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GE eyes new wind repowering orders worth up to $4B

General Electric Co. sees a "massive business" in breathing new life into old wind farms, especially in North America, where the turbine supplier is eyeing up to $4 billion in repowering orders in the next few years, Pete McCabe, head of onshore wind in GE's renewable energy division, said June 7 at a conference in Chicago.

"We took $1 billion of orders of that in [2016], and we see ... $2 billion to $4 billion [through 2021], a brand new market for us out there," McCabe said at Deutsche Bank's Global Industrials and Basic Materials Summit. Upgrading older turbines with new blades, gearboxes and other components to yield "significantly more energy output" makes a "pretty compelling economic case for our customers," he added, calling repowering "a massive business" that GE is only "on the beginning phase of."

GE has repowered 300 wind turbines so far, the equivalent of adding the output of 75 new turbines, the company announced last month at the American Wind Energy Association's annual conference in Anaheim, Calif. The company also is receiving orders for new turbines to completely replace older ones. In fact, there are really three segments of the repowering business: "refurbishing" with selective replacement of some components, "repowering" with new nacelle and rotor, and complete replacement of the full turbines at the end of life. When talking about their "repowering business," suppliers are talking about all three.

In one complete repowering project currently under construction in Altamont Pass, Calif., NextEra Energy Resources LLC, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Inc., is replacing 283 three-decade-old turbines with just 20 new 2.3 MW turbines from GE to generate more power than the previous project. The 46 MW Golden Hills North wind farm, underpinned by a 20-year power purchase agreement with Sonoma Clean Power, is scheduled for completion at the end of 2017.

NextEra is also bullish on repowering, saying in October it would invest up to $2.5 billion to upgrade wind farms over the next four years. The current repowering push is buoyed by the IRS' clarification in December 2016 of how wind power project owners can qualify for 10-year production tax credits.