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Getting big enough for the tax credit -- British developer turns owner in US

When the 59.8 MW Whirlwind Energy Center connects to the Texas grid toward the end of this year, it will mark a first foray into wind plant ownership in the US for its developer, Britain's Renewable Energy Systems (RES). "RES Group, our parent company in the UK, has owned projects for several years," says Meredith Ingram of RES-Americas. "But it's definitely our desire to expand our portfolio from this point and make ownership a bigger part of our US plan. For lack of a better term, we're starting to put our money where our mouth is."

Until now, the volume of business done by RES-Americas in the US failed to give the company a sufficient US tax base to make use of the federal production tax credit (PTC) for wind plant owners. But as the company's American business picks up -- and it owes more taxes -- it can expand its European strategy into the US and take ownership stakes in the projects it builds, says Mike O'Neill, the company's commercial director.

The company's US tax base, however, is not large enough to cover ownership of entire projects, so it "will be structuring deals with a tax paying investor alongside us," says O'Neill. The company will only reveal Whirlwind's equity partner once the project is complete.

"There are over 1100 MW of projects that we are currently building; most tend to be of a much larger size, which has been an impediment to us owning the projects," says O'Neill. "Whirlwind is relatively small, which has enabled us to approach it as our first investment. We are not going to own all the projects we develop and build but we will look to increase ownership in some projects."

RES, active in the US market since 1997, has had a role in developing or constructing 10% of the operating wind projects in the US and 20% of the installed wind capacity in Texas, where the company's US branch is located.

The Whirlwind project in Floyd County in the north-central part of the state has a 20 year power purchase agreement with Austin Energy and will consist of 26 Siemens 2.3 MW turbines. "We don't have a formal partnership with Siemens," says Ingram. "We approach all of our projects with finding the best-fitting turbine for each project. We also work with Vestas, Gamesa and GE. But we've had a very good working relationship with Siemens."

In America the two companies began that relationship in 2001, when RES used Bonus turbines to build the 278.2 MW King Mountain Wind Ranch in Upton County, Texas. Siemens bought Bonus Energy in 2004. RES-Americas has already completed projects with 342 MW of Siemens equipment and, including Whirlwind, has another 451 MW under development using Siemens turbines in Texas and elsewhere.

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