Archive for the ‘Clipper Windpower’ Category

photo: Aurora Biofuels

As I write in The New York Times on Friday, it’s spring cleaning at three renewable energy firms as top executives depart SolarReserve, Clipper Windpower and Aurora Biofuels:

The past week has brought a spate of executive departures at renewable energy startups, with the president of SolarReserve, a power plant builder, and the chief executives of Clipper Windpower and Aurora Biofuels stepping down.

Terry Murphy, a rocket scientist who co-founded SolarReserve after a career at United Technologies’ Rocketdyne division, has started a new venture called Advanced Rocket Technologies in Commercial Applications, or ARTiCA. The firm will evaluate green technologies for entrepreneurs and investors, according to Mr. Murphy.

Mr. Murphy and SolarReserve both said the departure was voluntary. “With the company solidly executing on its business strategies, Mr. Murphy has transitioned to an external role in providing developmental expertise to other early stage clean energy companies,” wrote Debra Hotaling, a spokeswoman for SolarReserve, in an e-mail message.

When Mr. Murphy left Rocketdyne to start SolarReserve, the startup licensed Rocketdyne’s molten salt technology so that its solar power plants could store solar energy for use after the sun sets or on cloudy days.

“SolarReserve, in my opinion, is up and running on all four cylinders,” said Mr. Murphy.

“What I did at Rocketdyne and what I did at SolarReserve and what I’m looking at doing in the future is to sift through technologies to find those that can be commercialized.”

Mr. Murphy’s new firm will focus on technologies involving renewable energy, desalinization and sustainability, he said.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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photo: Clipper Windpower

Tech and defense industry conglomerate United Technologies has shown growing interest in alternative energy and this week it bought nearly half of California wind turbine maker Clipper Windpower. As I write Friday in The New York Times:

United Technologies, a global industrial heavyweight, will invest $270 million for a 49.5 percent stake in Clipper Windpower, a struggling California-based turbine maker.

The deal, announced this week, marks a change in the ownership structure for one of the few major American-owned turbine makers. (Another is General Electric.)

United Technologies, a Hartford-based parent company to businesses such as jet engine maker Pratt & Whitney and elevator maker Otis, has recently shown interest in alternative energy. For example, it has licensed its molten salt storage technology to solar power plant builder SolarReserve.

In a statement on Wednesday, United Technologies said that it “expects to work closely with Clipper Windpower to improve the company’s core technology, manufacturing, product quality, and supply management capabilities.”

The agreement, the company added, “allows U.T.C. to expand its power generation portfolio and enter the high-growth wind power segment.”

Clipper, which is listed on London’s A.I.M. stock exchange, began to look for investors earlier this year as the global recession took its toll and customers delayed turbine orders. Millions of dollars spent fixing defects in some older turbines further sapped Clipper’s cash flow. Its share price rose by close to 20 percent on Thursday, after the deal was announced.

Douglas Pertz, Clipper’s chief executive, said in an interview on Friday that he expects to see the market revive in the latter half of 2010. (On Thursday, G.E. announced a $1.4 billion deal to supply turbines to what would be the nation’s largest wind farm, in Oregon.)

United Technologies has agreed not to acquire additional shares of Clipper for two years following the close of the deal.

Mr. Pertz argued that there are similarities between General Electric and United Technologies — as well as a bit of history.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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The wind industry has been getting a lot of love of late from the Obama administration.

The president spent Earth Day at an Iowa factory that makes wind turbine towers and announced new regulations for offshore wind farms. Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has been talking up the potential of offshore wind to generate as much as 20% of the eastern seaboard’s electricity that is now provided by coal-fired power plants.

But such scenarios won’t come to pass unless the administration seriously tackles the transmission grid problems that are keeping wind from becoming a nationwide source of green energy, according to panel of wind industry executives who spoke at Fortune Magazine’s Brainstorm Green panel this week.

“The real challenge is to connect wind farms in the Great Plains with the population centers of the Midwest,” said Bob Gates, senior vice president of commercial operations for Clipper Windpower. California-based Clipper is one of two U.S.-owned wind turbine makers (the other being General Electric (GE) ).

For instance, Clipper and BP (BP) have signed an agreement to build a 5,000-megawatt wind farm – the nation’s largest – in South Dakota. But the deal is more a dream at this stage because there are no power lines to transmit such massive amounts of electricity to Chicago and other Midwestern cities. (Gates said there is enough transmission available to begin construction this summer of a small 25-megawatt portion of the wind farm.)

The Obama administration has devoted billions of dollars in stimulus package funding to transmission projects and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week approved incentives for a company planning to build a $12 billion “Green Power Express” transmission project to bring wind to Midwest metropolises.

Gates and the other panelists — Andris Cukurs, CEO of Indian turbine maker Suzlon’s North American operations; Don Furman, a transmission executive with Spanish wind developer Iberdrola Renewables, and James Walker, vice chairman of French-owned wind developer enXco – said the development of wind offshore from East Coast cities would ease transmission bottlenecks.

