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Offshore wind in CEE: stakes too high not to learn from past experiences

On 13 June 2023, the Black Sea Renewable Energy Coalition had its inaugural meeting in Sofia. This new initiative, led by the Energy Policy Group from Romania in cooperation with key Bulgarian, Turkish and Ukrainian partners, aims to serve as a platform for “knowledge exchange and collaboration in the deployment of zero-carbon marine renewable energy and infrastructure in a nature-friendly way”. The inauguration was attended by representatives of international and national institutions, industry associations, academia and NGOs.

Stakes could hardly be higher. Especially after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, offshore wind emerged as one of the key future drivers of the EU transition towards climate neutrality and greater energy security. With major advantages such as a relatively stable production profile, it could supplement the ongoing solar power revolution and gradually diminish the role of conventional fossil-fuel generation at the base of the electricity supply. But this key resource is hardly tapped into outside the North Sea.

This is especially the case with the Black Sea. Unfortunately, Romania and Bulgaria have not even recognised the potential of offshore wind in their current National Energy and Climate Plans. This is despite the fact that their total potential capacities for bottom-fixed offshore wind farms have been assessed at more than 20 gigawatts (GW) each, with additional power available from floating projects that could reach more windy areas with greater depths. Ukraine’s potential is even higher, with sufficient wind resources in shallow waters in the northern Black Sea and neighbouring Sea of Azov, though the build-up is for the time being impossible due to ongoing warfare.

Developing offshore wind power in the Black Sea will not be an easy task, however. There are of course technical and economic constraints related to the availability of adequate wind speeds at lower-depth locations suitable for bottom-fixed turbines. But there are a lot of other factors at play. At the initial stage, an official long-term strategic commitment is a must – the offshore wind revolution cannot happen without a clear governmental vision and leadership. Then, enabling the investment in offshore wind requires the adoption of an appropriate, stable regulatory environment that secures the interests of the energy consumers, investors, grid operators, coastal communities and nature. Maritime spatial planning, energy market design, grid and service ports build-up, workforce training, stakeholder cooperation and community engagement. The scope of the necessary public sector competencies makes the whole process a demanding test for state administrative capacity.

To bridge this gap, countries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) should learn from the experience of more advanced markets – and each other. Launching of the Black Sea Renewable Energy Coalition is part of the broader “BLUECEE – Strengthening Policy and Governance Capacity for Blue Energy in Central and Eastern Europe” project supported by the European Climate Initiative (EUKI) that includes civil society stakeholders from Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Poland (my organisation – Instrat).

Poland is still years away from the actual deployment of the Baltic offshore wind farms, but we have recently passed many important milestones on track to the stated goal of almost 6 GW installed by 2030. The process comes with challenges and controversies at virtually every step. But there are still lessons to be learned from that. I believe that the exchange of knowledge and best practices between the markets at different stages could play an important role in mitigating the risk of additional delays and costs that CEE regions just cannot afford.

This dialogue should happen not just on an official level. The offshore wind industry in Europe is well-connected due to the strong presence of international companies and networked industry associations. But we believe that there is still a gap concerning civil society organisations, which should be guardians of the public good and interests of communities or local wildlife. This gap, which might later on contribute to unnecessary conflicts and misunderstandings, is the key reason behind our BLUECEE cooperation.

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