Paris eyes 'Areva/Alstom offshore'

France’s government will push for Alstom’s offshore wind operation to be taken over by its state-controlled compatriot Areva if a bid for Alstom’s energy assets by GE is successful, reports in Paris claimed today.

In the latest twist to the acquisition saga gripping the power industry, respected French financial newspaper Les Echos claimed the French authorities are keen to see a single, strong domestic offshore wind player emerge from any GE deal.

The newspaper cited an unnamed government source as saying: “There is an interest in having one French player in this sector.”

Alstom and Areva have spent the last few years fighting it out for megawatts under France’s domestic offshore wind sector.

Areva swept the board in the latest tender round as recently as this week, while Alstom came off best in 2012’s first round.

The two companies are involved in distinct turbine programmes for the offshore sector, with a prototype of Alstom’s 6MW Haliade machine already in the water, while Areva is developing an 8MW model for deployment at the latest French zones.

To complicate matters further, Areva – which is already well-established in European offshore projects – is talking to Gamesa of Spain over a possible offshore wind joint venture – although nothing has yet been settled.

GE’s stance in the negotiations over its $17bn bid appears to leave the door open for some sort of internal French acquisition of Alstom’s wind interests.

GE CEO Jeff Immelt sent a letter to French President Francois Hollande after the two met to discuss a possible acquisition, in which he stressed the US group’s commitment to the renewables sector and repeats a pledge to base its global offshore wind operation in France.

But Immelt’s letter also responds to a French request to consider “structures that would enable us to preserve French interests in some of Alstom’s Power businesses that are strategically important to France”.

Immelt wrote: “In the same spirit, we would be open to acquisition proposals from French investors regarding Alstom’s onshore and offshore wind businesses.”

French ministers have publicly said they oppose the GE bid as it currently stands.

A spokesman for GE said it had nothing to add to the contents of Immelt’s letter in relation to the latest reports.

Areva has not so far responded to a request for comment from Recharge.

GE has built a successful onshore wind turbine business but has shunned the offshore sector.

As recently as December, Cliff Harris, GE’s general manager for renewables across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, told Recharge that the company had “made the strategic decision to focus our resources onshore”.

A rival bid for Alstom’s energy assets is still expected to emerge from Germany’s Siemens, which has been given access to Alstom’s books to carry out due-diligence.

In an further twist, it was reported today that GE is in talks with Toshiba of Japan about selling on Alstom’s grid business if its acquisition is successful, but GE has flatly denied this.