By Seth Johnson, Jack Meyer, Brian Hickman
No matter which way the winds are blowing in Congress, Indiana's newest wind-turbine project appears ready to meet a critical deadline needed to make it profitable.
The $400 million Wildcat Wind Farm includes 125 turbines towering over the corn and bean fields of Madison and Tipton counties north of Indianapolis.
E.ON Climate & Renewables of Germany is building the project with crews from White Construction of Clinton, Ind., trying to beat a Dec. 31 deadline, after which federal production tax credits are due to expire.
Towers completed and operating before the end of the year are eligible for a permanent tax break, which makes construction and operation economically feasible.
E.ON Spokesman Matt Tulis said in early December that although some of the turbines still need to be finished and tested, others were already producing electricity. E.ON is on schedule to complete the project on time, he said.
The state is already a significant player in the field: As of 2010 Indiana ranked 10th in the nation in turbines, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
The newest towers are on property leased from local farmers, including Tami Brown of Tipton County. A turbine labeled "A1" on land owned by Brown was the first to be activated, on Nov. 10.
E.ON will be paying Brown a minimum of $15,000 a year to operate three turbines on two of her farms and compensating her for any crop area dug up during construction.
"The contract is for 50 years," Brown said. "Fifty years from now, if they are not here then that's fine, I can do with it whatever I want to."
The tax credits fueling Wildcat and similar projects should be extended, some of those familiar with the industry say.
Robert Koester, director of the Center for Energy Research at Ball State University, sees them as common sense – equivalent to the breaks given to oil and gas companies.
"To make the playing field level, the government should be providing similar supports and incentives to the green technology industry," Koester said. "There's no reason to stop the incentive, I think it should be continued and probably even increased to give a good platform to the market for wind technology."
A study conducted by the Environmental Law Institute between 2002 and 2008 showed that subsidies given to fossil fuels in that time more than doubled those given to renewable energy sources.
Tulis said his company is working closely with the American Wind Energy Association to lobby Congress to extend the tax credit and is confident that they will.
"It may be part of a bigger tax extender package that Congress is working on," Tulis said. "That is something that is supposed to come up in the lame-duck session before the end of the year."
When complete, the Wildcat project will produce enough energy to power 60,000 homes.
Tulis said his company is considering additional phases that would make the project much bigger - but those depend on the tax credit extension.
"We are looking at potentially what it would take to make a project work without the PTC and how that will economically work for us," Tulis said. "But it is unclear at this point."
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