Power giant turns wind developer

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Until now, energy services giant Suez has largely built its wind station capacity through acquisitions, but that is about to change. Its Belgian utility subsidiary Electrabel has agreed to buy as many as 250 wind turbines with a combined capacity of 500 MW from Germany's Repower Systems. The turbines, for delivery from 2009 to 2011, are destined for wind projects under development in a series of countries, including the largest land-based development yet seen in Electrabel's home market: six Belgian municipalities have teamed up with Electrabel to invest in a 20 turbine facility using 2 MW or 3 MW machines, to be running by 2010.

Suez has steadily built a stock of operating wind plant since the start of the decade, mainly in Europe and mainly through Electrabel, though it also has 20 MW online in Canada following its purchase of Canadian wind developer Ventus last year and is building a further 79 MW. Under the Suez umbrella, operational wind power is now set to shoot pass 1000 MW and jump again once the company completes its takeover of Gaz de France, which has 180 MW of wind power to its name, 34 MW of which was recently added through the French company's purchase of Nass & Wind Technologie (page 12).

Furthermore, Suez acquired a 6.5 GW development portfolio through its purchase of a majority of French developer La Compagnie du Vent last year (Windpower Monthly, December 2007) and the Nass & Wind project pipeline will add a further 1.5 GW to that. The Ventus purchase also gave it a foothold in the North American market, where it is building a 99 MW project of Vestas turbines for the New Brunswick provincial utility a (page 54). Globally, Suez says its wind project development portfolio is close to 10 GW.

The Repower deal is part of Electrabel's drive to add renewables to its gas, coal-fired and nuclear assets. At the end of 2007, its 690 MW of wind generating capacity made up 13% of the utility's 5.5 GW renewables portfolio, though wind's share was much less than 1%. The aim is to raise this to 6.3 GW by 2009, or 18% of its 35 GW of production capacity in Europe. Electrabel says this would put it ahead of schedule in meeting the EU objective of 20% renewables capacity by 2020.

Most of Suez' wind capacity to date is operated by Electrabel in Portugal, but Electrabel also has 79 MW in Belgium, 44 MW in France, 20 MW in Italy and 3.5 MW in the Netherlands. The Portuguese focus results from a 2002 agreement with Gamesa to buy 214 MW in a series of wind plant being built by Gamesa in Portugal. All projects in that deal are now in Electrabel's ownership.

Suez is active across the entire energy business, barring gas exploration, with 90% of its revenues originating in Europe. The 186-year-old company of Belgian origin today employs 140,000 people and is listed on five European stock exchanges and the New York exchange. It gained its name after building the Suez Canal, inaugurated in 1869.

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