Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Appeals could jeopardize wind farms deal

Less than two weeks ago, a Canadian energy company and a major wind power developer with turbines in Maine announced they had closed a deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars to expand wind power projects across the Northeast.

But the announcement left out one important fact that could jeopardize the deal: Legal appeals had been filed just days before by the state's Office of the Public Advocate and a Maine utility company challenging a ruling by a state agency that cleared the way for the joint venture.

Eric Bryant, the attorney in the Public Advocate's Office who filed one of the appeals, said he was surprised to see the announcement that the deal had closed. "It's unusual for a company to make a decision when there's risk involved that it may have to undo it because of a legal matter."

The partnership is between Emera, a Canadian energy company that owns electric utilities in the Northeastern U.S., Atlantic Canada and elsewhere; and First Wind, which develops, constructs, operates and owns utility-scale wind projects across the United States and in Hawaii.

First Wind is the Northeast's largest wind power developer and has four major wind projects in Maine, with a fifth, Bull Hill, under construction.

"The completion of the joint venture could lead to up to $3 billion in future economic investment in the region in the coming years," said the June 15 announcement.

The deal meant First Wind was getting the cash from Emera that it needed to build more wind turbines after a failed attempt to go public in 2010.

Maine has 205 commercial wind turbines that can produce 400 megawatts of electricity. The Emera-First Wind venture could pave the way for construction of turbines producing an additional 1,200 megawatts.

The Public Advocate and Houlton Water Company appeals argue that the state Public Utilities Commission should not have allowed Emera and First Wind to go ahead with the joint venture. Those appeals were joined by a third, similar appeal on June 20 that was filed by the Industrial Energy Consumers' Group, which represents large energy users and advocates for lower electricity prices.

The PUC approved the joint venture in April, which cleared the way for the two companies to complete the process that led to the June 15 announcement.

The applicants to the PUC were actually Bangor Hydro and Maine Public Service, the regulated utilities in Maine that are owned by Emera.

Commissioners gave their approval despite the PUC staff's recommendation to reject the deal because it put ratepayers at risk of paying higher prices.

The arguments made by the Public Advocate and the other appellants in the case, filed with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, are similar to their objections when the issue was debated before the PUC.

They said the proposal would violate the state's landmark electricity restructuring act that barred transmission companies like Bangor Hydro from owning electricity generation. That law prohibits utilities from owning both transmission and generation because it was believed to be anti-competitive and to contribute to high electricity prices.

The commission committed an error of law, abused its discretion, and failed to follow the mandate of the legislature "in concluding that the ownership of generation assets in Maine by an affiliate of a transmission and distribution utility is not probhibited by the electric industry restructuring statutes," wrote Bryant in his notice of appeal.

But the appeals go farther and claim the PUC acted outside its legal authority when commissioners imposed a long list of conditions on Emera and First Wind designed to mitigate any potential harms from the deal.

The problem with imposing those conditions was that technically, Emera, First Wind and one other party to the deal, Canadian company Algonquin Power & Utilities Corporation, aren't regulated by the PUC. So the companies filed letters with the PUC saying they would submit to the commission's jurisdiction.

First Wind's letter, for example, says it "accepts the Commission's authority to enforce the order including the commission's authority to enforce all conditions in the order applicable to First Wind, as if First Wind were a party to this proceeding."

The parties appealing the decision said that neither the PUC nor the companies who submitted to the PUC's jurisdiction can, in fact, extend the commission's statutory authority by simply saying so.

"The commission has, in order to make this deal reasonable, set forth a slew of conditions that apply to First Wind, Algonquin and Emera," said Alan Stone, attorney for Houlton Water Company. "We argued you can't do that because you don't regulate those entities and they're not parties to the case."

Stone says that without the legal authority to impose and enforce the conditions, the conditions can be challenged at any time.

"The commission said, 'Just sign a letter that you agree to them,' and our position is that it's not enough, you can't invest the commission with powers it doesn't' have by simply signing an agreement.

