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Eolian Renewable Energy LLC: Clean Energy with Minimal Impact, Maximum Productivity
Four entrepreneurs founded Eolian Renewable Energy LLC (Eolian) in 2009 with the belief that renewable energy resources are assets that should be developed to serve the community by working closely with community leaders, landowners and stakeholders to build the next century of economic opportunity with clean energy infrastructure. Though Eolian has just a few years under its belt, the company is forging the way for responsible, inclusive renewable energy development. Eolian has been successful due to the team’s strong commitment to its goals, diverse backgrounds and a collaborative approach to development, as well as an ingrained drive to see renewable energy succeed.
Eolian’s name translates to the Greek meaning of “shaped by the wind,” and indeed Eolian aims to shape the energy future of the region as much as it shapes every project to meet the community’s needs. Two of Eolian’s founding principals are brothers, while three are childhood friends, and all four principals share a passion for the outdoors, which inevitably led each to pursue a career in clean energy, albeit in different ways.
Jack Kenworthy, founder and CEO of Eolian, previously founded a clean energy development and consultation firm in the Caribbean Islands. Jack eventually developed some of the first commercial and grid-interactive photovoltaic systems and the first commercial cooking oil to biodiesel production facility in the region, which led him to where he is today.
“Eolian was really the product of a perfect storm scenario,” chuckles Travis Bullard, founding principal and senior development manager at Eolian. “We knew we wanted to start a New England-based company focused on the renewable energy sector.” Like his colleague, Travis previously founded and ran a sustainable design and consulting firm, which provided him a few opportunities to partner with Jack on a few Caribbean projects.
“After a thorough analysis of the market, we decided that there was a strong opportunity for wind energy in New England, where we could serve existing need in a way that focused on the best possible sites and thorough, frequent stakeholder engagement,” says Jack. “Our team is a great fit for that role.”
Building a Sustainable Foundation
In order to bring additional depth to Eolian’s team, the duo brought on John Soininen, a former business associate of Jack’s and current vice president of development at Eolian. John is proud to bring over 15 years of commercial development experience to the team, and the team is lucky to have him. Drew Kenworthy, Jack’s brother and vice president of geographic information systems (GIS) and resource analysis at Eolian, was also brought onboard. The group opted to slim down Eolian’s focus to wind energy projects developed for optimal performance based on the site, but whittling down possible sites was a daunting task indeed.
“Our key focus has always been selecting the right sites,” asserts Jack. While there may be plenty of wind power potential in New England, practical and environmental constraints, as well as connectivity to electrical and transportation infrastructure, has a way of narrowing down the available sites pretty quickly. The group promptly put Drew’s GIS skills to the test to create a computer model that would identify the best sites based on a set of 32 data constraints.
The Antrim Wind Project, developed in partnership with Massachusetts-based Westerly Wind LLC, is Eolian’s first project. The project is expected to provide clean power for about 13,500 homes, while reducing CO2 emissions by 60,000 tons and saving almost 20 million gallons of fresh water each year. The site also does not have any residents closer than a half-mile to any turbine. “This is exactly the type of project site that we can support a well-designed wind project and bring substantial clean energy and economic benefits to the region,” says Travis, and a large majority of residents agree.
Respecting the Environment
“We designed the project so it will only directly impact roughly 60 acres of land, of which only 11 acres will host permanent facilities and just 0.2 acres of which are wetlands,” adds Jack. To enhance the community’s benefits, Eolian also negotiated 685 acres of conservation easements that will permanently protect valuable forests and public access to the lands once the project is completed. To reduce visual impacts Eolian also committed to equip its turbines with radar activated lighting system to shut FAA obstruction lights off as soon as the authority issues its revised advisory circular, reducing visual impact.
Eolian understands that the success of any wind energy project depends on the support of the host community. The team maintains an effort to ensure a not-in-my-backyard attitude and any unfounded myths about wind energy don’t stand in the way of New England’s clean energy future. “We have hosted and attended many dozens of meetings in the towns where we are advancing project developments,” says Jack. “Between formal meetings, backyard BBQs and other venues, we work hard to be accessible to folks and answer all questions in a transparent manner. Clean energy is our future, and we might as well be having productive conversations about how to do it right. That is our commitment.”
Eolian consistently works with consulting teams to provide expertise in key areas important to local stakeholders, such as environmental reviews and economic impacts. In Antrim, Eolian brought on the expertise of the University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore School of Business Economics by hiring Professor Ross Gillett, Ph.D., and then-MBA student Matt Magnusson to conduct two critically important studies. The pair completed an economic impact study to evaluate the proposed project’s in-state economic contributions from the start of the development phase straight through commissioning and operation. The conclusions show the project will generate an estimated $55.7 million in local economic benefits within 20 years, generating 82 full-time equivalent jobs during construction and 13 more during operations.
Ross and Matt’s second study was a property value study informed by evaluating several years of real estate sales and assessments in nearby Lempster, N.H., home of the state’s first major wind power development. The 24-megawatt Lempster Mountain Wind Power project went into operation in 2008. The pair’s studies found the project had no noticeable impact on property values in all of Sullivan County.
Eolian’s transparency on these two key issues and its robust community outreach efforts have helped the company generate strong support within the community, though a highly vocal opposition has yet to be won over. “Even our early surveys showed strong support for the project, with some surveys showing 70 percent in favor,” adds Jack. “This support culminated in the largest voter turnout in Antrim history, resulting in a 66-percent vote in favor of allowing the project to proceed and we have a lot of good people to thank for their support.”
The road ahead is still long, though, as Eolian submitted its roughly 2,500-page application to the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee, with an expected decision in November 2012. The Antrim community’s support of wind energy has left Eolian’s principals optimistic that further developments in New England will find a home, nonetheless. Eolian Renewable Energy LLC’s commitment to project design and community involvement will ensure clean energy doesn’t come at the cost of any community.