More Wind Power Outfits Go Bust: “Farmer-Investors” Lose their Shirts in the US

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Say there, farmer. It’s probably not any real consolation, but Germans (and plenty of other) wind farm investors are losing their shirts, too …

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In Australia, the wind industry is in total melt-down, with many of its “BIG” players on the brink of financial collapse.

And the dreadful “uncertainty” about the willingness of governments to continue fleecing power consumers and taxpayers – in order to keep throwing massive subsidies at the greatest rort of all time (which, on the wind industry’s pitch will be needed until kingdom come) – has resulted in the collapse of more than 120 wind industry suppliers in the past two years, “including 88 from Asia, 23 from Europe and 18 from North America” (see our post here).

In Germany – despite the fact the the wind industry there has pocketed the lion’s share of at “least half a trillion € in subsidies” – German investors are taking a flogging: “37 percent of wind farms are losing investors’ money” and “two thirds are in deficit or just about cover their running costs” (see our post here).

Around the world, wind farm investors are being fleeced by the same types of hucksters and weasels that run outfits like near-bankrupt Infigen (aka Babcock and Brown); and the smarmy gits that set up so-called “community wind farms” – praying on greed and gullibility in their efforts to pocket $billions in REC Tax/Subsidies.

The scam is the same the world over: pitch numbers that show returns that are too good to be true (they are) and watch the suckers beat a path to your door: greed trumps common sense often enough.

As PT Barnum said: “every crowd has a silver lining” – an adage put to great effect by wholesale fraudsters like Bernie Madoff in scams often tagged “Ponzi” schemes; named after Charles Ponzi – who would have taken to the wind industry like a duck to water.

Madoff – who ended up with a 150 year stretch in stir for his share-market shenanigans – would, no doubt, be pleased to know that the wind industry has followed his “model” and is keeping the Ponzi “dream” alive.

Wind power outfits routinely base their expected returns on pumped up wind forecasts – thereby way overstating their anticipated gross returns (see our posts here and here and here and here).

While, at the same time, lying about their true operating costs (see our post here), which start to tack up pretty quickly when it’s revealed that turbines last less than half the time claimed: with an ‘economic’ lifespan of 10-12 years, as opposed to the 25 years wildly claimed by fan makers (see our posts here and here).

Or, in the case of top-flight German manufacturer, Siemens – less than 2 years – one of it’s latest batches required wholesale blade and bearing replacement, starting almost as soon as they cranked them into gear (see our post here) – Siemens blaming “harsh weather conditions both onshore and offshore” – as if its fans had been designed to run inside aircraft hangars ….

Like all inevitable financial collapses, the dread-disease is spreading fast: a bunch of Minnesota farmers have just lost their shirts – having thrown their hard-earned at a pair of wind power outfits that have just hit the wall; and gone completely ‘belly-up’ on the prairie.

Owners of two Minnesota wind farms file for bankruptcy court protection
Star Tribune
David Shaffer
7 January 2015

Power to people on the prairie — it’s the idea, born in Minnesota, that farmers should own some of the wind turbines spinning above their fields.

But that idea has turned into a financial loser for about 360 farmers and other landowners who invested in two small wind farms more than a decade ago near Luverne, Minn., in the windy southwest corner of the state.

The companies that collectively own the two Minwind Energy projects filed for reorganization this week in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Minnesota. The owners stand to lose their investment, and the wind farms eventually may have to shut down, according to regulatory filings.

It is the first of the state’s approximately 100 operating wind power projects to seek bankruptcy protection, and the case is raising questions about whether the small-scale wind farm model still works in an era of ever-larger wind-generating projects.

“The wind business is not for the faint of heart,” Beth Soholt, director of the St. Paul-based trade group Wind on the Wires, said in an interview. “These are big energy facilities … It is a long-term contract with utilities that expect you to produce. A lot of things can go wrong.”

The Minwind wind farms, with 11 turbines that went on line in 2002 and 2004, made a profit until 2012, and are still operating, according to its financial reports. The electricity is sold to Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy and Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based Alliant Energy under long-term deals. Some of Minwind’s power is fed into a giant battery built by Xcel near Luverne to store electricity for when the wind doesn’t blow.

Minwind has told federal regulators that the turbines have needed extensive repairs, including main bearings, and the company no longer can afford the upkeep. To make things worse, Minwind got into a jam with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for not filing certain paperwork since 2006. The result is a $1.9 million regulatory liability that has left a potential buyer uneasy about signing a deal to acquire the wind farms.

Minwind’s attorneys have told the government that the owners were “unsophisticated” in regulatory matters, and should be excused from the filing lapse. Some of the owners also had invested in the former Agri-Energy ethanol plant in Luverne, which was sold in 2010 to another biofuel company.

“None of the owners has had any experience in the power sector, except through ownership and operation of the facilities,” the company’s Washington-based legal team led by Margaret Moore said in a regulatory filing.

But federal regulators didn’t buy the lack-of-sophistication argument. Indeed, the company led by President Mark Willers, Luverne businessman and farmer, has long been credited with creating an innovative business structure with nine separate limited-liability companies allowing investors to take advantage of federal wind energy tax credits, a now-discontinued state assistance program for small wind projects and USDA grants.

