Algonquin Power to buy 4 U.S. wind farms

Algonquin Power and Utilities Corp. will buy a 480-megawatt portfolio of U.S. wind power projects from Spanish wind turbine maker Gamesa Corp Tecnologica SA for $888-million (U.S.) to gain a significant foothold in the country’s wind energy market.

The United States, once the world’s top wind power market, ceded the mantle to China in 2010 as a weak economy halted growth, but business has picked up since the middle of last year.

The global wind power capacity will more than double to 450 gigawatts in 2015 from 194.4 gigawatts at the end of 2010, according to a Global Wind Energy Council forecast.

The Oakville, Ont.-based company, which operates a portfolio of more than $1.2-billion of renewable energy assets in North America, had tripped on some of its earlier buyout attempts.

It had to bow out of the deal to buy a stake in U.S.-based wind farm operator First Wind Holdings earlier this year, while late last year Western Wind Energy asked shareholders to snub Algonquin’s “low-ball” offer.

The company said the portfolio it was buying from Gamesa consisted of four facilities – Minonk, Senate, Pocahontas Prairie and Sandy Ridge, in the states of Illinois, Texas, Iowa and Pennsylvania, respectively.

“If you look at the footprint of these generating stations, they are located sort of outside our existing footprint and so, we will get the benefit of further diversification,” chief executive officer Ian Robertson said on a conference call.

The company expects the total annual production from the four facilities to be 1,644 gigawatt-hours per year.

“I think this [deal] moves them pretty far down the field in terms of expanding on power development projects,” analyst Ian Tharp of CIBC World Markets told Reuters.

“On the face of it, 480 megawatts at $888-million comes out to $1.85-million a megawatt,” Mr. Tharp said. “It looks quite good.”

The acquisition doubles Algonquin’s independent power generation portfolio, the CEO said.

In a similar U.S.-focused deal last month, independent power producer Atlantic Power Corp. acquired a majority stake in Canadian Hills LLC, which owns a 300-megawatt wind power project in Oklahoma.

Algonquin said the four projects have a 20-year contract with Gamesa to provide operations, warranty and maintenance services for the wind turbines.

“Only about 73 per cent of the revenue from these projects is under long-term contract, so there is still some merchant risk – which means you are selling power in the real time or day-ahead power markets – in these contracts that Algonquin will need to manage over time,” CIBC’s Mr. Tharp said.

The company, which last month entered into a 25-year power purchase agreement with Saskatchewan Power Corp. for its coming 177-megawatt Chaplin Wind project, plans to finance its investment with about 45 per cent debt and 55 per cent equity.

The projects will be acquired through American Wind Portfolio Holdings LLC, a newly formed partnership in which Algonquin holds 51 per cent interest and Gamesa 49 per cent.

Gamesa said the sale would add $35-million to earnings before interest and tax, excluding operation and maintenance.

TD Securities was adviser to Algonquin, which reported a 63 per cent drop in fourth-quarter adjusted profit late on Thursday.

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