A Chinese company has been excluded by the Ministry of Economy and Climate from a call for tenders for the construction of major electricity infrastructure in the North Sea. The ministry decided to do so for fear of security risks due to interference from the Chinese government. The ministry confirms this to NU.nl.
The company had first passed a regular security check. A second test “found it not considered completely safe,” a spokesperson said. He wouldn’t say which company it is.
The Chinese firm took part in the call for tenders for transformer platforms in the North Sea. Electricity from future wind farms must be brought ashore via these “offshore outlets”. Since these wind farms will play an important role in the Dutch electricity supply, experts and lawmakers fear being manipulated by geopolitical rivals.
A spokesman for TenneT, the operator of the offshore power grid, said parts of the transformer platforms had been designated by the government as vital infrastructure. As a result, stricter safety requirements apply to companies involved in construction.
‘Dumb pipes’ excepted
The ministry stresses that Chinese companies are not completely excluded from the construction of the Dutch electricity network. For example, the Chinese NingBo Orient is authorized to lay the cables for a new wind farm in the North Sea with Boskalis.
According to the ministry, there are less stringent requirements for laying such “dumb pipes”, which do not provide access to sensitive information. However, there are also concerns about this. “You can put sensors that you can’t see in the cables, which the Chinese can do all kinds of things with,” Alexander van der Lof of his industry counterpart TKH Group said recently in The Financial Times†
A review of the Energy Act will in future allow network operators to set stricter security requirements for tenders, wrote Minister Rob Jetten (Climate and Energy) in a letter to the House representatives this week. The law is yet to be discussed, but could eventually ensure that network operators can apply the same rules for tenders as for defense projects.
Offer in spades
TenneT will announce on Thursday that it will modify the tender for new transformer platforms. Due to the rapid growth in the number of offshore wind farms, more work is being launched at one time. Only companies that already have experience with that specific type of platform are allowed to participate, which means Chinese companies are no longer eligible.
This change is not specifically related to security, said TenneT spokesperson Jorrit de Jong. “You have to achieve everything in a fairly short time. Then you have to be sure to have parts capable of handling that,” he explains to the adjustment.
TenneT asks the government to clarify the safety conditions applicable to power projects. “We have long wanted guidelines or metrics to help us make our selection.”