A PUC spokeswoman, Pauline Collins, said, "We don't have any comment on the merits of the appeals. What we have to say will be in our brief" to the court.

Both First Wind and Emera spokespeople declined to comment on the appeals.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court is likely to consider the case in the fall, after the appellants file their briefs in August and the PUC files its response in late September.

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service based in Hallowell. It can be contacted at:, or at

Friday, June 22, 2012

First Wind chief executive says life without PTC is possible

By his own admission, First Wind chief executive Paul Gaynor will never win a popularity contest in the US wind industry by suggesting it can succeed without the federal production tax credit (PTC).

“I think it would be great if we could come to a conference and not talk about being subsidized by the federal government,” he told the Renewable Energy Finance Forum-Wall Street event here this week.

“I know the industry has needed it. I think the question for all of us is, ‘Do we need it anymore or forever? I believe the answer is no,’” he says. “We shouldn’t need it.”

Gaynor says without the PTC, the wind industry would eliminate all Washington politics around extending the subsidy every year or two. It could also differentiate itself from other renewable energy sectors by being able to stand up on its own two feet, he adds.

The PTC, which pays $22/MWh, inflation-adjusted for a project’s first decade in operation, expires on 31 December. It has been the main driver for industry growth since first enacted 20 years ago.

The wind lobby wants the PTC extended until 2016, which would place the sector on an even footing with solar energy, whose main tax credit expires then. But lobbyists are divided over what to do with it after then, with some preferring it continue in some form.

Most speakers at the conference were cautious that Congress would renew it beyond 2013. Developers say such a short extension would provide too little time to complete projects. Lawmakers are under pressure from voters to curb runaway budget deficits. One way to help do this is to end tax breaks for special interests such as the wind industry.

Pessimists at the event argued that if challenger Willard “Mitt” Romney can defeat President Barack Obama and opposition Republicans gain control of Congress in 6 November national elections, the PTC will die. Wind supporters say that would be unfair unless accompanied by an end to tax breaks enjoyed by fossil fuel industries for decades.

The Navigant consultancy forecasts 1GW to 4GW in US installations next year versus 9GW to 12GW in 2012, according to Lisa Frantzis, managing director for energy.

A third possibility and one that some in the industry would accept, is a so-called “glide path” toward 2015 or 2016 with the understanding the PTC would then end. Gaynor says that is his preference, as it would facilitate longer-term business planning, which does not exist in the US wind industry.

Getting to a world without the PTC means finding ways to reduce costs to compensate for loss of the subsidy. “We think there is a path to do that, but everybody has to contribute,” he says. Turbine manufacturers will have a key role to play as follows:

*Asset life. While banks and engineers focus on 20-year turbine life and others at 25 years, equity investors such as First Wind are looking at 30 years. “If we can move asset life to 30 years, then we will have a pretty big impact on bringing down the cost of power,” he says.

First Wind recently did a 30-year power purchase agreement in Washington State that brought down the electricity cost between 10% and 15% from the standard 20-year deal, he says.

*Turbine availability. Gaynor says a further 10% improvement over the next three or four years in net capacity factor, or efficiency, will be worth $7/MWh. “That’s a big bump and probably do-able,” he contends.

*Turbine prices. They have come down $3/MWh in the past several years. Gaynor says they would need to decline another 15% from 2011 pricing to help make up for loss of the PTC. “Is that possible? Based on all the manufacturing that has been built in the US, I think it is possible,” he says.

*Financing. Gaynor says that by eliminating tax equity investors, wind projects could be built for less. “If we didn’t have to deal with the tax equity investor, I think you could bring down the weighted average cost of capital quite a bit,” he argues. “We love them but they are expensive.”

Perhaps $7/MWh in a power purchase contract could be squeezed out if financing was lowered 150 basis points on a weighted average cost of capital basis, he says. “I think there are cheaper sources of capital out there,” Gaynor says. He did not name them.

