The European Investment Bank (EIB) grant will cover the construction and operation of the first phase of the 330MW Belwind Offshore Energy wind farm at the Bligh Bank – 46km (29 miles) in to the North Sea off Belgium.

Vestas, the Danish firm currently taking legal action to close a factory on Isle of Wight in England, will build some of the equipment.

Belwind project director, Frank Coenen, said: “This is a real milestone – both for the development of renewable energy assets in Belgium but also for the financing of such projects.

“The strong backing from partners has allowed us to get to the construction stage in just three and a half years – a record-breaking short amount of time.”

The EIB funding announced at the end of July amounts to just under half the total €614m (£519m) cost of the wind farm being built off the coast of Zeebrugge in a government-allocated zone.

It is due for completion by 2011 and will be Belgium’s largest, helping the country reach a government target of a six per cent share of electricity from renewable energy sources.

The project is also expected to create some 1,300 man years of work and 70 jobs for 20 years for the maintenance of the wind farm, according to Belwind.

It is the first time the EIB has take on the financial risk of an offshore wind farm. The grant is part of a massive investment package amassed by Belwind’s consortium of Belgian and Dutch investors.

Phase one will see the installation of 55 three megawatt turbines, which Belwind says will provide enough electricity for about 175,000 households and cut carbon dioxide emissions by 270,000 tonnes a year.

Dutch marine engineering company Van Oord has won the €280 million (£237 million) contract to build phase one, due for completion by November 2010.

Pieter van Oord, company CEO, said: “Our knowledge and experience is concentrated in our business unit Offshore Wind Projects.

“The award of the Belwind project confirms our leading role as EPC contractor in North West Europe.”

Danish wind-turbine maker Vestas Wind Systems will provide the turbines.

Anders Søe-Jensen, Vestas Offshore president, said: “We are proud to be supplying turbines for the Bligh Bank Offshore Wind Farm.

“Furthermore, we are very pleased to see this group of investors showing their confidence in the potential of offshore wind and we look forward to securing them a successful implementation of the project.”

David Gibbs

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