American giant moves into European market

The wind subsidiary of Enron, the independent giant of the United States energy industry, has bought bankrupt German wind turbine manufacturer Tacke Windtechnik GmbH. The acquisition, by Enron Wind Corp (EWC) was announced on October 15. The Tacke assets will be bought through a new German subsidiary, Enron Wind Holding GmbH.

After weeks of speculation and rumour, the wind subsidiary of Enron, the independent giant of the United States energy industry, has bought bankrupt German wind turbine manufacturer Tacke Windtechnik GmbH. The acquisition,by Enron Wind Corp (EWC) was announced on October 15.

"Tacke has an established, well respected technology and we look forward to combining our skills and expertise to provide new avenues for cost effective wind power generation," says Ken Karas, chairman and chief executive officer of EWC, which was formerly known as Zond Corp before it was acquired by Enron Corp of Houston, one of the fastest growing energy companies.

The Tacke assets will be bought through a new German subsidiary, Enron Wind Holding GmbH. It will have responsibility for wind turbine manufacturing and sales for Europe, India, the Middle East and North Africa, but apparently not for North or South America or the Pacific region.

The new subsidiary is being headed by Finn Hansen, formerly technical director of EWC's wind turbine manufacturing. "We got interested in Tacke Windtechnik about two months ago when the company collapsed, and started to see whether it would fit into our own strategy. We were setting about getting established in the European market and the Tacke episode just came at the right time," says Hansen. "We found Tacke attractive because of its name, market share and the product -- the 1.5 MW machine, that is." Hansen, a Dane, is a veteran of the wind industry and a member of the family which originally owned Vestas, now the largest wind company. He was managing director of Vestas in Denmark between 1979 and 1986, before the company's bankruptcy, and held the same position at smaller Danish company Wind World from 1988 to 1993, when he moved to Zond.

Hybrid possible

The fate of both the Tacke TW 600 kW turbine and EWC's Zond 750 kW turbine has yet to be decided. "For the future we are considering building either the TW 600e or the Zond 750 kW or a hybrid of the two. We are analysing the situation," Hansen says. He warns that the two machines have different technologies and the TW 600e may not survive. EWC considers the TW 1.5 MW to be the most interesting wind turbine asset, says Hansen, especially for the "very important" offshore market.

For the time being, the new Tacke Windenergie will produce the TW 600e and the TW 1.5 MW machines at the former Tacke Windtechnik works at Salzbergen. "We are slowly starting to spin the two lines again," Hansen says after production ground to a halt on October 1 when bankruptcy proceedings opened. Hansen confirms this means that Tacke had shed its debts before the purchase by EWEC. Fifty staff have since been fired, leaving a workforce of 94.

"We just slipped into the shoes of the turbine producer and for the time being will keep selling the turbines to the existing market," explains Hansen. Changing the company's name was not even considered. "We wanted to keep a name that is familiar and that Germans feel comfortable with." Tacke's traditional component suppliers, such as blade producer Abeking und Rasmussen of Lemwerder in Germany, "Will have a chance to supply on ordinary business terms taking into account the competition and quality levels. In fact we are reviewing the situation at this very moment," Hansen said in mid October.

gearbox not a factor

There has been speculation in the US wind industry that Enron's interest in the deal was spurred by Tacke's link with its former mother company, a gearbox manufacturer. Indeed, Enron's announcement stressed that Tacke has "over 100 years of experience in gearbox manufacturing." Hansen, however, says Tacke's historical link to gearbox manufacture did not play a role. Gearboxes for Tacke's range of wind turbines were bought from several companies. The Zond Z-40 turbine has suffered widely reported gearbox problems, necessitating major retrofit work.

Tacke began developing wind turbines in 1984, and in 1990 established Tacke Windtechnik GmbH. The company has installed over 600 wind turbines, primarily in Germany. Its new 1.5 MW wind turbine is among the first commercially available machines of this size class on the market, says Enron. Tacke, in 1996, was world's fifth largest wind turbine manufacturer.

Directly acquiring the Tacke assets will be two new subsidiaries of Enron Wind Holding GmbH, Tacke Windenergie GmbH, a manufacturing and sales entity, and Tacke Service GmbH, a maintenance provider. Hansen is to head both companies.

Enron Corp is one of the world's largest integrated natural gas and electricity companies. It has about $19 billion in assets and operates one of the largest natural gas transmission systems in the world. EWC is part of the subsidiary Enron Renewable Energy Corp.

"Wind power, with its competitive costs and significant environmental benefits, is becoming widely accepted as a viable energy source, particularly in EuropeÉ ," says Karas. "Enron Wind Holding GmbH has been formed to strengthen Enron's position in this important market."