There were about $3.5bn of tax equity raised for wind farms in 2011 in 19 transactions and more is expected this year as developers rush to beat the PTC expiration deadline, according to John Eber, head of energy investments at JPMorgan Capital Corp. About 55% of transactions last year involved production tax credits.


Comic Relief from the Wind Industry

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No adverse effects due to turbines guaranteed by Dr. Robert McCunney, MIT, Harvard, the AWEA, Can-WEA, GLREA, and MLUI, John Sarver, Mason County Attorney James Brown, the Mason County Planning Commission, and the majority of the Mason County Commissioners.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting on First Wind, Emera, etc

Now that First Wind and Emera have announced their joint venture to be both utility and generator (what many believed was against the law), we thought it might be helpful to summarize some of the writings on this from the non-partisan Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting.

Multi-million-dollar wind deal approved by state regulators


Senior Reporters

April 11, 2012

State regulators on Tuesday approved a multi-million-dollar deal that could fund construction of hundreds of wind turbines in Maine and the Northeast, despite a staff recommendation to reject the proposal. All three members of the Public Utilities Commission voted for a complex series of transactions among First Wind, Bangor Hydro and Maine Public Service and MORE

Meeting land-based wind goals not likely, say two state studies


Senior Reporters

March 29, 2012

Maine will not be able to accomplish the state-mandated goals of building 2000 megawatts of wind power on land by 2015. That’s one conclusion of two studies issued this week by the governor’s energy office and an independent group of researchers. The studies also urged reconsideration of the landmark 2008 law that allowed wind turbines MORE

PUC releases confidential transcript in wind energy case


January 31, 2012

A proposal for a joint venture that would undertake major construction of wind towers across the state and region has encountered more regulatory complications, a week after reports were published that state officials recommended the proposal be turned down. The state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) was set to decide on Jan. 31 whether MORE

PUC staff: no-go for energy firms’ wind deal


January 19, 2012

Last April, Maine’s largest wind energy developer, First Wind, trumpeted a multimillion-dollar deal that would pay for the company’s ambitious plans to erect more wind turbines throughout Maine and the Northeast. But in just the last week, the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) dealt a potentially fatal blow to the deal. Faced with what opponents MORE

Read the entire article

Joining forces to expand wind power

Ownership of the wind farm along the Lake Erie shoreline in Lackawanna and Hamburg has been shifted to a new joint venture between the developer of the Steel Winds project and a Canadian energy company.

First Wind, the Massachusetts-based wind energy company that built the 35-megawatt Steel Winds project, will own a 51 percent stake in the new joint venture that will run the local wind farm and seven others that it operates in New York, Vermont and Maine. Emera Inc., a Canadian energy company, is paying $212 million for a 49 percent stake in the new venture, called Northeast Wind Partners.

The First Wind projects that are being shifted to the joint venture have a total generating capacity of 385 megawatts. First Wind will continue to operate all of the wind farms involved in the new company.

John Lamontagne, a First Wind spokesman, said the deal will not have any impact on the operations or the staffing of the Steel Winds project. First Wind has about 100 operations, maintenance and development staff at the eight projects that are now part of Northeast Wind.

"The operations at Steel Winds, and all our projects, will remain the same," Lamontagne said. "Emera basically purchased 49 percent of our Northeast assets, but First Wind continues to operate the projects as it has."

In addition to the Steel Winds project, the 125-megawatt Cohocton Wind project in the Town of Cohocton in Steuben County also was transferred to the joint venture.

The Steel Winds project was built in two phases, with the most recent segment involving six turbines with a generating capacity of up to 15 megawatts that began operation earlier this year. Those new turbines joined eight others, with a total listed capacity of 20 megawatts, that began operating in Lackawanna in 2007.

In all, the 14 turbines in the Steel Winds project, spread out on a site that stretches between Hamburg and Lackawanna, can generate up to 35 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 9,000 homes.

The initial phase of the project cost an estimated $40 million, and the most recent expansion added $25 million to $30 million to the project's overall price tag.

