Wind of austerity chills Spanish turbine industry

Updated 15 July 2013

Wind of austerity chills Spanish turbine industry

AOIZ, Spain: Wearing face masks and wielding sanders, two workers smooth the surface of a massive fan for a wind turbine at the Gamesa factory in Aoiz, a town in Navarre, northern Spain.
But in hard times, it will be winds in Finland, not Spain, that make the finished product spin.
Last year, the plant delivered a wind turbine park to Malaga in southern Spain and another to Burgos, in the north, said factory manager Javier Trapiella.
"Now we don't produce for Spain," he added.
"It has all stopped."
For green energy producers, Spain has changed from a paradise with generous public support to a markedly less agreeable home.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government is imposing an austerity regime to plug an accumulated energy sector deficit of 26 billion euros ($34 billion).
On Friday, the horizon darkened further with the approval of reforms cutting annual state aid for renewable energies by more than one billion euros.
The change is enough to place at risk huge strides in the Spanish wind energy industry.
Spain ranks as number four globally in terms of installed wind energy but has dropped to seventh place in terms of new projects, according to the Global Wind Energy Council.
"For Spain, wind energy has really been an energy revolution. In 20 years we have gone from producing zero kilowatts to producing 20 percent of national demand today," said Heikki Willstedt Mesa, director of energy policy at the Spanish Wind Energy Association.
In the fourth largest economy of the euro zone, wind is often the main source of electricity.
"Unfortunately, since 2009 the government has slowed the development of wind energy in Spain with various regulatory measures," he said.
Cuts in state aid of 35 percent, removing subsidies for new turbines since the start of 2013, and then the latest changes announced on Friday: The sector has been hit hard and manufacturers are the first to feel the pain.
In February, French group Alstom closed two factories in Spain and laid off 373 employees.
"The economic crisis and the absence of a stable regulatory framework have slowed domestic demand," the group said, stressing the lack of activity in its Spanish sites.
Spain's Gamesa, which is among the industry's world leaders, gave the same reasons as it laid off 606 of its 4,800 staff in Spain and closed two blade factories in recent months.
Gamesa notably pointed to the "regulatory uncertainty" , the persistent economic crisis and financial problems in the sector, especially in southern Europe.
Making a wind turbine is almost a work of craftsmanship, said Gamesa's Trapiella. "You need good hands," he said. The fiberglass and carbon fiber blades measure 62.5 meters (205 feet) and weigh 15 tonnes each.
When finished they will leave by truck overnight for the port of Bilbao to be shipped by sea to Finland. About 40 blades are scheduled for delivery by February.
"If 90 percent of our sales were in Spain 10 years ago, it is the exact opposite today with 90 percent of sales coming from abroad," said Jose Antonio Cortajarena, Gamesa's corporate managing director.
"We are in more than 50 countries," he said, citing Mexico, Brazil and India as key markets.
"Even if our corporate headquarters are in Spain, the risk, our dependance on the Spanish market, is limited."
The Spanish Wind Energy Association is not so reassured.
"We have destroyed 25 jobs a day in the wind energy sector since the start of the year and the industry is on the borderline, it cannot take any more cuts," it said.
The industry has already suffered heavily.
"Of the 43,000 jobs we had in the wind industry in 2009, there are only 23,000 left, said Sergio de Otto, secretary general of the business group Fundacion Renovables (Renewables Foundation).


Cirque du Soleil walks a tightrope through pandemic

Updated 06 June 2020

Cirque du Soleil walks a tightrope through pandemic

  • Suitors wage backstage battle to rescue debt-stricken Canadian circus icon
  • Among the potential bidders is former fire eater Guy Laliberte, who fouded the acrobatic troupe in 1984

MONTREAL: Its shows canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an already heavily indebted Cirque du Soleil’s fight for survival has invited an intense backstage battle to try to save the Canadian cultural icon.

High on a list of potential suitors is former fire eater Guy Laliberte, who founded the acrobatic troupe in 1984 but later sold it.

“Its revival will have to be done at the right price. And not at all costs,” said the 60-year-old, determined not to see his creation sold to private interests.

The billionaire clown said after “careful consideration,” he decided “with a great team” to pursue a bid, but offered no details.

Under his leadership, the Cirque had set up big tops in more than 300 cities around the world, delighting audiences with contemporary circus acts set to music but without the usual trappings of lions, elephants and bears.

Then the pandemic hit, forcing the company in March to cancel 44 shows worldwide, from Las Vegas to Tel Aviv, Moscow to Melbourne, and lay off 4,679 acrobats and technicians, or 95 percent of its workforce.

Hurtling toward bankruptcy, the global entertainment giant and pride of Canada commissioned a bank in early May to examine its options, including a possible sale.

Meanwhile, shareholders ponied up $50 million in bridge financing for its “short-term liquidity needs.”

Laliberte, the first clown to rocket to the International Space Station in 2009, ceded control of the Cirque for $1 billion in 2015.

It has since fallen into the hands of American investment firm TPG Capital (55 percent stake) and China’s Fosun (25 percent), which also owns Club Med and Thomas Cook travel. The Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec (CDPQ) retains the last 20 percent.

The institutional investor, which manages public pension plans and insurance programs in Quebec, bought Laliberte’s last remaining 10 percent stake in the business in February, just before the pandemic.

Since 2015, the Cirque has embarked on costly acquisitions and renovations of permanent performance halls, while its creative spirit waned, according to critics in the Quebec press.

Meanwhile, it piled on more than $1 billion in debt.

Fearing that the Cirque would be “sold to foreign interests,” the Quebec government recently offered it a conditional loan of $200 million to help relaunch its shows as restrictions on large gatherings start to be eased worldwide.

But the agreement in principle is conditional on the Cirque headquarters remaining in Montreal and the province being allowed to buy US and Chinese stakes in the company at an unspecified time in the future, “at market value” and with “probably a local partner,” said Quebec Minister of the Economy Pierre Fitzgibbon.

“The state does not want to operate the circus, but the circus is too important to Quebec (to leave it to foreigners),” he said.

In addition to Laliberte, other prospective buyers include Quebecor, the telecoms and media giant of tycoon Pierre Karl Peladeau, whose opening lowball bid was outright rejected.

“It is essentially the value and reputation of the brand” that has piqued interest in the company, says Michel Magnan, corporate governance chair at Concordia University in Montreal.

But “as long as there are restrictions on gatherings of people, the future is not very rosy” for the Cirque, he said.

Several challenges await, according to Magnan.

“There were a lot of people working in all of these shows. Where are they now? What are they doing? How are they doing? In what shape are they, what state of mind?” he said.

“The more time passes, the more this expertise risks evaporating.”

Small consolation: The Cirque resumed its performances on Wednesday in Hangzhou, China, five months after a coronavirus outbreak in the city.