Record wind investment to help 1,000 new turbines soar

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, January 8, 2016

United Wind Inc., a leading developer of distributed wind energy projects, has secured a record $200 million in funding from a Canadian investor, officials announced yesterday.

The financing, from Forum Equity Partners Inc. of Toronto, is the largest investment ever made in a distributed wind energy firm and will allow Brooklyn, N.Y.-based United Wind to install roughly 1,000 new turbines in key markets in the Northeast and Midwest.

The investment also represents a huge financial-sector endorsement of distributed wind power, a niche industry that is applying the wildly successful solar lease model to wind power (ClimateWire, Dec. 24, 2015).

The company’s WindLease program allows customers to meet a significant portion of their electricity demand using wind energy that is produced on-site by United Wind, then is sold back to the landowner under 20-year lease agreements.

Russell Tencer, United Wind’s co-founder and CEO, said in a statement that the WindLease program provides farmers and property owners an opportunity to generate clean energy with little or no upfront costs, and they also benefit from the security of fixed electricity prices.

“Distributed wind is often the optimal renewable energy choice for rural property owners seeking to lower their energy costs,” he said.

Richard Abboud, Forum Equity Partners’ founder and CEO, said in a statement that United Wind’s approach is consistent with his firm’s desire to support “innovative and entrepreneurial renewable energy companies serving high-growth markets.”

Moving into the mainstream

“We are committed to building highly effective and collaborative partnerships that can significantly benefit communities and investors alike, and I am confident this deal will accomplish those goals,” Abboud added.

United Wind, launched under a merger between Tencer’s wind analytics firm and Talco Electronics Inc. of San Diego, began installing small-scale turbines in western New York in 2013 and has completed more than two dozen systems since, according to company officials.

The initial build-out was aided by a $25 million commitment from GSG Energy Finance, a New York-based energy equipment leasing company, followed by a $10 million investment from Pacific Rim Capital Inc. of Irvine, Calif., in 2014. In October, United Wind secured an additional $13.5 million in loans and tax equity under a partnership involving NY Green Bank and U.S. Bank.

Jennifer Jenkins, executive director of the Distributed Wind Energy Association, said in a statement that the partnership between United Wind and Forum Equity Partners allows the technology to “begin its transformation from a niche concept to a mainstream solution.”

DWEA estimates that by 2030 more than 23 million homes and buildings could be suitable for distributed wind, representing a potential for 1,100 gigawatts of generating capacity. Related market segments — such as community wind, wind gardens and virtual metered systems — could boost the potential for distributed wind energy to 1,400 GW, the group said.