Alternative-energy company eyes Indiana for 4 wind farms

August 11, 2008

Alternative-energy giant Horizon Wind Energy is opening an Indianapolis office focused on developing up to four new wind farms in Indiana at a cost of more than $2 billion.

The Houston-based company is renovating space on the top floor of the 12-story J.F. Wild Building at 129 E. Market St., where it plans to manage development of new wind farms in Indiana and Ohio. The firm is taking about 2,500 square feet and has an option to take another 1,600 square feet. It will employ about eight at the local office, but could add more as its projects take shape.

The largest of Horizon's proposed Indiana wind farms, a facility called Meadow Lake in White County, calls for up to 660 turbines spread over 100,000 acres. At full capacity, the project could produce more than 1,000 megawatts per year--enough to power 300,000 houses.

The firm also is planning smaller farms in Randolph and Howard counties and up to four more in Ohio. It already owns and operates seven wind farms in New York, Colorado, Texas, Oregon, Illinois and Minnesota.

Horizon is the first wind-energy company to put down permanent roots in the state, although several other players are negotiating with farmers to secure land leases, said Brandon Seitz, director of the Indiana Office of Energy and Defense Development.

"We're very excited to see them come to Indianapolis," Seitz said. "Horizon is one of the main players and certainly having a permanent office in Indiana shows they're here to stay and for Indiana to show itself as a wind player."

Horizon has recruited two state employees to help run its Indiana operation: Paul Cummings, a program manager, and Ryan Brown, who managed the state's energy division under Seitz.

Indiana's wind pales in comparison to that of West Texas, where huge farms are under construction, but the advantage here is the energy doesn't have to travel far, said Brown, who now is a project development manager for Horizon.

"You can make up for the moderate wind resource by having the wind farms closer to the users," he said.

Horizon has spent the last few years securing 50-year leases for most of the land it needs in White County and hopes to have the first phase running by next year, Brown said.

White County straddles Interstate 65 just north of Lafayette and neighbors Benton County, a wind-energy hotbed where BP Alternative Energy and Orion Energy Group already have turbines spinning.

Horizon also is conducting wind tests in Randolph County on the state's eastern edge, just north of Richmond. A group of landowners there decided to go with Horizon after being approached by several wind-energy companies, said Tom Chalfant, president of the Randolph County Farm Bureau.

He said plans call for a 100-megawatt wind farm spread over 10,000 acres in Union and Washington townships--if the studies yield the expected results.

"The resource is pretty much free--you just gotta build a tower to capture it," Chalfant said. "It's intermittent energy, but it's consistent year to year; I think wind is more of a sure thing than trying to build an ethanol plant."

The presence of all the new turbines will change the landscape, but Chalfant hasn't heard anybody complaining. Farmers typically earn $4,000 to $8,000 per turbine per year, revenue that also adds to local tax coffers.

The one disappointment: Farmers won't be able to use the electricity generated on their own farms. But now some are looking at putting up their own windmills, Chalfant said.

As an independent power producer, Horizon can't deliver directly to customers. Instead, it sells to utilities.

Wind-energy producers are eligible for a federal incentive in the form of a 2.1-cent tax credit for every kilowatt hour produced, Brown said. And 27 states require utilities to deliver a minimum percentage of their power from renewable sources such as wind. Indiana is not one of those states, but Horizon is lobbying for a change.

Wind-energy advocates hope to provide 20 percent of the nation's power from wind by 2030. That figure now stands at 1 percent, leaving plenty of room for growth. The push also is getting a boost from billionaire oil man T. Boone Pickens, a new public advocate who is spending millions on an ad campaign supporting wind energy. He's also a big investor in wind energy.

State officials hope Indiana's wind resources help blow new jobs into the state, including positions managing the wind farms and producing the parts.

Horizon was just the kind of tenant Crown Property Group was hoping to put in its 1904 J.F. Wild building, said Kendrick Largent, the local company's managing director.

Crown specializes in sustainable redevelopment of historic mid-rise buildings and is spending $2.5 million to spruce up the Wild building. A sustainable-energy tenant is a natural fit, Largent said.

Horizon, a subsidiary of European energy giant Energias de Portugal, or EDP, has been pouring money into new wind farms. And the company doesn't skimp on office space, either, spending more than the norm on "green" features.

"They don't see wind as a niche business," Brown said of the Portuguese conglomerate. "They see huge potential here."

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