The $270 million figure has been earmarked for the development of wind farms in New York and Idaho as well as in the Lone Star State. The facility in Texas is, however, at the most advanced stage of the three.
The company hopes to have the wind farm completed by October of next year. It will occupy 23,000 acres of west Texas, between Lubbock and Amarillo. The plant will produce 125 megawatts of power, an amount that has been estimated to be sufficient for 75,000 homes.
Few details of the firm’s plans for wind farms in New York and Idaho have been made public as yet. But it has been indicated that Airtricity intends to form a partnership with a group associated with the Kennedy family in relation to the proposed New York facility.
The Boston-based Citizens’ Energy Corporation was founded by Joseph Kennedy, son of the late Robert Kennedy, in 1979. Kennedy’s six terms in the U.S. Congress took him away from full-time involvement with Citizens’ Energy, but he has returned to the helm since he left the House of Representatives in 1998. Citizens’ Energy is a non-profit organization that plows profits it makes from commercial activities in the energy sector into programs intended to help the poor and needy in the U.S. and abroad.
Airtricity’s operations have so far tended to focus on Ireland and the United Kingdom. The firm claims to have 40,000 commercial customers in those territories. Its earnings report last year showed profits of $3.4m on revenue of $152 million.
However, in a recent address to a renewable energy forum in New York, company CEO Eddie O’Connor emphasized how rapidly he expects Airtricity’s business in the U.S. to expand.
“This investment is a significant milestone for Airtricity as it comes at a time when there is limited wind energy capacity in the U.S. but growing recognition of the need to develop long-term renewable sources of energy. Over the next five years, we anticipate that growing demand for wind energy will enable our business in North America to account for nearly 50 percent of overall revenues.”
Airtricity expects its revenues to reach at least $600 million by 2010.
Recent political developments, including the war in Iraq, have led to an increasing awareness in the U.S. of energy-related issues. Many prominent people, including last year’s Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman have repeatedly called for the U.S. to show greater urgency in terms of developing alternative sources of energy.
The widespread perception of the influence of the oil industry in Texas would, however, suggest to some that the state would treat firms involved in renewable energy unenthusiastically. But the reality is that the Lone Star state is especially progressive on the energy issue, according to Airtricity’s CEO:
“One of the greatest potential economic and environmental crises facing society today is global warming,” O’Connor said in his New York address. “However, the leadership and people of Texas have signaled in many surveys that they want to deal with this issue. Texas is the state most strongly supportive of renewable energy in the United States.”
The situation in Texas is hospitable to Airtricity in other ways, too. According to a report by the Associated Press, many of the state’s existing power plants burn natural gas, which has become more expensive of late. This has resulted in wind-generated power becoming more commercially viable. Texas’ growing population will also create greater demand for energy. The state also has an important natural advantage:
“There are cracking big winds,” O’Connor said. “The wind is going to blow forever.”
O’Connor has previously asserted that if anyone harnessed the winds that blow down the ‘spine’ of the U.S. — an area he defined as stretching from the Dakotas to Texas — the resultant power would be sufficient to supply the entire country.
Airtricity appears to be well positioned to take commercial advantage of any increase in the prevalence of wind power. The company has been at the forefront of a number of developments in the industry and is expected to go public within the next two years.
Irish media reports suggest Airtricity is currently valued at around $420 million and that the valuation has climbed steeply in the past twelve months. A majority stake in the company is currently held by a utility corporation, NTR.