By Ucilia Wang
The days when wind farm developers had trouble securing turbines might be over.
"Turbines are available now, which is refreshing," said Brad Johnson, director of business development at John Deere Renewables, on Thursday. "Before the credit crisis, it was very difficult to get turbines. We are finding a variety of choices."
Johnson said that the company, a financial services business of Deere & Co. (NYSE:DE), closed a deal last Friday to buy a 159-megawatt wind project in Michigan from Noble Environmental Power.
Johnson's comment comes a day after one of the world's largest wind turbine makers, Gamesa (OTCPK:GCTAF), said it would shut production at some of its factories temporarily, Reuters reported. Gamesa managers said they are waiting for customers to confirm their purchase plans before providing specific sales or production targets for 2009 and beyond.
Spain-based Gamesa's shares plummeted by nearly a fifth after announcing the production suspension, despite reporting strong earnings. Gamesa tripled its net profit to reach €288 million ($373.33 million) for the first nine months of this year, compared with the same period in 2007. Sales grew 40 percent to reach €2.89 billion ($3.75 billion).
It wasn't so long ago when wind farm developers had to scramble to find turbines for their projects (see SoCal Edison to Buy 909MW of Wind Power). Vestas Wind Systems in Denmark, the world's largest wind turbine maker, said earlier this year that it had a huge backlog of turbine orders.
The turbine shortage has fueled aggressive efforts by turbine parts makers to increase production. In fact, eight new turbine components factories went online in the United States this year while nine manufacturing centers expanded their production capacity, said the American Wind Energy Association on Wednesday. Nineteen more new factory projects have been announced, the association said.
But the credit crunch and faltering economy are sending a cold breeze through the wind industry, which typically borrows money from banks and other investors to build wind farms.
The head of BP's solar and wind businesses, Reyad Fezzani, said Wednesday that traditional financing options have dried up. Instead, BP and other companies will have to fund wind farms with equity financing, and companies that don't have equity on the balance sheet will have trouble carrying out projects, Fezzani said (see Energy Financing Gone With the Wind).
In addition to selling its wind project to John Deere Renewables, Noble Environmental Power also will lay off employees and "scale back its development plans for 2009," the company in the statement. It declined to disclose the number of employees that will leave.
The United States is on track to complete a record amount of wind power farms by the end of this year, the wind energy association said. The association reported that developers have installed 4.2 gigawatts of wind power for the first three quarters of this year
But it also cautioned that the industry isn't likely to see another record year in 2009 as a result of the financial market crisis and a wind production tax credit that was passed too late in the year.
Congress passed the tax credit in early October as part of a set of tax credits for solar and other renewable energy projects (see Lawmakers Approve Energy Tax Credits). The credits will be available after Jan. 1.
John Deere Renewables, based in Johnston, Iowa, will continue to invest in wind energy projects, but the company is scrutinizing each opportunity more closely as a result of the credit crunch, Johnson said.
Johnson declined to disclose the purchase price for Noble Environmental Power's 159-megawatt wind project. The wind farm is under construction, and John Deere Renewables expects the first phase of the project to begin operating at 69 megawatts by the end of this year. The company develops and builds wind projects through John Deere Wind Energy.
The company still needs to seek permits to work on the second and final phase of the project, and could bring the second phase online as early as next year, Johnson said.
The project is the second wind project in Michigan for John Deere Renewables, which turned on a 53-megawatt farm in the state in February. John Deere is keen on expanding its wind energy portfolio to take advantage of a law signed by Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm earlier this month that requires 10 percent of the electricity used in the state to come from renewable sources by 2015.