FAMILY QUARREL, WindMaster and Turbowinds

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The bankruptcy of Belgian wind turbine manufacturer HMZ WindMaster has led to a bout of barely restrained quarrelling over the inheritance between the firm's former sister and daughter companies. HMZ's former sister, Dutch WindMaster of Lelystad, is not quite in agreement with its niece, Turbowinds NV of Belgium, as to who now has the rights to what. Turbowinds was founded by six of HMZ's ex-employees.

To complicate matters further, 25% of Dutch WindMaster has now been bought by Kevin Jenden, formerly chief executive officer of the UK arm of American renewable energy developer New World Power Corporation. The remaining 75% remains in the hands of the huge Dutch Begemann Group, although rumour says the group is anxious to get out of the wind business. Meantime, Turbowinds has found a powerful stepfather, TRECO, the official dealer of Caterpillar vehicles in Belgium.

The thinly veiled animosity between Turbowinds and WindMaster has resulted in different reports of the division of the spoils from HMZ's demise. According to barrister Luk Renier, the receiver taking care of HMZ's bankruptcy, Belgian Turbowinds and Dutch WindMaster have equal global rights to the former HMZ's technology. The only restriction is that WindMaster may not market turbines in Belgium, while Turbowinds has no marketing rights in the Netherlands.

Furthermore, Turbowinds can only use the name WindMaster in Belgium and India for a certain period. Another restriction -- stating that WindMaster is not allowed to do business in India while Turbowinds has to stay out of France -- is to be lifted by the end of this month. Before that date, though, a contract for a long planned wind farm at Dunkirk in France will formally go to WindMaster, says the Dutch firm's Hans Kursten.

According to Wilfried van Melckebeke from Turbowinds, the technology embraced in the division of legal rights includes a range of turbines, the 200 kW, 300 kW, 500 kW and 1.5 MW. He also says the 750 kW turbine is probably included in this category. WindMaster, however, claims it owns all rights to the 750 kW design. "The only equal rights they [Turbowinds] have are on the electronic system," says Kursten. "But that is the same concept that has been used in the 300 kW turbine." This is a turbine Turbowinds has rights to. Van Melckebeke says Turbowinds is not interested in the 750 kW. "We are now focusing on the 300 kW turbine of which 20 will be placed in India." These units are being partially assembled in the four assembly halls of stepfather TRECO. Turbowinds engineers are also repairing the 1.3 MW prototype in Zeebrugge, hit by lightning last winter, and preparing a programme of intensive monitoring for the machine.

Meantime, the new Belgian firm is busy developing new turbines. Small design changes have been made on the 300 kW unit and new designs in the 400-600 kW will appear in the near future, promises Van Melckebeke. Back in the Netherlands, WindMaster is concentrating on the 750 kW turbine as well as negotiating with an American partner for development of new models, either smaller or larger. As a former daughter of Holec, it has rights to a direct drive system developed some years ago called Dircon.

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