Major joint venture in Portugal -- Irish developer ventures south

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A joint venture in northern Portugal marks renewable energy company Airtricity's first foray into onshore wind farms in mainland Europe. Ireland-based Airtricity has teamed up with local firm Enerbaça-Energias Renovaveis to develop between 400-600 MW of wind projects. It is expected to result in some EUR 800 million of investment in Portugal over the next two to three years.

The joint venture -- Airtricity Energias Renovaveis SA -- expects to bid projects into one of the government's public tenders for renewable energy which grant access to a fixed price wind tariff. But from Airtricity, Dermot O'Kane explains that Portugal plans to move with Spain towards a regional Iberian wholesale power market. This may change the future shape of support for renewables in the country, he says.

For the time being though, the joint venture partners are working closely with municipal authorities in the Braganca and Vinhais regions to secure site permits and grid connections. The area has so far seen no wind farm development. O'Kane hopes construction of some projects will begin in 2009. Against the background of the global shortage of hardware for the wind industry, securing turbines for the projects is likely to be less of a problem than for many developers. Airtricity already has framework agreements for turbine supply lined up with a number of manufacturers, including GE and Siemens, to supply the company's portfolio of projects in Europe and the US.

Enerbaça, which holds a 10% stake in the joint venture, has developed a number of renewable energy projects, mostly hydro and wind, on its own and with other Portuguese developers. Aside from the projects with Airtricity, its activities have led to 102 MW of wind capacity in operation, 64 MW in construction and 192 MW in development.

Airtricity hopes its joint venture with Enerbaça will be the first of many similar partnerships in continental Europe. "We look forward to developing onshore wind farms with partners and companies in France, Sweden, Italy and Poland," says CEO Eddie O'Connor. The company is active in China, the US, Canada and the UK and on mainland Europe is developing offshore projects in Germany and the Netherlands. Since news broke of its debut in Portugal, Airtricity has also generated interest from other Portuguese wind developers. O'Kane says it is actively considering further partnerships in the country. "This is not the end of our Portuguese interests," he says. "This is just the start of what we will be doing in Portugal."

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