He’d sold the power company he co-founded to the giant
utility Calpine and agreed to stay on and run it for a while.
He was miserable, but quitting meant leaving money on the
table. After eight seemingly endless months, he persuaded his
corporate overlords to let him go. The agreement he reached
with Calpine even allowed him to take fve people with him,
including longtime operating partner Jim Murphy.
Although Polsky was clearly planning another startup,
Calpine didn’t bother to make him sign a noncompete
agreement, he says, “because, obviously, how could six guys
compete with a big company?”
Start by taking risks that big companies can’t stomach.
Embrace promising technology before they do. Then be just as
willing to change course quickly if needed. Polsky’s unending
ambition, his accumulated knowledge of power plants, and his
shrewd (if a tad early) commitment to wind power have made
the new company he founded, Invenergy, the largest independent renewable energy provider in North America, a nearly
$1 billion lone wolf in an industry dominated by behemoths like
Duke, NRG, and Southern Company. Invenergy developed its
frst project in 2003, a total loser of a wind farm in Tennessee
called Bufalo Mountain. Since then, the economic winds have
shifted. Invenergy has built 78 wind farms—mainly in the U.S.
but also in Canada, Uruguay, Poland, and the U.K.— 12 utility-scale solar installations, 12 natural gas plants, and
six battery-storage facilities. Total generating
capacity: more than 16,000 megawatts, enough to
power fve million homes—and more are coming.
Polsky isn’t some green warrior seeking to
save us from our fossil fuelishness. He was a power
industry entrepreneur looking for a defensible
niche in the industry, and he found one. Seventy-fve
percent of his $8 billion portfolio of plant assets is
powered by renewables. Last year, Invenergy broke
ground on Wind Catcher, a 2,000-megawatt project
in the Oklahoma Panhandle whose $4.5 billion price
tag includes the cost, born by utilities, of building a
350-mile connector line. Once it is fully operational
in 2020, it will be the biggest wind farm in North
America and second biggest in the world. “There
were so many naysayers even 10 years ago,” says Dan
Bakal, director of electric power at Ceres, a Boston
found himself snared in
OIL & GAS
2005 2007 2006 2008 2009 The Future Is Renewable
The war on coal is
over—and coal lost.
The Department of
Energy projects that
solar and wind will
provide an increasing
share of the nation’s
electricity load in the
nonproft that advises companies and investors on sustainability. “Now they’re all recognizing that renewables are viable
technologies that can be deployed at scale. We’ve seen substantial improvements in efciency and cost, and dramatic growth.
That’s clearly where things are going.”
Polsky provides yet another example of the extraordinary
entrepreneurial energy that immigrants bring to the U.S., and
of what they can get out of it. He still owns most of Inven-
ergy’s stock and has amassed a vast personal fortune—enough
to bestow $50 million on his B-school alma mater, the Univer-
sity of Chicago, and disperse $184 million to his ex-wife, Maya.
The 68-year-old Polsky never foresaw this, not when Invenergy began, and certainly not when he was a young engineer
in the Soviet Union’s Ukrainian Republic in the mid-1970s.
LASALLE COUNT Y, ILLINOIS, two hours southwest of Chicago, is
corn and soybean country. In the late summer, it’s a waving
carpet of green under a high, blue dome, heat-blasted and
silent but for the rustling of corn stalks and, in spots, something else: a low, steady hum. Scores of 262-foot-tall turbines,
noses to the wind, trace solemn circles in the sky.
This is Invenergy’s Grand Ridge Energy Center. Here
you can see the past and the future of our electricity supply.
There’s the wind farm, with 140 turbines powering more than
34,000 homes; a utility-scale solar farm nestled in a bed of
purple and yellow wildfowers; and to bank that energy, a
30-megawatt battery storage facility. In the midst of it, sipping
ANNUAL ADDITIONS TO
CAPACITY IN GIGAWATTS
20 15 10 5
52 - INC. - NOVEMBER 2017