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2011.10.7

OneEnergy Renewables Raises Funding for Large Generators

Steven Goldsmith Puget Sound Business Journal, October 07, 2011


While the recent collapse of California solar-equipment maker Solyndra raises questions about the competitiveness of America’s solar power industry, one Seattle clean energy developer has received a vote of confidence from investors.

OneEnergy Renewables says it has raised nearly $1 million in its latest investment round, including $345,000 in capital from clean-tech nonprofit Northwest Energy Angels.

To OneEnergy CEO Bryce Smith, the high-profile bankruptcy of Solyndra — whose federal loans and visits from the Obama administration are the subject of investigations — is a sign of an industry that is growing up.

“Seeing some companies go by the wayside — that’s typical of a maturing, more professional industry,” Smith said. “It doesn’t mean the sky is falling.”

Smith’s 2-year-old startup, which develops large renewable-energy projects and sells renewable-energy credits, has been going the opposite direction from Solyndra.

Unlike Solyndra, which makes solar cells and faced withering price competition from China, OneEnergy develops large renewable energy power plants — mostly solar — and benefits from the shrinking cost of the equipment.

OneEnergy has 10 renewable-energy projects under development in seven states that will be capable of pumping out a combined 200 megawatts of clean power, Smith said.

The company’s ultimate plan is to produce five times that much renewable power in the future, or enough to replace four carbon-emitting natural gas plants.

OneEnergy, with eight employees in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood and another one in Portland, develops large, “utility-scale” renewable projects, handling such tasks as finding the sites, obtaining permits, preselling the power and energy credits, and then finding financing to build the facilities.

Smith and OneEnergy co-founder Bill Eddie are veterans of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation who both saw an opportunity, Smith said, to start a company that could “step up the project size — to develop solar projects with a meaningful amount of scale.”

OneEnergy projects now under development kick out up to 40 megawatts and average 100 acres in size.

One of the company’s most ambitious upcoming projects is not solar, but rather a methane digester about to break ground in Boardman, Ore., that will convert the waste of 20,000 head of dairy cattle into five megawatts of electricity.

OneEnergy also is preparing a marketing push to provide clean power to college campuses. The firm also sells verified renewable energy certificates and carbon offsets that can be traded, which Smith said helps build the clean power industry “on the demand side.”

While OneEnergy pursues its energy-development plans, its founders and investors may well be aware of recent big-dollar acquisitions in the field. OneEnergy’s 200 megawatts in the pipeline could translate into a significant payout, judging from the roughly $100,000-per-megawatt prices recently paid for Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (by St. Peters, Mo.-based MEMC electronics) and San Francisco-based Recurrent Energy (by Sharp).

And while cloudy Western Washington might not seem the ideal setting to erect large-scale solar power installations, Smith said it is a great place to run a solar energy startup.

“From an HR (human resources) standpoint and the expertise that’s here, and from an investor standpoint and the number of interested investors,” he said, “in a lot of respects this represents an ideal place to start up.”

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