The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 2, 2013

‘Cliff’ deal restores wind energy credits

Kathy Mellott

JOHNSTOWN — An amendment to the congressional fiscal cliff approval included an extension of production tax credits, long sought by the wind power industry.

The last-minute approval was greeted Wednesday with enthusiasm by wind energy officials, but came with a caution that the action may be too late to have a significant impact on wind farm development this year.

“America’s 75,000 workers in wind energy are celebrating over the continuation of policies expected to save up to 37,000 jobs and create far more over time and to revive business at nearly 500 manufacturing facilities across the country,” said Ellen Carey of the American Wind Energy Association.

The impact on employee levels at the Gamesa blade production plant in Cambria Township could not immediately be determined.

The plant, which opened more than six years ago, furloughed an estimated 160 employees last year. Gamesa officials blamed canceled orders and slowed or postponed construction on uncertainty about the tax credits.

“Currently, there is no change in status at Gamesa’s U.S. factories,” said David J. Rosenberg, Gamesa’s vice president of marketing.

While the tax credit approval is for one year only, it applies to all projects started this year and likely will provide stability to projects that were in the planning pipeline, he said.

“(It) should provide some policy certainty to the industry and help to restart projects that either had been postponed or canceled,” Rosenberg said.

Wind energy production set a record last year, accounting for 44 percent of all new generating capacity in the U.S., according to information from the Energy Information Administration.

But because of the uncertainty over the tax credits, there will be a significant drop in wind farm installations this year, said Mike Speerchneider, director of government relations for EverPower Wind Holdings, one of the largest wind energy developers in the region.

“To make sure it is just a temporary blip in the growth of the industry, it is very important Congress develops meaningful energy policies that help promote continued growth of renewable energy,” Speerchneider said.

Estimates are that the federal support will save up to 37,000 jobs and create far more over time, according to the wind association. It also likely will revive business at 500 manufacturing facilities nationwide.

Wind energy industry officials have been lobbying for several months to secure the tax credits extension, approval of which came just days after the region’s latest wind power project went into operation.

Wind farm construction usually takes 12 to 18 months for development, Rosenberg said, meaning that it will be nearly two years before the industry sees significant recovery as developers restart dormant projects.

Construction of the Patton Wind Farm, a 15-turbine development in three northern Cambria municipalities, was recently completed. It started producing power last week, said Dan Lagiovane, spokesman for EverPower, the project developer.

The Patton farm uses 15 Gamesa turbines and covers 2,700 acres, with the capacity to produce enough energy for more than 9,000 households.

It will have significant impact on the economy in Elder, West Carroll and East Carroll townships, which will receive a combined $450,000 a year in host fees. Additionally, EverPower will pay local landowners lease and easement payments.

Along with Patton, EverPower has developed the Highland Wind Farm in Adams Township, Highland North Wind Farm in Adams and Summerhill townships and Twin Ridge Wind Farm in Somerset County.

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