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Testing the winds with a first project -- Indiana on the map

Indiana's first foray into the commercial wind power market came closer to reality when Duke Energy Indiana announced a 20 year power purchase agreement for up to 100 MW from a new development that will cover 10,000 acres in the southwest part of the mid US state. The Benton County Wind Farm, expected to bring between 70 and 80 turbines online by the end of 2007, will be built by California developer Orion Energy using GE 1.5 MW machines. Construction is slated to start in the spring.

The project has been in the works since 2003. "I'd consider that a pretty typical design cycle for us," says Orion's Jim Eisen. "There are a lot of land owners to sign agreements with, along with taking care of the resource assessment and that sort of thing. We've definitely gotten to know the community," he adds.

Eisen points out that the county had to develop a new ordinance specific to dealing with zoning for wind projects. Then there is the matter of transmission. "The whole interconnection process normally takes years and this project is in an area where there aren't a lot of connection options," Eisen says. "Remember, this is the first wind project built in Indiana. When you consider it in those terms, the fact that we were able to pull all these things together in three years is actually pretty amazing."

Receptive to wind

All told, Eisen says that Orion is pleased with the process. "The state government has been very receptive to wind," he says. "So I wouldn't be surprised, assuming we can find the right locations, if we continue to develop wind in Indiana." Eisen declined, however, to comment on specifics.

If regulators approve the contract, Duke Energy Indiana will begin buying the power in 2007. The purchase represents only a small percentage of the 7200 MW of electricity the company provides for its 750,000 Indiana customers. It appears to be adopting a wait-and-see approach on the subject of more wind power. "Indiana is behind other parts of the country regarding wind development because there are not a lot of areas in Indiana where you can produce sustained wind power," says Duke's Angeline Protogere. "So, as far as any future plans, we need to see how this project goes first."

As for Indiana's northern and eastern neighbours, Ohio has only 7 MW of installed wind power capacity, Michigan totals 3 MW and Kentucky has no commercial wind farms. But Orion expects the Benton County project to raise interest across the region.

Calls for standard

In August, the Indiana Coalition for Renewable Energy and Economic Development called for the inclusion of a Renewable Electricity Standard in the governor's strategic energy plan. The coalition wants 10% of Indiana's electricity to come from renewable energy by 2016.

Orion Energy has completed more than 1000 MW of wind energy projects in the United States, Canada, Latin America, Europe and Asia. The company's current development focus is the United States and Canada.

Duke Energy Indiana was known as PSI Energy before Duke Energy bought PSI's parent, Cinergy, in April. Duke Energy is based in North Carolina and has electric utility operations in North and South Carolina, Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois, as well as Indiana. Its regulated generating capacity totals 28,000 MW.

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