NextEra reveals $10bn wind ambitions

US: NextEra Energy, far and away the leading US wind developer with more than 7.5GW in operation last year, has become known for business confidence coupled with industrial secrecy.

NextEra had over 7.5GW online last year
NextEra had over 7.5GW online last year

But at a May investment conference, the usually press-shy wind industry giant has allowed a rare glimpse behind the curtain and revealed plans to invest $7-10billion and add up to 3.5-5GW of new wind generation by 2014.

The Florida-based subsidiary of FPL Group, which added over 1GW of wind projects in nine states last year, also acknowledged that 2010 will be less than robust. The company only expects to add 1.4-1.8GW by the end of 2011. "It will be a smaller build the next couple of years," said Mike O'Sullivan, NextEra vice-president of development. "That does not mean it's a bad build."

O'Sullivan cited the growing number of states with renewable energy mandates as the main driver in the wind market. But he also emphasised that, despite such targets, suggestions of a thousand megawatts a year in New York and New England through power purchase agreements (PPAs) were unrealistic.

"I don't understand how you can originate hundreds of megawatts in the Northeast in PPAs," O'Sullivan said. "It is not a giant market for wind. You don't have to be wind developers to know a lot of that stuff is not going to get built in New England and New York."

Instead, NextEra will concentrate on roughly a dozen states - primarily the Midwest and California. O'Sullivan also acknowledged a newfound interest in Canada, where Ontario's feed-in tariff, North America's first comprehensive FIT, will support over 1GW of new onshore development. "We got about 12% of that market," he said.

O'Sullivan believes that a key to NextEra's success is between 500-600 meteorological towers in North America that measure wind for the company's pipeline - and noted that most competitors have far fewer towers. "But they have these pipeline numbers that are double, triple or quadruple our numbers," he said. "Anybody can drive by a piece of farmland and say, ‘that's a wind farm' and put it in a pipeline."

Building transmission is another part of NextEra's overall development strategy. The company will have built more than 800km of tie-in transmission lines by the end of this year, in addition to several hundred kilometres of high-voltage transmission lines in Texas last year.

"Our team at NextEra created a transmission group ... when no one else knew how to spell the word [transmission]. I'm being facetious there - but they weren't paying attention to transmission." He said that, in addition to building transmission lines and wind farms, the company is concentrating on solar development and acquiring generation plants.

O'Sullivan also made reference to NextEra's overall aversion to media coverage as it maintains a leadership position in the wind industry. "It's been done largely under the radar screen," he said. "We try very hard to be 1% of the ink and 30% of the market."



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