French entry into American market

French conglomerate Veolia Environnement, part owner of wind project developer Eolfi in France, entered the US wind market last month by buying Ridgeline Energy, a wind developer based in Seattle, for $72 million. Ridgeline, established in 2001, has completed one project to date, the 65 MW Wolverine Creek wind farm near Idaho Falls, but hopes to build out faster with Veolia backing. Wolverine Creek came online in December 2005 and was sold to Invenergy, an independent wind power operator based in Chicago.

Ridgeline is seeking additional county approval for its 450 MW Goshen South Wind Farm, another Idaho project, after local landowners appealed the county's initial decision. Ridgeline is also working on late-stage developments in Wyoming, Nevada, Oregon and Washington and plans to bring nearly 2000 MW online by 2012.

"We're very hopeful that we're going to get projects online next year while growing in each of the following years," says the company's Dennis Meany. "But dealing with turbine supply is one of the reasons that Ridgeline was evaluating strategic alternatives and is thrilled about our deal with Veolia. They'll provide us with the financial resources to develop our projects."

Veolia, which has more than 300,000 employees around the globe, entered the wind business in 2007 when it bought 50% of Eolfi, a French developer that expects to double its 106 MW of installed wind plant by the end of next year. Eolfi's portfolio of projects represents 3000 MW of potential capacity in France, Greece and Poland.

Solid Foothold

More than 30,000 of Veolia's employees are already based in the United States, where the company is involved in waste management, industrial cleaning and waste-to-energy facilities. The firm's global businesses also include water services and public transportation.

"We're very happy about Veolia as a parent," Meany says. "They understand the business, they're committed to wind and they're committed to the US. They have a longstanding presence in the US, so we're excited about moving the projects forward under their ownership."

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