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Community wind goes public -- Belief in economic development tool

Such is Dan Juhl's belief in the concept of local people investing in their own wind turbines that he took his Minnesota wind project development business public after more than 30 years in operation. Juhl Wind, looking for cash to assist in the birth of 400 MW of projects lined up for development, has been trading on the Over the Counter Bulletin Board since June.

"I feel very strongly that community wind is the greatest economic development tool that rural America has ever seen," Juhl says. "But to make it happen, you need the capital to get out there. Part of the mindset of going public was to create a financial structure that allows us to go out and help communities all over the place -- not just here in southwest Minnesota and northern Iowa."

Over the years, Juhl has been the driving force behind installation of 118 MW of wind capacity in a dozen small projects in Minnesota, all owned by local people or communities. "I think you will see more states doing community wind because it's such a great economic benefit to the community and to the state," Juhl says. "I mean, the retention of all those energy dollars is a big deal, and more and more people are recognising it and seeing it. It's a cash crop."

Juhl, who owns 57% of approximately 25 million shares outstanding in his company, hooked up with Greenview Capital, a renewables financier based in Chicago, to structure the Juhl Wind stock offering. Greenview became a 22% shareholder and also brought in John Mitola as a 7% shareholder and company president.

"John has been involved in the energy business for a long time and knows the public side," Juhl says. "I wouldn't have gone this route if John hadn't been involved. My job is to put windmills in the ground."

Holdups

Juhl expects to add 62 MW with a pair of projects, one in Nebraska and one in Minnesota, that got pushed into 2009 after the company found itself stymied by financial constraints resulting from the uncertainty surrounding the extension of wind's federal production tax credit (PTC), which was at long last successfully passed into law last month.

"The equity partners all sat there and held their breath until the PTC got solidified." Juhl says. "The projects we had scheduled to go in this fall got held up and now it's too late to get anything online by the end of the year."

Juhl helps local wind turbine owners access the PTC by bringing in an equity partner, Edison Mission Energy of California, to use the credit during its ten year life span, before project ownership reverts back to the local owner.

The Nebraska project is Crofton Hills. At 42 MW, the development is not only Juhl's biggest to date, it is also the company's first outside Minnesota. The Minnesota project is the 20 MW Travers County development.

With large scale wind power hit by the global credit crunch, Juhl believes turbines are becoming increasingly available for his scale of development. "From a community-based standpoint, we like to have machines in the one megawatt class," Juhl says. "There are cranes available to fix them when they break and the parts aren't so specialised. There's just a lot of advantages to the long term operations and cost and maintenance of these machines." The cost of fixing turbines rated at 2-3 MW is "staggering" says Juhl. "It's going to cost me a couple hundred grand just to get a crane in there to fix it."

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