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Another industrial giant enters wind -- Alstom buys Spanish wind turbine supplier Ecotècnia

French engineering multinational Alstom is buying Spain's third turbine maker and wind sector pioneer, Ecotècnia Cooperative, founded in 1981. Subject to approval by antitrust authorities, the deal will cost Alstom EUR 350 million. As an Alstom affiliate, the turbine manufacturer will keep its current management board and general hierarchy, says Ecotècnia chairman Miquel Cabré. "But what has changed is Alstom's capital backing, international reach and huge business capacity for our international expansion," he adds. Ecotècnia slipped out of the world's top ten turbine suppliers last year having made it into ninth place in 2004 and 2005, according to BTM Consult's annual wind industry report.

"It's all been a happy meeting of ways," says Cabré. "For about a year, Ecotècnia has been looking for an international partner and Alstom has been looking for a way into wind." Until now Alstom has only dabbled on the fringes of the wind industry, mainly through its transmission and distribution division. But company president Patrick Kron says Alstom's aim is to be a leader in clean power. Ecotècnia is just the start. "We will grow the company aggressively," he says. Alstom will also consider further acquisitions in the wind sector if the opportunities arise. "If one invests in wind power, it is not to remain at a turnover of EUR 300 million," says Kron.

Ecotècnia's order books have swollen over the past two years. Turbine sales in 2006 brought in EUR 200 million and the company is targeting EUR 300-350 million for this year. "With Alstom on board, we can only expect bigger leaps to come," says Cabré.

Among Alstom's diversions into wind power, it built the grid connection for Australia's 21 MW Toora wind plant in 2003, before its transmission and distribution division was sold the following year to French Areva. Areva recently failed in a bid to buy German wind turbine supplier Repower. Alstom was also briefly involved -- along with Areva and ABB -- in the provision of advanced power electronics and capacitor packs for wind farms, known as Flexible AC Transmission Systems, or FACTS, as an alternative to retrofitting turbines. Cabré points out that as well as competing in the top division of coal, gas and nuclear plant engineering, Alstom is "world leader in hydroelectric technologies" and is also "deeply immersed" in photovoltaics. "Wind was missing and Ecotècnia has provided the way in," he says.

In total, Ecotècnia says it has supplied over 1500 MW of capacity for 72 wind power stations, either in operation or under construction. At the end of 2006, 964 MW of that capacity was turning in Spain, according to the Spanish wind association. Since 2005, Ecotècnia has installed 103 MW in Portugal, with contracts for a further 16.5 MW. In Italy, it is building 78 MW of new capacity as part of framework deals totalling 170 MW to 2008 and has 10 MW already online.

Exports, says Ecotècnia, accounted for 50% of orders over the past year, mainly for projects in France, Portugal and Italy. Until 2004, nearly all its sales were in Spain. "China and US are booming and other wind markets are opening up, like Poland and Bulgaria," says Cabré. "We need to be there and we cannot do it alone." Last month, Ecotècnia exhibited at the annual show of the American wind power industry for the first time.

Ecotècnia produces its turbines at three facilities in Spain. The company's workhorse is a 1.67 MW machine and production started this year on a 2 MW turbine. A 3 MW prototype is planned for the end of the year. Ecotècnia's next big step is a turbine facility abroad. "Location depends on turbine demand," says Cabré. "We're currently negotiating framework deals in more than one country, but it's still early days."

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