1 May 2007 - 09:35
  • News Code: 103546

New worries about the environment, technology advances and tax break extensions are leading European wind energy companies to try their luck in the United States.

The US has led the world in installing new wind turbines for the past two years, but it still ranks behind Germany and slightly below Spain in wind power production, according to the Global Wind Energy Council. Now, America’s renewed embrace of policies to encourage energy alternatives have led companies with years of experience in Denmark, Germany and Spain to invest in U.S. shores, challenging both the US market leaders and any environmental opposition to building giant turbines.

“We’re like the Saudi Arabia of wind, and we just haven’t had the big exploration boom yet,“ said Michael Peck, a spokesman for Gamesa Corporacion Tecnologica SA, a Spanish company that makes wind turbines in Pennsylvania and develops wind farms around the country.

Two deals announced last month reflect the competition. Portuguese utility EDP Energias de Portugal SA agreed to pay $2.15 billion to buy Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy LLC, from investment bank Goldman Sachs, giving the company its first toehold in the US And Denmark’s Vestas Wind Systems, the world’s largest wind turbine maker, announced plans to build a $60 million wind turbine blade factory in Colorado, its first U.S. manufacturing plant.

“The US is a bigger area that (European companies) can look to for growth,“ said Thomas Emmons, senior vice president for structured finance at HSH Nordbank AG in New York.

The US gets less than 1 percent of its electricity from wind-powered generators compared with 20 percent in Denmark and 9 percent in Spain. Technology advances could push U.S. wind power use to 5 percent by 2010, the Electric Power Research Institute says.

“We could have had our own homegrown wind-power companies competing for these new wind farm developments and manufacturing (plants) had we had the right policies in place,“ said Ron Pernick, a principal with research firm Clean Edge Inc.

Denmark’s Vestas had considered an American plant for several years, but found support for renewable energy inconsistent in the U.S. until recently, said Jens Soby, who heads the company’s Portland, Ore.-based American operations.

The company’s plant in Windsor, Colo., is expected to be complete early next year and is designed to produce 1,200 wind turbine blades per year, enough to power about 200,000 households. Meanwhile, German industrial giant Siemens AG has taken a shuttered truck trailer factory in Fort Madison, Iowa, and turned it into a factory that makes 150-foot blades for its wind turbines. And Gamesa, which bought Minneapolis wind farm developer Navitas Energy Inc. in 2002, signed a $300 million deal last summer to make 132 wind turbines for Royal Dutch Shell PLC’s wind development arm.

General Electric Co. and FPL Group Inc., major American players, still dominate the market. Fairfield, Conn.-based GE remains the dominant U.S. supplier of wind turbines, supplying 47 percent of installed wind capacity in the U.S. last year, down from 59 percent in 2005, according to American Wind Energy Association statistics. Siemens, Vestas and Gamesa together had 44 percent of the U.S. turbine market last year. The majority of U.S. wind power projects are owned by big developers such as FPL and their output is purchased by big utilities including Xcel Energy Inc.

Iberdrola SA, Spain’s second-largest power company and the biggest owner of wind farms worldwide, is poised to become a major player in the United States with its $22.5 billion acquisition of Britain’s Scottish Power PLC, a deal that closed April 23.

 

PIN/ HERALDNET.COM

News Code 103546

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