EDF wind arm sees M&A bonanza in crisis

PARIS (Reuters) - The global financial crisis should offer EDF Energies Nouvelles opportunities to acquire assets on favourable terms, the head of the French wind and solar power company said in an interview with Reuters.

Chief Executive David Corchia added that obtaining financing was taking more effort and time but remained possible and he said renewable energy measures in U.S. President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan offered incentives to build new projects in the country where a third of EDF EN’s wind farms are located.

Corchia confirmed EDF EN, which is 50-percent owned by mainly nuclear power producer EDF, would reach its target of operating worldwide 4,000 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy capacity by 2012 -- against 1,564 MW at end 2008.

He brushed aside risks linked to the global credit crunch, which has made it much harder for wind farm developers to find financing for their capital-intensive projects.

“Our 4,000 MW target is not at risk. We have enough cash, corporate facilities and negotiations with bankers to say that 2009 will not be an issue for a 2012 target,” he said, adding though that negotiating with lenders was now rather painful.

“This is taking an insane amount of time. Where we were negotiating with one bank, we are now talking to four or five. Where it was taking three months, it now takes eight or nine.”

“We are able to negotiate eight or nine months and not accept unacceptable conditions, but this situation... could put to death weaker independent developers,” Corchia said, adding though that this could make it easier to make acquisitions.


Corchia said EDF EN, which has a market value of 2.3 billion euros, may invest just over 1 billion euros in projects in 2009 of which 75 percent in wind power.

“We’ve made almost no acquisition. Could this change today? Yes as we start seeing the opportunity to acquire turbines at prices below usual contracts, and buy back projects at their cost of development, not at very high prices anymore.”

Last week, EDF EN agreed with Canada’s SkyPower to buy the renewable energy developer’s rights to 180 turbines, but Corchia declined to say how much the French company paid for this.

“There are situations where more fragile developers run the risk of losing their entire down-payment unless they manage to find someone ready to assume their turbine contract. Of course, the acquirers will repay only a portion of the down-payments but at least, they don’t lose everything and as potential acquirers we get turbines at a much lower price than contract.”

Asked if EDF EN excluded buying a rival, he said: “No, but this is far more complicated than buying projects and not necessarily more profitable.” He ruled out a bid for troubled rival Theolia and excluded major solar deals.

He was bullish on the group’s prospects in the United States, where new legal incentives include a 3-year extension of tax credits for wind power and the possibility that the U.S. Treasury will repay in cash the equivalent of 30 percent of investments when the wind farm starts producing.

“With his firm decisions, Obama has given us visibility until 2012,” Corchia said. “He has given us the keys to go ahead with the projects we had planned but in more serene conditions.”

State-backed loans would even speed up the development of wind farms and help achieve a target to double U.S. renewable energy capacities, despite an unprecedented crisis, he said.

Corchia declined to give forecasts for the U.S. market, where it competes with the FPL Group. “We’ve put 450 MW on line (there) in 2008. There’s no reason to do less in 2009.”

Some 8,350 MW of new wind power generation came online in the United States in 2008, representing eight coal-fired power plants. This moved the United States past Germany as the world’s leading wind power producer. But the 25,000 MW of wind power is only about 1 percent of the country’s total power supply.

Editing by Marcel Michelson