July 23, 2008

Southeast Minnesota Wind Farm to Use Unique Financing

By Bob Freund, Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn.

Jul. 21--A developer getting ready to build a wind farm in southeastern Minnesota is taking a rare -- and perhaps unprecedented -- approach to selling stock to the general public.

High Country Energy L.L.C. is going to Minnesota investors for as much as $3.1 million to help finance the early stages of its project in parts of Olmsted, Dodge and Mower counties. Eventually, the project could take in as many as 200 turbines generating electricity from the wind.

Such wind projects typically are financed by large private investors. However, High Country Energy has registered an in-state public offering, which allows the company to sell shares of stock to the general public living in Minnesota.

High Country Energy and Delphi Financial Corp. of Minneapolis, its investment banking firm, have announced the public issue as the first in-state offering for a wind project in the country. Delphi Financial vice-president Ryan Pelstring said his firm, which specializes in financing for renewable energy projects, does not know of any similar offerings nationwide.

Typically, windpower projects are financed by a limited number of private investors, Pelstring said last week.

High Country Energy was initiated by National Wind L.L.C. of California, a national wind farm developer, which will be the managing partner for the project. Seven local landowners also are initial partners.

The $3.1 million from the public offering will pay for some early expenses. The money for construction of the generating towers, which have large, propeller-like blades, likely will come from private placements, Pelstring said. The total cost of the project could range between $600 million and $700 million, a spokeswoman said.

High Country Energy first is taking its offering to people already involved in the project -- such as those who have signed options allowing the windpower company to build turbines on their lands -- and to an estimated 500 landowners within the project's area.

But the company also will sell a stake in the project to any Minnesota investor meeting certain minimum requirements. Pelstring said the in-state offering is designed to broaden the project to the general public in the local community.

High Country Energy's wind farm is being structured to qualify as a community-based energy development, with significant local ownership and majority of the proceeds benefiting the local community, according to company information.

Wisconsin Public Service Corp., a major electric utility, has agreed to purchase and own 100 wind turbines, or about 150 megawatts (million watts) per hour of generating capacity. That represents close to the first half of the project.

Eventually, High Country could develop as many as 200 turbines with a generating capacity of 300 megawatts.


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