Willers declined to comment in detail, but acknowledged that the company was tripped up by a rule change that FERC made eight years ago — a time when the company didn’t have a Washington attorney on retainer to watch for such things.

In its bankruptcy case, the Minwind companies filed for reorganization, a process that allows companies to shed liabilities. That potentially could clear the way for a sale to a turbine repair company. Under a proposed deal, the wind farms would be sold for the cost of the remaining debt with no additional return to investors, Moore told regulators.

It is unclear how much individual investors will lose.

State support for small wind

Minnesota has long supported community-owned wind farms, and more than 30 of them have been built, according to state data. Most have less than 20 turbines, a fraction of the size of large wind farms built by major energy developers.

Soholt of Wind on the Wires said there have been long-standing concerns about whether small, community-owned wind farms have set aside enough funds to maintain wind generators for the typical 25-year operating agreements. But she said Minwind’s case is the first she heard of a small wind power company facing those troubles.

Michael Bull, who had a top state energy post during the Pawlenty administration, said that in the mid-2000s, Minnesota policy on small wind farms changed. The direct state subsidies ended, and state officials paid more attention to whether small companies could sustain the long-term maintenance needs of wind farms.

“My sense is that the industry got pretty sophisticated — a lot of more sophisticated as the projects got larger,” said Bull, who is now policy and communications director for the Center for Energy and Environment, a nonprofit that promotes energy efficiency.

Carol Overland, a utility attorney based in Red Wing, Minn., who was not involved in Minwind, said it’s possible that other small wind power producers could get caught in similar regulatory, maintenance and financial struggles as the Luverne-area wind farms.

“Small wind development is a good thing, but it developed in Minnesota in a way that was not in the public interest or the interest of the people developing it,” said Overland, who has challenged transmission and wind power projects on behalf of affected landowners.
Star Tribune

empty-wallet1

Honey, remember that sure-fire-bet I placed on that wind farm?
Well, there’s been a tiny little hiccup …

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.

Comments

  1. Wind power is a pyramid scheme those who grabbed the subsidies first are long gone when maintenance problems arise

  2. It is a ponzi scheme, can’t last long now.

  3. At least Minwind REALLY was a community energy project. Actual Minnesota citizens owned it. As soon as the gravy train ran out though…bankrupt. Most “Community” wind in MN (CBED) is owned by the same people who own the non-CBED industrial wind – Wall Street. But CBED gets extra favors in permitting and an even higher PPA than other wind.

  4. Yep, STT. ( You are so darn good with words and facts !! Hot Dog ! love ya ! )

    This little piece written by Jack Spenser, who also writes for Michigan Capital Confidential, is exactly what all of us have been going through, whether Australia, Germany, ect. ect…

    https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2015/01/20/lawmakers-should-expose-wind-energy-cover-up/

  5. Jackie Rovenksy says:

    Community owned wind is no different to industry owned they all want to live of the profits from the RET.
    If those who invest in community owned businesses were not so easily duped by the smart talking slick sellers then there would be no community projects and no individuals loosing their hard earned money.
    Sorry, but buyer beware, not all that shines is gold.

  6. David Mortimer says:

    I read the Pac Hydro statement about the S Cooper acoustic investigation and noticed that Pac Hydro proudly display that some 5 million Australian workers have their superannuation funds tied up in ownership of Pac Hydro. No wonder they get such magnificent returns on investment.

    Little wonder Labour wants more wind farms so that the tax payer can fund the union backed industry super leeches.

    Just wait till Pac Hydro hits the inevitable skids and starts losing money. I bet the leeches will then call for government funded compensation.

    • Old Ranga says:

      Check out the assorted board members of both the energy companies and the industrial super funds. An interesting level of cross-fertilisation.

      Conflict of interest? Never.

  7. Terry Conn says:

    ‘Greed’ has never manifested itself so blatantly as those involved with the ‘wind industry’ scam. Those who have chosen to hitch themselves to the ‘wind industry’ bandwagon of rorting the rest of humanity will live to feel the rewards of that greed because it’s getting very close to ‘judgement day’ !

  8. Australia has community wind farms, take Hepburn Wind for example. It has been operational for 3 years but not yet returned a dividend to the community. Even with the subsidies mandated under the Govt’s Renewable Energy Target (paid by electricity users) they have been unable to turn a profit. No wind farms operate without subsidies. Ratch’s Mt Emerald Wind Farm will get $500m+ in subsidies over the life of the project. They require expensive maintenance contracts, comprehensive insurance, environmental monitoring (eg bird/bat mortality), compliance testing (noise), unscheduled maintenance (gearboxes, damaged blades, hydraulic failures etc), replacement of expensive transmission oils, and the list goes on. And then there’s the cost to remove the tonnes of metal and non-recyclable blades in 20 years time. Ratch (developer) reckons they won’t break even for 15 years. Hardly sounds like an economic proposition, unless of course they are expecting electricity consumers to foot the bill?

    • In Hepburn Wind’s RET submission it was suggested that “community owned” wind farms should get 1.5 RECs per megawatt of electricity produced instead of 1.
      There was also predictable misleading howling about ‘Soverign Risk’ but curiously no mention of the fact that would-be investors were correctly cautioned about possible risks associated with regulatory or legislative change. Dick was given a copy of Hepburn Wind’s 2010 prospectus share offer when the RET review panel met with the REAL community a little further down the road.

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