Milling Around

In 1988, Jonathan Winer left Green Mountain Power's legal department to investigate and eventually lead Mountain Energy, a subsidiary dedicated to wind energy. When the subsidiary was sold to enXco, a Danish company, Winer and the entire staff moved with it.

by K. K. Wilder

After testing different ways to use his legal talent, Jonathan Winer has found his niche as director of east coast development for enXco, a Danish company dealing in wind energy.

In her book Windmills on the Brain, author and photographer Liisa Berg writes of Cervantes' Don Quixote, a man who considered himself a great adventurer worthy of knighthood. Quixote swears the huge items his squire, Sancho Panza, claims are windmills are actually enormous long-armed giants, enemies who need slaying. Berg quotes Cervantes:

'What giants?' asked Sancho Panza. 'Those you see there,' replied his master, 'with their long arms. Some giants have them about six miles long.' 'Take care, your worship,' said Sancho; 'those things over there are not giants but windmills, and what seem to be their arms are the sails, which are whirled around in the wind and make the millstone turn. Nobody could mistake them, unless he had windmills on the brain.'

Meet Jonathan Winer

Jonathan Winer, director of east coast development for the international wind power company enXco, has no intention of attacking windmills, least of all the windpower turbines managed by Danish-owned enXco. He does, however, have windmills on the brain.

As active as the windmills themselves, Winer seems the embodiment of the enXco slogan: "Our energy knows no limits."

As a child growing up in Bucks County, Pa., he discovered he had a natural affinity for numbers; his best grades were in math. Winer's family moved to New Jersey where, during high school, he continued his great enjoyment of learning, especially when it came to analytical subjects. He also learned to persevere in the subjects that didn't come easily, a trait that would serve him well in the future.

He learned to play chess, was voted chief justice of the student court in high school and played golf. "I loved all sports," Winer says, "and when I went to Dartmouth to study economics, history and psychology, I rowed for the school on the Connecticut River and continued to visit Vermont for skiing." Winer also met his future wife, Carolyn, at Dartmouth. "I was no big man on campus," he says, "nor was I a trouble-maker. I was persistent, however, and I still am."

After Winer graduated from NYU Law School, he passed the New York law exam and went to work for Nixon Hargrave in Rochester, N.Y. "I worked mostly in telecommunications and the First Amendment," says Winer. "The firm, with its 150 lawyers, was getting very specialized, though, and I wanted to be more of a generalist."

As much of a mental adventurer as he was, Winer was ready to take a risk in his life. "I'd fallen in love with Vermont during all those times I came here to ski," he says; "now Carolyn and I decided to move here."

"I began to make contact with local attorneys," Winer says. "I kept a dialogue going with various helpful people, determined to find a place where I could expand my abilities as an attorney." One of the attorneys he called was now-deceased former U.S. Attorney William B. Gray, at that time a partner at the law firm of Sheehey, Brue and Gray.

"Bill was very interested in helping me, and after keeping in touch over many months, he referred me to Green Mountain Power. I told him I didn't want to do solely utility work, but he said it would be fairly general work and encouraged me to look into it." Winer took Gray's advice. In 1983, he joined the legal staff at Green Mountain Power Corp.

"I was very much involved with GMP's power contracts, including the independent work going on around Vermont at the time," he says. "We were approached by many companies involved in renewable energy."

In 1988, GMP began to wonder whether it should become an investor in those renewable energy projects. The company did its homework and analyzed the risks and possibilities of those investments and found promise. It began to develop business relationships with industries outside Vermont and built a network of likely deals in which it could be involved.

Who could make it work?

Still another learning adventure awaited Winer. "Our small team started asking, 'Who will take the lead and make this work?'," says Winer. The company didn't have the answer, so Winer volunteered to leave the legal department to set up the operation.

"The power project business has a lot of legal and financial issues," Winer says. "I always found that mix interesting. Initially, when we put this plan together, I was evaluating from a legal and financial perspective. John Zimmerman, a colleague, was working on it from more of a technical and financial perspective. Our work overlapped in some areas, and we had help from other areas, and came up with a plan."

Martha Staskus handles site identification for enXco. Once a consultant for Green Mountain Power, John Zimmerman (center), stayed on as consultant for its wind energy company. Todd Presson, a licensed professional engineer, works to address most project issues through financing.

"We basically put the plan together from a proposal point of view," Winer continues. "We didn't know what our roles would be when it got approved, but when it became clear that our plan was of interest, we looked at each other and said it would make sense for us to implement it ourselves. The leaders at Green Mountain agreed, and John and I ended up making a career change right within the company."

Winer was vice president of a division called Mountain Energy. Zimmerman was a consultant for GMP on wind matters and stayed as a consultant for Mountain Energy. "I never intended that this was going to be a move out of the legal department," says Winer. "I enjoyed what I was doing, but when this evolved the way it did, it seemed a natural thing for me to do, and Green Mountain supported and encouraged me."

It proved a good move for Winer. "I enjoyed practicing law," he says, "but enjoyed taking knowledge and deploying it from the legal to the business side. I was now in a position to initiate and create."

When GMP sold the Mountain Energy assets in 2000 and 2001, the whole team moved to the ownership of enXco.

