By Vera Eckert
FRANKFURT (Reuters) - German energy network agency BnetzA said on Wednesday it had opened a case against grid operator TenneT stemming from its failure to link a North Sea wind farm to the grid.
The move follows a complaint brought by developer Windreich and is part of a wider clash between the German government spurring offshore wind projects and TenneT, the firm responsible for linking them to the grid.
"If TenneT was found to have acted negligently, this could trigger high indemnity claims in a civil law case," said a BnetzA spokeswoman, who added that a hearing is scheduled for September 12.
TenneT did not respond to requests for comment.
Windreich Chairman Willi Balz said his company submitted a complaint because TenneT took no action after it requested a branch line be run from an existing North Sea cable to its Deutsche Bucht wind park.
TenneT had operated satisfactorily in providing links to Windreich's MEG1 and Global Tech 1 wind parks, Balz said.
TenneT has said it has started preparing links to 5.5 gigawatts (GW) of planned offshore wind capacity involving investment of 6 billion euros but that it lacks the funds to build all the power cables required by Germany's planned offshore wind park expansion.
Media have put the funding shortfall at 15 billion euros ($18.48 billion).
Last week, a media report said the German government wants Dutch firm TenneT to sell its German unit to investors such as insurance companies to secure the necessary finance, citing sources familiar with the negotiations.
TenneT said it was interested in attracting money for the offshore projects but had no plans to sell its German onshore grid.
Separately, BnetzA last month submitted a draft on the status of grid operator certifications to the European Commission required under new EU regulations in which it threatened to deny certification to TenneT.
The BnetzA spokeswoman said that the authority aimed to raise pressure on TenneT to ensure it fulfils its obligation to provide power connections for new plants.
"The authority has repeated its call on TenneT to look for financially powerful partners," she said.
TenneT and its three peers operating German long-distance grids say the finance crisis makes it hard for them to get loans.
Last year they were allowed to recover a return on their own (not borrowed) invested capital in new grids of 9.05 percent via usage charges.
($1 = 0.8116 euros)
(Additional reporting by Christoph Steitz; editing by Jason Neely)