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Japan

Door opens for Enron Wind

America's Enron Corp might soon have a back door entry into the Japanese wind market. Japan's largest leasing company, Orix Ltd, is to invest in Enron's partially owned subsidiary, EnCom Corp of Delaware, via Orix USA of New York.

Orix says it will initially buy 20% of EnCom, increasing its stake gradually to $30 million. EnCom, owned 80% by Enron, was established to make the most of the Japanese deregulation of retail electricity sales to large users starting next month. EnCom will enter the market as a generation and electric power retail company.

Last year, Orix Ltd began to look seriously at the Japanese wind sector, becoming a major shareholder in a 30 MW joint venture at Hokkaido, the country's largest to date (Windpower Monthly, October 1999). Orix has also been involved in a handful of small wind projects by Japan's EcoPower. According to Orix, EnCom will probably first look at thermal generation. Wind might be considered later "if the opportunity arises," says Orix's Lesley Hoy, stressing that investment will depend on cost, availability and other factors, not necessarily the type of generation. "Much of the details still have to be worked out," he says.

The investment in EnCom will allow Orix to more fully enter the power business by teaming up with Enron, the company says. Electricity prices in Japan are around 20% higher than those abroad, and the new competitive market, which is attracting heavyweights like the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, is expected to press these down.

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