Stalled wind farms back on track in Md.

State poised for first wind farms

Energy: Renewal of a federal tax credit allows developers to move ahead with projects.

October 14, 2004|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

Maryland is poised to get its first electricity-generating windmills sometime next year, now that Congress has renewed a federal tax credit that is enabling commercial wind farm developers to push ahead with stalled projects.

Most of the nation's planned wind energy projects - including at least two that would bring up to 92 turbines to Western Maryland's mountains - had been on hold for nearly a year as developers awaited the fate of the expired Production Tax Credit, viewed by the industry as a critical piece of financing.

"Projects all across the nation have been stalled," said Michael T. Richard, director of the Maryland Energy Administration. "Given that there are some tracts of land and areas of Western Maryland that are suitable and highly desirable for wind projects, having this production tax credit gets things moving again."

Late last month, Congress renewed a tax credit for electricity generated with wind turbines, lowering the cost of producing electricity and making wind generation more competitive with other forms of energy, such as natural gas. The tax credit, which is retroactive to Jan. 1, is expected to help put $3 billion in wind energy investments forecast over the next several years back on track, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

A portion of that investment is slated for Western Maryland. Two developers already have won state permits for wind turbines that would generate up to 140 megawatts, with each turbine accounting for 1.5 megawatts to 2 megawatts. A third developer is just beginning the process of applying for the state permit.

Though wind has long been promoted as a renewable and non-polluting domestic energy source, it produces just a tiny fraction of the nation's power - about a third of a percentage point, or enough for about 1.57 million U.S. homes. The federal government wants to see 24 states with more than 20 megawatts of wind power by 2010, with a goal of generating at least 5 percent of the nation's electricity by wind power by 2020.

The tax credit, along with improved turbine technology and a growing green energy market, helped spur development of wind farms in the eastern United States, which is generally not as windy as other parts of the country where wind farms are more common.

But when the tax credit expired at the end of 2003 as Congress wrangled over an energy bill, projects nationwide stalled, said Christine Real de Azua, a spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association.

"Now that it's in place, there will be a rush to invest and put in the ground the projects that have long been proposed. It's putting the entire industry back to work."

With the credit extended to Dec. 31, 2005, the association expects projects generating 2,000 megawatts to be built through the end of 2005 - the capacity that had been anticipated for 2004. The largest projects are in Iowa, Upstate New York, Kansas and California.

"There's a lot of interest and a lot of desire to invest and frustration that the policy framework isn't more conducive to investment," Real de Azua said. "Wind power has a stable cost, it's not only competitive but also stable, especially with the cost of natural gas going up, and natural gas has been the fuel of choice for power plants."

Clipper Windpower Inc. plans to build up to 67 wind turbines on the Maryland side of Backbone Mountain near Oakland in Garrett County, generating just over 100 megawatts, or enough to power 35,000 homes. In Allegany County, U.S. Windforce plans 20 to 24 wind turbines, each producing about 2 megawatts, or enough for 14,400 homes, and hopes to build a larger project as well on Dan's Mountain, also in Allegany County. The company is applying to the state to build some 30 turbines that would generate power for up to 20,000 homes.

Annapolis-based Synergics Wind Energy LLC, an affiliate of an independent producer of renewable resource energy, is applying for a permit to build up to 24 windmills, generating up to 40 megawatts, on timberland on Backbone Mountain, south of U.S. 50 in Garrett County.

"It's a good time to develop a wind project because of our dependence on foreign oil and because of the advanced state of global warming and air pollution produced by conventional power plants," said Neal Wilkins, project manager for Synergics. "It's imperative that we develop renewable sources of energy and wind is viable, clean energy that will not run out."

Developers have been eyeing Western Maryland's mountains because the area is windy, close enough to densely populated areas that need electricity and offers available land on farms, mountaintops or coal mines, active and abandoned.

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