Specialised finance wind energy

Specialised finance wind energy

Last summer, offshore wind farms supplied power to one million Belgian households.
'New and better offshore wind farms are being added in the coming years,' says Nathalie Oosterlinck, CEO of Rentel, a wind farm situated forty kilometres off the coast of Ostend.

Long-term partner in wind energy

Rentel is the fifth wind farm to be built off the Belgian coast. 'Over the past ten years, wind turbines have become larger and taller, reaching a tip height of up to 200 metres. Our turbines already generate 7.5 megawatts of energy; 8.5 megawatts will be next and devices up to 12 megawatts are in the pipeline. Consequently, wind farms are able to produce more power and are becoming much more efficient, regardless of whether there is little or a lot of wind,' says Nathalie Oosterlinck, CEO of Rentel.

Although Rentel must rely on turbines manufactured abroad, the suppliers and installation companies are mainly Belgian. 'One example is DEME, which is one of our eight shareholders. This marine construction company was responsible for designing and installing the turbine foundations and setting up the turbines. Like the other companies that jumped on the bandwagon ten years ago, DEME exports its knowledge and expertise all over the world, helping to boost Belgium's gross domestic product as a result.'

'Wind farms are becoming more and more efficient, regardless of whether there is little or a lot of wind.'

Nathalie Oosterlinck, CEO of Rentel

Capital-intensive

The cost of a project such as Rentel, an off-shore power station that will need to operate for the next twenty years, can easily run to a billion euros. 'You need long-term partners to finance such infrastructure projects,' says Bert Derudder, KBC's specialist in project finance for large-scale infrastructure works. 'Energy production is very capital-intensive, and the payback period is very long. We can do our bit to ensure projects like Rentel remain profitable.'

'We are naturally a bank and we invest in projects that generate a return,' Derudder continues. 'But we strongly believe in the future of renewable energy. As a financial institution, we try to be a lever for promoting wind energy. This is in line with our broader strategy to reduce our negative impact and simultaneously increase our positive impact on the environment. That's why, for instance, we are not capping the number of energy projects, but are instead setting a long-term target for renewable energy. Last year, the proportion of green energy in our portfolio increased from 41.2 to 43.8%. By 2030, that proportion should be 50% in all our core markets.'

According to Oosterlinck, it helps to have a partner like KBC. 'Its employees are familiar with the Belgian context. It took almost ten years to develop Rentel and that wasn't always a smooth ride, for example, due to changes in the regulatory framework in recent years.'

'Wind farms are extremely capital-intensive. Fortunately, we can count on a sustainable partner like KBC.'

Nathalie Oosterlinck, CEO of Rentel

More and better

Like Rentel, KBC is hoping for new concessions off the Belgian coast. 'In recent years, the government has taken steps to create a wind-farm framework. We are one of the few countries with a marine spatial plan that, for example, sets out where sand can be dug out or where wind farms can be set up. A new area is already planned. If all goes well, the new areas will be operational by 2025. The main challenge is to connect them to the onshore high-voltage grid,' says Oosterlinck.

'Based on the limited number of square kilometres that we have at our disposal in the North Sea, we are in the vanguard of offshore wind energy,' she says. 'And although we used to fear a negative impact on the environment, we now see the opposite. Flora and fauna are flourishing around the wind farms. We want to focus much more on the dual usage of these spaces, such as to cultivate mussels. We have visitors coming even from Asia to see how we approach offshore wind energy not only from a technological point of view, but also from a regulatory standpoint.'

KBC wants to make it happen. 'If our customers see opportunities for offshore wind power in our neighbouring countries, we want to be there with them. Germany is an interesting market where Belgian companies are active. France has been lagging behind, but that seems to be changing. In Dunkirk, I see that half of the bidding parties are Belgian. Naturally, we want to take our know-how along to provide them a competitive advantage there, as well. We want to be present and put our assets to use for our Belgian customers.'  

'If our customers see opportunities for offshore wind power in our neighbouring countries, we want to be there with them.'

Bert Derudder, Senior Manager Project Finance Renewable Energy KBC

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