Tax Credit Energizes Wind Farms
John Hanger doesn't find much to like in the new energy bill signed recently by President Bush, but he applauds the tax credits offered to wind-energy producers. Hanger believes the number of wind farms in Pennsylvania could double -- maybe even triple -- by the end of 2007.
Pennsylvania has five wind farms and two others under development, said Hanger, president and CEO of Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future. The state's existing wind farms produce enough electricity to supply 40,000 homes, he noted.
"I'd be disappointed if we don't have at least 14 [wind farms] by the end of 2007," he said, adding that he expects "substantial' development of wind energy nationwide, as well.
The tax credit, extended through the end of 2007, is "the largest period of certainty that wind energy has had," Hanger said. "That's very positive."
Brent Alderfer is president of Community Energy Inc. in Wayne. He said he expects a "two-year rush" in developing wind energy to take advantage of the tax credit. He would have preferred a longer time.
The energy bill, Alderfer said, "did not take the next step to allow the industry to build a long-term future." At the same time, he conceded that the extension of the credit "gets the industry back in gear after being stalled for more than a year."
Pennsylvania aims to be in the forefront in wind-energy resources. To that end, it achieved its biggest coup last year when Gamesa Corp. of Spain, the world's second-largest wind-energy producer, said it would locate its U.S. headquarters and East Coast development offices in Philadelphia.
Earlier this year, Gamesa added to its state commitment when it decided to build a plant near Ebensburg, Cambria County, to construct generator blades for wind turbines.
The Philadelphia offices and Ebensburg plant are expected to create about 1,000 jobs over the next five years.
Gamesa officials could not be reached for comment on the energy bill because of the traditional August vacation period in many European countries.
Linda Thomson, president of Johnstown Area Regional Industries, said the 170,000-square-foot Ebensburg plant is under construction, and Gamesa hopes to begin some production by the beginning of 2006. Some management-related jobs at the plant have been filled, but hiring of production workers won't be done until this fall, she said. The plant is expected to employ 234 people.
In Philadelphia, a downtown office has been set up by Gamesa, and about 80 people are working there, according to Eugene DePasquale, deputy secretary for community revitalization and local government support at the state Department of Environmental Protection. "That is coming along very well," he said.
Gamesa has a partnership with St. Francis University in Loretto to develop wind farms in Somerset, Cambria and Blair counties. The university also is creating a wind-energy career-development program, DePasquale said.
Clean energy, such as electricity generated by the wind, is a top priority of the Rendell administration, DePasquale said. The federal energy bill "helps maintain the viability of the wind industry," he added.
Pennsylvania wants nearly 20 percent of its energy to come from clean, renewable sources by 2018. Half of that should come from wind, he said.
The five wind farms in the state produce 129 megawatts of electricity, Hanger said. That places Pennsylvania 11th among the states in wind-energy generation, but first among states east of the Mississippi River, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
Community Energy was formed in 1999 to market electricity generated by the wind in the Mid-Atlantic region and has since expanded its territory. It's developing wind farms in Pennsylvania and New Jersey that should be online by December.
The Pennsylvania project, called Bear Creek in the Wilkes-Barre area, has a 20-year agreement to sell electricity to PPL Corp. The plant will be capable of generating 24 megawatts of electricity, or 2 megawatts from each of the 12 turbines, Alderfer said.
Alderfer said the company has three other Pennsylvania projects in the early stages of development, with completion scheduled for 2007. It generally takes two to three years for a wind farm to be developed. "Some are longer," he said. "I don't know any that are shorter."
Hanger sees a bright future for wind energy in Pennsylvania, citing the Gamesa commitment and a General Electric plant in Erie that makes components for its wind turbines. "That's just the beginning," he said.
And Hanger is helping the cause. His business, known as PennFuture, uses clean energy at its offices in Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. "Most of it is wind," he said.
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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News