Community Energy rides the winds of solar power

I thought I’d seen a ghost, or at least a misprint, when I saw that Community Energy Inc. had raised its first round of capital last week.

Hadn’t a Radnor company by the same name been bought by the Spanish wind-energy company Iberdrola S.A. for $30 million in 2006?

Yes, it had, said Community Energy chief executive officer Brent Alderfer. But Iberdrola really wanted the wind farms, those built and those unfinished, that Community Energy had developed in the United States.

In August 2009, Alderfer and his team bought back the name and the division that supplies “green” power programs, such as Peco Wind in the Philadelphia area. But Community Energy has shifted its focus from wind energy to developing utility-scale solar generation projects in the Northeast, Midwest and West, he said.

That’s what led SJF Ventures, of Durham, N.C., and NGP Energy Technology Partners, of Washington, D.C., to invest $4 million in Community Energy last week. The two firms have an option to invest an additional $2 million.

While you or I could have some solar panels slapped onto a roof in a matter of weeks, it can take years to develop a super-sized solar farm that produces power measured in megawatts. With oil prices well below their 2008 high of nearly $150 per barrel, the air (and sun) has seeped out of the renewable energy market.

Alderfer said he’s noticed companies are “much more cautious in pulling the trigger” on a new project. Still, he likes the “lull in concern” about energy because it means his company can be opportunistic, and he’s confident the long-term trends favor renewable energy.

Community Energy now has 35 employees, up from about 20 when the management team bought it back from Iberdrola.

UnitedHealth cuts

UnitedHealth Group Inc. will eliminate 115 jobs at its mail-service pharmacy operations in Huntingdon Valley.

The 1800 Byberry Road operation handles the health insurer’s Workers Comp Rx business line, which is being discontinued, according to David Himmel, spokesman for UnitedHealth Group’s Prescription Solutions pharmacy benefits management unit. That business focuses on workers’ compensation claims.

A filing with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry indicates all layoffs will be completed as of Dec. 1.

Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group acquired the Montgomery County location as part of its November 2007 acquisition of Fiserv Inc.’s health businesses for $775 million.

Originally called Pharmacy Fulfillment Inc. and founded in 1991, the local mail-service operation was bought by Wisconsin-based Fiserv in August 2004 and operated under its Innoviant Pharmacy Inc. business unit. While no terms were announced, Pharmacy Fulfillment added about $10 million Fiserv’s annual revenue.

Himmel said other mail-service business currently being done in Huntingdon Valley will be transferred to other Prescription Solutions facilities. About 30 employees will remain in the Philadelphia-area location after Dec. 1, with that office scheduled to close as of June 1, he said.

Lefton sold

A holdover from Philadelphia’s golden age of advertising has been sold.

Al Paul Lefton Co., a Philadelphia ad agency that dates to 1928, was acquired by Wilmington-based Aloysius Butler & Clark.

No terms were announced, but eight professionals with Al Paul Lefton will join the 70-employee Aloysius Butler, which intends to retain Lefton’s Independence Mall-area office.

The reason for the sale? Al Paul Lefton Jr., who’s been running the firm since his father’s death in 1964, said in a statement he’s ready to retire. For nearly 60 years, the agency had had a New York office handling accounts for RCA, Mazda, Michelin and others.

John Hawkins, president and chief executive officer of Aloysius Butler, said he began talking with Lefton in the late spring. Lefton will be operated as a division of the Delaware firm.

Hawkins said the Lefton agency brings a strong reputation in business-to-business marketing to Aloysius Butler, an ad agency focused on health care, higher education, and financial services.