Tuesday, January 11, 2005

EnXco Flips Switch on Wind Farm

Tax credits propel wind powerWashington to pay bounty on ’05 mills
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bureauJanuary 10, 2005
COACHELLA VALLEY -- Employees at EnXco Inc., a North Palm Springs company that builds and operates wind farms, are scrambling to erect giant power-generating turbines. Why the rush? The federal government is offering a tax credit for wind generators that are up and running by the end of 2005. There’s no guarantee that the tax breaks will be renewed. "Because we only have a year we’re working double-time and triple-time to get these projects done," said Donna Lotz, project marketing coordinator at EnXco. "That’s why we’re pushing so hard. We’ve had these things in the pipeline." EnXco flipped the switch last week on a wind farm in Tehachapi that will produce 60 megawatts of electricity -- enough to light up nearly 20,000 homes. EnXco, which has about 300 employees, is not alone. Thousands of giant wind turbines will spring up around the country this year to generate more eco-friendly power. Nearly 30 energy companies are rushing to take advantage of the 2005 tax break and plan to install thousands of windmills in 21 states, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Wind power produces less than 1 percent of America’s electricity today, according to the Energy Information Administration, compared with nearly 22 percent provided by nuclear generators and 55 percent by coal plants. But proponents of this renewable source of power hope the 35-story turbines can produce 6 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2020. Among the developments propelling the new wind power projects are:
The federal government is offering wind producers a 1.8-cents-per-kilowatt-hour tax credit. The tax break drops the cost of generating wind power to make it more competitive with natural gas or coal generators.
States are requiring utilities to produce some of their electricity from green power, such as solar, wind or geothermal sources.
Technology is increasing energy efficiency. New giant turbines can each produce 3.6 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 1,000 homes. But problems have cropped up as energy companies rush to build wind farms. Just because wind power doesn’t pollute the air doesn’t mean it has no environmental impact. Also, not everyone wants a windmill within eyesight. Alameda County placed a moratorium on new wind farms because turbines had killed hundreds of hawks, eagles and other birds of prey. Hundreds of bats were killed at a wind farm in Tucker County, W.Va. Some Massachusetts residents oppose building a big wind farm off Cape Cod, partly because it would spoil their view. New Jersey Gov. Richard Codey announced a state moratorium on offshore wind farms in December. The decision was applauded by a number of state surfing, fishing and environmental groups worried about the effects of large wind turbines. The wind farms could affect fish populations, migratory birds and possibly other marine life, said Tim Dillingham, who heads the American Littoral Society, a Sandy Hook, N.J., conservation group. Proposals had been submitted for more than 1,000 turbines to be built along the New Jersey coast, about 3.5 miles offshore, he said. "You have this rush to get these huge facilities in the door despite the fact that there aren’t well-thought-out plans in place," Dillingham said. "It’s a brand new industrial use of the ocean, and there really isn’t any environmental impact (report) that’s been done." Some farmers are finding that wind power can be a new cash crop. Despite opposition from some homeowners, the Dodge County, Wis., Farm Bureau supports developing wind farms because it provides new revenues to both landowners and county governments, said Jim Schoenike, the group’s president. Clear Lake, Iowa, farmer Delbert Watson has nothing but good things to say about the five 120-foot towers on his land. He can plant corn or soybeans within 20 feet of the turbines and hasn’t seen any bird deaths even though his land sits less than a mile from a wildlife refuge. Watson has had wind towers on his land since 1999 and receives about $2,000 annually in rent for each turbine. Local residents have become used to the wind turbines, he said, and creating electricity without air pollution is an efficient use of resources. "There’s nothing that comes off of it -- the wind blows through it," Watson said. "It’s just got to be good for the whole nation to use that wind." While most lawmakers support wind power, Congress has been partly responsible for the uneven pace of wind farm development. The wind power production tax credit has lapsed three times in the past five years, said Christine Real de Azua, American Wind Energy Association spokeswoman. Projects on the drawing board were put on hold while Congress debated the issue, and the industry hopes that Congress will extend the current tax credit beyond 2005, she said. "There’s no guarantee" that Congress will extend the tax credit, said EnXco’s Lotz. "That’s why we’re pushing so hard. We’ve had these things in the pipeline."