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Centrica seeks backers on wind farm

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Centrica seeks backers on wind farm

By Ed Crooks and Fiona Harvey

Published: July 12 2008 03:00 | Last updated: July 12 2008 03:00

Centrica, the owner of British Gas, is in talks to bring in outside investors to take up to half of its planned £3.5bn wind farm programme.

Credit Suisse was hired earlier in the year to advise on the process and Centrica is now in exploratory talks with a number of potential investors.

Centrica is looking for financial investors to take a significant minority stake in its wind farms, up to just under 50 per cent. This could raise more than £1.5bn to fund the construction programme.

There has been a high level of investor interest in renewable energy this year in spite of the turmoil in financial markets. However, doubts have been raised about the financial viability of offshore wind power, which will comprise the majority of Centrica’s portfolio.

Centrica today has less than 200 megawatts of wind power, roughly half onshore and half offshore.

It is also building another 180MW project in the Wash, East Anglia, which will be the world’s largest offshore wind farm when it comes on stream, scheduled for the end of the year.

Three more projects have been proposed, to take the total to 1,600MW: roughly the output of a typical nuclear power station.

Shortages of equipment, including turbines and the vessels to install them, and skilled staff have sent costs in offshore wind soaring. On some calculations, wind is the most expensive form of electricity generation capacity. Centrica’s programme is likely to cost up to £3.5bn at today’s prices: a heavy commitment for a company with a market capitalisation of £10.6bn.

Centrica is unlikely to follow the route taken by European companies such as Iberdrola of Spain and Energias de Portugal, which have floated off minority stakes in their renewable energy businesses, although that option has not been ruled out.

Instead, its wind power programme is expected to interest private equity investors, who could take a stake either in the wind portfolio as a whole, or in individual projects.

Earlier this week Blackstone, the private equity group, announced plans to invest €1bn (£799m) in offshore wind farms off the coast of Germany.

Mark Muldowney of Fortis Bank said he expected to see more offshore wind deals as the market was maturing fast

“The offshore wind market has huge potential in Europe. It’s a very interesting market and we expect to see much more activity in this space,” he said.

However, confidence in the industry suffered a blow in May, when Royal Dutch Shell pulled out of the London Array, a planned 1,000MW offshore wind farm, which would be the world’s biggest on completion. Shell is in talks to sell its one-third stake to its partners in the London Array, Dong Energy of Denmark and Eon, the German energy group.

Shares in Centrica fell 4.5 per cent to 285.50p.

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