It may have kept a low profile until now but the spotlight has been turned on Spanish wind project developer Alabe following its successful bid for a 608 MW wind tender for Valencia. Alabe's EUR 585 million project plan is to be headed by Guadalaviar, a joint venture between Alabe, the energy wing of giant Spanish industrial group Acciona, and Spanish developer Enerfin, a subsidiary of Bilbao-based Elecnor. It is not only the plan's scale that has pricked up ears but the fact that it earmarks 2 MW wind turbines from Germany's Enercon. Alabe has also announced further plans to put up another 570 MW outside Valencia, mainly in the regions of Castile-La Mancha and Galicia.
While Alabe's leap onto centre stage is quite recent, the company is actually one of Spain's largest and oldest wind developers and operators. Founded in 1994 with a view to developing cogeneration and other small energy projects, Alabe immediately recognised the on-coming boom in Spanish wind power and bought a 23.4% share in Andalucia's 30 MW "KW Tarifa" plant using Kenetech turbines -- often described as Spain's first commercial wind development. Alabe is also behind one of Europe's largest wind projects, the 240 MW Xistral plant in the Lugo province of Galicia, where 120 MW of turbines from NEG Micon are already operating.
The Galicia project has shaped much of Alabe's corporate character. Shortly after taking a stake in KW Tarifa, Alabe was absorbed by Acciona and put in charge of the group's Xistral project, previously controlled by Ineuropa and now operating under the name Acciona Eólica de Galicia (AEGA). From here, Alabe has grown and developed at a par with Galician wind development. The company's Diego Contreras says this has often kept Alabe too busy to keep up with developments in other wind boom regions. Elsewhere it has only two solid projects -- one for each of the regions of Aragón and Castile and León -- though it is busy searching out new opportunities.
Weighty backing from Acciona is Alabe's main strength. The group is present in more than 30 countries and at the end of 2000 collective revenue stood at EUR 2.87 billion. The group's scope is broad, involving construction, airport handling services, telecommunications and energy. Its international reach has enabled Alabe to clinch deals with US companies Louisville Gas & Electric and more recently Orion Energy LLC. The Orion deal is aimed at developing wind projects in Morocco and in Latin America, especially for Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru and Argentina.
While Contreras sees Alabe's eight years' experience as decisive in winning the Valencian concession, he also recognises Acciona's backing as invaluable. And although competitors who missed out on the Valencia tender complain that both Alabe and Enerfin fail to meet the criteria for "regional companies," Contreras points out that holding company Elecnor employs around 4600 Valencians. The Guadalaviar joint venture has pumped EUR 2.4 million into negotiating in Valencia and he estimates the 608 MW will generate work for around a thousand people.
Contreras stresses that Alabe has no links with manufacturers -- and the selection of Enercon allows him to make that claim, smoothing over the fact that Ineuropa owns 25% of NEG Micon's Galician assembly plant, and that NEG Micon owns 5% of AEGA. NEG Micon is also penned in as supplier for Alabe's wind plan for Castile-La Mancha, where it now has rights to research development of up to 670 MW. Furthermore, Alabe also holds a 20% share of a 170 MW plan for the region put forward by local developer Luria.
Contreras admits it is difficult to say how much of Alabe's plan for Castile-La Mancha will go into construction, as the regional government is working on clearing a development bottleneck. Meanwhile, he claims five Alabe projects -- one 36 MW plant for Toledo and four plant of 181 MW for Albacete -- to be among the frontrunners.
With Acciona's powerful backing, Contreras believes the only obstacles to Alabe's future projects will be external. In Valencia he hopes the recent creation of a regional energy agency will smooth the way to building by 2003. Back in Galicia he is also confident that a grid improvement agreement between local distributor Viesgo and at least five wind developers will lead to the completion of Xistral. Thus, while the name Alabe may momentarily regain its anonymity, it is set to spring back into the headlines between 2003-2004, when Contreras expects the bulk of its projects to go up.