COPENHAGEN The family firm that controls Denmark's Lego is buying almost a third of a German offshore wind power project in an unusual foray outside the toy business to showcase its green credentials to customers.
Lego's parent company, Kirkbi A/S, will invest 3 billion crowns ($534 million) for a 32 percent stake in DONG Energy's 277-megawatt Borkum Riffgrund 1 wind farm, which is scheduled to be fully operational in 2015, the companies said.
For DONG, which has previously sold stakes in wind farms to institutional investors like pension insurance groups, the deal represents a key widening of its investor base to include corporate groups for the first time.
By investing in the project, Lego will be allowed to use a customer label certifying that it uses wind energy, Lego said.
Kirkbi A/S is the Kirk Kristiansen family's holding and investment company, which owns 75 percent of Lego Group, the world's third-biggest toymaker, known for its colorful, snap-together bricks and figures.
Lego said the investment would enable it to reach a target of generating enough renewable power to meet all its energy needs as the wind farm would produce more electricity than Lego would consume up to and including 2020.
"This investment supports the Lego Group's ambitious environmental goals," Kirkbi Chief Executive Soren Thorup Sorensen told Reuters.
"This also provides a solid long-term investment for us with a reasonable return."
Sorensen said the investment, to be paid over the next four years, was the first time that Kirkbi had invested directly in energy. "We have a significant investment portfolio, but even for us, this is a sizeable investment."
Lego's owners have deep pockets. In 2010, Kirkbi made a net profit of 4.26 billion crowns and had assets of 29.3 billion.
The power will go into the German grid and become part of the general supply, not provided directly to Lego manufacturing plants. The group has factories in Denmark, Mexico, the Czech Republic and Hungary.
A spokesman said the Lego Group does not now have any of its own electricity production, and is a consumer of renewable energy only to the extent that the general power supply where it operates comes from renewables.
Overall, state-owned DONG Energy, an oil, gas and electricity producer, agreed to sell 50 percent of the project for 4.7 billion crowns, DONG said.
In addition to the sale to Kirkbi, the Oticon Foundation would invest 1.7 billion crowns through its investment company, William Demant Invest A/S, to take an 18 percent stake in the project, said DONG Energy, which will keep 50 percent.
The foundation is the controlling shareholder in Danish hearing aids maker William Demant Holding, which aims to improve its energy balance, DONG said.
NEW KIND OF INVESTOR
"One and a half years ago, we opened the door for pension funds to come in as investors," DONG Energy's Chief Executive Anders Eldrup told Reuters.
"The door we open today is for a new kind of investor to get into the renewable energy sector, offshore wind." Eldrup said. "This is the first time we are doing this with corporates."
DONG Energy, which is the world leader in offshore wind farms with 1.3 gigawatts of capacity in operation and about 1.1 GW under construction, has earlier brought financial investors into two wind projects in Denmark and two in the UK.
"This could be the beginning of something that will have a signification impact, like when pension groups got involved," Eldrup said.
Eldrup said that to diversify risk DONG preferred to build two wind parks and divest 50 percent of each rather than build one and own all of it.
"Since we are continuously building new offshore parks, I do not think this will be the last one that we divest," he said. "As parks get closer to maturity, we will divest more, but we are not working on doing that right now."
The plan is to install 77 Siemens wind turbines, each with capacity of 3.6 MW, at the Borkum Riffgrund 1 wind farm, which will supply enough power for more than 285,000 households, DONG Energy said.
It will be built 55 km (35 miles) off the northwest coast of Germany in the North Sea, with construction to begin in 2013 and the first power expected in 2014, DONG Energy said.
($1 = 5.6166 Danish crowns)
(Reporting by John Acher; Editing by David Cowell)