Ill-fated Conn. power plant owned by PE fund

Feb 8, 2010 @ 7:19 am

By John Goff

The private equity firm that owns the majority stake of the natural gas plant in Connecticut that blew up on Sunday says it is fully cooperating with authorities investigating the fatal explosion.

According to reports, Energy Investors Funds recently acquired 80% of the Kleen Energy plant In Middletown, Conn. Construction on the the plant, which was 95% complete, began in February 2008 and was expected to be finished this spring.

Indeed, employees at the facility were doing what's known as a 'blow down' -- clearing air from the gas lines -- when the deadly explosion occurred. The investigation into the exact cause of the blast is expected to begin today.

The explosion occurred at around 11:17, leveling parts of the facility. Residents in towns forty miles were said to have felt the shock waves from the explosion.

Officials say at least five people were killed in the blast, with several other workers still unaccounted for. Reports indicated that at least 100 workers were in the plant on Sunday before the disaster struck.

In a statement, Energy Investors Funds offered sympathy and concern. It said it would release more information on the explosion as it becomes available.

The firm was founded in 1987, and claims to be the first group to invest private equity for institutional investors in the U.S. electric power sector. Since that time, EIF has raised more than $4 billion in equity capital for its power focused private equity funds.

EIF's funds have made over 100 diversified investments, and the firm owns power facilities in 30 states.

In June 2008, the company announced it had raised construction financing for the Kleen Energy project. The funding consisted of $985 million of senior secured bank loans and a revolving credit facility. EIF is the majority owner of the project, with the balance owned by the developer group, White Rock Holdings Associates, LLC.

According to the firm's web site, the Middletown plant was being built by O&G Industries, a Torrington, Conn-based company. The project was to be operated by North American Energy Services.

In April, EIF's United States Power Fund II acquired another Connecticut power project. This one, Watertown Renewable Power, from Tamarack Energy, is a 30MW biomass power project in Watertown, which is not far from Middletown.

One of Energy Investors Funds' founding partners, Herbert Magid, was previously a senior investment officer at John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company. Several of the company's top executives came from investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, which was absorbed by Commerzbank in September.

[The Associated Press contributed to this report].

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