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According to IHS Emerging Energy Research, annual expenditures of wind farm operations and maintenance (O&M) will exceed $5.6 billion by 2025 - more than double the total spent on O&M in 2011. In fact, IHS research shows that O&M services for wind energy are expected to account for more than one-third of total capital expenditures in the U.S. wind industry over the next decade.

With scores of wind turbines slated to come off of their original equipment manufacturer (OEM) warranties, Duke Energy Renewables is venturing into the third-party services arena as an independent service provider (ISP).

And to expand the company's service capabilities, Duke Energy Renewables quietly acquired Canby, Minn.-based monitoring, maintenance and site management services provider Outland Energy Services late last year.

Duke Energy Renewables, which entered the wind market in 2007, owns and operates 15 wind farms in the U.S. representing more than 1.7 GW of capacity. Since its inception, the company has invested more than $2.5 billion to grow its renewable energy portfolio.

Greg Wolf, president of Duke Energy Renewables, says the acquisition of Outland, established in 2005, will help expand Duke’s capabilities with Outland’s knowledge and experience of eight wind turbine technologies.

"Outland’s experience and excellence in the industry is a great fit for us as we focus on achieving efficiencies through scale and driving down our operating costs," Wolf says.

Generally speaking, ISPs are free to point out any issues with a turbine's operation without concern for the serial defect litigation that an OEM could face.

"As an independent service provider, we are unbiased advocates for the asset owner," Wolf explains. "We have extensive operations and maintenance experience with a broad spectrum of turbines and know the strengths, issues and problems associated with them."

Duke says Outland Energy Services and its 120 employees will continue to operate out of its present location, and Steve Scott remains in his managerial role with a title of regional general manager. This services arm of Duke Energy Renewables will co-brand using both the Outland and Duke name this year, but in 2014, Duke says Outland will make the transition to become Duke Energy Renewable Services.

Dan Shreve, a principal at MAKE Consulting, says Duke's acquisition of Outland "was a brilliant means to quickly elevate their in-house O&M capabilities. Duke has been extremely forward looking in its O&M approach and quick to evaluate new technologies and commercial business models."

While Shreve expects other large asset owners to take the third-party O&M services plunge - as NextEra Energy Services has already done - he expects additional, but limited, merger and acquisition opportunities involving ISPs as asset owners and component OEMs seek to enhance their positioning in the North American wind services market.

Photo: Duke Energy's 153 MW Notrees wind farm, which features 55 Vestas 1.65 MW turbines and 40 GE 1.5 MW machines, is located in Texas' Ector and Winkler counties.

Photo courtesy of Duke Energy Renewables



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