Construction is just beginning on the $206-million first phase of a 300-MW Belgian offshore wind farm, unusually financed by loans guaranteed by future sales. The first six, 5-MW wind turbines, the world's largest, are scheduled for completion next year.

Pioneered late last year in the Netherlands, this form of "non-recourse" financing marks the coming of age of offshore wind generation, says Filip Martens, general manager of project owner C-Power N.V., Zwindrecht.

Altogether, 60 turbines are planned in nearly 30-meter deep water on Belgium's Far Shore Thornton Bank off Zeebrugge by 2011. The 126-m-diameter rotor blades of the turbines, supplied by Germany's REpower A.G., will be mounted on 97-m-tall towers.

Rather than back the offshore project with their balance sheets, C-Power investors went the project finance route, still new for offshore wind power.

C-Power is owned by several companies, including Dredging, Environmental and Marine Engineering N.V., Zwindrecht, and a unit of Electricité de France S.A., Paris. For the first phase, C-Power closed a loan deal late last month with France's Dexia Bank and Dutch-based Rabobank. Together, the banks provided non-course loans lasting up to 15 years.

"We have seen here…a maturing of large offshore wind projects to the point where banks can accept new risk," says Evan Stergoulis, partner in C-Power's legal adviser, Watson, Farley & Williams LLP., London. C-Power's Martens adds, "Surely there will be more."

In financing terms, the Belgian project almost replicates a $470-million deal closed last October for the Q7 wind farm off the Netherlands, near Ijmuiden. Also involving Dexia and Rabobank, Q7 is the first offshore wind project backed by non-recourse debt, says the owner, a venture of Econcern B.V., Utrecht, and Rotterdam-based utility ENECO Energy.

Installation of first 20, 2-MW turbines, with 80-m-diameter rotors, began early this month, with last one due this September. Located in 19 m to 24 m of water 23 km offshore, all 60 units are slated to start operation late next year.