The deal gives First Wind an infusion of new cash, as well as a $150 million loan from Emera, that it plans to use to invest in other wind projects in the Northeast. First Wind two years ago had hoped to sell stock through an initial public offering, but withdrew the IPO in November 2010 because of "unfavorable" market conditions.

"This is an exciting partnership for First Wind that will allow us to invest in new, well-sited and well-run wind projects that deliver clean energy to homes and businesses across the Northeast," said Paul Gaynor, CEO of First Wind, in a statement. "We see an enormous opportunity to continue to deliver cost-effective clean, renewable energy so that Northeastern states can meet their important renewable portfolio standards."

First Wind also has the ability to transfer other projects, with a combined generating capacity of up to 1,200 megawatts, to the joint venture in the future.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Emera Inc. and First Wind Holdings announce closing of Northeast Wind Transaction

BOSTON, MA and HALIFAX, June 15, 2012 /PRNewswire/ - First Wind Holdings, LLC (First Wind) and Emera Inc. (TSX: EMA) announced today the closing of their transaction to jointly own and operate wind energy projects in the Northeast U.S. through a new company called Northeast Wind Partners.

First Wind's 385 Megawatt (MW) portfolio of wind energy projects in the Northeast U.S., including eight operating projects in three states, have been transferred to Northeast Wind Partners. First Wind retains 51 percent and Emera now owns 49 percent of the new company. First Wind will serve as the managing partner and will continue to operate the wind energy projects. Emera affiliate Emera Energy Services will provide energy management services. First Wind will exclusively manage the development business and as such continue to develop new wind projects in the Northeast. Once these projects meet certain eligibility criteria, First Wind has the ability to transfer up to an additional 1,200 MW of new projects into the new joint venture.

"Emera's ongoing business objective is to expand our presence in the Northeastern U.S. and we are pleased to be partnering with First Wind, who is known throughout the region as a premier developer of quality wind energy projects," said Chris Huskilson, President and CEO, Emera Inc." Our First Wind partnership helps Emera establish a meaningful position in the Northeast renewable energy market and is consistent with our corporate strategy. This partnership also allows us to demonstrate our commitment to Maine and the region both through existing and anticipated new Maine-based projects."

"This is an exciting partnership for First Wind that will allow us to invest in new, well-sited and well-run wind projects that deliver clean energy to homes and businesses across the Northeast," said Paul Gaynor, CEO of First Wind. "We see an enormous opportunity to continue to deliver cost-effective clean, renewable energy so that Northeastern states can meet their important renewable portfolio standards.

"This transaction will be seamless for the communities where we work, but will mean new investment in the economy," Gaynor added. "In Emera, we're also pleased to be partnering with one of the region's leading energy companies."

Emera has invested a total of $211 million to acquire 49 percent of Northeast Wind Partners. In addition, Emera is making a $150 million loan to an intermediate subsidiary company of Northeast Wind Partners, which will be repaid in five years. Emera will finance this transaction through existing credit facilities.

In the last six years, as First Wind has built 8 projects in the Northeast, more than 1,500 people have worked on construction of First Wind projects and nearly 100 operations, maintenance, and development people work full time in the region. The completion of the joint venture could lead to up to $3 billion in future economic investment in the region in the coming years.

Forward Looking Information:This news release contains forward looking information. Actual future results may differ materially. Additional information related to Emera, including the company's Annual Information Form, can be found on SEDAR at or on EDGAR at

About First WindFirst Wind is an independent wind energy company exclusively focused on the development, financing, construction, ownership and operation of utility-scale wind projects in the United States. Based in Boston, First Wind has wind projects in the Northeast, the West and Hawaii, with the capacity to generate up to 751 megawatts of power and projects under construction with the capacity to generate up to an additional 229 megawatts. For more information on First Wind, please visit or follow us on Twitter @FirstWind.

