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Sources: NRG close to buying Bluewater

Bluewater Wind expects a controlling interest in the firm to be sold in the next few weeks, and sources familiar with the plan say the company is in serious negotiations to sell to NRG Energy Inc. In selling a majority stake in the offshore wind farm company, Bluewater would get the immediate financial help it needs to keep its projects moving forward, and the backing of a large energy company that should ease the financing of billion-dollar wind farms.

Owner of coal-fired Indian River plant interested in wind power

Bluewater Wind expects a controlling interest in the firm to be sold in the next few weeks, and sources familiar with the plan say the company is in serious negotiations to sell to NRG Energy Inc.

In selling a majority stake in the offshore wind farm company, Bluewater would get the immediate financial help it needs to keep its projects moving forward, and the backing of a large energy company that should ease the financing of billion-dollar wind farms.

Bluewater needs a new infusion of money because its current majority owner, the Australian investment holding company Babcock and Brown, was ravaged by debt during the global economic meltdown.

Babcock International, the subsidiary that owns Bluewater, is selling off its assets over a two- to three-year period.

Rob Propes, Bluewater's project director for its planned Delaware wind farm, declined to comment about the identity of companies the firm is talking to about the sale of a "fully controlled interest."

A sale would include all of the projects in Bluewater's development pipeline, among them the planned wind farm off Rehoboth Beach, a similar venture planned... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Owner of coal-fired Indian River plant interested in wind power 

Bluewater Wind expects a controlling interest in the firm to be sold in the next few weeks, and sources familiar with the plan say the company is in serious negotiations to sell to NRG Energy Inc.

In selling a majority stake in the offshore wind farm company, Bluewater would get the immediate financial help it needs to keep its projects moving forward, and the backing of a large energy company that should ease the financing of billion-dollar wind farms.

Bluewater needs a new infusion of money because its current majority owner, the Australian investment holding company Babcock and Brown, was ravaged by debt during the global economic meltdown.

Babcock International, the subsidiary that owns Bluewater, is selling off its assets over a two- to three-year period.

Rob Propes, Bluewater's project director for its planned Delaware wind farm, declined to comment about the identity of companies the firm is talking to about the sale of a "fully controlled interest."

A sale would include all of the projects in Bluewater's development pipeline, among them the planned wind farm off Rehoboth Beach, a similar venture planned in New Jersey and proposals in other states, he said. Propes said Bluewater expects to announce a deal in the coming weeks.

"Bluewater Wind is moving forward to close a deal with our investor, and no deal has yet been signed," Propes said. "We will let our supporters know when we're ready to announce that a deal's been reached."

Babcock spokesman Matt Dallas had no comment. David Knox, communications director for NRG, also declined to comment. "Nobody here's going to be able to comment on anything that's a market rumor," Knox said.

But several sources familiar with the talks said a field of potential buyers has been narrowed to NRG, and the two companies were working to complete a deal. No firm commitments have been signed.

Such a deal, if culminated, would pair Delaware's most prominent clean energy project with one of the state's most prominent polluters. NRG, based in Princeton, N.J., owns the coal-fired Indian River Power Plant, which long has ranked among the state's major air-pollution sources. A $500 million pollution reduction effort is under way there.

Expanding options

An investment in Bluewater would mesh with a strategy NRG Chief Executive David Crane discussed in an interview with Reuters in August. He said NRG wants to be involved in an array of renewable technologies, including offshore wind on the East Coast, and solar.

He said offshore wind in the East would be as potent an energy source as solar thermal energy in the Southwest. Land-based wind "is going to be treading water, until they can get transmission out of the Dakotas and into Chicago," he told Reuters.

NRG has two land-based wind projects in Texas, but its power generation portfolio features mainly coal, natural gas and oil plants, as well as one nuclear plant, providing enough power to serve 20 million homes. It also is hoping to build new nuclear plants.

NRG built and operates the wind farms under the name Padoma Wind Power. It has a third Texas wind farm under construction, and six more planned in Texas, California and New Mexico.

