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Chasing the power of wind in Asia

China and India are accelerating development of wind power, which is luring companies like the turbine maker Vestas Wind Systems as restrictions hamper wind farm construction in traditional markets like Australia.

“The biggest markets in the next decade will probably be India and China in particular,” said Achim Hoehne, a manager based in Sydney at the PB Power unit of the engineering services company Parsons Brinckerhoff. “Australia had a good market until about a year ago. Since then, companies are looking for other opportunities.”

A venture partly owned by CLP Holdings of Hong Kong scrapped more than $400 million of projects in Australia this year – where government renewable- energy quotas have almost been met – in favor of China and India. Vestas Wind, the world’s biggest wind turbine maker, and Suzlon Energy of India, the largest in Asia, are expanding in China.

Global oil prices have stayed above $50 a barrel for 15 months, prompting a worldwide scramble to develop alternative energy sources. China, which gets two-thirds of its power from coal, is also trying to cut pollution.

China added almost 500 megawatts of wind energy capacity in 2005 – a jump of 66 percent to 1,260 megawatts, according to the Global Wind Energy Council, which is based in Brussels. That compares with growth of 11 percent in Germany, the world’s largest wind market, where capacity reached 18,428 megawatts, the council said. China may add 2,000 megawatts of capacity this year.

That is making the market in China more attractive than countries like Australia, where investments in wind projects have slowed as a government target for renewable energy use is reached.

China has a target of 5,000 megawatts of wind capacity by 2010 and a goal of 30,000 megawatts by 2020, said Andrew Richards, president of the Australian Wind Energy Association. China National Offshore Corp., or Cnooc, one of the largest oil companies in China, said last month that it was studying building offshore wind farms.

“Everyone is positioning themselves to be there and be ready when things really open up,” said Dan Kofoed Hansen, managing director of the Australian unit of Suzlon. “China is still in its infancy as a market as such.”

A plan to triple the use of wind power in Japan, which imports almost all of its oil, is being undermined because of concern that power surges from wind farms could be disruptive. Unlike Germany, Japan lacks the national grid needed to iron out supply fluctuations from such projects.

The Japanese government drafted a plan in May 2005 to increase wind power generation to 3,000 megawatts by March 2011. As of March, Japan had a little more than 1,000 megawatts.

In China, the renewable power market still favors local companies over foreign ones, Hansen said. This is among the deficiencies that probably need to be removed before the market fulfills the projections of its potential, he said.

Vestas, based in Randers, Denmark, opened a factory in northeast China in June, while Repower Systems, a German rival, signed a contract earlier this month to take control of a Chinese wind turbine manufacturing venture. Vestas said in August that it would close a plant in the Australian state of Tasmania that assembled parts of turbines.

“It was a business decision,” said Thorbjorn Rasmussen, president of Vestas’s Asia-Pacific unit. “From the view of the market perspective, there is no long-term commitment to this market from the political side” in Australia, he said.

By Angela Macdonald-Smith Bloomberg News