First Wind wins $98 million in financing for Lincoln wind farm

Posted Dec. 03, 2010, at 6:04 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 7:25 a.m.

KeyBank and Germany’s 10th-largest financial institution have helped arrange $98 million in financing to allow First Wind to finish its $130 million Rollins Mountain industrial wind site in and near Lincoln, First Wind officials said Friday.

Coming on the heels of the Friends of Lincoln Lakes’ state supreme court challenge Tuesday regarding First Wind’s financial capacity, the company said it had closed an $81 million nonrecourse construction loan and received a $17 million letter of credit to build the 60 megawatt, 40-turbine project.

First Wind Chief Executive Officer Paul Gaynor called the financing deals “important milestones in the development and construction of our Rollins Wind project.”

“It demonstrates the strength of this project and the viability of wind power in Maine,” Gaynor said in a statement Friday. “We appreciate the commitment of our financial partners, which will help First Wind deliver clean, renewable energy for Maine residents and businesses, as well as significant economic benefits in terms of construction jobs, local tax revenues and work for local businesses.”

Under the arrangements, Key Bank National Association and Norddeutsche Landesbank Girozentrale served as the joint lead arrangers for the financing. Also, JPM Capital Corp. has executed a tax equity financing agreement with a subsidiary of First Wind.

A KeyBank executive said Friday the bank is pleased to have played a “leading role” in the financing of the project.

When the project goes into commercial operation, JPM Capital will provide long-term capital to take out the construction loan, First Wind officials said.

“First Wind has worked hard to develop and build the Rollins project the right way. These financings show that the capital markets recognize that this is a strong, well-planned project,” Gaynor said.

Despite Friday’s announcement, the Friends group’s appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court will probably proceed, group President Brad Blake said.

“This is way after the fact. This event that they just announced today was supposed to be in place prior to the DEP providing their approvals and issuing a permit for this project,” Blake said Friday. “That is the point of our most recent legal action. We feel that it is extremely important, in spite of the fact that First Wind has managed to find financial partners, to completely review the process whereby DEP gave its approval without having adequate documentation.”

The group’s latest of at least a dozen attempts to stop the 40-turbine wind project seeks a judicial review of the conditions of approval the Maine Department of Environmental Protection granted the company in its April 2009 permit.

Under the conditions, First Wind must submit documentation demonstrating its financial capacity to build the project. Before Friday’s announcement, the company’s spokesman acknowledged several times that First Wind had not yet assembled financing for the project.

In addition, Friends attorney Lynne Williams has said that a letter and unaudited financial statement the DEP accepted as evidence of financial capacity contain “some very negative financial data for the company.”

Williams did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment Friday.

Construction of the Rollins project began in late September and is due to finish by April 1. Site clearing and road building have largely been finished and trucking of the large turbines through downtown Lincoln to Rollins Ridge off Route 6 began this week.

Concrete bases for the turbines, each generating 1½ megawatts, will be poured on ridgelines in Burlington, Lincoln, Lee and Winn.

First Wind officials have maintained that their financial position has been strong and the manner in which they have pursued permitting and financing has been appropriate.

First Wind disclosed Friday that since Oct. 1, the company has raised $357 million in financing and repaid $118 million in short-term turbine supply loans. Financing includes the funds for the Rollins project, $247 million for the 68-turbine expansion of its Milford, Utah, project, and $12 million for its Steel Winds facility in Lackawanna, N.Y., company officials said.

As of late-October, First Wind was roughly $600 million in debt — $200 million of that in government loans. In the first nine months of 2010, it had a net loss of $52 million, compared with a net loss of $47.2 million in the same period of 2009, according to reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

It was unclear how much of that debt was offset by the financial arrangements disclosed Friday.

First Wind is a major developer of wind farms in Maine with operations including Mars Hill Wind in Aroostook County and Stetson Wind and Stetson Wind II in Washington County. Rollins will be the first industrial wind site in Maine to sell electricity to Maine’s retail providers, a fact appreciated by Andrew Redinger, managing director and head of power and utilities at KeyBank.

“We are very pleased to have played a leading role in First Wind’s financing of the Rollins project,” Redinger said in a statement. “We applaud First Wind’s dedication and the Joint Lead Arrangers’ commitment in successfully closing this financing. The Rollins project, following the success of First Wind’s three Maine projects, demonstrates that this is an excellent source of low-cost renewable power for Maine ratepayers.”

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