Bluewater's primary asset is a 25-year power purchase contract with Delmarva Power, the only known contract for offshore wind power in the nation. There are no wind turbines off the United States coast, although they are common in Europe.

At last count, the Bluewater project would have at least 79 turbines and be sited about 14 miles off the coast of Rehoboth Beach. It would generate enough electricity to power 55,000 homes. It could be the first commercial-scale U.S. offshore wind farm.

A controlling stake in Bluewater was acquired by Babcock in 2007. Its deep pockets were supposed to bolster the project, which Bluewater officials in September estimated would cost at least $1 billion.

But Babcock, laden with debt, was hurt badly in the global economic meltdown.

Bluewater President Peter Mandelstam said in September that Babcock would be out of the project by the year's end. It is unclear how much of Bluewater is now owned by Babcock, and how much is owned by Mandelstam. In September, Mandelstam said he and Babcock were funding the business. Propes would not elaborate Friday.

Tyler Tringas, a wind-energy analyst for New Energy Finance, said it is routine in Europe for large power companies to be the financial motor of wind farms. It's easier for them to finance a wind farm than if the project's developers had to cobble together hundreds of millions in development financing, Tringas said.

"Probably the easiest route to getting one of these projects done is to partner with a major utility," Tringas said.

The purchase sounds like an expensive proposition, said Paul Fremont, electric utility analyst at Jefferies & Co. But NRG was talking several years ago about aggressively expanding its portfolio of power plants, and this would fit in with that strategy, he said.

Such a purchase could help ease NRG into an era of new rules and regulations on burning coal, Fremont said.

"This may be their way of maintaining future levels of output consistent with where they are today," Fremont said.

Former rivals

NRG and Bluewater were competitors at one point. The Bluewater project was a response to a 2006 state request for proposals for new, in-state generation to stabilize electricity prices and increase reliability on the Delmarva Peninsula.

At the time, few Americans had given much thought to offshore wind farms, which made the Bluewater proposal novel. It picked up substantial public support as company officials toured the state.

But Bluewater had competition from NRG, which was proposing a coal gasification plant, known in some circles as "clean coal," and many believed NRG had the inside track. A third competitor, Conectiv, proposed a natural gas-fired plant.

During the competition, NRG officials were critical of the Bluewater project, raising questions about the wind company's ability to provide electricity during the hottest summer days, when winds are light. Bluewater ultimately won the competition, and state agencies, lawmakers and eventually Delmarva agreed on a power purchase agreement.

The potential pairing represents the "irony of ironies," said Nick DiPasquale, a Bluewater supporter and a former state natural resources secretary. He said he has no knowledge of the possible deal. "If a fossil-fuel company is coming forward in that direction, that's definitely a good thing," he said.

DiPasquale said that during the debate of 2006 and 2007, NRG was promoting "more of the same," and many people in Delaware felt the company "just didn't get it."

But DiPasquale gave NRG credit for getting with the times.

"That's a pretty serious commitment, and I think it bodes well. NRG has in the past acknowledged that climate change is for real, and the country needs to be moving away from carbon-emitting power production. This is certainly a demonstration they're putting their money where their mouth is," he said.

In recent months, NRG has been part of a group lobbying the government to pass an aggressive climate change bill.

And earlier this month, NRG received final approval for the largest air-pollution control effort in state history. The $500 million project will cut some smog-forming and toxic emissions at Indian River by 75 to 90 percent. The effort includes shutting down the two oldest units at the four-unit facility.

The company continues to support coal gasification in the long term.

In addition to Delaware and New Jersey, Bluewater hopes to build projects off the coasts of Maryland, Rhode Island, New York and North Carolina.

Bluewater is gearing up to build meteorological towers off the Delaware and New Jersey coastlines to study a year's worth of weather and bird flight patterns. The U.S. Department of the Interior recently released rules governing offshore wind farms, which developers say will speed construction of the projects. The Delaware project is scheduled to begin operation in 2013.


Source: http://www.delawareonline.c...

OCT 31 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/22916-sources-nrg-close-to-buying-bluewater
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