Jeff Ciachurski, CEO and founder
Western Wind Energy Corp.
Ranking:#3 in Clean Technology
Market Capitalization, Dec. 31, 2011: $118.4 million
Tell us a bit about your company.
We’re a wind and solar energy developer. I started it in 2000. I was in the mining industry for 15 years so I started it to rid my soul of the death and destruction caused by mining. It’s positive for the environment and for society. We have projects in California, Arizona and Puerto Rico.
You have an interesting way of raising money that doesn’t include tapping equity markets.
We’re well known because we’ve funded all of our projects — $340 million — last year all through project debt. We didn’t have to sell any equity at all. We get lenders to put up cash, which avoids dilution of the shares. It gives the shareholders a higher rate of return. We’ve borrowed money from AAA entities, like Sun Life and Manulife.
We’ve also been successful getting cash grants from the U.S. In December 2011 we picked up a cheque for $9.2 million and we’re getting another $90.6 million next month in tax-free cash grants. We could also get a $45 million cash grant for our Puerto Rico solar project. In total, that’s about $145 million in tax-free cash grants.
Why would investors want to buy your shares?
We had less than a $1 million in assets in 2000, when I started the company, now we have $400 million in book assets. We’ve had a 72% combined annual growth rate every year since 2000. We also rarely go to the market. Every year or so we do a small private placement, so that means there’s little dilution compared to our peers. We’ve only sold $60 million of corporate equity. Plus the analysts who cover us have a target of between $3.50 and $5.50 a share. (The company is trading at about $1.70 a share now.)
What’s going to be your focus in the future? Wind or solar?
About 90% of the public wants renewable energy and solar is unquestionably more politically favourable than wind. So, I believe the future is in the integration of both solar and wind, but solar has a brighter future.
We’re still dominantly wind – we have four wind farms producing close to 500 million kilowatt hours of energy a year which makes up about 99% of our business – but we’re moving to solar. One of the big projects we’re financing now (Yabucoa Solar Project in Puerto Rico) is solar and when that’s finished in April 2013, we’ll probably be 15% solar.