Steadily building a wind business -- Gas giant diversifies

Europe's largest supplier of natural gas, Gaz de France (GDF), intends to ramp up the renewables share of its electrical generation capacity from 10% to 20% of total capacity by 2012. This translates to an estimated 2000 MW of renewables, of which around 95% will be wind power, according to GDF.

The company expects that roughly half will be in France, with the rest in Italy, Britain, Spain, Portugal and Poland. Most will be onshore, but GDF does not rule out offshore in future. To help meet its target, GDF recently agreed to buy a 95% stake in Erelia, a Nancy-based developer and operator of wind projects with 70 MW turning in northeast France, a further 104 MW building or permitted and over 200 MW under development.

Erelia, founded in 2003 by local entrepreneur François Pélissier, focuses on community involvement in wind projects. Local investors own 10% of its 32 MW Haut des Ailes plant and the company is advising a number of community wind projects in Quebec. "Gaz de France will provide us with its industrial capabilities and significant support for the implementation of our projects, while ensuring the long term viability of our business model, which is based on very strong regional partnerships," says Pélissier.

For GDF, the move strengthens the group's position in the wind market and "represents a further step forwards with the implementation of Gaz de France's sustainable development policy," says chairman and CEO Jean-François Cirelli. So far this policy has seen the creation in 2006 of Ma•a Eolis, a wind power developer and operator owned 49% by GDF and 51% by Lyon-based construction and engineering firm Ma•a Sonnier.

From 58 MW installed in France at present, Ma•a Eolis will reach 80 MW by the end of the year and 350 MW by 2011 according to GDF. It says Ma•a Eolis and Erelia will separately continue to operate and maintain their own plant, though GDF does expect to benefit from some synergies, not least the ability to secure better terms when negotiating with turbine manufacturers.

GDF also owns a wind turbine operations and maintenance unit, Cofathec, which manages nearly 30 MW of wind power on behalf of third parties: 27.8 MW in France and 1.3 MW in Scotland. Cofathec will also continue to operate independently says GDF.

Lastly, GDF has contracted to buy the output of Falck Renewables' 37.5 MW wind power plant at Earlsburn in Scotland.