Chill winds of financial woe halt two-turbine plan
Credit: Michael Bachelard, The Age, www.theage.com.au 21 December 2008 ~~
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In Denmark, where wind energy is king, hundreds of small communities own a boutique wind farm just outside their town. The turbines, in twos and threes, pump enough energy into the grid to power all their homes and more on a windy day.
In Victoria, just one such project has been proposed for a site 10 kilometres outside Daylesford, in the state’s spa country.
The Hepburn Community Wind Park was meant to show what one community can achieve, and to lead the development of many such projects in Australia.
However, three years after the push began to build the two-turbine mini wind farm, and four months after its sponsors began raising the capital to realise their dream, the idea hangs by a thread.
Investment dollars have dried up as small investors keep a tight hold of their cash and large investors wait to be convinced that the project is viable.
The cottage-industry wind farm is intended to produce enough clean power to offset the energy use of the 2300 homes in the Daylesford-Hepburn Springs area.
It will be owned by a co-operative of its investors, each of whom has just one vote on the governing body, no matter how much they have invested. The model ensures that no single investor can win control of the company.
Simon Holmes a Court, scion of the business dynasty, has a farm in the area and has become the chairman of Hepburn Wind, the co-operative pushing the project.
He said money had flowed quickly when equity-raising began in August, with $1 million invested during the first four weeks.
But by the time the offer closed in October, the group had failed to meet the $7 million target.
The offering was extended to last week and heavily promoted, but the total only crept up to $3.5 million, from 660 small investors.
According to Mr Holmes a Court, it’s not enough to fund the project – but it’s too much to give the idea away.
“We’re in a twilight zone,” he said.
David Shapero, chief executive of the project’s management company, Future Energy, said the group was now talking to super funds about helping fund the project, but no money had been pledged yet.
A bank is also interested in lending money, but would not do so until investors had shown sufficient interest. The co-operative also wants to minimise its debt load.
The driving force behind the project is a Danish immigrant and Daylesford resident, Per Bernard, who said the local interest in the project left him with “no doubt” that Hepburn Wind would be a success.
In fact, none of its proponents will admit the possibility of failure, despite the chill winds of the global financial crisis.
In the new year, they plan to go up and down Collins Street, again, to try to raise the cash.
Whether they can might depend on the economic outlook and the appetite of fund managers for a very different kind of investment.
“We’re still positive that we’ll get it over the line,” said Mr Shapero, staunchly. “We’ll give it our best shot.”
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