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Sheffield wind project to go ahead despite IPO failure  

Credit:  By Dan D'Ambrosio, Free Press Staff Writer, The Burlington Free Press, www.burlingtonfreepress.com 1 November 2010 ~~

The failed initial public offering of stock last week by First Wind Holdings will not slow construction of the Boston-based company’s wind farm on a mountaintop in Sheffield, a spokesman said Monday.

“We continue to move ahead with the projects we have in construction right now,” John Lamontagne said. “We’re excited about the Sheffield project. We started construction and we’re going to keep going.”

First Wind broke ground on the project at the end of September. The company had to cancel the initial public offering of stock last week, expected to raise up to $240 million, because no one wanted to buy at the prices offered.

First Wind CEO Paul Gaynor issued a statement saying although there was “significant interest” from potential investors in the offering of shares, the terms the IPO market was seeking for the initial offering were “not attractive to the company.”

Put another way, no one wanted to pay the $24 to $26 price per share that initially was anticipated in the IPO. And even when the price was lowered to $18 to $20 per share, it didn’t help, said Josef Schuster, founder of Chicago-based IPOX Schuster LLC, an IPO research firm that followed the attempted sale.

“The market has shown no appetite for these kinds of projects,” Schuster said of the wind farm in Sheffield.

Lamontagne said First Wind will look for “alternative sources of funding” for Sheffield, as the IPO market is generally slow. He said the company has a strong track record of generating financing, having raised $2 billion since the beginning of 2009.

First Wind has seven operating wind projects in Maine, New York, Utah and Hawaii. The Vermont project is one of four the company has in various stages of construction, Lamontagne said. Sheffield is slated to generate 115,000 megawatt-hours of electricity yearly from 16 turbines, which the company says is enough to power about 14,500 homes, or nearly every home in Caledonia County.

Rob Pforzheimer, who lives in Sutton about four miles from the Sheffield site, has been a vocal opponent of the wind farm, and said he welcomed the news of the failed IPO. Pforzheimer said he regularly exchanges e-mails with about 150 people in the area opposed to the Sheffield wind farm who were “very glad” to learn of the lack of interest in First Wind’s IPO.

“We’re hoping they go out of business and go broke,” Pforzheimer said.

Pforzheimer said he’s opposed to the Sheffield project for many reasons, including what he considers to be the visual pollution of building the wind towers on Granby Mountain and Libby Hill, and the noise that could come from the operating towers.

“It’s a huge issue in Vermont,” Pforzheimer said. “There are so many people that hate these things, but we’re called NIMBYs, written off and marginalized.” “NIMBY” stands for “not in my backyard.”

In addition to environmental concerns, Pforzheimer said he believes property values of homes close to the site, including his, will suffer.

“I can probably sell my place, but what about people abutting this thing?” Pforzheimer said. “They are a de facto buffer zone. Their properties are going to be worthless.”

Lamontagne responded that the project would benefit Sheffield, bringing $520,000 in property taxes yearly for the next 20 years, when the terms would be renegotiated.

“Our project has met all the requirements by the state authorities, and it will bring clean energy to Vermont and Vermont ratepayers while also generating significant economic benefits,” Lamontagne said.

Schuster said wind projects worldwide are having a tough time raising money, despite the involvement of top underwriters such as Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank, the financial powerhouses involved in the First Wind IPO.

He said a large wind farm going public this week in Europe that is being built by an Italian utility and valued at $13 billion had to lower its share price from a high of 21 euros to 16 euros to seal a deal that will raise about $4.1 billion.

“In terms of investment in wind power, it’s a different picture in Europe,” Schuster said. “We have a few incumbents that have not done very well in terms of performance and that really affected the First Wind IPO.”

Source:  By Dan D'Ambrosio, Free Press Staff Writer, The Burlington Free Press, www.burlingtonfreepress.com 1 November 2010

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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