When it comes to being the consummate entrepreneur, Dan Balaban is the man.
After starting his career at two very large companies (Ernst & Young from 1995 to 1998, and Pricewaterhouse Coopers from 2001 to 2003), Balaban founded Roughneck.ca Inc., which provided operations management software for the Canadian oil and gas industry and grew to annual revenues of approximately $2 million.
In 2006, he started Greengate Properties, a real estate development company that has built close to $10 million worth of projects since startup.
And now he’s stirring up winds of change with Greengate Power Corp., which plans to build “the largest portfolio of operating wind power projects in Canada.”
As the company founder, president and CEO, Balaban actively manages day-to-day operations, including managing the team responsible for engineering projects, dealing with government and regulating bodies, negotiating with landowners and raising capital. Greengate’s first project in Alberta alone will cost $350 million to build — construction will start in 2010.
Only five percent of Alberta’s power is currently generated by wind, and Balaban plans to increase that percentage, big time.
“While I am not a tree-hugger, I would categorize myself as a ‘Green Capitalist,’” says Balaban. “I see business opportunity in helping to solve environmental challenges ... renewable energy just makes sense. It’s a free, abundant source and it’s cost-effective. It will be mainstream.”
Greengate is developing more than 1,550 megawatts of wind projects on 200,000 acres of private Alberta land, which translates into greenhouse gas emission reductions of 3 million tonnes per year. That’s good news, considering Alberta is the highest emitter of carbon dioxide in Canada.
“Greengate will fundamentally have an impact in this province and on the planet,” says Balaban. “There’s a real opportunity here to improve environmental performance. Greengate will be a clean source of power for half a million homes and businesses, and it has economic benefits — jobs, tax revenues, long-term sustainable energy and income for farmers so their rural lifestyle can continue.”
After some turbulence, including a one-time 900-megawatt cap on wind power projects (which was lifted by the province in 2007), Greengate is now perfectly positioned to dominate Alberta’s wind power market. But it meant taking some big risks, including investing what Balaban calls a “significant” amount of his own capital.
“When there’s uncertainty, that’s when the opportunity exists,” he says. “I was confident in the business and myself. No worthwhile business is easy to set up.”
It may seem ironic Balaban is now heading up a green company, given his oil and gas background, but it’s a paradox he finds easy to reconcile.
“At the end of the day, both are energy,” he says. “I sold software to oil and gas; I understand their motivation. But there’s an incorrect perception that wind is a threat to oil and gas; it’s complementary. They can’t meet all the demand.
“Alberta should look at itself as an energy province, not just oil and gas.”
Despite all his achievements, Balaban is quick to point out he’s no one-man show. He’s grateful for the efforts of his outstanding teams, and the support of his wife, Lisa.
“It takes a special type of person to be an entrepreneur,” he says, “but it takes an even more special person to be married to one.”
Why he’s the top: Balaban is poised to change the way energy is produced and used by developing the largest wind power operation in Canada.
The key to his success: “My measure of success is threefold,” Balaban says. “Build a happy family. Give back to Calgary, the place where I grew up and my great opportunities happened. And set challenging goals that put me out of my comfort zone. Yes, I want to make money, but completing the journey should be the goal. Money shouldn’t be the primary driver, but a by-product of success.”