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.

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