Yale invests in controversial wind farm

Yale is notorious for keeping its endowment holdings confidential, but in early March, it did make public one long-suspected investment in a Maine wind farm.

The University joins the Department of Energy in investing in Record Hill Wind, which is building a wind farm project in Roxbury, Maine. University officials and the project’s developers say the wind farm will have economic and environmental benefits, but a small but vocal contingent of Roxbury locals has criticized the project for harming the region’s ecology, and the Department of Energy’s $102 million loan to the project is contingent on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court overturning an appeal currently stalling construction.

“Yale University is pleased to participate in a project that both makes economic sense and serves the greater good by adding to the country’s stock of renewable energy sources,” Chief Investment Officer David Swensen GRD ’80 said in a Yale press release earlier this month. “Our investment in Record Hill builds on Yale’s strong commitment to the goals of reducing the University’s carbon footprint and of serving as a model of sustainability.”

Swensen declined to give further comment on the investment.

University President Richard Levin said Yale decided to make its investment public because of the Department of Energy’s announcement about its support for the project.

“The deal wasn’t going to happen without the Energy Department involvement, and once we had it we thought it was an appropriate time to make an announcement,” Levin said. “Until there was a real deal there was no point in announcing it.”

Yale has historically kept its holdings closely guarded. Levin said this standard results from University investments in private partnerships, for which public disclosure is uncommon. Jonathan Macey, a Law School professor and chairman of the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, has told the News in the past that Yale keeps its holdings confidential to prevent other investors from copying them.

The financial backing from Yale and the Department of Energy will help restart the project, which was halted in fall 2009 as the national economy plummeted. Yale and other sponsors have collectively invested some $12 million in the project, which is run by developers Independence Wind of Maine and Wagner Wind Energy of New Hampshire, Independence Wind President Rob Gardiner said. The recent Department of Energy loan will fund a 50.6 megawatt wind power plant, eight-mile transmission line, and other equipment for the project.

Record Hill Wind has been connected — but never officially linked — to Yale investments in the past. Gardiner called the University’s decision to publicize its support for the project “tremendous,” adding that Yale’s investment choices are well-respected.

“It’s really a gold star if Yale chooses you to invest in,” he said.

Despite the financial boost Record Hill Wind has received, the project will remain on hold until it receives approval from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Opponents of the development filed an appeal in summer 2010, and the court should release its decision in the coming weeks, Independence Wind Vice President and former Governor of Maine Angus King said.

Those behind the project say it will provide sustainable electricity power for thousands of homes in Maine and create 200 construction jobs. But construction of the wind farm would involve levelling several mountain tops and clearing forests to make roads between the wind turbines, and those who live near the proposed site are determined to keep it untouched.

King said the wind farm project will benefit Roxbury residents economically because Record Hill Wind will pay about 60 percent of town taxes and cover up to 500 kilowatt hours of power charges on electric bills. He added that the power produced by the wind turbines should eliminate about 80,000 tons of yearly carbon dioxide emissions, which he compared to the effect of removing 15,000 cars from the road.

Still, a group of residents in Roxbury, a town of about 400 people, remain staunchly opposed to the development.

Steve Thurston, who co-chairs the Citizens’ Task Force on Wind Power and owns property on Roxbury Pond, said in an e-mail Wednesday that the project is “nearly unanimously opposed” by the Roxbury Pond community ­— people who own land less than a mile from the construction site.

“This project has caused immense heartache for people in the area who love the mountains,” Thurston said. “It is a sad story that is being repeated throughout rural Maine.”

King and Gardiner maintain that the economic and environmental benefits of the Record Hill Wind project outweigh its detrimental impact on the environment. No alternative energy solution is “no impact,” King said, but wind power offers lower impact than most other options.

“These are very heavily forested communities, and to put a wind farm on 100 acres within that very richly forested community is like throwing a stone into a pond,” Gardiner said. “You have a very small ripple effect for a short period of time, and then it’s gone.”

The Record Hill wind project obtained its permit from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in August 2009. It has since been approved by the Board of Environment Protection, and passed close townspeople votes in March 2009 and January 2010.

