Germany's Largest Offshore Windfarm Hits a Snag

Unexploded World War II ordnance is a bigger problem than expected

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Developers of Germany's first commercial offshore wind farm, located in the North Sea off the famous resort island of Bockum, have run up against a bigger than expected stumbling block: Unexploded ordnance from the Second World War. The explosives on the ocean floor are impeding completion of the connections between the turbines and their intended electricity customers on land.

The 400-million-euro Riffgat project, built by the local utility EWE in cooperation with Enova, will consist of thirty 3.6 megawatt Siemens windmills, each 150 meters high and having a rotor diameter of 120 meters. With a total capacity of 108 MW, the farm is expected to supply about 120 000 customers.

As described in a recent issue of Germany's Die Zeit, although about half the turbines have now been installed, builders are running into problems completing transmission connections on the ocean floor because of unexploded World War II munitions that have to be cleared. (Die Zeit is the country's leading general-interest publication of commentary and analysis.) The problem is not wholly unexpected, to be sure: Workers had to remove roughly 2.7 million  metric tons of unexploded ordnance while installing the towers themselves. In total, according to Die Zeit, there are an estimated 1.6 million metric tons of hand grenades, bombs, and artillery shells lying on the ocean floor in Germany's national waters.

Could Die Zeit, a liberal-minded organ of opinion, be exaggerating the problem—or the utility minimizing it? The Riffgat project website included a fair representation of press coverage, including the death of a British diver, killed by a sinking block of construction concrete. But it does not include Die Zeit's article.

photo: EWE

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