Growing for over a decade, Greenwood Sustainable Infrastructure (GSI) has emerged as one of the foremost independent developers, investors, and managers of assets in the renewable energy industry.
Building a team with years of experience in finance, operations, and technologies, GSI uses its energy industry knowledge to navigate and manage renewable and waste-to-energy projects throughout their entire asset lifetime.
GSI is member of the privately owned international business Libra Group, which has an extensive portfolio including grid-connected solar energy parks, and wind farms in the Americas and Europe. Companies in the Group are also involved with biogas production, biomass power generation, waste-to-energy based fuels, and cogeneration plants.
“The Libra Group is our parent company, a holding company of the family office,” explains Mazen Turk, GSI Chief Executive Officer, “and has about 30 different subsidiaries worldwide. These different subsidiaries are divided into sectors, and Libra focuses on five major sectors. One of those sectors is renewable energy.”
Within the sector, there are three subsidiaries. EuroEnergy handles solar, wind, and biomass projects in Europe. Greenwood Sustainable Infrastructure (GSI) manages all renewable investments in North America, and Greenwood Energy focuses on solar development in Latin America. “So, these are the three renewable energy arms that are subsidiaries of the Libra Group.”
Formed in 2010, GSI was previously known as Greenwood Energy (www.greenwood.energy), and co-developed about 100 MW worth of projects. After divesting about 60 MW which it co-developed, the company currently owns and operates about 40 MW of solar.
“We are typically long-term holders of assets,” says Turk. “We like to take a longer view on sustainable energy, so we did hang onto the 40 MW, and invested further in biomass and other areas.”
Holding a B.S. and a Master’s degree in civil engineering, Turk started his career as an engineer focused on large infrastructure projects, including highway design, pipe infrastructure, and transportation infrastructure works.
Moving on to renewable energy when he joined a subsidiary of the Libra Group about a decade ago, Turk was stationed overseas, where he became involved with solar and wind projects in Europe. Moving back to New York about five years ago, he was tasked with asset management at GSI and promoted to CEO about a year and a half ago.
“Renewable energy was a natural way for me to move away from large infrastructure projects to smaller projects that are sustainable and green in nature to support and advance the nation’s transition to a reliable, clean energy future. Sustainable energy is already playing an integral part of achieving a carbon neutral system across the U.S. and will continue to do so in the future. The goal of the renewable energy sector is to eliminate our reliance on burning of fossil fuels and to deploy clean sustainable renewable energy solutions to counter climate change—and we are laser focused on that strategy.”
With a team of about six ranging from engineers to finance professionals, GSI’s primary task is managing its solar portfolio, which it does through technical asset management. An engineer coordinates with O&M (operations and maintenance) to ensure all contractual obligations are met, and that projects are operating at their optimum levels, along with financial asset management as well.
In addition, the company has five full-time employees at its biomass facility in Michigan, who run the day-to-day management of the facility and are supported by union employees who run the plant 24/7.
The future of sustainability
The original 100 MW in solar energy generation capacity developed by GSI was composed of about 40 projects. GSI currently owns 15 of those solar projects which generate a combined output of 40 MW. Additionally, GSI owns and operates another 20 MW biomass facility.
With a total of over 130 MW DC developed and built, and more than 30 sustainable infrastructure projects in the U.S., GSI has expert knowledge of the industry and where it’s heading.
As Turk notes, solar facilities are relatively more straightforward than biomass plants. “At a biomass facility, you worry about a lot more moving parts and the supply chain—specifically the fuel supply chain—and the ability of the fuel to burn and produce steam versus solar, where you have an abundant source and it’s free,” says Turk, who sees the company shifting away from biomass toward solar.
As with the issue with biomass, GSI finds solar less complicated than wind, which also requires a much larger investment. “We like the utility scale space, and we feel we can add a lot of value to that market.”
The various technologies used in the renewable energy sector have created the ability to decentralize the power supply, now referred to as distributed generation. Distributed generation has many environmental advantages, and its use reduces the amount of electricity that must be generated. Distributed generation, however, does require a mix of local, state, and federal policies to compete with the traditional power plant.
Elizabeth Mine solar
One of the company’s key solar projects is Elizabeth Mine, an award-winning, 7,000 kW DC solar site in the rural Town of Strafford, Vermont. The project is notable for many reasons, including that it’s built on the site of an abandoned copper mine.
“That’s our flagship project, and we’re proud of it,” says Turk, detailing the extensive remediation work and phased clean-up that was required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), including a tailings dam containing acids and metals and corroded piping.
The site of one of the oldest large-scale copper-mining operations in America, the deposit was discovered by accident in 1793 and had been actively mined since the War of 1812. According to the Elizabeth Mine Site Re-Use Plan (2004), the mine was closed in 1958 and later identified as a source of pollution to the Ompompanoosuc River.
In 2010, project development began under Wolfe Energy, later joined by Brightfields Development, who worked with the EPA and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources to perform environmental remediation on the site. It proved to be the ideal place for a solar project.
In 2015, Greenwood Energy teamed up with Wolfe and Brightfields to complete development of the project. Construction started in late May 2017, with the ribbon-cutting taking place that October.
Since its opening, the 19,900 solar module Elizabeth Mine site has continuously benefited the community, adding power to the electrical grid. Providing sufficient electricity to power 1,333 average homes, its clean, renewable energy also offsets 7,136 tons of carbon dioxide every year.
“We are looking to keep adding to that project, and maybe having some battery storage to support the system as well,” says Turk. “As part of the plant, we had to upgrade a lot of the interconnections and the lines within the town. All these upgrades help with the resiliency of the local grid and provide clean energy to the homes nearby.”
In 2018, the Elizabeth Mine Solar Project was a winner at the American Council of Engineering Companies VT Engineering Excellence Awards Competition in the Special Projects category.
In March 2022, GSI announced a utility scale deal with AquaSan, which will see the provision of up to 233 MW in new solar capacity across five states. Formed in 1983 to provide the water infrastructure business with administrative and technical services, AquaSan grew its footprint to include the development of renewable energy projects, including 1,100 MW of natural gas power, 1,000 MW of wind, and 500 MW of solar.
The new arrangement—which will start with 40 MW of early-stage utility scale solar developments in Minnesota and expand to markets in Colorado, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Wisconsin—fits well for GSI, which is actively seeking co-development opportunities, especially in the utility scale solar side.
“With a company like AquaSan, we felt our team and theirs complement each other well. This will help us not only look into new geography but also expand the team’s ability to do even more development work. So that is the AquaSan model and we like it. We’ve both got a stake in the upside and the economics and feel we can do multiples of those partnerships.”
Acknowledging there are some challenges in the alternative energy sector, CEO Turk is optimistic about recent changes on the regulation and legislation side and advancements in technology, which will further reduce the price of solar and deploy more clean energy into the grid.
“I think we have a way to go until 2030, but I think if you keep doubling your deployment year-on-year to meet those goals—given the new legislation push—that’s going to be working in our favor.”