Winer is proud of his team. "John Zimmerman has spent his life in the wind business and takes the lead on site selection, evaluation and project planning," he says. "Jim Peters, our project financing manager, is responsible for evaluating financial aspects of projects we're working on, and he also works with various aspects of development. Todd Presson is licensed as a PE (professional engineer) in the state of Vermont and is involved in addressing most project issues through financing. He, Jim Peters and John Zimmerman all have MBAs.

Martha Staskus is responsible for site identification and for working with various community groups. Tina Rabideau handles project coordination, keeps track of various land records, financial information and other project work. "Our office manager, Jodi-Lyn Brown, takes care of all administration."

A primer in wind power

When most of us think of wind power, we picture the Delft blue china sold in antiques stores, or ancient paintings of circular squat buildings with four creaking arms going round and round in the wind.

Today's windmills have little in common with those of yesteryear. First of all, a typical wind power facility such as the one in the tiny southern Vermont town of Searsburg, with a capacity of six megawatts, contains 11 turbines, equivalent to over 8,000 horsepower. Each turbine generates 550 kilowatts. Requiring 35 acres of land for the entire wind power facility, the estimated annual energy production is 14,000,000 kilowatt hours, enough to serve more than 2,000 households, saving about 23,400 barrels of oil each year.

To anyone living in the old windmill days, today's wind power turbines would look like something from outer space. The nacelle (turning center) stands 132 feet from ground level, atop the 24-sided tubular tower. A computer-based controller in the bottom of each tower directs each turbine, which in turn is connected to a central computer in a building at the foot of the mountain.

The automated control circuitry permits largely unattended operation and the monitoring and control of critical functions from a remote location. Wind sensors atop each turbine continually monitor wind speed and direction for that turbine. When the wind direction changes, the turbine automatically responds by turning to face into the wind.

Silkeborg, Denmark, is corporate headquarters for enXco, which develops and manages projects worldwide. Since 1985, it has been one of the fastest-growing companies in wind energy. It has emerged as an industry leader.

"The sizes of wind turbines being manufactured have changed," says Winer (right). When I got involved, the typical size was in the 100- to 200-kilowatt area. Searsburg's are each 550; today's projects range from 900 kilowatts to twice that amount." Tina Rabideau coordinates projects keeps track of land records and finances; Jim Peters (center) is project financing manager.

The international company is developing and operating about 4,000 wind turbines of varied capacities on three continents, totaling approximately 750 megawatts.

EnXco's move into project development in 1996 was intended as a means of expanding its core business of project operations and maintenance. It handles site selection, land rights acquisition, permit approvals, power sales agreements, construction financing, long-term financing, design, engineering, procurement and construction. Its U.S. headquarters are in Palm Springs, Calif. Outside the Americas, enXco is located in Australia, Europe and Asia.

Winer's other world

As much as he likes his work, Winer enjoyes a personal life, as well. He skis with his daughter, Rachel, in Vermont, the place he now calls home. His other focus is a game he learned as a child: chess.

"I met Jonathan 15 years ago," says John Balch, the organizer and chief chess instructor of the Vermont Chess Camp. "Jonathan's been playing chess since he was a child. We met at the Athena Club in Burlington, the Vermont Chess Association headquarters. Jonathan's run the Vermont Scholastic Chess Tournament for eight years now."

"We're a small group of people dedicated to helping kids play chess better," says Winer. "I loved chess as a kid, taught my son, Steven, when he was 6, and by 8 he played as well as I did. At 10, he won the national title for fifth-graders and played better than I ever will."

At 12, Steven won the Vermont adult title and is the highest ranking chess player in Vermont." Through Steven's chess, Winer got involved learning how to run tournaments and is the organizer of the Vermont Scholastic event. "It's very satisfying to me."

"His leadership is satisfying to everyone involved," says Balch. "An outstanding characteristic of Jonathan is his enormous integrity. Chess can't be transferred directly to other skills like legal or medical, but what it requires determination, focus, patience and imagination can be applied to any problem-solving situation. Jonathan is also low-key; a remarkable man. It's easy for him to get on the same page. And he has a huge ability to work hard; he has so much energy."

So much energy

Just as in enXco's motto, "Our Energy Knows No Limits," neither does Winer's. "We expect to be installing wind measurement towers in Florida, Massachusetts in a few months, leading to a planned 15 to 30 megawatt project by 2003-2004," Winer says.

"We're also working to expand the wind project at Searsburg. There are a number of possible sites at ski areas and at a few select locations in northern Vermont. Vermont has a very good potential. In the aggregate, we are working on well over 100 megawatts in Vermont. This would supply more than 5 percent of our state's electric energy needs."

Jonathan Winer still has "windmills on the brain" and knows in their present form wind power turbines they are indeed giants, but he also knows they are not enemies that need to be slain. "They are," he says, "masters of renewable energy. Their beauty is in the environmental perspective. They emit no air pollution, do not interfere with aquatic habitats, as do hydroelectric facilities, and do not require mining, fuel processing, transportation, storage or disposal as do fossil and nuclear fuel sources."

If Don Quixote ever returns, Winer could easily convince him the long-armed giants are not only friendly, but also immensely beneficial.

Originally published in May 2002 Business People-Vermont