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JUST A STORM IN A TEACUP

Although Enercon is taking the law suit being brought against it by Kenetech seriously, the German company nonetheless views the matter as nothing more than a storm in a teacup. As yet Kenetech has not specified where Enercon infringes upon its patents. Under Enercon's alliance with Westinghouse, the American company may be commissioned to supply complete turbines in the US. The agreement requires Westinghouse to exclusively offer wind plant using Enercon turbines, though Enercon is not tied to Westinghouse as its sales outlet.

The Kenetech lawsuit (main story) came as no surprise to Enercon. From the outset, US sources had warned the company: "If you come to the States, you'll be in for it." Heeding the warning, Enercon engaged top lawyers from America to research and analyse the Kenetech patents. The lawyers were also invited to Enercon headquarters in Aurich to gain first hand information about the company.

"We have decided the whole thing is a storm in a teacup and there is no reason to overreact," says Enercon owner and managing director, Aloys Wobben. "Of course we have to take the matter seriously -- and it's very aggravating because of the time and energy needed -- but until Kenetech states clearly where exactly they believe we have infringed their patents the whole thing is banal. A more interesting question for us is, why hasn't Kenetech yet applied for patents in Europe?" Wobben founded Enercon in 1984 and the first turbines were variable speed.

Wobben holds a strong hand in Enercon's new alliance with Westinghouse, America's largest power station construction company. Talks between Westinghouse and Enercon developed because of the dilemma faced by the American power giant in the changing energy landscape in the US, says Wobben. Westinghouse covers the whole gamut of power station technology from nuclear through oil, coal, hydro and gas. In particular, combined cycle gas power stations have become big business, but gas reserves in the US are due to expire within the next six or seven years, necessitating expensive gas imports from Canada. Looking around for a new, clean technology, Westinghouse once again alighted on wind power, says Wobben. The US company made 15, 600 kW wind turbines in 1985, but then kept largely clear of the industry until the German partnership came under discussion. After a year of talks, Westinghouse agreed to work exclusively with just one wind company -- Enercon. The deal has opened up an enormous market in America for the German machines, stretching from Alaska through to Chile, including Hawaii and the Caribbean.

The agreement is in two parts, explains Wobben, for manufacture of turbines and for sale of them. Under the first part, Westinghouse is now a component supplier to Enercon. Initially, primary assembly of the machines, under Enercon supervision, will take place at Westinghouse, which will provide some parts. Electronic components will continue to be supplied from Germany, but blades will be manufactured for Enercon in Brazil and Utah, says the company's US representative Mark Haller. Enercon will be in charge of completing and quality testing its machines, just as it does in Germany, adds Wobben. Eventually Westinghouse may be commissioned by Enercon to supply complete turbines. The second part of the agreement deals with marketing. When Westinghouse wins contracts to supply wind farms to utilities anywhere in Canada and North and South America, it will buy exclusively Enercon machines. The agreement, though, is only exclusive on one side, Wobben points out. Enercon US reserves the right to also market turbines directly to utilities and other customers.

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