Wind farm developer First Wind Holdings is planning a $300 million IPO this week. But with a large debt load and choppy cleantech IPO waters, it’s unclear how well the stock offering will fare.
The company plans to offer 12 million shares between $24 and $26. At the mid-point of that range, First Wind’s market value would be $1.2 billion, according to Renaissance Capital. It remains to be seen whether First Wind can land within that range, though. Recent cleantech IPOs like smart meter company Elster and biofuel company Amyris all debuted below planned ranges.
Indeed, it looks like the prospects are sketchy for First Wind, which has lost $233 million and $582.2 million in debt. The company says it does not have enough cash to cover that loss and is at default risk, Reuters reported. Of the $300 million it hopes to raise in the IPO, $98 million will go towards debt service, and $78 million of that will go to retire a loan that has a 17 percent annual interest rate and matures in March 2013.
First Wind is backed by D.E. Shaw and Madison Dearborn and had $75 million in sales in the last year. It will list on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol WIND, and the lead underwriters on the deal are Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs.
The company has hefty expansion plans, which is presumably needs the new capital to support. By 2014, First Wind plans to have 1,900 megawatts in operation or under construction. But a key wind production tax credit expires at the end of this year, and the American Wind Energy Association warns that the future of the wind industry depends on the measure’s renewal. The association also told Reuters that new U.S. wind installations were down 71 percent in the first six months of 2010.
Wind energy has had its share of struggles. It’s an intermittent energy source, and companies are searching to find solutions for transmitting the energy wind farms produce. Pattern Energy, for example, has proposed a 400-mile wind transmission line to bring the ample wind energy from West Texas to other southern states. And Google recently became a key investor in the initial phase of what will become a multi-billion-dollar effort to build a transmission line for offshore wind farms on the Atlantic coast.
Wind blows more strongly at night and more steadily offshore, but utilities and wind companies must figure out how to harness that energy for use during peak hours — whether that’s storage solutions (which are still technologically far off), new transmission lines (which companies like Oncor are building) or more sophisticated management of energy dispatch. As a whole, the industry faces issues that go beyond the smart grid and instead require the development of GreenBeat likes to call the “super grid” — a topic that will be discussed at the GreenBeat 2010 conference next week.
Massachusetts-based First Wind develops, owns and operates wind farms in the northeast and west U.S. and in Hawaii. The company says it’s currently producing 504 megawatts of energy through seven wind farms and developing other projects through subsidiary wind farms, with another 268 megawatts of capacity planned to be in operation or under construction by the end of this year.
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