Venture capital for growth

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Private equity and venture capital company 3i has taken a stake in Belgium's Electrawinds, a family-owned renewable energy company. 3i spent EUR 31 million to secure just under 30% of the company. The money will enable Electrawinds to push ahead with expansion outside of Belgium and Italy where it is already active, says the company's Maite Maes.

Founded by Luc and Paul Desender in 1999, Electrawinds currently has just 45 MW of installed wind and biomass capacity, which includes a 12.6 MW wind farm in Brugge and 50% of a 2.3 MW wind farm in Perwez. It is also one of four partners in the Eldepasco consortium (the others being Depret/Artes-groep, Aspiravi and WE-power) awarded a concession to develop a 36 turbine, EUR 500 million offshore wind plant off the coast of Zeebrugge. Expected to use turbines of at least 5 MW in capacity, construction on the project is due to start in 2009.

In addition, Electrawinds has some 400 MW of other projects in the pipeline with at least 40 MW of wind plant expected to be installed over the next two years. The 3i deal means it can fulfil projects in Portugal, Romania, Greece and Hungary, among others, says Maes, with plans to invest around EUR 100 million over the coming year. The company hopes to increase its turnover from EUR 22.8 million at present to EUR 50 million next year and EUR 100m in 2008, she adds.

For 3i, one of Europe's largest venture capital firms, this is the latest foray into wind power. "Last year we indicated our commitment to invest in the gas and power sectors, and this investment in Electrawinds, following on from our earlier investments in wind farm company Gamesa, and Vijai Electricals, serves to reinforce that commitment," says the company's Mark Kerr. 3i acquired Gamesa's wind turbine service division in the first half of last year (Windpower Monthly, May 2006). "We see Electrawinds as an excellent platform from which to build a substantial renewable energy business."

Dirk Kooman, previously chief executive of Nuon's renewable energy division before it sold off its wind assets, has been appointed by 3i as non-executive director of Electrawinds.

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