“Connecting offshore wind to cities is relatively cheap and easy compared to bringing wind power from the Dakotas to New York City,” Gates said. Another way to work around transmission gridlock would be to develop highly efficient small turbines that could be placed near cities and existing power lines, said Gates.

Despite Obama’s embrace of wind, the executives said they don’t see the industry resuming its record growth in 2008 – when U.S. wind capacity more than doubled – until 2010 or later. The credit crunch delayed or scuttled numerous wind farms and turbine orders have fallen dramatically.

One bright spot: Growing interest from well-capitalized utilities in directly investing in wind farms.

“Utility ownership is about 15% of the U.S. turbine fleet,” said Furman of Iberdrola Renewables. “I see more utility ownership in the coming years,, perhaps up to a third of the fleet.”

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Image: Principle Power

Portugal has become a prime spot for wave energy farms, given the coastal conditions and the government’s support for renewable energy projects. Now Portuguese energy powerhouse Energias de Portugal has signed an agreement with Seattle’s Principle Power for a deep-water floating wind farm.

It’s the second floating wind farm for Principle Power, which last October inked a contract to construct a 150-megawatt turbine power plant off the Oregon coast. The Oregon plan calls for 30 floating platforms that will each sport a five-megawatt wind turbine – which is about twice the size of the biggest land-based turbines in commercial operation. (General Electric (GE) makes a 3.6-megawatt turbine designed for offshore and Clipper Windpower is developing a ten-megawatt prototype.)

Details of the deal with Portugal’s EDP, however, are next to non-existent. Principle Power president Jon Bonanno told Green Wombat that the size of the Portuguese wind farm, the type of turbine it will use, its cost and build date are confidential. “What I can say is that the phased build out will result in a utility scale project, within a reasonable time frame for a plant of its size and nature,” Bonanno wrote in an e-mail.

The Seattle startup did reveal that the agreement with EDP calls for it to first deploy a single floating turbine platform, which it calls a WindFloat. “Innovative features of the WindFloat dampen wave and turbine induced motion, enabling wind turbines to be sited in previously inaccessible locations where water depth exceeds 50 meters and wind resources are superior,” Principle said in a statement.

If the WindFloat is successful, then a demonstration project will be built and a commercial wind farm will follow. Deep-water offshore wind farms pose a number of technological and economic challenges but the expected payoff is the production of  cheaper electricity from massive turbines that will be located far enough offshore to avoid the NIMBY problems that have plagued projects in the United States and elsewhere.

EDP became one of the world’s biggest wind farmers in 2007 when it acquired Horizon Wind Energy from Goldman Sachs for $2 billion.

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photo: Todd Woody

As President Barack Obama embraced renewable energy in his inaugural speech Tuesday, Clipper Windpower laid off 90 employees – about 11% of its workforce – as the global financial crisis throws a spanner in the once-booming wind industry.

The Carpinteria, Calif.-based turbine maker has seen business slow as customers delay existing orders and put off new ones because they cannot obtain financing for wind farms, Clipper CEO Doug Pertz told Green Wombat.

“In the short-term, the impact to Clipper is a reduction in 2009 turbine production,” he said. “We know that 2009 will be a challenging year, however, remain optimistic that this economic situation is temporary.  We trust that the new Obama administration will, in the not-too-distant future, enact policy to enable better financing options for wind energy projects and aggressively promote the growth of renewable energy development.”

Clipper is one of only two U.S.-owned turbine makers – the other being General Electric (GE) – in an industry dominated by European manufacturers and wind farm developers.

Like their counterparts in the solar industry – which also has been shedding workers in recent weeks – wind companies depend on tax incentives to lure investors. But with traditional investment banks all but extinct on Wall Street and other investors hoarding their cash, there’s been little appetite of late for investing in so-called tax equity partnerships to provide funding for massive wind farms or solar power plants.

Pertz said Clipper’s production is down 20% from the 750 megawatts worth of turbines it manufactured in 2008 and that he expects double-digit declines for 2009. “Customers with large balance sheets are being much more conservative and smaller independent wind developers are seeing that it is much more difficult to obtain tax-equity financing,” he noted.

Wind and solar industry lobbyists are pushing Congress to make the investment tax credit and the production tax credit refundable so those companies that don’t have tax liabilities can trade the credits for cash that can be used to finance renewable energy projects.

Founded in 2001 by wind industry veteran James Dehlsen – his first wind company is now owned by GE –  Clipper makes a 2.5-megawatt turbine called the Liberty at its Cedar Rapids, Iowa, factory that powers wind farms built by FPL (FPL) and BP (BP). Other customers include Queen Elizabeth II, who bought the prototype of a 10-megawatt offshore turbine being developed by Clipper in the U.K.

One bright spot for the wind industry, said Pertz, is an expected move by well-capitalized utilities to take ownership stakes in wind farms if a national standard is enacted requiring them to obtain a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources.

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