Another ‘Cheap’ Wind Farm Becomes A Money-Eating Monster
New evidence shows that wind farms coming online in 2025 will be just as costly as earlier ones.
Even though we now know that offshore wind farms are refusing to activate the agreements they have made to sell power to the grid at very low prices, preferring to sell power at the sky-high prices available in the free market, and even though wind farm financial accounts make it patently obvious that they can never be profitable at the agreed prices, most commentators still insist that offshore wind is cheap and that low-priced electricity is just around the corner. [emphasis, links added]
Their refusal to admit that offshore wind farm costs are not coming down is depressing, and a fairly obvious indication that their motivations are religious rather than rational. Still, those of us who do care about facts soldier on. What else can we do?
This post outlines new evidence that wind farms coming on stream in 2025 are going to be just as costly as recent ones.
The evidence comes in the shape of the latest financial accounts (to March 2022) of Dogger Bank A. This is a 1.2-GW giant, situated almost 100 miles out of the North Sea, in comparatively shallow waters.
The cost of the project, announced by the developers is £3bn, or £2.8m/MW, which is a bit cheaper than recent offshore units, but not by much. However, most wind farms run well over budget, on average by 17%, so there is no cause for excitement.
The 2022 accounts give us an opportunity to assess the project spending to date. We can develop a very rough expectation of the state of completion of the project from information published on the wind farm’s website.
The notices to mariners published each week by the wind farms are also useful. The notice just before the financial year end is here.
In a way, it’s rather uninformative, because it shows that the offshore works were then at a very early stage of completion. In fact, this was only the second notice to mariners issued. It indicates that offshore survey work has begun, but that’s about it.
In fact, the most recent notice indicates that nine months on, only 16 of 100 foundations have been installed. The onshore works are rather further on.
For example, we can see that the cabling works started in 2020, and are expected to be completed in 2022. The operations base would have been well on at the 2022 financial year end too. The first onshore transformer was not delivered until after the year’s end though.
So how much might such a wind farm have been expected to have spent by the start of construction operations? We can develop an expectation from the breakdown of a typical wind farm cost published here.
Simply scaling up the £2.3bn spend to the £3bn announced for Dogger Bank A and then applying an estimated state of completion to each element of the cost produces an expected spend of £360m, which gives £2.6bn headroom against budget.
You can quibble about the percentages I’ve used, but it will be difficult to come up with a figure much higher, simply because the offshore works had barely begun at the balance sheet date.
The big spend – on the turbines and their foundations – is still to come. (Note that prepaid assets can’t account for the difference. These would be disclosed in the accounts as prepayments rather than fixed assets.)
Unfortunately, the actual spend to date, according to the published accounts, is £1.4bn. In other words, they have spent nearly half of the announced cost before starting offshore work!
We can therefore safely say that this is not a £3 billion wind farm. It will cost at least £4 billion, and probably more.
Of course, 100 miles out in the North Sea, there is much more wind than closer to shore, so it’s possible that the load factor would be rather good. BEIS seems to think that Dogger Bank will achieve a remarkable 58%.
If that were the case, then the overall cost of the project might be around the £120/MWh mark, which is a bit lower than the £140/MWh that is the norm.
However, if you look at the trend of load factors of UK offshore wind farms, such a value appears implausible.
The yellow trend in the figure below (taken from my report on offshore wind costs) shows how load factors have increased as turbine size has gone up (although some of the effects are due to moving further offshore). Note, however, that these are the figures for the early years of a wind farm’s existence; they decline with age.
With all this in mind, we might expect Dogger Bank A (with 13-MW turbines) to start out at a load factor of around 50% and decline from there. That being the case, the overall costs will be around the £140/MWh mark.
Just where offshore costs have been for the last ten years.
Read more at NZW
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