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October 15, 2012

Adam Wintle energizes his family farm with an innovative new business

photo/Amber Waterman
photo/Amber Waterman
Adam Wintle, managing director of Biogas Energy Partners, has created a new revenue stream for his fifth-generation family farm using farm waste to produce a new type of sustainable fuel

VIEW: Adam Wintle transforms his family farm

Biogas Energy Partners

Address: 226 Fogler Road, Exeter

Managing director: Adam Wintle

Founded: July 2011

Employees: 3

Revenue: Did not disclose

Contact: 347-0483

www.biogasenergypartners.com

Adam Wintle's latest venture embodies the idea that one man's trash is another man's treasure, or at least his kilowatt hours, odorless fertilizer and organic livestock bedding.

As the managing director of Biogas Energy Partners, Wintle has spearheaded an effort to harness the power of cow manure as a means of assuring the continuing financial security of his family's fifth-generation dairy farm located in Exeter.

Stonyvale Farm's $5.2 million anaerobic digestion system is able to convert cow manure and organic food waste into methane-rich biogas, which in turn powers a 16-cylinder, 1,500-horsepower engine, producing 24,000 kilowatt hours per day — enough electricity to meet the needs of 800 households.

While few might dream of working with manure for a living, Wintle's unique set of financial management, commercial development and engineering skills have given the 31-year-old Maine native a leg up over the competition and allowed him to bring the first-of-its-kind sustainable energy system to the state.

His success with the farm's anaerobic energy system is just his latest undertaking in a career that includes several venture capital investments and real estate development deals — all part of a portfolio that capitalizes on Wintle's ability to assess and drive investment toward prospects that hold promise for Maine's economy.

After following in his older brother's footsteps to earn a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Maine in 2003, Wintle began to assess his post-grad career opportunities and came to a life-altering conclusion.

"Right out of college, I knew I needed something that was a bit more stimulating and more associated with a business environment, so I got into technical sales using my engineering background to promote and sell instrumentation in the industrial world," says Wintle, who sold automation equipment for BurnsCascade.

"I was essentially a traveling salesman, which allowed me to interact with people in more of a business sense and draw on some of those engineering skills," says Wintle.

Realizing he had a knack for deal-making and a "strong business mind," Wintle soon began testing the local real estate development waters, purchasing some rental property and building a spec home at Sugarloaf Mountain Resort.

"That allowed me to use some of my math and finance skills and it kind of snowballed, leading me to pursue a local real estate developer, which was kind of my foot in the door," says Wintle.

That door was to the office of Mattson Development, a real estate development firm now based in Winthrop and headed up by Kevin Mattson.

"I talk to a lot of young people who are looking to get into the development business and he immediately impressed me, it was all about his tenaciousness," says Mattson.

Wintle soon made a name for himself reviewing qualitative analytics at Mattson in 2006 and matching his boss' 90-hour work week.

"It's completely abnormal for someone his age to work on a project of that size. He was running multi-million dollar deals, and I was very comfortable in that he knew what he was doing," says Mattson.

Wintle credits his success at Mattson Development, where he parlayed an unpaid six-month internship into more than two years of employment, to his "education and [his] strength around analytics."

"I also proactively furthered my education by taking several high-level courses at MIT's [Center for Real Estate], which definitely gave me a much more sophisticated knowledge of commercial real estate, finance and derivatives," says Wintle.

He soon was chomping at the bit to get involved in some of his own high-risk, high-reward ventures. "If it's not something that has some risk, it doesn't really make my motor run," he says.

In early 2008, Wintle left Mattson to form his own finance and development consulting firm, Strategic Equity Analytics, but the timing was poor.

"In early 2008 the economy pretty much collapsed, including the real estate market," says Wintle, who had not been in the game long enough to develop the networks critical to a fledgling company's success.

"But in an environment like 2008, things can get bad even if you do have a strong network; it was certainly a challenge to find projects at that stage," he says.

Wintle kept plugging away at the venture despite a lean "eat what you kill" market, as he describes it. "I like to think it was a calculated gamble on my part. It kind of reflects my spirit; I'm very entrepreneurial in nature, it's kind of what makes me tick."

With few prospects on the horizon, Wintle's attention was drawn back to the family's dairy farm, which had been struggling with high energy costs and fluctuating milk prices. He was able to secure $2.8 million in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Treasury Department and Efficiency Maine to finance the digester project.

"This was one of those blessings in disguise," says Wintle. "Had I not been questioning the real estate environment and really strategizing about what my next professional move was, it's certainly reasonable to think that we would have never gone down this path."

Wintle hopes the farm's new power-generating anaerobic digestion system will help the family operation weather the notoriously volatile dairy market by securing a 20-year, fixed-rate power purchase agreement with ISO New England that pays the partners 10 cents per kilowatt hour. His brother John acts as project and facilities manager for the farm's digester under the banner of Exeter Agri-Energy, a subsidiary of Stonyvale Inc., while Adam maintains his role as managing director of Biogas Energy Partners.

The system also allows EAE to sell renewable energy certificates to those interested in offsetting their energy intake by promoting the sustainable system. The fixed-rate power contract will likely account for 50% to 70% percent of the EAE's business, with RECs drawing 10% to 30% and animal bedding making up 5% to 10% of sales, according to Wintle.

With 70,000-plus dairy farms throughout the country, Wintle hopes to export the anaerobic digestion model to other farms.

"This has been a good example of not only my commitment, but the commitment of everyone on the team, including my family and my brother. I owe him a special thanks for his role in the construction and operations phase, but I definitely feel that we can add a tremendous amount of value to others seeking to pursue these [projects]," says Wintle.

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