Wind power mogul hits troubled times
Getty Images Tulsi Tanti, one India’s most inspiring “green” entrepreneurs and now one of the world’s richest people (worth $3 billion), is facing stiff challenges with his wind power company that could either lead to its massive failure, or its unbridled success. Tanti is hailed as one of India’s most globally successful businessmen in the ...
Tulsi Tanti, one India’s most inspiring “green” entrepreneurs and now one of the world’s richest people (worth $3 billion), is facing stiff challenges with his wind power company that could either lead to its massive failure, or its unbridled success. Tanti is hailed as one of India’s most globally successful businessmen in the vein of Ratan Tata and Lakshmi Mittal — but his company is one of the few that has given India the potential to be a worldwide leader in alternative energy.
But now Suzlon Energy, which Tanti founded and now serves as chairman and managing director for, confronts two main challenges, according to Friday’s Wall Street Journal. First, the 144-foot-long windmill blades the company has sold to energy firms including California’s Edison Mission Energy have begun to split in some locations, and Suzlon has had to recall 1,251 blades. That represents the majority of blades the company has sold in the United States, and a cost of at least $30 million to the company to repair the cracked blades and reinforce the rest.
The second major challenge for Suzlon is gaining access to the wind industry’s most advanced technology. Suzlon is actually in a prime position to do so through its 33.6 percent ownership stake in the innovative German turbine manufacturer, REpower. The problem for Suzlon, however, is that under German law, REpower can consider Suzlon a “competitor” since it does not own a majority of the company. It is therefore not obliged to transfer its blueprints to Suzlon; Suzlon would need to buy out the minority shareholders. And REpower is refusing to share the technology at present in order to protect the interests of those minority shareholders.
Nonetheless, it’s unlikely that these setbacks spell major trouble for Suzlon. As of late last year, the firm had a $3.5 billion order backlog, and wind power demand in general has been growing significantly. With its green credentials and the fact that oil is continuing to hit record highs, wind power is set to remain popular. Moreover, Suzlon has withstood plenty of other challenges since its founding in 1995: the withdrawal of tax breaks in India, competition with major Western companies to acquire other foreign firms, and overseas expansion — including cracking into the U.S. and Chinese energy markets. Suzlon’s annual sales amount to $1.8 billion, and its profits are growing. The WSJ reports that it probably won’t be able to make a tender offer for REpower until 2009. Even so, given Suzlon’s history I’m expecting the deal to go through, and for Tanti to look back on these problems as minor glitches. And if you live in the United States, don’t be surprised if part of your electricity payments soon end up in Suzlon’s coffers.
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