About Emera:Emera Inc. is an energy and services company with $6.9 billion in assets and 2011 revenues of $2.1 billion. The company invests in electricity generation, transmission and distribution, as well as gas transmission and utility energy services. Emera's strategy is focused on the transformation of the electricity industry to cleaner generation and the delivery of that clean energy to market. Emera has interests throughout northeastern North America, in three Caribbean countries and in California. More than 80% of the company's earnings come from regulated investments. Emera common, preferred and C shares are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange and trade respectively under the symbol EMA, EMA.PR.A. and EMA.PR.C. Additional information can be accessed at,, or on


First Wind, Emera Form Joint Venture to Operate U.S. Wind Farms

Emera Inc. (EMA), a Canadian energy company, formed a joint venture with First Wind Holdings Inc. to operate wind farms in the U.S. Northeast.

First Wind transferred its portfolio of wind projects to the new venture, Northeast Wind Partners, the Boston-based renewable-energy developer said in a statement today.

Emera invested $211 million in the venture and will own 49 percent of it. First Wind owns the remainder.

The Wind Lobby is Powered by Fossil Fuels

Lobbyists for the wind-energy sector are actively lobbying for a multi-year extension of the production tax credit, the 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour subsidy given to producers of wind-generated electricity. To justify that lucrative subsidy, which expires at the end of this year, the wind lobby continually portrays itself as being an alternative to fossil fuels.

Furthermore, the American Wind Energy Association’s spokesmen and their many boosters in the blogosphere regularly deride anyone who criticizes industrial wind projects as somehow being in the thrall of the fossil fuel sector. But their rhetoric doesn’t match reality. The hard truth is this: AWEA represents the fossil fuel industry.

AWEA’s biggest member companies may be promoting wind energy — and in the process they are reaping lucrative subsidies — but they are also among the world’s biggest users and/or producers of fossil fuels. Many of those very same fossil-fuel companies have garnered billions of dollars in tax-free cash grants and/or loan guarantees from the US government to deploy “clean” energy. An analysis of some 4,300 projects that won grants from the Treasury Department under section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (also known as the federal stimulus bill) shows that $3.25 billion in grants went to just eight companies, all of which are either past or current board members of AWEA.

AWEA’s board of directors includes industrial companies like BP, General Electric, Iberdrola, and E.On. But the wind-energy business’s fossil fuel connection appears to be invisible to the Green/Left and to groups like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, who actively promote wind energy at every turn. For instance, the Sierra Club recently launched a new “wind works” campaign to extol the job-related benefits of the domestic wind-energy business.

Of course, any industry can use the job-creation claim to justify more subsidies. But it’s equally apparent that AWEA and its member companies are using the guise of “clean” energy as a way to capture subsidies from American taxpayers.

Consider E.On, the German electricity and natural gas company, which has a seat on AWEA’s board. In 2010, the company emitted 116 million metric tons of carbon dioxide an amount approximately equal to that of the Czech Republic, a country of 10.5 million people. E.On owns and operates 11 wind projects in the US with nearly 2,000 megawatts (MW) of generation capacity. But E.On generates about 14 times as much
electricity by burning hydrocarbons as it does from wind. Nevertheless, E.On, which has market capitalization of $29 billion, has been awarded $542.5 million in stimulus money so that it can build wind projects.

Nine companies on AWEA’s board of directors have a combined market capitalization of $579 billion.

Exelon: $32

AEP: $19

E.ON: $29

GE: $202

AES: $9

Iberdrola: $19

BP: $121

NextEra: $23.5

JP Morgan: $125

Another company with a seat on AWEA’s board that has collected huge subsidies from US taxpayers: Spanish utility Iberdrola SA, which sports a market cap of $19 billion. The company is the second-largest wind operator in the US, with about 4,800 MW of wind capacity. However, the majority of the electrons Iberdrola produces are manufactured from fossil fuels, not wind. In 2010, the company produced 154,000 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity, of which 52 percent came from burning coal or natural gas. For comparison, the company produced about 25,000 GWh from its wind projects. Put another way, Iberdrola produced about 3 times more electricity in 2010 from hydrocarbons as it did from wind.

