"Things are really heating up again, and [wind energy] is clearly being taken very seriously by the major players," said Kevin Rackstraw, Clipper's regional leader of eastern North America. "Some big name companies are coming into the industry this year, particularly with natural gas prices being so high. We're cheaper, and now wind is being seen as not just a boutique kind of option but a very significant option and alternative to natural gas. But the economics are still very heavily dependent on the tax credit"-which can help lower the cost of producing electricity by as much as 30 percent.
The availability of the tax credit means the company can likely start building next year after first getting over several more hurdles, Rackstraw said.
For one thing, the company had been unable to move forward on negotiations with potential electricity customers, typically wholesale power companies or utilities, without the tax credit in place
"We're picking up right from where we were in midstream ... but there's a lot of interest," he said.
Once Clipper signs a contract with an electricity customer, ideally one that would purchase the entire output, the company would need to get financing. Even then, because of the mountainous terrain, construction couldn't get under way until March at the earliest. And developers face the potential added frustration of creating a bottleneck of turbine orders.
"When it's stop and start and you have a narrow window, everyone is trying to get delivery of a limited number of turbines, so you have some logistical issues," Rackstraw said.
But he is hopeful the windmills would be able to begin generating electricity by the end of 2005, a prospect that is heartening for some in the economically lagging part of the state.
"What it means in Garrett County is economic," said Garrett County Commissioner Frederick A. Holliday. "It's going to create a lot of construction jobs. It's going to create some full-time positions with decent salaries, and it's going to mean a lot to the land owners that owned the land and get a decent rent for the property. We're looking at close to $1 million in county taxes."
U.S. Windforce hopes to sign a contract with a purchaser for its Dan's Mountain project by the end of this year so that it can lock in financing and order its turbines - sometimes a six-month process - in time to build both of its projects before the end of next year when the tax credit expires.
"As a country, we're depleting our natural resources, like natural gas, and these are a true offset," said Dave McAnally, chief executive of U.S. Windforce.