Correction: March 25, 2011

Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the amount of the Department of Energy’s loan.

Comments

  • PenobScot

    “Jonathan Macey, a Law School professor and chairman of the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, has told the News in the past that Yale keeps its holdings confidential to prevent other investors from copying them.” —————- Bunk. If one invests in something and then is copied, the value of the investment tends to go up.

  • PenobScot

    Everyone thought that Bernie Maddoff was the smartest guy in the room as they watched their portfolios grow under his stewardship. Similarly, everyone assumes that the Yale Endowment’s anti-gravitational powers derive from the brilliance at Yale.

    Eventually all anti-gravity schemes come crashing down.

    What else is in your portfolio, Yale?

    Tell us everything that your shell corporation Bayroot (the name you used in Maine on this project) has been involved with. We know that some of the MOST DEVASTING, largest clear cuts in Maine have been done behind the Bayroot curtain. Now we know for certain that it has been hypocrite Yale, just as we speculated all along. A school that boasts of being one of the planet’s great environmental stewards, hacking up and liquidating large tracts of beautiful forest just to pull “easy” money off the land.

    What other shell corporations are you hiding behind?

    You have caused great misery for many in northern New England and you have done it under the cover and protection of saving the planet, which makes it especially despicable.

  • PenobScot

    Everyone thought that Bernie Maddoff was the smartest guy in the room as they watched their portfolios grow under his stewardship. Similarly, everyone assumes that the Yale Endowment’s anti-gravitational powers derive from the brilliance at Yale.

    Eventually all anti-gravity schemes come crashing down.

    What else is in your portfolio, Yale?

    Tell us everything that your shell corporation Bayroot (the name you used in Maine on this project) has been involved with. We know that some of the MOST DEVASTING, largest clear cuts in Maine have been done behind the Bayroot curtain. Now we know for certain that it has been hypocrite Yale, just as we speculated all along. A school that boasts of being one of the planet’s great environmental stewards, hacking up and liquidating large tracts of beautiful forest just to pull “easy” money off the land.

    What other shell corporations are you hiding behind?

    You have caused great misery for many in northern New England and you have done it under the cover and protection of saving the planet, which makes it especially despicable.

  • nadianichols

    Please, Yale, do not bankrupt the state of Maine with your yearnings for “green” power.
    Think about what you’re doing to our state before you back Bayroot and destroy
    the mountains of Western Maine.
    What is the economic value of a viewscape that tourists travel to from all
    over Maine, New England, the US and the world to see and experience? What
    will this multibillion dollar value be when these same viewscapes are
    bristling with blades, dissected with industrial roads and transmission lines
    and blinking with red aviation lights? What will this value be when there
    are so few unspoiled landscapes left in our state? Will Maine be positioned
    to be a world tourism leader and destination because it wisely assessed these
    viewsheds and their greater economic value and set them off limits to wind
    power and other transforming, fragmenting development? Or will Maine’s
    economy be bankrupted by this rush to industrialize her most valuable assets?

    The Maine Department of Tourism figures prove that tourism is by far
    Maine’s biggest economic engine. In 2009, 34 million tourists provided
    over 170,000 full time jobs, 535 million in tax revenues, and ten billion
    dollars in goods and services. DEP permitting applications for industrial
    wind mandate proof of tangible benefits for the host community. What about
    all the other communities within a thirty mile radius that have to live with
    the project, visually? Do the tangible benefits of all of Maine’s proposed industrial wind projects even come close to tourism’s figures? Has the cumulative visual impact of these wind projects on twelve thousand square miles of Maine’s scenic viewshed been evaluated from an economic perspective? And if not, why not? The tangible benefits of tourism will last forever only if we protect Maine’s iconic mountains from inappropriate development. The tangible benefits gained by Roxbury won’t even be enough to decommission one turbine in twenty years if Bayroot declares bankruptcy prior to its fifteenth year of operation, which is a very real possibility when the federal subsidies dry up.

    Bottom line, the economic cost/benefit analysis proves that industrial wind is fiscally unsound. There are no benefits for the majority of us Mainers, and even less for Maine’s mountains, waters and wildlife. Worse, industrial wind could very well destroy the tourism infrastructure we rural natives count on for our very survival.
    Maine can’t afford to color Yale green. We love our mountains just the way they are, as God intended them to be.

  • FreddyHoneychurch

    Here we go again …

  • blueyes1119

    This same reporter did a similar story on March 4: “Dept. of Energy says Maine wind farms are backed by Yale”. It unleashed a firestorm of comments from the citizens of Maine concerning not only this investment by Yale in a moribund project in Roxbury, Maine but also a lot of useful insight about the negative impacts of sprawling industrial wind sites. Did she not read these comments from the people who are affected? Or does she have such a bias that she deemed them unworthy of consideration?

    I don’t know if Ms. Griswold is a journalism student who is being graded for her work with YDN, but if she is, she should receive a failing grade. This article is nothing more than a spin piece one would see issued by a public relations firm. All positive spin about Yale’s involvement and the perspective of the principals involved with Independence Wind about what they say are positive attributes of what many see as destructive. A throw-in comment by Steve Thurston was the only representation to the opposing side of this controversial issue: 75 out of the 853 words in this report. All Ms. Griswold needed to do was review the comments submitted to her previous story to realize that there are a multiplicity of issues relating to wind power and the destruction of the mountains of Maine. That should have led to challenging questions put to the Yale people and King and Gardner.

    It is this basic failure by all of the media to not dig for facts, to fail to uncover connections, to not ask probing questions, to ignore readily available insights from impacted people, to report only one side of a controversial issue that exemplifies the complicity of media in the greenwashing of America that will lead to disastrous results like the destruction of Roxbury, Maine.

  • AlanMichka

    “Yale University is pleased to participate in a project that both makes economic sense and serves the greater good by adding to the country’s stock of renewable energy sources,’ Chief Investment Officer David Swensen GRD ’80 said in a Yale press release earlier this month.”

    Swensen should have added to his statement: “Even though I have absolutely no proof whatsoever that any good is actually being done other than the Yale Endowment’s procurement of federal taxpayer money to enrich its fund.”

    Part of being the successful CIO for Yale’s endowment is not really giving a flip what your investments are doing to people and places outside your immediate area. People all over rural Maine are rising up to keep these companies and investors like Yale out of their communities and preserve the landscape that is so much a part of Maine’s identity. Many Maine towns have passed ordinances to protect their jurisdictions from these projects. Roxbury missed doing just that two years ago by a thin margin of a few votes. So much information on wind power’s lack of efficacy and significant social and physical impacts have been revealed in the last two years, that it’s unlikely the people of Roxbury would allow this today. The most rural parts of Maine don’t even have the ordinance option, and its residents, for all intents and purposes, just have to live with whatever the developer wants to do to them.

    Yale is exhibiting one of Wall Street’s best investment strategies: Socialization of risks and privatization of profits. It’s notable that the DOE loan guarantee was necessary, because two years after this project was permitted, there were still no investors willing to risk their own money on it, including Yale. With federal subsidies AND the DOE loan guarantee, the Record Hill wind project has successfully placed almost all of the venture’s financial risk on the American taxpayer. The residents in and around Roxbury will bear the burden of a significantly scarred landscape, the noise intrusion on an otherwise peaceful rural soundscape, and the likely devaluation of their properties. Yale, of course, will clean up and laugh all the way to the bank without a concern in the world for what they have done. All of this, and the alleged environmental and energy benefits of the Record Hill wind project will not even be noticed in the greater context of America’s energy story.

  • enroncrooks

    Yale should be ashamed to support blasting and drilling the mtns. Harvard started a course in morals after the Michael Milken junk bond fiasco. Maybe Yale should start a course in common sense. You may have to hire a new professor though. You are not green if you support windsprawl. The C02 savings are fantasy. Add up the C02 from mining, manufacture, transportation, maintenance, copper wire, insulation, cement,rebar, rare earth minerals, etc. It is not recovered, that is why Denmark’s C02 rose 35% even after building 6000 wind turbines. Germany has 28,000 turbines and have not reached economy of scale yet. Please stop the fabrications and the mythology that the windsprawl industry lives by.