In its 2010 annual report, the company cited the US as a “key country” adding that it “has received almost 1,000 million dollars in stimulus funds (grants) for renewable energy offered as incentives to companies by the US Treasury Department.” To put that $1 billion in context, consider that in 2010, Iberdrola’s net profit was about 2.8 billion Euros, or around $3.5 billion.

Another company on AWEA’s board is General Electric, which had revenues last year of $147 billion. Of that sum, about 25 percent came from what the company calls “energy infrastructure.” Sure, some of that revenue comes from GE’s wind-turbine-manufacturing business, but the majority comes from building generators, jet engines, and other machinery that burn hydrocarbons. Furthermore, more than ten percent of GE’s employees – some 33,000 people – work for GE Oil & Gas, which provides a myriad of products and services to the oil and gas industry.

Like the other members of AWEA’s board, GE is grabbing as many subsidies as it can. As the New York Times explained last November, GE “lobbied Congress in 2009 to help expand the subsidy programs and it now profits from every aspect of the boom in renewable-power plant construction.”

Indeed, GE has a starring role in one of the most egregious examples of renewable-energy subsidies: the Shepherds Flat wind project in Oregon. The majority of the funding for the $1.9 billion, 845-MW project is coming courtesy of federal taxpayers. Not only is the Energy Department providing GE and its partners a $1.06 billion loan guarantee, but when GE’s 338 turbines start turning at Shepherds Flat, the Treasury Department will send the project developers a cash grant of $490 million.

The deal was so lucrative for the project developers that in 2010, some of President Obama’s top advisors, including energy policy czar Carol Browner and economic advisor Larry Summers, wrote a memo saying that the project’s backers had “little skin in the game” while the government would be providing “a significant subsidy (65+ percent).” The memo went on to say that the project backers would provide equity equal to only about 11 percent of the project’s cost, even though they would receive an “estimated return on equity of 30 percent.” That’s a huge return for the utility sector, which has an average return on equity of about 7 percent.

The memo also pointed out that the carbon dioxide reductions associated with the project “would have to be valued at nearly $130 per ton CO2 for the climate benefits to equal the subsidies.” That per-ton cost, the memo said, is “more than six times the primary estimate used by the government in evaluating rules.”

While the Shepherds Flat wind-energy case is notable, other fossil-fuel companies are getting big subsidies to build solar projects. New Jersey-based NRG Energy and its partners have secured $5.2 billion in federal loan guarantees to build solar-energy projects. NRG is not a renewable energy company. The company currently has about 26,000 MW of generation capacity. Of that, 450 MW is wind capacity, another 65 MW is solar, and 1,175 MW comes from nuclear. The rest comes from burning hydrocarbons.

So why is NRG expanding into renewables? The answer is simple: profits. Last year David Crane, the CEO of NRG, told the New York Times that “I have never seen anything that I have had to do in my 20 years in the power industry that involved less risk than these projects.”

The Green/Left, along with the Occupy Wall Street crowd has long opposed both Big Business and corporate welfare. But I defy you to find a single instance where major environmental groups – Sierra Club, Greenpeace, etc. – or leftist think tanks like the Center for American Progress, or publications like Mother Jones or The Nation, have weighed in with any substantive criticism of the subsidies being given to the wind industry. Indeed, those same entities are mute despite the fact that many of the biggest companies getting those subsidies are fossil-fuel entities.

Instead, the prevailing attitude among those various groups seems to be that any renewable-energy project must be good, because, well, it’s renewable. But as can be seen by looking at the subsidies collected by the companies on AWEA’s board of directors, the rush to build renewable energy hasn’t been as much about cutting carbon dioxide emissions as it has been about one of democracy’s oldest professions: rent seeking.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Lou Dobbs calling for Govn't investigated from top to bottom for money to windpower.

Lou Dobbs on Fox Business News now calling for Govn't investigated from top to bottom for money to windpower. Calling it cronyism -- payouts as political favors. Says only 300 in sum jobs created for billions spent.