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United States

Breathtaking wind rush in United States -- More than 2000 MW building

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America is in the midst of record breaking wind power development to beat the end of year deadline for expiration of the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) on purchases of wind produced electricity. The size of the surge is staggering. Almost 2000 MW of new projects is being installed in the US, the rush partly prompted by uncertainty over whether the PTC will be extended, and partly by the need for additions to the power generation base in the west of the country that can be quickly developed. The credit is worth over $0.017/kWh for the first ten years of a project's life, the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars for a single wind turbine.

If all the wind power projects are completed as planned, the US will have almost 4500 MW of installed wind capacity at year's end, compared with about 2550 MW at the close of 2000. Globally, about 17,700 MW of operating wind projects were generating electricity at the end of 2000, of which more than 4000 MW was added during the year (The Windicator, Windpower Monthly, April 2001).

The scale of some of the individual projects going up in the US is huge. Thirteen of them -- in the western US states of Texas, Washington and Oregon and in the Midwest -- are larger than 75 MW. Another four, from Pennsylvania to Washington State, could be as large as 50 MW.

Beating the deadline

A burning question is whether all this capacity planned can actually be in the ground before the New Year, given how stretched the developers and manufacturers will be to make and install so many turbines. Most of the machines are on order from just three companies, the two Danish makers Vestas Wind Systems A/S and Bonus Energy A/S, and the California based Enron Wind Corp, part of Houston energy giant Enron Corp. Not much is being said by the industry, especially in the most frenetic areas of development such as Texas, where market players are keeping their cards close to their chests and saying little about the possibility of financing, permitting delays or bottlenecks in obtaining turbines or components. But it is relatively early days, with a full half a year to get turbines installed before the curtain falls. "We're on schedule with all of our projects," says Enron Wind's Mary McCann.

Leif Andersen of NEG Micon does not anticipate problems. He says the industry learned from the rush to beat the expiration of the tax credit's last expiration, on June 30 1999. "We've been through the deadline two years ago, so we're being careful not to commit to anything unless we're certain we can do it. We're only doing two projects [in the US]," he points out. NEG Micon was particularly burned by the pressure to complete projects last time.

Another industry source says he has not heard of any problems yet in projects lagging behind schedule. "But the question is, someone might be tempted to take on too much." Nonetheless, in the PTC rush two years ago, despite delays because of bad weather and because one tower company had to farm out work, the projects -- all 800 MW plus -- did become electrified in time.

Texas is more than tripling its wind capacity with this year's installations alone. New development in the state is expected to reach almost 900 MW, significantly more in one state than for the whole nation during the first PTC rush, of 1998-99. The Texas Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) requires sellers of power to hold green credits proving they have supported installation of about 400 MW in installed capacity by January 1, 2003 and about 2000 MW by 2009. Retail competition and a Renewable Credit Trading Program are to be launched on January 1, 2002.

At the other end of the spectrum is California, where an ill-conceived law deregulating the electricity market has halted not only the development of all new wind projects -- probably at least until 2002 -- but it has also shattered the state's budding green electricity market. In this market, consumer demand for electricity from renewable energy sources was expected to drive the need for more wind plant. In addition, even long-established wind companies with projects in the Golden State are in a precarious position, since they are owed money for months of power sales.

Northeast and Midwest

The Northeast is proving to be one of the most robust areas for mid-sized projects. In New York State, near major population centres, capacity is expected to reach 50 MW by the end of the year, up from under 20 MW at the end of 2000. Pennsylvania, similarly close to huge markets, will see its installed capacity go from about 10 MW to more than 80 MW.

In Minnesota, Navitas is to develop 130 MW this year, most of it from a combined gas and wind project for giant utility Xcel, with the remaining 30 MW capitalising on the state tax credit for small developments. In addition Xcel, created by the merger of Northern States Power (NSP) with Colorado's New Century Energies, will buy the energy from Enxco's 80 MW Chanarambie wind project, completing its mandated requirement to install 425 MW of wind by the end of this year.

In Iowa, Midwest Renewable Energy and Northern Iowa Windpower, a joint venture which includes International Wind Corp of Dallas, is to develop an 80 MW wind farm east of Cerro Gordo and in Wisconsin, Enron Wind is moving ahead on a 30 MW project at Eden, while FPL hopes to install its delayed 25 MW project at Addison. The Midwest's largest project, however, is to be in Kansas, a 110 MW plant near Montezuma in the southwestern part of the state by FPL Energy, with the output sold to Utilicorp (Windpower Monthly, April 2001).

At the other end of the size scale is a 10 MW extension of Xcel Energy's Ponnequin wind project in Colorado. The capacity addition is largely being driven by what could be the nation's most successful green marketing program devoted solely to wind. To meet demand for green power, Excel is also buying 26 MW from Enxco's Peetz project in Colorado. Both are due for completion this year.

Federal optimism

At the federal level, there is a relatively good chance the PTC will be extended, for at least three years until the end of 2004. President George Bush included the extension in his budget, issued in January, and again in his energy plan, unveiled with much fanfare on May 17. But the credit extension, if included in a general energy or tax bill, could easily get caught up in a congressional fistfight over non-wind issues, as it did in 1999. Indeed, wind advocates in Washington do not expect PTC legislation to be finalised until the autumn.

Developers estimate this late confirmation of the all important credit will set back development in the US by at least six months, not counting the lead time needed for financing a project. When the PTC last expired in mid-1999, America's wind development came to a screeching halt for more than half a year, though the credit was reinstated in November for two and a half years, retroactive to July 1.

Very little in wind capacity was installed in the second half of 1999, compared with more than 800 MW in the year before the credit expired. And last year, a mere 52 MW was installed in the US, mostly in the northeast -- Pennsylvania and New York -- and in Wyoming. The American Wind Energy Association contends that the tax credit is needed to "level the playing field," until wind achieves parity with other generating technologies, or until the real value of renewables is built into its cost, with a carbon tax or some other recognition of fossil fuel's externalities, or with a federal renewables portfolio standard. AWEA is seeking extension of the credit by five years, until the end of 2006, along with a national RPS, an increased wind research and development budget and tax incentives or rebates for small turbines.

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