France's EDF buys Chinese wind energy firm

France's finance minister Michel Sapin said last month that Britain's decision to quit the European Union had made the project "more difficult" (AFP Photo/Eric Piermont) (AFP/File)

Paris (AFP) - Seeking to place itself as the main European player in a burgeoning Chinese market, state-owned French energy giant EDF said Tuesday it had taken a controlling stake in Hong Kong-based UPC Asia Wind Management (AWM).

EDF, which did not reveal what it had paid for the 80 percent stake in AWM, the local arm of wind farm operator UPC China, already has nuclear activities in China, as well as a growing presence in thermal and hydraulic power.

US investment fund Global Environment Fund (GEF) will retain a 20 percent share of AWM, said EDF, which last year dubbed China the centre of gravity of the global energy industry.

The French firm, which highlighted its view of China as a priority growth market, is present in a swathe of Chinese cities, notably with a stake in a nuclear plant at Taishan in the south.

"Our goal is to accelerate our low-carbon generation, with a diversified energy mix where nuclear and renewable energy balance each other," said said EDF's chief executive Jean-Bernard Levy in a statement.

"Our development in high-potential markets such as China is a full part of this dynamic process. This country where we have been present for more than 30 years, is providing to the Group significant growth opportunities and we are delighted to boost our presence in renewable energy sources."

With the deal, "we are the premier European operator to set up in China, an what is an extremely promising market," said Antoine Cahuzac, director general of EDF's renewable energy division EDF EN.

Economic growth has seen China's energy consumption rise exponentially in recent years and carbon currently has a 70 percent share in the mix.

However, Beijing's "ambition is to reach 200 gigawatts of installed wind power capacity by 2020 -- a rise of 15 GW per year," said EDF.

By the end of 2014, China already had surpassed the United States as the country with the world’s largest installed base of wind power at 100 GW and last year attracted around half of global wind power development.

China's current total installed capacity is 145 GW.

Explaining some of the detailed rationale behind the UPC AWM deal, Bruno Fyot, EDF EN director general delegate, told reporters: "We are taking over 174 megawatts of operational projects and 130 megawatts of projects under construction ... and a little over one gigawatt of projects under development."

Fyot added EDF was additionally very open to solar power opportunities which may present themselves in China.

EDF EN is targeting annual construction of between 200 and 300 MW to reach two gigawatts within five years -- about double current installed wind power capacity in France.

With wind power development per megawatt costing around a million euros ($1.1. million) those ambitions would presuppose investment over five years of around two billion euros.

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