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US community wind expansion - Juhl plans major growth

US: Well into his second decade of championing citizen-owned wind power in Midwestern America, and with 117.5MW already under his belt, renewable energy pioneer Dan Juhl looks to be heading into his biggest year yet.

Dan Juhl: A major community wind proponent
Dan Juhl: A major community wind proponent

Through his Minnesota-based company, Juhl Wind, Juhl expects to complete another five community-owned projects worth more than 70MW before the end of 2010. His belief in the European concept of local people owning turbines remains steadfast.

"Community-based wind is an economic development for the local folks," Juhl says. "It keeps dollars and revenue in the community, which makes people a lot more accepting of wind power than if they see a big foreign multinational coming in, taking the money and going back to wherever they came from."

Among Juhl's 2010 projects, all in Minnesota, is a 20MW development in Grant County using ten Suzlon machines. Two more 20MW projects, planned for Meeker County, will use Alstom turbines imported from Spain. A 10MW project, Valley View, is planned for Murray County and likely to use 900kW Emergya turbines. A single 750kW Emergya machine, a municipal project, is already planted near the company's headquarters of Woodstock, and a 42MW Nebraska project is well on its way.

"We're starting to spread our wings a little bit," Juhl says. "Our projects are smaller. If we talk to financing entities about doing a 10 or 20 megawatt wind farm, they're more open to it than if we're trying to tell them we're going to build a hundred megawatts."

Juhl believes the US government's recent grant programme, worth around 30% of installed project costs for a limited period, could change the face of US community wind - unlike the federal production tax credit (PTC), out of reach to many smaller developers.

"The PTC is just so difficult to use from a community standpoint because it's geared for large companies," Juhl says. "But if we can find a way to extend the grant programme for community development, that would be a great job-producing economic development tool for our country."

Community projects, small by nature, can blend into overburdened transmission systems that cannot take more huge corporate projects. "Between transmission, access to capital, ease of permitting - community development is going to do just fine," Juhl says.

"A true community-based project means that the local folks have an ownership stake in the project," he adds. "That's the defining thing. You can frame them however you want but if they don't have ownership and revenue dollars that stay in the community, then it's not community wind."

Juhl, who is nearly 60 years old, became interested in wind power in the 1970s while living in Alaska, giving guitar lessons. One student's father who was trading Jacobs wind turbines discovered that Juhl, a former Navy man, had a background in electronics and sought his help. Juhl started a wind business in Minnesota in 1978, and then got involved in the California wind rush of the 1980s. He later set up permanent shop in Minnesota and his two sons are now involved.

Juhl Wind, which floated on the stock market in 2008, added retired US Army General Wesley Clark to its board of directors last year. Clark will chair a new Juhl Wind entity that will form a wind farm asset fund. "We're trying to put together a community-based equity pool so we can bring together different players that want to do community development and provide equity to these projects," Juhl says. "That'll be a big deal for us."

 

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