United Wind closed a $200 million funding round from Forum Equity Partners this week to expand its small wind lease program. The round is the largest ever for small wind projects.
The project equity capital comes just a few months after the Brooklyn-based startup raised $13.5 million from New York’s Green Bank and U.S. Bancorp. In 2014, United Wind told Greentech Media it planned to raise $100 million in 2015.
Although United Wind missed that mark by a few days, it far exceeded the funding goal with the $200 million round announced on Tuesday. It will use the funds to expand into markets beyond New York and drive down the cost of small wind to allow it to be a competitive grid alternative in rural communities.
United Wind is trying to mimic the success of third-party offerings in the solar market. The company offers 20-year leases for wind turbines of less than 100 kilowatts. The installations typically lower monthly electric bills about 20 percent over the life of the lease.
“With an investment of this magnitude, we know we can bring down this pricing and bring affordable wind to many, many more markets,” said Russell Tencer, CEO of United Wind. “This is the scale we need to be competitive with the grid and other renewable opportunities.”
United Wind and its financial backers are betting that leasing structures like the ones that helped unlock the distributed solar market are ready for primetime in the distributed wind industry. United Wind has estimated the U.S. market at $25 billion. The Distributed Energy Wind Association has estimated there is potential for 1.1 gigawatts of distributed wind in the country by 2030.
In 2014, Pacific Rim Capital provided United Wind with $10 million in project financing. In 2013, United Wind raised $25 million in tax equity from GSG Energy Finance to support leases first in New York, with plans to expand to other states. The startup grew out of a merger between the wind speed assessment firm Wind Analytics and Talco Electronics, a small-wind distributor.
Since launching in late 2013, United Wind has already seen considerable changes in the economics of its installations. For the smallest 10-kilowatt projects, the installed cost has dropped from $10 per watt down to $6 per watt. Tencer said the average cost of a 50-kilowatt system is closer to $3 per watt. Installing in clusters has helped bring these costs down.
The $200 million from Toronto-based Forum Equity Partners will fund about 1,000 projects in the Northeast and Midwest U.S. in the next two years.
United Wind currently has more than 150 signed leases in New York, as well as some in Colorado. The company also just opened an office in Kansas and expects to close another tax equity deal in the first half of 2016.