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CRUCIAL SALES TAX BREAK, Washington State

Wind development is being given a major boost in Washington state. By the end of the month, wind equipment there will get a crucial exemption from sales tax. Two large wind projects planned in Klickitat County and the Columbia Hills will immediately gain from the tax break. Sales tax in Washington state, in the Pacific Northwest, varies by county but is generally around 7.5%.

Both houses of the two-part Washington legislature overwhelmingly passed the measure exempting purchases of wind equipment before adjourning on March 8. The state governor was expected to sign the measure into law by March 27 -- and the exemption would then become law within 30 days, says Ben Wolff of CARES, the Conservation and Renewable Energy System, a group of public utility districts which backed the measure along with several other entities. The two wind farms planned for the state are Kenetech's 31.5 MW project with PacifiCorp in the Columbia Hills and the CARES 25 MW plant using Flowind's AWT-26 turbines on an adjacent site in conjunction with the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA).

Despite this significant change in the tax law, the outlook for wind remains uncertain in the region, which had been expected to see more wind development than almost any other in America (see special feature page 30).

Others involved in lobbying for the tax legislation were Kenetech, PacifiCorp, the state energy office, the Washington Public Utility District Association and several environmental groups. The state House of Representatives passed the bill by 95 to 0 in mid February. For its part, the senate passed the bill almost unanimously a few weeks afterwards, in early March. A sales tax exemption for manufacturers had been passed last year, but all electricity generators were not covered.

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