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Meteoric rise of French firm ends -- Theolia retreats as cash runs dry

Troubled French wind energy developer and producer Theolia is withdrawing from the "non-key" markets of Spain, Greece, the Czech Republic, Poland and Croatia and is reconsidering its position in Morocco as part of a cost-cutting strategy in the wake of a liquidity crisis caused by the global financial turmoil. Instead, the company will focus on Italy, France and Germany, where it confirms its strategy, announced mid-November, of selling wind plant to raise much-needed cash.

The news of Theolia's retreat came during an update in January by CEO Marc van't Noordende as to progress on Theolia's plans to refill its coffers. He confirmed sale of 55.5 MW of operating capacity in Germany and said sale of over 200 MW in France, Germany and Spain is to be realised by the summer if all goes to plan. Overall, however, Theolia plans to grow its installed base in France and Italy. "Selling low-level projects and operating assets is easy but not a long term solution for our cash needs," Van't Noordende explains.

The company is exploring various ways to restructure its capital so that it can grow again beyond 2009. Among other things, it is looking at selling equity shares in plant and in its asset-operator business so that it can reinvest the money in higher yielding and higher-risk projects. In this light, it is "reviewing" its relationship with Natenco, its German partner. Theolia is also in talks with Morocco's National Office of Electricity, the concession-holder for Theolia's 50.2 MW plant at Al Koudia Al Baida, about whether the company "has a platform for future projects" in the country. But it is withdrawing its bid to build a 200-300 MW facility at Tarfaya in southern Morocco and will not proceed with the public listing of its Casablanca subsidiary, Theolia Emerging Markets. On the other hand, Van't Noordende says Theolia will keep a close eye on India and Brazil, where it sees significant potential. A decision on remaining in these two markets will be made by the end of the year.

The company has 617 MW of operating plant and a "high quality" development pipeline of 2580 MW, Van't Noordende reports. Nothing was added in 2008 and will only be built in 2009 if proceeds from the sales are received in time. "We are not out of the danger zone yet," Van't Noordende warns.

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