A Chinese company has been banned by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate from a tender for the construction of important electricity infrastructure in the North Sea. The ministry decided to do so because of fears 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 “turned out that it was not considered completely safe,” said a spokesperson. He would not say which company it is.
The Chinese firm participated in the tender for transformer platforms in the North Sea. Power from future wind farms must be brought ashore via these ‘sockets at sea’. Because those wind farms will play an important role in the Dutch electricity supply, experts and MPs fear tampering by geopolitical rivals.
A spokesperson for TenneT, the operator of the offshore electricity grid, says that parts of the transformer platforms have been designated by the government as vital infrastructure. As a result, stricter safety requirements apply to the companies involved in the construction.
‘Dumb pipes’ excepted
The ministry emphasizes that Chinese companies are not completely excluded from the construction of the Dutch electricity grid. For example, the Chinese NingBo Orient is allowed to lay the cables to a new wind farm in the North Sea together with Boskalis.
According to the ministry, there are less strict requirements for laying such “dumb pipes”, which do not give access to sensitive information. However, there are also concerns about this. “You can put sensors that you can’t see in cables, with which the Chinese can do all kinds of things,” said Alexander van der Lof of industry peer TKH Group recently in The Financial Times†
A revision of the Energy Act will make it possible in the future for network operators to set stricter safety requirements for tenders, Minister Rob Jetten (Climate and Energy) wrote in a letter to the House of Representatives this week. The law still has to be discussed, but could ultimately ensure that network operators can apply the same rules for tenders that apply to defense projects.
Tender on the shovel
TenneT will announce on Thursday that it will change the tender for the new transformer platforms. Due to the rapid growth in the number of offshore wind farms, more work is being put out to tender in one go. Only companies that already have experience with this specific type of platform are allowed to participate, which means that Chinese companies are no longer eligible.
This change is not specifically related to safety, says TenneT spokesman Jorrit de Jong. “You have to realize it all in a fairly short time. Then you want to be sure that you have parties that can handle this”, he explains the adjustment.
TenneT does call on the government to clarify which safety conditions apply to electricity projects. “We’ve wanted guidelines or measures for a long time to help make our selection.”