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Elwood project gives state a second wind

Northern Indiana’s wind power industry, already one of the fastest-growing in the nation, will pick up more speed from a proposed wind turbine farm near Elwood that could generate electricity for 60,000 homes.

Confirmation of the latest Hoosier wind farm on Tuesday builds on the state’s growing industry of renewable energy, which already includes more than 800 wind turbines.

State laws are improving the climate for renewable energy by offering incentives to utilities that use alternative sources. Gov. Mitch Daniels recently signed the state’s Clean Energy Law encouraging wind, solar, hydro, biomass, nuclear and other forms of renewable power.

The wind farm near Elwood is proposed by E.ON Climate & Renewables North America, a U.S. division of a European-based wind and solar power development company.

E.ON officials said about 17,000 acres in Tipton and Madison counties have been leased for a project dubbed Wildcat 1.

It is to be the first of up to four phases in Wildcat Wind Farm that could be expanded in Madison, Grant, Howard and Tipton counties, in an area near Elwood and Windfall City, about 45 miles north of Indianapolis.

“The Wildcat project will produce enough energy to power roughly 60,000 homes and will offer new clean energy resources to Indiana Michigan Power’s customers,” said Steve Trenholm, chief executive of Texas-based E.ON Climate and Renewables.

Word of the project spread outside those communities Tuesday when Indiana Michigan signed a 20-year deal to purchase up to 100 megawatts of electricity to be generated in Wildcat 1.

Up to 200 megawatts of electricity are to be generated in the first phase of Wildcat, so the Indiana Michigan power purchase agreement is about half the electricity E.ON expects to sell to the regional power grid from this phase of construction.

Construction is to begin late this year and be completed by the end of 2012.

E.ON has not yet filed an application with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

But the company has been talking with Madison and Tipton county officials about 10-year property tax abatements. If approved, the company would pay $3.4 million in local property taxes over the next decade and then $1 million a year.

Company officials project several hundred construction jobs will be created and then about a dozen permanent jobs to maintain the 300-foot-tall turbines.

Future phases of the Wildcat farm would spread turbines into neighboring Grant and Howard counties, generating hundreds more megawatts of electricity to the regional grid, according to company officials.

Meanwhile, the governor has signed the state’s first law establishing a Clean Energy Portfolio Standard, meaning a goal that 10 percent of the state’s electric generation will come from renewable sources by 2025.

The law makes compliance voluntary for electric power companies in this state.

More than 20 other states have a similar clean energy law, and most of them make the standards a requirement. Some set the standard up to 20 percent.

Indiana’s law requires the utility regulatory commission to set up system to offer incentives for utilities to use alternative energy.

Denise Bode, chief executive of the American Wind Energy Association and an advocate for renewable energy, praised the law as a step for economic development and clean energy.

“For Indiana to keep this momentum going, leaders will need to ensure that the right policies are in place to create a stable business and investment environment . . . for a more diverse and a cleaner energy supply,” she said.