Developer of controversial Champaign County wind farm likely for sale

Everpower Wind Holdings, the developer of a controversial wind farm in Champaign County, could be sold soon but its leaders say a sale won’t affect the Buckeye Wind Farm or other projects in Ohio.

Terra Firma, a private equity firm based in the United Kingdom, has begun the sale process for its wind energy business in the U.S. That includes Everpower Wind Holdings, a subsidiary of Terra Firma that owns and operates seven wind farms in Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York and California.

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Everpower, based in Pittsburgh, is also working to develop projects in several states, including the Buckeye Wind Project in Champaign County and the Scioto Ridge Wind Farm in Hardin and Logan counties.

However any sale is unlikely to impact Everpower’s projects, including two phases of the Buckeye Wind Project in Champaign County, said Jim Spencer, Everpower’s CEO.

“Terra Firma is a financial investor in (Everpower),” Spencer said. “It made initial investments but the company has been financially self-sufficient for a number of years. It will have no impact on the ongoing operations of the company.”

The Buckeye project calls for a total of about 100 turbines across rural Champaign County if it moves forward. But the project has caused divisions among Champaign County residents and been delayed by years of court battles.

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Members of Union Neighbors United, a group opposed to the wind farm, have argued the turbines are sited to close to homes in the project’s footprint and have raised concerns about safety and potential impact on property values, among other issues.

Last month, attorneys on both sides argued before the Ohio Supreme Court over whether the state was right to approve an extension for the first phase of the wind farm and whether opponents have been using the courts as a way to stall construction.

Jack Van Kley, an attorney representing UNU, said he doesn’t believe a potential sale would affect either Everpower’s pending projects in Ohio or ongoing legal disputes.

“From my perspective, I don’t think it will make any difference,” Van Kley said. “Who knows what the new company might intend to do in Ohio?”

Everpower has been a Terra Firma subsidiary for about six years, Spencer said. During that time, he said the company has grown from one operational wind farm to seven, with several others in the development stages. It’s not clear how long the sale process might take, although he said it could happen as early as this year.

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The timing makes sense for both Everpower and Terra Firma, Spencer said.

“It really has to do with the profile of the company which is a much more stable cash generative company now,” Spencer said. “Terra Firma is a private equity firm and they tend to get into investments at an earlier stage.”

Barclays will be looking for new investors who will buy shares from Terra Firma, Spencer said.

“The new investor will likely be an infrastructure company or a pension fund who looks for long-term cash flow out of a business,” Spencer said. “That’s sort of the situation the company is in now that it has seven operating wind farms and steady revenues.”

Despite the ongoing legal fight in Champaign County, Spencer said he’s optimistic the project will eventually move forward.

“We’re hopeful we can reach an accommodation with the land owners,” Spencer said. “Those discussions are ongoing and we’re hopeful we can find a solution that fits both the land owners and ourselves.”

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It’s too early to say how federal energy policies will affect interest in the company or the short-term future for renewable energy, he said.

“Really the headline is what the new administration has talked about is bringing coal back,” Spencer said. “The question then becomes is that going to hurt us? Our view is that wind and renewables aren’t killing coal. Natural gas is killing coal. It’s cheap natural gas which has really done the most to hurt coal-fired power, as well as nuclear.”

Everpower is seeing a huge interest in the sector, he said.

“What we’re hoping is a new investor that wants to really expand and grow the footprint of the company will buy Terra Firma out and that’s very positive for our future,” Spencer said.

Staying with the Story

The Springfield News-Sun has provided award-winning coverage of the long-running fight over the Buckeye Wind Farm in Champaign County, including stories digging into some neighbors’ concerns about the project and the possible economic benefits.

By the numbers

50,000: Homes per year the Buckeye Wind Farm in Champaign County could power

54: Turbines in the first phase of the proposed Buckeye Wind Farm

56: Turbines in the second phase of the proposed Buckeye Wind Farm

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