Den Helder, Netherlands

Dark clouds

The agreements to limit global warming, laid down in the Paris climate agreements, have turned the energy market upside down. To achieve a fossil-free society in 2050, a robust energy transition is necessary that also affects Den Helder Airport. This is not exclusively negative and can also offer opportunities when working together with our government. The airport is also working hard on this.

The maritime sector in North Holland is also positive about the potential of the energy transition and the opportunities it will offer them. The port authorities of Amsterdam, IJmuiden and Den Helder often work together to show the market what they have in house to facilitate the renewable energy sector. And with the doubling of the offshore wind ambition from 11 to 21 GW around 2030, things are also going well. There are only a few small dark clouds in the sky as far as I am concerned.

One of them concerns the lack of structural security measures of, in particular, the offshore wind farms. Much has already been said about this and the Ministry of Defense has now been asked to take the lead in ensuring that this process runs smoothly for the Dutch critical infrastructure and providers. Den Helder Airport has a great deal of interest in this because a substantial part of the design consists of security systems (such as Schiphol), which are not laid down by law, which has created an uneven playing field with a number of competing national airports.

The other dark cloud consists of a shortage of port and quay space to facilitate the construction of this 21 GW of offshore wind from the Netherlands. The enormous Dutch offshore wind ambition together with the other targets (supplying offshore platforms and decommissioning activities, to name just a few) are greater than the supply in free square meters in the ports. The main reason for this can be found in the late roll-out of offshore wind energy in the Netherlands and with it the construction of additional port and quay area. As a result, it does not arrive on time.

These clouds have the potential to cause quite a bit of wetness.

For example, if there is no separate legal status for offshore aviation that regulates security for passengers and cargo destined for critical primary energy installations, it will be difficult to keep the airport profitable for very long. And once scaled down, it won't come back.

But at least as threatening is the shortage of port and quay acreage in North Holland. This jeopardizes the realization of our largest wind farms. At least; in danger of being realized from the Netherlands. Because on the other side in the UK there are plenty of square meters to be found. In both Southampton and Hull, the ports have expanded enormously and the sailing distance to these wind farms is almost the same. The Dutch tender system does not prevent this from happening and there are also no “local content” provisions. And with the construction of these parks, the related maintenance, employment, sailing and air movements will also disappear.

Behind the clouds the sun shines. And also in this case there are possibilities to manage these risks. But that first of all requires an acknowledgment rather than an underestimation of these risks. Working together with the ministries of Defence, EZK and IenW and the business community can ensure that the Netherlands remains attractive on land, at sea and by air.

Fortunately, goodwill and intentions abound on all sides. But I keep a close eye on those clouds and have an umbrella within easy reach.


Nick Waterdrinker is a partner of the Energizing Business Group and owner of Point b BV, an offshore energy consultant hired for the business development of Den Helder Airport.
The columns of Mr. Waterdrinker concern his personal vision and opinion.


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