This is one article in a series of interviews with firms that are members of the International Group of Accounting Firms (IGAF).
These days, it's hard to imagine a timelier niche than alternative energy. Consultants are scrambling to get a piece of this business that has enormous growth potential. But going back a full decade, one Midwest firm carved out a substantial part of the alternative energy niche long before it was a hot trend. Now, Boulay, Heutmaker, Zibell & Co. P.L.L.P., (BHZ) is the go-to source for established alternative energy companies as well as for start-ups.
About the firm
BHZ has been providing quality service for nearly 75 years, in a wide variety of industries including construction, distribution, manufacturing, not-for-profit, real estate, professional services, and of course, alternative energy. One family business has been on their client roster for half a century. Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the firm now has 24 partners and 120 employees. With a tagline of "Helping you get there," they focus on facilitating growth for their clients, and for their staff. "When we do that, everything falls into place and good things happen," says Managing Partner, Mark DeNucci.
Sometimes, says DeNucci, a client will bring them an idea, and the professionals at BHZ help nurture the seed into an enterprise. That's how they got into the energy business. Ten years ago when renewable energy was in its infancy, BHZ had no idea how big it would become. But as always, they responded to the needs of some farmers that came together to develop grassroots projects for new energy sources. The firm offered the SEC experience that was needed to help the farmers be compliant as well as the general experience to help them raise millions of dollars to fund the projects.
DeNucci himself has been with BHZ since 1977, a partner since 1989, and the Managing Partner for the last two years. Overseeing the day-to-day management of the firm, he has seen alternative energy start as a flicker and grow into a flame. By positioning the firm as leaders in this niche, DeNucci says that BHZ now has more than 40 of the country's renewable fuel plants on their client list, and they have put together over 30 initial public offerings for alternative energy-related companies. Over time, the firm has developed an array of services specifically designed to meet the needs of these entrepreneurial clients. Such as,
- Accounting, Attestation and Consulting Services. This includes offering audit, review and compilation services, financial forecasts and budgeting, Initial Public Offering (IPO) process assistance, SEC quarterly and annual report preparation, and business valuations.
- Sarbanes-Oxley 404 Compliance. BHZ offers a top-down approach to compliance to help manage the overall cost and effort, and focus on providing a return on the investment.
- Tax Planning and Cost Segregation Studies. Consultants analyze the cost components of a real estate project by segregating costs for depreciation purposes as personal property, land improvements or building.
- Compliance that includes tax planning and preparation of tax returns
BHZ's alternative energy practice is broad, serving companies like those that recycle computer equipment and food waste, and those that produce biodiesel, wind energy, and ethanol.
Rich Lehman is in charge of BHZ's renewable fuel practice. When the firm first got into this niche, he had zero farming experience. But sensing an area of development that was about to explode, it was clear that the firm needed to get in on the ground floor… and that's exactly what they did. At that time, there were ethanol plants already operating, but the plant owners had few resources to help them with accounting and compliance issues. Lehman dug in and learned everything he could about the industry so that he could provide valuable guidance. The first ethanol projects were hard to put together, he says. But he worked to open the lines of communication and build relationships with key people. Each project had its share of problems and its share of feedback that added to his knowledge. As a result of his ethanol pioneering, he's the answer guy when people have questions.
Heading up the wind energy industry is Steve Behrns, who hopes to make this segment of the niche as big as ethanol currently is. In 1998, when a client approached him with an alternative energy project that involved wind, he made it his business to learn all there was to know about accounting and taxation for wind farm developers and wind farms, as well as manufacturers of turbines and other wind energy equipment.
Somewhere between 2050 and 2060 research says our U.S. oil reserves are going to run out. Before that happens, it will be critical for us to have developed wind, solar, ethanol, hydro, and nuclear power. "Wind energy is a very large playing field," says Behrns, not just here, but internationally. Right now, wind energy accounts for only about one percent of our power, but the goal in the United States is 20 percent by 2030. In Minnesota, the goal is more ambitious, that is, 25 percent wind energy by 2025. Minnesota has an exemplary area known as Buffalo Ridge, which is especially well suited to wind energy, and is now dotted with thousands of wind turbines generating electricity.
Not just a trend…
As the economy in general continues to stagger, some sectors will suffer and even disappear while others will thrive. In the case of alternative energy, its day has come. America's future depends on new energy sources, and energy producers depend on knowledgeable advisors like the dedicated professionals at BHZ. This firm was clearly in the right place at the right time to get in on the ground floor of an exciting industry. But it was their determination to help clients get from ideas to implementation that fueled their rise as champions of the alternative energy business.