Wind power developers can profit by moving away from subsidies and focusing on areas where robust electricity pricing makes the decision to sign a wind power purchase agreement easy.
Focusing on the “premium markets” where there are high power prices and state-level support for renewable fuels generation can be a winning strategy for power project developers, even when prices for natural gas are so low that generators are increasingly turning toward the fossil fuel, First Wind CEO Paul Gaynor told Breaking Energy.
“Out approach is to pursue markets where the premium for renewables is smaller relative to implicit generation,” Gaynor said.
Boston-based First Wind is one of the few pure-play wind power companies, developing and then owning their own wind farms in the Northeast, California and Hawaii. The company now has 10 projects operating, three under construction and plans to have four or five new wind farms in operation by the end of 2012.
The company recently put its Rollins generating project in operation, and Breaking Energy covered it.
First Wind’s strategy is largely independent of federal subsidies and tax or production policies, Gaynor said, as it has focused on regions where support for renewable energy remains strong at the state level.
“The states that we’re in are committed over the short to medium term to renewables because leadership there believes it is a way to develop an industry,” Gaynor said.
It is also “little surprise” that states with high power prices, like Hawaii, are supporting renewable generation as they grapple with energy independence issues.
Ownership by a pair of private equity firms that supported First Wind through the financial crisis have been essential to its ability to raise money and continue adding projects that can “withstand the turmoil in the markets,” Gaynor said. The firm was one of the first to announce a significant project financing in April 2009 and has raised $3 billion since 2009.
Projects have been underpinned by power purchase agreements with utilities, signed despite the low price of competing fuels like natural gas.
“One of the things that allows us to stay in the market is that turbine prices have come down and efficiency has gone up,” Gaynor said. “That takes the sting out of natural gas prices being so low.”