens could participate financially and the generated electricity to be used locally. “We offered a wind bond, something we had already been thinking about for a while. That was actually the birth of the wind bond in the Netherlands,” he explains. From that moment on this became the blue print for developing their wind energy projects and this was copied by the market also.

2020 activities
In the next few years Pure Energie will add 60 more turbines to its portfolio. In 2020, the Deil Wind Farm along the A15 will become operational. Here, Pure Energie owns two of the eleven turbines. Construction work will start in the wind farms Drentse Monden en Oostermoer (12 turbines), Weijerswold (2 turbines), Bijvanck (4 turbines) and Rietvelden (3 turbines) and possibly the company will receive the definite permit for the Koningspleij project in the first half of this year. Oppenhuizen: “At the moment we have 250 GWh/y production volume. We received permits for 9 projects with a volume of 900 GWh/y, of which 400 GWh/y for Windplan Groen wind farm, so we are multiplying our volume four times.” Just before the end of 2019 the company announced a cooperation with an energy cooperative; ‘LochemEnergie’. “We will continue to look for new partnerships throughout 2020,” he adds.

Text: Sabine Lankhorst   This article appeared in Wind Energy Magazine 2020, No 1

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