SHEFFIELD, Vt. – When alternative energy company SunEdison filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April, its subsidiary TerraForm Power, which owns Sheffield Wind Farm, promptly issued a press release stating that its assets are safe and will continue to operate “uninterrupted.”
But some of those most familiar with the state’s wind-energy landscape are skeptical that TerraForm can keep it going.
“If you look up SunEdison and TerraForm Power, you can read all these stories about the intertwining of the companies and how one way or another, TerraForm’s assets are getting brought into the SunEdison Bankruptcy,” said Annette Smith, a prominent wind power critic.
Smith is not the only one with doubts.
“If debt is hastened, the company will face severe problems regarding cash,” Forbes.com reported last month. Restricted cash flow could put a damper on the company’s ability to continue operating more than 500 renewable energy projects around the world. This includes the 16-turbine, 40-megawatt project in Sheffield Vermont, which has been hampered by mechanical woes that predate the parent company’s financial hardship.
For instance Sheffield Wind Farm has faced noise complaints serious enough for one family to abandon their home. Mechanical failures have required harvesting parts from defunct turbines in the area because the manufacturer of the turbine used at Sheffield, Clipper Wind Power, no longer supports that model. [NWW note: It is true that Clipper is long out of business, but the link provided in this story is about a different model at Sheffield University in England.]
Then there is the checkered history of First Wind, the company that built the turbines that were part of SunEdison’s $2.4 billion takeover in March 2015. It was then that SunEdison created TerraForm, a yeildco (a type of subsidiary that focuses on maintaining operating assets) to take over Sheffield Wind, among other former First Wind assets.
Rob Pforzheimer, a Sutton resident living near Sheffield Wind who has led community resistance against it since even before the project’s 2006 Public Service Board hearings, recalled some of First Wind’s spotty history for Watchdog. He said that First Wind changed its name after developing a suspect reputation in Maine, which included lawsuits regarding noise complaints over its turbines there.
“Before they were First Wind, they were called UPC Wind Management,” said Pforheimer. “They had lots of projects in Maine, and they were really heavy-handed in getting those done.”
Pforzheimer said the suspect business practices go back further still. Before its days in Maine, UPC Wind had created a subsidiary company called Italian Vento Power Corp., which built wind projects in Sicily and Sardinia.
UPC eventually broke away from IVPC to focus on its U.S. projects, but what happened next with IVPC is not resume-material for UPC. In 2010 IVPC was shut down by the Italian government amid allegations of fraud and involvement with the mafia.
“Italian anti-mafia police have made their largest seizure of assets as part of an investigation into wind farm contracts in Sicily. Officers confiscated property and accounts valued at €1.5 billion belonging to a businessman suspected of having links with the mafia,” the Financial Times reported in 2010.
In 2006, before the IVPC scandals came to light, First Wind founder Brian Caffyn spoke in glowing terms of the relationship between the two firms at the company’s Vermont PSB hearings for the Sheffield project.
“The IVPC subsidiaries of the UPC Group achieved an exceptional operating record, with its wind turbines available 98.5 percent of the time on a fleet-wide basis,” Caffyn told the PSB.
Pforzheimer, like Smith, is skeptical that TerraForm can avoid getting sucked into all the SunEdison bankruptcy fallout.
“They are supposedly not a part of this bankruptcy,” he said. “That remains to be seen. SunEdison says that they shouldn’t be and they’re not. But I think that there’s enough people going after the assets that the TerraForm stuff might go with it.”
Watchdog contacted both SunEdison and TerraForm seeking comment for this story. SunEdison did not respond. A TerraForm spokesperson would not answer any questions, and referred Watchdog to the company’s prepared statement.
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