GE Executive Announces New Investment Into Offshore Wind and Solar Power (USA)

Even with $6 billion in renewable-energy investments, GE Energy Financial Services plans new bets on offshore wind and solar power plants, an executive said Wednesday.

Kevin Walsh, managing director at the General Electric Co. unit /quotes/comstock/13*!ge/quotes/nls/ge (GE 17.50, +0.01, +0.06%) , didn’t lay out a timetable for investing in offshore wind, but said it could offer a fertile opportunity for the conglomerate.

Earlier this year, the Cape Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts won federal permits clearing the way for construction, after a nine-year legal battle.

While GE’s Energy Financial Services isn’t directly involved in that project, Walsh said the U.S. is likely to follow Europe’s lead into using offshore wind-turbine projects to generate electricity.

“We’re looking at other offshore wind opportunities and we’re certainly following the whole space,” Walsh said Wednesday.

General Electric Co. is selling a new 4-megawatt offshore wind turbine with direct-drive technology that reduces maintenance requirements, Walsh said.

Overall, Walsh said, wind projects have comprised the largest piece of his unit’s $6 billion renewable energy investment, including $5 billion between 2006 and 2010.

Echoing others in the alternative power industry, Walsh supports the U.S. Treasury’s renewable energy tax grant program, which falls under Section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

A measure to extend the 1603 grant for one year has been included in the current version of the tax-cut bill approved Wednesday by the U.S. Senate. The program helps compensate for up to 30% of the cost of alternative energy projects after they’re built. It now awaits action in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The U.S. Partnership For Renewable Energy Finance said late Tuesday that extending the 1603 program would save $25 billion in energy projects in 17 states.

While Walsh said GE would be among a handful of players able to continue investing in wind and other alternative energy, many smaller companies would walk away without the 1603 program.

Alternative energy deserves support from policy makers in Washington because it helps reduce greenhouse gases, create jobs, protect against price spikes for fossil fuel and curb dependence on foreign oil, he said.

“With renewable energy there is a capital cost, but there’s not a fuel cost and there’s no carbon price risk — and the costs are coming down,” he said.

In 2009 and 2010, GE Energy Financial Services has signed deals worth more than $1.5 billion for wind farms, closed transactions in geothermal and hydroelectric power, and made venture capital investments in smart grid companies, he said.

“We got a green light from GE to keep going and we’re going to do that,” Walsh said. “We’re interested in increasing our activities in solar — we think there will be more opportunities in utility-scale solar. We’d like to continue to do more with more wind and solar, geothermal, landfill gas plants … We really want to invest across the renewable spectrum.”



Source: marketwatch, December 16, 2010