After lull, TP&L back in action in Garden City

5/3/2013

By RUTH CAMPBELL

By RUTH CAMPBELL

rcampbell@gctelegram.com

Despite being shut down last November, Transportation Partners and Logistics LLC is back in action in Garden City.

The Casper, Wyo.-based firm uses 50 acres at the southeast corner of Jennie Barker Road and U.S. Highway 50/400 as an off-loading and distribution site for wind generating components such as blades and towers, and unloads, stores and transfers the items from railcars to trucks.

Company Vice President Billy Brenton said this year, just like last, the firm will be bringing in wind energy components from Florida, California, North Dakota and the Gulf ports, such as Corpus Christi, Texas, and Houston. The site serves projects anywhere within a 1,000-mile radius, including Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma. Nine projects are being handled this year.

"We manage the railcars. We schedule all the train cars to get loaded. We schedule all the trains into our facility, then we unload them, then we store them and reload them and transport them to their final destination to their project site," Brenton said. "We own our own sites, the land, the cranes, all the support equipment and all the trucks."

All the company's banking is done in Garden City, and all its employees are from here, as well. At its peak, TP&L likely will employ 65 people, Brenton said.

"Right now, the projects are just coming in. We'll be unloading, reloading and trucking all at the same time, so that's when we gear up with extra people," he said.

The lapsed tax credit "completely shut us down," Brenton said. "We shut our doors in November."

The wind energy production tax credit Brenton refers to was enacted in 1992 as a way to incentivize domestic production of wind energy, said Elizabeth Salerno, director of industry data and analysis for the Washington, D.C.-based American Wind Energy Association. Utilities receive a tax credit of 2.3 percent for every kilowatt hour of electricity produced.

Salerno said it can take a couple of years of investment to find a site, gather capital and get production started. The tax credit has expired several times over the years, most recently in 2012, which had a "real impact" on the wind energy industry. Investment was halted and manufacturers stopped production.

The credit was renewed for another year in January, and projects are scheduled through 2014, Brenton said. He said Gov. Sam Brownback was "very helpful last year in getting it passed" and worked with fellow governors to achieve that goal.

Brenton noted that the tax credit has been a rollercoaster for 15 years.

"We go through it every two or three years. Energy's pretty busy right now, so hopefully we'll keep going" and lawmakers in Washington, D.C., won't start fighting with each other, Brenton said.

Projects started this year can qualify for the tax credit, Salerno said.

"Taxes generated (by the wind industry) far exceed the cost of the production tax credit," Salerno said, citing a study conducted by Next Era Energy Resources, a subsidiary of Florida Power and Light.

Kimberly Svaty, public policy director for the Austin, Texas-based Wind Coalition, a nonprofit organization of several dozen wind developers and manufacturers, said Kansas' vast expanses of land is one reason it's well positioned in the wind industry.

"We have the capability to develop wind farms throughout the state," Svaty said.

For the industry, 2012 was its biggest year in terms of new projects, with $25 billion in investment and infrastructure. Wind energy was the largest source of new electricity generation that year, as well. Now, there are more than 500 wind component manufacturers nationwide.

"We invested over $100 billion in capital. Think of what the tax credit has leveraged," Salerno said.

In states like Iowa and South Dakota, wind provides 25 percent of energy, and in Kansas, more than 11 percent of all electricity is provided by wind generation. That is enough to power more than 800,000 homes, Salerno said.

Nationwide, Texas is the No. 1 wind generation state, followed by California and Iowa. Kansas is ninth overall, but in 2012, it was third in the nation for new wind installation.

"In just 2012, Kansas doubled the amount of wind installed in the state. Over $3 billion was invested in the state to get those projects up and running," Salerno said.

Most of the electricity provided by wind is used in the south-central counties of Kansas, and the infrastructure and facilities are being built in central and eastern Kansas. She added that Kansas is the No. 2 state in the nation for wind potential behind Texas.

"That's going to continue to drive developers to be interested in the state. The cost of developing is relatively inexpensive," making it attractive to companies outside Kansas, especially from the southeastern U.S., Salerno said. In this scenario, Kansas gets the investment, jobs and exports.

Svaty, whose association covers firms in Kansas, Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, portions of Arkansas, Nebraska and Missouri, said power from Tradewind Energy's Buffalo Dunes Wind Project will send all the energy produced there to Alabama Power. The Buffalo Dunes project will be constructed across about 42,000 acres in Grant, Haskell and Finney counties. In the southwest portion of Finney County, overhead transmission lines must be built to hook into a substation located just south of Sunflower Electric Power Corp.'s Holcomb station, TradeWind officials have said. The transmission lines will come into southern Finney County from Haskell County, as previously reported in The Telegram.

Kansas has a history of being an "energy exporter," Svaty said. "... Wind energy will help us achieve that goal."

No utility is providing only wind energy, but utilities are working to integrate more renewable energy into their portfolios, Svaty said.

"If you're a utility customer in Kansas, you see a broad swath of energy types — coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydropower and wind," she said.

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