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New twist to the American saga -- The Italian-Dutch connection

"High risk but potentially very high return," is how a group of well-heeled entrepreneurs describe their investment in an offshore wind power experiment involving megawatt scale, two-blade wind turbine technology to be towed out to sea on floating platforms.

"High risk but potentially very high return," is how a group of well-heeled entrepreneurs describe their investment in an offshore wind power experiment involving megawatt scale, two-blade wind turbine technology to be towed out to sea on floating platforms. The characterisation of the investment in the high risk bracket comes from Neil Bastick, CEO of the little known company behind the venture, Blue H, incorporated in the UK but based in the Netherlands and with strong US and Italian connections.

The company surfaced in the wind business late last year when it publicised the building of an experimental floating platform, which was demonstrated in Italy off the port of Puglia carrying a Lagerwey 80 kW turbine, an old twin-blade turbine popular among Dutch and German farmers back in the early 1990s. From this beginning, Blue H intends to commercialise the platforms using a long mothballed Italian-American megawatt scale wind turbine concept from the last decade, also with two blades. Mounted on platforms, these units will be offered as a deep water alternative to the current convention of installing wind turbines on the seabed.

The ranks of Blue H founders include CEO Bastick and Martin Jakubowski, who oversees the technology side of the business. Another key founder is chairman Giovanni Franzi, a former head of investment banking for Merrill Lynch Europe. Company investors further include about 20-odd high net worth individuals. As well as the EUR 10 million put into the venture by these private investors over the past three years, Blue H has received a EUR 5 million research and development grant from the Italian government.

While Blue H has potential offshore sites in Italy, the UK and France, these days it is attracting most attention in the US, and not so much for its technology, but for its surprising well-turned political connections. The company has raised hackles in Massachusetts by proposing a large deepwater offshore wind project in federal waters, seemingly as an alternative to the long mooted Cape Wind project in the same area. Cape Wind, at about 468 MW, was first proposed in 2001 and is still undergoing federal permitting against severe opposition from powerful and affluent residents in the Nantucket Sound area, while at the same time receiving strong grassroots support. Blue H's project is of similar size and slated for a site about 52 kilometres south-east of Block Island, in deep Atlantic waters south of the Cape Wind location.

The Delahunt link

Blue H was brought over from Europe to Massachusetts by US Democratic Congressman William Delahunt, a notorious opponent of Cape Wind who has repeatedly threatened "endless lawsuits" if Cape Wind is approved. Delahunt and other Cape Wind opponents have been claiming that Blue H's project is a viable alternative to Cape Wind. The Cape Cod Times, a local newspaper with connections to Cape Wind opponents, has repeatedly written that Blue H is a viable alternative to Cape Wind. Blue H has also received the political thumbs-up from Massachusetts Senator Edward M Kennedy, who vehemently opposes Cape Wind, which would be visible from the family estate on Cape Cod.

"We are optimistic that we are going to have the entire [legislative] delegation supporting us," says Ray Dackerman, Blue H general manager for the US. He lists a number of congressmen who, he says, are very supportive of Blue H's endeavour, including Congressman Edward Markey, Congressman Barney Frank and Congressman Steve Lynch. Of those, only Frank has spoken publicly in favour of Cape Wind. Both Markey and Lynch have been asked repeatedly about their position on Cape Wind and both have refused to answer, saying that not enough is known about Cape Wind to comment.

Dackerman says that money received "thus far for Blue H in the United States have come entirely from private capital." The company may in future receive public money but no such applications have yet been made. He said he could not provide the names of his investors, but says the individuals are "connected with" the Royal Bank of Scotland, Lehman Brothers and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Gamma gamble

Blue H is intending to take the Italian inspired Gamma wind turbine technology out of the history books and develop it for offshore use. The turbine technology package, along with two Gamma prototype 2 MW machines that were never erected, was acquired from Gamma Ventures, a US firm headed by Glidden Doman, now 87 years old. Doman worked for the Italian turbine manufacturer Wind Energy System Taranto (WEST) in the 1980s and 1990s on the Gamma variable-speed turbine project. A single 1.5 MW Gamma prototype turbine was installed at a site of Italian state-controlled utility ENEL in 1992 on the island of Sardinia, but the project was abandoned after a short test period and an accident. The WEST facilities later became Vestas' southern European manufacturing unit. WEST was bought out by Vestas in 2000.

Doman remains an enthusiastic supporter of the teeter-hub, two blade Gamma concept and is delighted with Blue H's plans. Bastick is convinced the technology advantages, which he describes in detail in a recent issue of WindStats Newsletter, Windpower Monthly's quarterly technical publication, are significant. Doman says he is working on new patent applications for Gamma technology to protect Blue H and his company into the future. He stresses that a colleague in Gamma Ventures he has high respect for, Silvestro Caruso, aged 69, is employed by Blue H as director of engineering on the Gamma project.

Blue H is using the summer to test the single platform it has built so far in deep waters off the Italian coast, complete with the Lagerwey 80 kW unit, still being installed. It will not be connected to the grid but will generate electricity. After that the company plans to install the two Gamma turbines at the site in summer 2009 after upgrading them to 2.5 MW, says Dackerman. Eventually it expects to build out the project with 24 of the Gamma turbines on a series of platforms. The 2.5 MW units will provide know-how for the development of a new Gamma 3.5 MW prototype, which Bastick says will make up the remainder of what is eventually set to be a 90 MW Italian offshore plant. The 3.5 MW version is also slated for the US site.

Dackerman says the floating concept will cut costs in several ways. "Our estimates -- and we underline estimates -- are that we can build a project at 20% less cost than equivalent shallow water projects. We will be using less steel than traditional monopole installations. We don't have to prepare the seabed. And we don't have to construct our turbines out at sea, since we can build the platform on land and then tow it out to its deepwater location. We'll have lower decommissioning costs as well," he says. Blue H has told Massachusetts politicians, journalists and residents that the company could have the project in New England waters within five or so years.

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