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United States: Duke aims for top ten status

Utility pressing on land and offshore.

Three years since its foray into wind power, Duke Energy aims to grow its current 500 MW operation to 700 MW by the year end. One project came online last month, one was acquired, two have construction go-ahead and three turbines are being put offshore.

"We expect to crack the top ten largest wind energy producers in the US by megawatt total by the end of the year," says Gregory G. Efthimiou, Duke's wind spokesman.

The company recently acquired the fully operational 70 MW North Allegheny wind plant in Pennsylvania. The project was built by Gamesa, using the Spanish company's turbines, and had been destined for sale to Babcock & Brown Wind Partners, which collapsed during the credit crisis. "It's a little bit of a different move for us," says Efthimiou. "The developer was looking to sell at a competitive price so we seized the opportunity."

In at the start

Duke's primary approach to the wind business is to develop projects from the start. The larger of its two projects to have recently received power purchase agreements (PPAs) is the Top of the World project, a 200 MW wind plant near Casper, Wyoming, under Duke development. Rocky Mountain Power, a PacifiCorp subsidiary, agreed to buy the project output for 20 years. Construction could begin this year, completing in 2010.

Duke also recently secured a PPA with Tri State Generation and Transmission to sell power from its 51 MW Kit Carson wind plant in Colorado. This was also developed by Duke and will use 1.5 MW GE turbines.

While those two projects gear up for construction, Duke-owned turbines are now spinning at its two most current wind projects. Last month its 42 MW Silver Sage project in Laramie County, Wyoming, went online, using Suzlon turbines. Its 99 MW Campbell Hill wind plant using GE turbines is expected to be online by the end of the year.

The two projects offer the first chance for Duke to consider structuring the financing using the new cash grant option of the 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC) that Congress approved for commercial wind in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Windpower Monthly, October 2009).

"We are considering it," says Efthimiou. "We approach it on a project-by-project basis, but the ITC is certainly attractive in certain situations and we will go that route when it makes long-term financial sense."

The utility could also be one of the first US developers to build turbines offshore. Last month it announced progress on a pilot project with University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to place three demonstration turbines in North Carolina's Pamlico Sound, in state waters. Duke will pay for the turbines while the university conducts research and analysis. Construction could begin a year from now.

Meantime, the company's regulated utility side of its business has eyes to expansions and joint ventures in China's market. In August, it signed a deal with China's biggest electric utility, China Huaneng Group, to co-operate on shared technology to reduce coal plant emissions. This will focus on advanced coal gasification and studying carbon capture technologies, but will include a wind component.

"The partnership will involve the sharing of best practices from our respective wind energy businesses," says Efthimiou. "The US and China represent two of the largest markets in the world for harnessing wind power and we believe there's much to be gained by comparing notes on technologies and processes with our overseas counterparts."

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