Investment with an ethical bias -- Good Energies

Over the next five years, Good Energies, one of five companies under the umbrella of the Swiss-based COFRA Group, plans to invest up to EUR 350 million annually in renewable energy and energy efficiency. But the global private investment firm is taking a somewhat different approach to the wind industry than seen to date in the long string of high profile company acquisitions and mergers that have so marked the sector in recent years.

"We are not in the business of acquiring companies. We like the management team and the founders to run the company, but we want to take a meaningful minority stake as a long term investor and play an active role on the board," says managing director Jean-Louis Brenninkmeyer. Good Energies is funded solely by family money. It was founded in 2001 to invest in renewable energy "with the prime motivation that this space fits very well with the values and ethics of the family business as a whole," says Brenninkmeyer. COFRA also oversees family companies operating in the retail, real estate, private equity and financial services sectors.

Englefield acquisition

Its investments in wind power so far span both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and are in companies involved in both project development and technology. On the development side, it recently pumped C$16 million into Canada's Sequoia Energy (page 39) and has investments in Quebec's Éolectric and New York's EverPower, while back in April it acquired Englefield Renewable Energy Fund, managed out of London. That purchase gave it ownership of 50 MW of operating wind projects and access to 1000 MW of projects under development across Europe.

The company strategy is to invest in wind developers in markets with plenty of untapped potential. Good Energies sees Canada and the US, as well as southern and eastern Europe, as particularly attractive markets. "When it comes to investing in development companies, were one to look at Germany or Spain or Denmark, those markets are saturated. The industry has moved further down the value chain. Greenfield prospecting is almost non-existent in those markets, or if there are greenfield sites they have already been accounted for," says Brenninkmeyer.

Good Energies' second investment stream is on the technology side and comes from a stake in Massachusetts-based Second Wind, a manufacturer of wind resource assessment equipment and wind farm monitoring systems, and in Seattle's 3Tier Environmental Forecast Group, a company that specialises in assessing and forecasting the availability of weather-driven renewable resources. It has also invested in the Mag-Wind Company of Texas, which manufactures a 5 kW rooftop vertical axis wind turbine.

Social responsibility

Although the original focus of Good Energies was solar photovoltaics, when Brenninkmeyer joined the company in 2002 he led its expansion into the wind sector. But it still invests in solar power, green building, peak shaving and energy storage technologies. Some of that investment is driven by a social responsibility ethic. Good Energies also seeks out projects designed to provide access to affordable renewable energy to people in the developing world. "There, we are looking at more of a social rate of return rather than an economic return," says Brenninkmeyer. Of the money available to invest, he continues, there is no fixed amount that will be allocated to wind power deals, or to any of the company's other areas of interest. "It is a matter of looking at where the opportunities are the best. That is where the money will be invested," he says.

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