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United States

Securing turbines ahead of the pack -- Invenergy placing orders

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Chicago-based Invenergy is steadily ramping up its development efforts in the United States, having placed two 600 MW orders with GE Energy for supply of wind turbines this year and next, its largest order to date, says the company's Kevin Smith. Where a big chunk of these turbines might land is also becoming clearer. The 130 MW Camp Springs plant in Scurry County, Texas, is farthest along in development, with commercial operation expected by mid-summer. Other projects moving forward include the proposed 150 MW White Oak Energy Center on the border of McLean and Woodford counties in Illinois, the proposed 200 MW Horicon Marsh wind project in next door Wisconsin, and the 200 MW Beech Ridge Wind Farm in Virginia.

White Oak has faced local opposition, but is moving through McLean County's special use permitting process, which in Illinois is largely a matter for county zoning boards. Invenergy's decision to spread the 100 turbine project across two counties to access the best wind resource is adding to permitting complexity. In adjacent Wisconsin, Horicon Marsh is moving along in Dodge and Fond du Lac Counties. Smith says it has Public Utilities Commission approval and is headed towards construction. Over in West Virginia, Beech Ridge, in Greenbriar County, landed a key approval from the state's Public Service Commission late last year.

In more early and uncertain stages is Invenergy's 60-75 MW Summit Ridge proposal for Monroe County, Wisconsin. It was among a handful of wind projects earlier held up due to Federal Aviation Administration radar concerns, but that issue is resolved and the permitting push is again underway. Local opposition looms large, however, with a tight town board election in April based in part on the Invenergy project.

Turbine loan

Invenergy's plans are not limited to the US. Last month it secured a loan from HSH Nordbank to pay for 67 GE 1.5 MW turbines for the European market. The lender's John Dunlop says Invenergy insisted on a strict confidentiality agreement and he cannot say where the turbines are bound for. This kind of loan, he explains, is a way for first tier large developers to secure turbines from first tier large manufacturers ahead of other developers, some of whom will have to wait as far out as 2010. "Small guys are going to get squeezed out of the market," he says. "It is holding the industry back." The HSH loan allows Invenergy to "get turbines earlier than the others. That is what it boils down to."

Smith declines to comment on Invenergy's project pipeline, in Europe or the US, since the developments are in uncertain and early permitting stages. Invenergy is a private developer and an independent power producer, opting to retain ownership of its wind projects, which currently total 340 MW of existing plant, Smith says. The plan is to grow organically. It has no current interest in absorbing any small developers, he adds.

Among US wind companies, Invenergy has been one of the most vocal proponents for a national renewables portfolio standard (RPS), with the federal government mandating a minimum proportion of green electricity in America's power mix, going so far as to criticize the industry's coveted production tax credit (PTC). An RPS is more important than a PTC extension, says Smith. "The PTC affects price and provides additional time with that pricing structure but it doesn't affect demand as much as we want it to."

Last year Invenergy completed three projects, all using GE 1.5 MW machines: the 60 MW Spring Canyon plant in Colorado, the 60 MW Centennial plant in Oklahoma, and the 99 MW Victory plant in Carroll and Crawford Counties, Iowa.

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