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Company ready to roll with wind farm project  

One energy company showed Wednesday it is ready to spend more than $1.75 billion to capture the power of Panhandle wind.

The plan is to construct what a company executive called “one of the largest wind farms in the world.”

Andy Bowman, senior vice president of Airtricity, the North American subsidiary of an Irish company, described the project in financial commitment testimony to the Public Utilities Commission in Austin.

“The Gray County project is a 1,500-megawatt project planned to be constructed in three 500-megawatt phases,” according to Bowman’s testimony.

The project would generate $8 million in an initial payment to landowners of 55,000 acres the company says it has leased in Gray County. The leases run up to 33 years.

Planning and other costs added to construction put the price tag at more than $1.75 billion, Bowman said.

Next door in Carson County, Airtricity has been working since 2003 on a wind farm rated at 300 megawatts in its first phase. The second phase would add another 300 megawatts, according to the testimony.

Airtricity has 15,000 contiguous acres leased in Carson County and is negotiating for 15,000 more.

The original plan was to connect the Carson County project with Xcel’s existing lines and feed the Southwest Power Pool, the grid that serves most of the Panhandle. However, the plan could change.

“It is Airtricity’s strong preference, however, to interconnect the project to (the grid serving the rest of Texas) via the proposed Panhandle Loop,” Bowman said.

That is because of the slower growth of demand for wind power in the Southwest Power Pool.

One purpose of Wednesday’s testimony was to allow commissioners to judge the wisdom of creating renewable energy zones. Creating the zones would allow transmission companies to connect the best areas of the state for creating renewable energy, like wind and solar, with the markets where the more people use energy, according to the State Energy Conservation Office.

The Panhandle Loop would be such a project, plugging Panhandle wind, coal and natural gas facilities into the grid that serves most of the rest of Texas. Airtricity, Babcock & Brown Renewable Holdings, Celanese, Occidental Energy Ventures, and Sharyland Utilities are partners in the effort.

The 800-mile transmission project supplies more than 1 million homes with electricity, according to Airtricity’s Web site.

Sharyland, a “wires only” transmission company affiliated with Hunt Oil and controlled by the H.L. Hunt family, estimates the loop system would cost $1.55 billion.

The Panhandle Loop plan would result in coal and natural gas plants being built to provide about four times the electricity that Xcel Energy’s Harrington station near Amarillo produces. That production would be teamed with wind energy from the Gray and Carson county projects and others totaling up to 25 times the capacity of the Wildorado wind farm nearing completion between Vega and Wildorado.

By Kevin Welch

amarillo.com

22 March 2007

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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