American rescue out of Dutch bankruptcy -- Lagerwey's new owner

Lagerwey the Windmaster, the Netherlands' last independent wind turbine producer, has been bought by VINAK Inc, a Delaware corporation headquartered in New York City, after the turbine producer founded by Henk Lagerwey in 1979 called in the receivers at the end of the summer. The American company was chosen from a range of potential buyers from Italy, India and the Netherlands, partly because it intends to continue wind turbine production at Lagerwey's home base in, Barneveld in the Netherlands, albeit with only 15 of the original 40 personnel, says bankruptcy administrator Hans Mulder.

"VINAK is an investment company not an operating company," says the new owner, VINAK president, Alexander Vucelic. "Lagerwey will continue to be operated from the Netherlands because that is where the expertise is." Vucelic says his company has bought the Dutch concern because "our US investors believe Lagerwey's wind turbine technology provides a superior opportunity to enter the rapidly expanding renewable energy industry." The purchase price is less of an issue than the cost of getting Lagerwey back on its feet, which could take anything from six to 30 months, says Vucelic.

Included in the price are the rights to all Lagerwey turbines up to and including the variable speed, 750 kW unit. Intellectual property rights for the Lagerwey-developed 2 MW Zephyros were divested earlier this year and are now owned by Zephyros BV. This company has taken on five Lagerwey R&D personnel.

A similar deal (Windpower Monthly, June 2003) which would see the rights to Lagerwey's smaller turbines, including the ubiquitous LW 80 kW and popular 250 kW models pass to Wind Energy Systems (WES), could not be finalised while Lagerwey was in receivership. "It is still the intention that WES should take over the smaller turbines and it's up to them to make an offer," says Lagerwey interim manager Jan Sandering.

For the time being, the Barneveld workforce will concentrate on assembly and sales of the LW 750 and product development. "We are aiming to begin production of a permanent magnet version of the 750 kW in the very near future," says Sandering. He reports that the performance of the prototype version, on trial in Andermatt, Switzerland, is satisfactory. "We also intend developing a 2 MW plus model on the basis of the 750 kW technology, also using a permanent magnet system."

Owner confusion

Confusion initially surrounded the take-over, with the Dutch press reporting that Ohio-based Ideal Electric, owned by Vucelic's father, Michael Vucelic, was the buyer. But despite Alexander Vucelic's personal connections with the Mansfield-based generator manufacturer, the two companies are different entities he insists: "Strictly speaking, from a financial and legal standpoint, there is no connection with Ideal," although he added: "Further down the road there may be some relations developing."

Ideal Electric, which this year celebrates its centenary, has some experience in wind having attempted to develop a 3 MW wind turbine in Wyoming in the 1980s, "but it is no longer in that business," says Vucelic.

Patent gymnastics

Lagerwey hopes that American ownership will give a boost to its efforts to crack the LW 750 turbine's access to the North American market, currently obstructed by GE's patent on variable speed wind turbine technology. "We are already working with two partners in Canada who are able to build an inverter which does not infringe the GE patent," says Sandering. "We are looking at the patent issue and are examining how to bring this product to the US," confirms Vucelic, "but first we need to support the customer base in Europe."

Will there be an American factory? "First let's save this company. This is a very difficult situation and we need to cure that first."

Lagerwey ran into financial trouble when in addition to funding an ambitious R&D program, it was forced to carry out repairs on a large number of LW 750 units sold in Japan. The appointment of two interim company managers in the spring and departure of general manager Johan Keurentjes in June signalled the onset of the final crisis, with the staff calling in the receivers at the end of August after working without pay for two months.

Lagerwey was owned by founder Henk Lagerwey and five independent backers. Henk Lagerwey's involvement with the company will continue despite the change of ownership.

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