DENVER
07/07/2013 01:56 pm ET Updated Sep 07, 2013

Wind Market Still Flat Locally While Vestas, GE Seek Domestic Projects

Orders for wind turbines for Vestas have ramped up worldwide, but projects in the United States are still relatively flat.

But officials at Vestas and GE, both turbine makers that supply wind farms throughout the country, say the local market is strong this year because of the extension of the federal Wind Production Tax Credit, even if it's not seen on paper.

In the first six months of the year, the Denmark-based Vestas, for example, has secured orders to build 686 wind turbines of various sizes for projects in Australia, the Philippines, Sweden, South Africa, Croatia, Uruguay, Italy, Canada, Romania, Ukraine, Belgium, Mexico and Chile. A second South African project was just announced last week.

So far, the projects total 2 gigawatts of power, more than double the amount Vestas had in 2012 at the same time. Vestas has a strong presence in Colorado, as it has two blade plants and one nacelle manufacturing plant in Weld County and a tower manufacturing plant in Pueblo.

Congress' extension of the tax credit for all projects started in 2013 has helped the industry stay strong, said Lindsay Theile, spokeswoman for GE Renewable Energy.

GE this year alone, she said, has announced the addition of 1 gigawatt worth of projects in the United States based on the extension of the credit. That includes one 59-turbine project in Michigan the company announced in May.

"It really makes a difference to have that PTC is in place, and we're happy with what we've seen come through and what it's done for the industry," Theile said.

The only United States orders so far for Vestas have been two service contracts in Wisconsin and Iowa on 509 megawatts of turbine power.

Last year, Vestas' U.S. orders had slowed to 6.7 percent of the company's total orders with the impending expiration of the PTC. The credit is 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity a wind farm produces and is paid for 10 years to the wind farmer. In 2011, Vestas' U.S. orders comprised 15 percent of the international company's announced projects, up from just 10.2 percent in 2010.

Andrew Longeteig, spokesman for Vestas, said despite the lack of U.S. supply projects, the company is in the running to supply four wind projects in Colorado, alone.

"We knew the late timing of the PTC extension would result in a significant reduction in 2013 installations relative to previous years," Longeteig said in an email response to questions. "This is due to the time it takes from when an order is placed to when a project begins. However, the U.S. market is stronger as a result of the PTC extension, and we are seeing a much higher activity level compared with last year."

Congress approved the PTC extension to avoid the "fiscal cliff" in late December last year.

Vestas is bidding on four projects in Colorado at present: two projects for Xcel, a 100-MW project and a 548 MW project still under review by the Public Utilities Commission; a 100 MW project for Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association; a 30 MW project for Platte River Power Authority in northern Colorado and a 30 MW project for Black Hills Energy, a Western states cooperative.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group representing wind power project developers, equipment suppliers, services providers, parts manufacturers, utilities, researchers and others involved in the wind industry, several wind projects also are on the horizon for Iowa, Michigan and Oklahoma.

And Recharge, an online magazine, reported last week Vestas' wind market is finally gaining some steam worldwide as customers find renewed confidence in company's financial health. Analysts pointed out in the Recharge piece that Vestas' second quarter orders were the strongest quarterly figure since 2011.

Despite the lack of domestically inked deals, Vestas' Colorado plants are staying busy, Longeteig said.

The Brighton blade manufacturing plant -- the company's flagship operation building the V112, 55-meter turbine blades -- now also builds the V117 turbine, the company's longest blade at 57.5 meters. That capability has kept the plant busy as workers assemble blades and nacelles for the recently announced Blackspring Ridge project in Alberta -- the largest wind farm in western Canada with 166 turbines, as well as a 42-turbine order from Uruguay announced in January and a 47-turbine project announced in May, bound for Mexico.

According to AWEA, purchases by electric utilities, industrial customers and communities made wind energy the leading source of new electric generation in America last year, at 42 percent, ahead of all other power sources.

Generating 20 percent of U.S. electricity from wind, a target the wind industry is on track to reach by the year 2030, will be the climate equivalent of removing 140 million vehicles from the roads, AWEA reports. ___

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