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Wind industry official discuss development

Industry players said that favorable public policy is only the tip of the turbine when it comes to the expanding wind development in the state and county.

“It has good wind resources. It has a good electric grid and it’s developed a good policy structure for wind,” said Samuel E. Enfield, the Mid-Atlantic region development director for PPM Atlantic Renewable Co. during a Wednesday editorial board meeting.

“This region is actually late coming to the wind development. California and the West Coast, Texas and the Great Plains really started the industry and drove it well into the ’90s. It’s only over the last few years that the Mid-Atlantic region has really seen much development,” he said.

By his own count, Enfield has been involved with local projects that have or will have raised 83 turbines into the local troposphere by the end of the decade.

In 2001, he helped to raise 10 turbines along Laurel Ridge and six more east of Somerset. In the West Virginia counties of Cresson and Tucker, another 44 went up in 2002, he said. Currently he is working on the Casselman project, where some 23 turbines are going up south of Meyersdale.

Does this mean Somerset County will be inundated in the next decade? Probably not, said Enfield, as his company is only looking at one more potential site, although other developers could explore some county sections PPM has no interest in.

“We haven’t looked at it in a gross survey,” he said, but the county has good elevation, which drives wind as a resource, he said. As air masses run into a ridgeline they compress, increasing their energy as they flow over the tops, he said.

Fellow wind industry advocate Frank Maisano also said that it’s hard to gauge the overall potential for development in the region. “You almost have to look at them as a project-by-project basis. Project characteristics could change from ridgetop to ridgetop,” Maisano, a principal for Bracewell & Giuliani, said.

Environmental concerns, access and project size all play roles, they said.

However, the smallest projects will likely number no less than six turbines, Enfield said, using the Somerset Township project as an example. That site is connected to a low voltage line and does not require a transformer station, which would raise costs significantly, he said.

Costs for the wind industry are very different than for traditional power generation plants, he said.

Unlike coal plants where the biggest operating expense is buying fuel over the course of the plant’s life, wind power is about up-front costs, he said.

“It costs a certain amount to buy a turbine and install it, as capital cost. That represents almost all the life cycle costs of wind because the fuel is free and the maintenance is low,” he said.

Think of it as a mortgage, he said. And like any mortgage, it’s all about the terms.

Between a Congress-approved Production Tax Credit (PTC) and the state Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act of 2004, the terms favor wind energy.

The PTC provides a 1.9 cent-per-kilowatt-hour (kWh) tax credit for electricity generated over the first 10 years of a project’s operation.

And because wind power is still more expensive to produce than gas, coal and nuclear plants, “it ends up bringing down the cost of wind generation. It doesn’t increase our return, it allows us to reduce our price and compete in the market,” he said.

The state energy portfolio then encourages power companies to buy the green energy. “Over a period of years, an increasing amount of electricity in the state will have to come from renewable sources,” he said.

When a megawatt-hour is produced from an approved alternative energy site, a certificate is issued from the state tied to that megawatt-hour.

Utilities comply by buying enough certificates to meet the required amount of renewable energy use mandated by the act, he said.

“It’s just a real effective program at creating a market for clean, renewable power,” he said.

Right now, the economic winds of change are blowing across the state and wind turbines are being built to take advantage of them.

By Dan DiPaolo
Daily American 30 North Chief

Daily American

30 August 2007