Monday, July 12, 2010

Stimulus package boosts community wind energy

The Great Recession may have been a blessing in disguise for community wind power; the economic stimulus package shifted the economics of the local wind sector. Of about 80 wind farms that had received cash grants from the stimulus to promote renewable energy as of June 30, roughly 17 were community projects, Melinda Burns of reports. Community wind projects are more profitable for landowners because as part of their agreement to supply land for the turbines they eventually own some of them, rather than just gettign lease payments.

Cash grants, like the one set up by the stimulus package for renewable energy, have "fundamentally reshaped the federal policy landscape for wind power in general, and for community wind projects in particular," Mark Bolinger, a wind-economics researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory told Burns. Conversely, Bolinger concluded in a report for the U.S. Department of Energy that "federal tax credits for wind power, which the government has offered off and on over several decades, have been a barrier for many local investors," because "they simply don’t have enough tax liability to take advantage of them," Burns writes.

Under current law, a wind farm must begin construction this year to be eligible for the grant, but Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon has introduced legislation to extend that through 2012. "The cash grant program really does a lot to boost community wind," Bolinger told Burns. "But it’s a question of whether these projects can get their act together in time. The sector would certainly benefit if the grants were extended or made permanent. … Community wind may help farmers hang on to their farms and preserve that way of life."

While community wind is defined differently in different areas, however you define it, Bolinger said it is difficult to finance. "They’re smaller projects and are not as readily able to partner with investors who can inject tax equity, so that they can use the tax benefits," he said. "In many cases, the cash grant provides more value to the project." (Read more)

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