General Electric bet on wind power

There’s a strong wind blowing through GE Energy Financial Services’ investment portfolio. The Stamford-based business, a unit of Fairfield-based General Electric Co., has made an equity investment in Idaho’s largest wind power project — a nearly $500 million dollar collection of 11 wind farms being developed by Exergy Development Group.

The GE unit will own a majority equity interest in the Idaho Wind Partners project. Exergy will own a minority interest, along with manager and operator Reunion Power.

Power produced by the wind farms will be sold to Idaho Power Co. under 20-year agreements. The wind energy portfolio is expected to qualify for the Federal Treasury Grant program designed to stimulate renewable energy projects.

The announcement, made this week at the American Council on Renewable Energy’s Renewable Energy Finance Forum in New York City, comes after an announcement in February that the division has taken a $65 million stake in a 152-megawatt wind farm in Oklahoma.

Wind energy makes up nearly 80 percent of GE Energy Financial Services’ renewable energy portfolio, which includes equity investments in 58 wind farms with a capacity to produce 6.1 gigawatts of electricity, as well as loans to 38 wind farms totaling 1.5 gigawatts.

Also this week, GE said it will install as many as five offshore demonstration wind turbines through two separate partnerships with Norwegian energy companies Statoil and Lyse for a feasibility study for an offshore wind-demonstration project off the southwestern coast of Norway. Featuring GE’s largest wind turbine, a 4.0 megawatt machine that includes a 110-meter rotor, the wind turbines would be installed in 2012.

GE also plans an onshore installation of a direct-drive wind turbine, designed for offshore environments, next year in Sweden, in cooperation with Gothenburg Energy.

It is part of GE’s plan to perfect its offshore strategy, said Victor Abate, vice president of GE Power & Water’s Renewable Energy business.

"With Statoil, Lyse and Gothenburg Energy, we have found three excellent partners with whom we can demonstrate our offshore wind turbines technology," he said.

GE is one of the top five global players in wind power, said Oliver Strube, publisher of Renewable Energy

"It’s a multibillion dollar business for them," he said, adding that offshore wind turbines are important electricity generators in Europe. "It’s a global trend in wind power. Off shore, there are excellent wind sources."

Strube expects concern over the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico to lead to new policy at all government levels to encourage renewable energy development.

The leak in the gulf is impacting the energy market and contributing to GE’s thinking, said Alex Urquhart, president and chief executive officer of GE Energy Financial Services, but its underlying approach has not changed.

Construction of the Idaho wind farms began in June and should be done by year’s end. Using 122 of GE’s 1.5-megawatt wind turbines, these wind farms can generate 183 megawatts — enough to power about 39,700 Idaho homes. It equates to taking about 57,000 cars off the road.

"Through our investment in Idaho’s largest wind power portfolio, GE Energy Financial Services is putting millions of dollars to work to bring jobs and clean energy to Idaho and help the country meet growing demand for domestic, renewable sources of energy," said Kevin Walsh, managing director and head of Power and Renewable Energy at GE Energy Financial Services.

The project is expected to create about 175 construction jobs, as well as permanent operations and seasonal maintenance employment.

"We are calling on Congress to enact a national renewable energy standard which would help stimulate growth of more wind, solar and other cleaner energy projects across the United States," Walsh said. "A renewable energy standard would help provide long-term certainty the energy industry and financial community need."