  • vgperrelli54

    and why not? Harvard’s been saying that Yale blows for years…

  • Turk

    You know Yale, you are wearing me down, but I’m not going to give up. Because we are right and you are wrong. This is our home that you are trying to destroy. Sure, you own the land. I appreciate that, and I respect the concept of private property more than you know. But what you are proposing to do affects more than just your land.

    You’ve heard all the good reasons from destroying headwater streams to killing birds and already stressed bat populations. You’ve heard the testimony about noise and infrasound affects on neighbors’ homes. You’ve certainly heard about property devaluation. Which of course you don’t believe because somebody said it just isn’t true. But you know in your mind that you wouldn’t want to live there either. I wonder though have you been paying attention to the very clear but low key statements from “Independent System Operators” across the world that integrating this power creates “serious” and “real” issues on the grid. I ask you, did you read in the 2005 Wind Report from Eon.Net (Germany’s Grid Operator) (on page 4 I believe) that it would take 48,000 installed MW of wind to shut down one 2,000 MW traditional powerplant? You know, where I come from, that’s about 24,000 wind turbines to shut down one 2,000 MW Coal Plant.

    24,000 wind turbines is a mighty big @#$%*&! number! Seriously. Think on that a bit. Just how much wilderness are we talking about? Unfortunately with all of the turbines in America (35,000 or so if I’m not mistaken.) Not one coal plant has shut down.

    For me, these are the things and represent pretty much all I need to know in deciding whether or not wind is good for the people of America. But you bean counters and brainwashed folks at the Yale Endowment don’t want to hear about this stuff do you!? You just know that there is a profit to be made on this scam and now is the time to cash in on it.

    So you just throw that rock into the lake and don’t worry about the tsunami that it creates for those that live around it. Don’t worry about the incredible financial cost to the rest of an already overburdened America so you can get your share of the drippings from the gravy train. And I’m sure you certainly won’t worry about the fact that Wind Turbines in reality aren’t shutting down any coal plants or any other kind of plant for that matter. The “actual” carbon offset is nearly a complete lie, but enough people believe it…so who cares……Right?

    I say again today, Shame on Yale! And I ask the students of Yale to look beyond the “industry” sponsored lies from the American Wind Energy Association and PLEASE come to our rescue in Maine and Ira, Vermont. Tell Yale to back off from this admittedly “lucrative”, but also very real “fleecing” of America, destruction of life, and way of life out here…where the little people live.

    Yale students and alumni, the endowment won’t listen to me. But they might listen to you. Help Please!

    Thanks.

  • Turk

    We need power to be built where it’s needed, and in a way that doesn’t harm your neigbor or America’s last open spaces. Cost? Green is expensive. Period. The answer is rooftop solar, but it might also be landfill gas, or cowpower if your a Vermonter. It could also be sustainably built combined cycle biomass. And when able, run of river hydro. Tidal power? Geothermal? All options that I’ll take right in my backyard and which are more reliable and forcastable than industrial wind. In some cases “baseload”. Yale sacrifice my family for baseload power if you must.

  • enroncrooks

    Yale has no business claiming to be green. Wind turbine slobbery has no place in Maine. If Yale likes ugly wind turbines, put them in your own backyard.

  • yalieeleven

    “If one invests in something and then is copied, the value of the investment tends to go up.” Wrong.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Eventually all anti-gravity schemes come crashing down.

    Gambling is gambling.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “Eventually all anti-gravity schemes come crashing down.”

    Gambling is gambling.

  • HighStreet2010

    Ah, good old NIMBY. Of course I support clean power, just not near where I am. Let’s level half of West Virginia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountaintop_removal_mining) because clearing enough forest to put up some windmills hurts the Maine tourism industry. And makes the place look bad for the people that live there, the horror.

    God forbid Yale tries to invest in alternate fuel – tell me, what else should they support? Nuclear plants so that we can have all 20 people in some random other town come on the site and tell us how Yale is putting them in significant danger from the radiation risk? Maybe we should invest in hydroelectricity so we can have 100 comments about how dams ruin the local environment (won’t someone please think of the fish)? Solar farms and hear about how GaAs isn’t really the most environmentally nice thing to fabricate, and how you need to clear much, much more land for it, which is really hurting the vista?

