UN PRI signatory fund launches boardroom battle at renewables firm

Wind energy firm and investor in bitter fight for control

A battle for the control of Canadian renewables firm Western Wind has been launched by a UN Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) signatory fund firm called Savitr Capital LLC.

Savitr is a San Francisco-based renewables and clean technology investor, founded by hedge fund manager Andrew Midler, which says it takes a socially responsible approach to investments.

Citing a complete loss of faith in Western Wind’s current management, Savitr wants shareholders to elect an alternative board of directors at the company’s annual meeting on September 25.

Savitr, which currently owns around 5% of Western Wind stock having bought it for around C$0.50, has put forward a high level slate of directors, including former Ontario Energy Minister George Smitherman, who was responsible for the province’s 2009 Green Energy Act.

Other proposed dissident directors are William Tharp and Winston Bennett. Tharp is CEO at Climate Change Infrastructure, a Toronto-based holding company founded in 2003. Bennett is a director at boutique Javelin Partners and is a principal in solar firm Helios Energy. He is a former vice present at investment bank Cormark, which is advising Savitr alongside banking giant CIBC.

Savitr says it is “neither an activist manager nor a short term investor“ in Western Wind and that its stance comes only after “disappointingly unproductive” correspondence with the company.Savitr’s move comes after Western Wind put itself up for sale citing “unregulated market participants” trading the stock down.

Midler told Responsible Investor that his board would continue the sale process and realise more value for shareholders. He said mismanagement by Western Wind CEO Jeff Ciachurski was the reason why a new board was needed.

Ciachurski fired back that Midler’s actions had nothing to do with shareholder value – and that the proposed board has obvious conflicts of interest.
Savitr’s actions were a “blatant breach of trust” against Western Wind shareholders. Ciachurski added that Midler was “no friend” of Western Wind, noting that the hedge fund manager had never visited the firm’s operations. When they met Midler was only interested in a private placement so that Savitr could get shares below market value, Ciachurski alleged. Midler denies this.
Midler said: “We’re not friends of the company. We’re its owners. If you want a friend, get a dog.” He was confident that a majority of shareholders would elect his slate of directors.

Yet Ciachurski said Midler’s board was backed by only two other funds from the San Francisco Bay area: “They will not win the proxy war.”

Savitr’s goal is to provide superior risk adjusted returns coupled with a “commitment to sustainability and a responsible stewardship” by investing in companies poised for leadership in clean and renewable energy, according to its web site. It is also a member of the Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR).