You Don’t Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows

But we do need a national energy policy to stimulate wind, solar, and other renewable fuel projects, says Acciona Energy North America's CFO, Susan Nickey.

The bulk of Nickey’s job at Acciona Energy North America is taken up with project finance issues — something she knows a good deal about, having worked for 20 years in commercial and investment banking experience, including 15 years in the renewable energy sector. In fact, she made the transition to CFO three years ago, working as an investment banker for Mesirow Financial on Nevada Solar One, a project that Acciona had become involved in that employs concentrated solar energy. She proceeded to start up the finance operations of the European company’s new Chicago-based North American unit from scratch.

Nowadays, she spends the bulk of her time wrapping up financing on such deals as the Red Hills Wind Farm in Oklahoma, a project Acciona closed with $100 million in “tax-equity” financing and $65 million in debt financing on August 21. But as the finance chief for not only Acciona Energy North America, but for the conglomerate’s separate U.S. wind and solar power subsidiaries as well, she’s responsible for the usual run of a CFO’s duties: accounting, financial planning and analysis, asset management, compliance, and risk management.

Indeed, making use of what seems like a wellspring of energy, she hasn’t taken very many vacation days in the last three years, Nickey told CFO Deputy Editor David M. Katz and Senior Editor Marie Leone in an interview in New York on October 13. An edited version of the conversation follows.

How is Acciona North America positioned in terms of the parent corporation?
The strategy is for 70% of the growth to be international, with the North American market being the primary growth market. Given the size of the North American market for renewable energy today — in which about 2% of our power is in renewables — we have a huge opportunity to be a good chunk of that 70%.

The North American operations really kicked off about three years ago. I was the financial advisor for them on Nevada Solar One, and they looked at that project as a key entree into the marketplace. They then made a commitment to open a wind-turbine manufacturing facility, and then three were built, for a total of over 500 megawatts. That’s three huge wind projects. We’ve been in a start-up to high-growth mode in the last three years.

What’s your current sales figure for North America?
We haven’t published the North American sales figures externally yet, but we will. We’re a private company, so we publish things on a consolidated global basis instead of just for North America. But you know, we’ve gone from a couple of million in revenues to over a couple hundred million in revenues. I can also say that in the past three years, we have added 546 megawatts of wind energy (410 in the United States, 136 in Canada) and 64 megawatts of solar energy, for a total of 610 MW. [In comparison, U.S. nuclear power plants have net summer capacities of between about 500 and 1300 megawatts.]

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