    Please tell me something more reasonable to invest in than clean power. I think Obama’s been sounding the green energy horn for years, and “energy independence” has been a national goal since forever. Maybe you’re right and Yale should pull their money from this evil wind power project and invest in Exxon or BP, or maybe Facebook shares – for the future of America, you know.

  • enroncrooks

    Solar panels belong on rooftops. Maine is developing tidal generators which are guaranteed to out perform wind turbines. The big windsprawl push is partly to get as many projects up and running before the other technology comes along and makes wind power obsolete, if it isn’t already. Maine uses hydro and the freebies doled out to the wind scammers would build real working, or better, fishways. That’s “clean power” and it is already there! As far as the nuclear plants, there needs to be updating or replacement with new technology before the US has the next disaster.hint: Put the emergency generators and cooling pumps on the roof, not in the basement. Maine gets along fine without the N word. If Yale wants wind turbines build them right in your own backyard.

  • blueyes1119

    PART 1 of 2 due to space limits: OK, Highstreet2010: Here is an answer for you and it should be supported by the Yale School of Forestry, the Yale Endowment, and the musterious Yale-connected Maine forest owner Bayroot. In Maine we have vast acreage of forests, but current forestry practices, included those on Bayroot holdings have harmed the forests and we need a much healthier forest for maximum sustainable yield. I’ve traveled many back roads and seen the forests from flying low. We have an incredible amount of waste in our forestry practices, leaving behind many damaged trees, which leads to infestations and poor health. An unhealthy tree takes space and nutrients away from healthy re-growth. I believe there is a lot of fuel stock for biomass electricity generation left as waste in our woods.
    Speaking of biomass, it is a reliable, predictable, base-load source of electricity. It is the clear alternative to siting numerous sprawling industrial wind sites throughout rural Maine. In Lincoln, there is a stark contrast: First Wind is constructing, at a cost of $140 million, a wind site sprawling across 7 miles of blasted and scalped ridges that at best might produce 12 MW of unpredictable, unreliable electricity that is heavily subsidized by taxpayers. This based on 20% capacity factor for the 60MW installation. Just 8 miles down the road on 50 acres in West Enfield is the 25MW biomass generating plant of Covanta, humming along with predictable output 24/7. The difference between subsidies is $23.37 per MWH for wind and 89 cents per MWH for biomass (USEIA). The difference between jobs: 5 jobs for the Rollins project after completion; 18 jobs at Covanta, plus more jobs in supplying the plant with wood chips for its fuel, an economic multiplier that the wind project does not have. The same could be an alternative to the Yale-backed Record Hill wind project in Roxbury.

  • blueyes1119

    Part 2 of 2 due to space limits, in response to Highstreet 2010: All over Maine, there are hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland that have gone out of production and are being allowed to revert, ever so slowly, to forest. We could easily convert this former farmland into plantations for hybrid poplar that would be sustainable harvested in 8-10 year cycles to provide the fuel for hundreds of MW of biomass, producing electricity to distribute here in Maine. The former farmland, arduously cleared by our forebears (including mine), would be easy to harvest and replant efficiently and provide local jobs in rural Maine. I would much rather see biomass plantations and biomass electrical generating plants in Maine than the destruction caused by blasting away and scalping our beautiful mountains for sprawling industrial wind sites. I would much rather see sustainable wood fuel creating reliable electricity than the fickle trickle of electricity from thousands of 400 foot tall wind turbines everywhere across our beautiful state. I would much rather see hundreds of permanent jobs related to biomass in rural areas than the small handful of maintenance jobs needed for the troublesome wind turbines.
    There’s an old saying that one “can’t see the forest for the trees.” If Yale has its way in Maine, it seems we “can’t see the forest for the wind turbines”. The forest is all around us. Let’s be far smarter at utilizing it. Help us with that, Yale, not by destroying Maine with sprawling industrial wind sites.