(Jun 19, 2007)

Wind farm opens in Pennsylvania

By Michael Rubinkam
From AP

MAHANOY CITY, Pennsylvania (AP) - Under the whirling blades of 13 towering turbines, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell dedicated Tuesday the state's latest wind farm, showcasing a technology that is expected to power hundreds of thousands of homes over the next decade.

The Locust Ridge project in Schuylkill County is the seventh wind farm in Pennsylvania, a state that is aggressively pushing wind power as an alternative to electricity produced by fossil fuels.

At present, the state's wind farms generate enough electricity to serve about 45,000 homes, or less than 1 percent of the Pennsylvania market. But the state expects another four wind farms to begin operating within the next year, more than doubling capacity.

''Wind energy is part of our future,'' Rendell said. ''It can do for Pennsylvania what coal and oil and gas did for us in the '20s and '30s and '40s and '50s.''

Under a 2004 state law, 18 percent of the electricity sold to retail customers in Pennsylvania must come from renewable sources of energy, including wind, by 2021. By then, the state expects wind power to serve between 785,000 and 1 million homes.

Locust Ridge, which began operating in March, will produce enough electricity to power 6,300 homes. It is owned by Iberdrola SA, Spain's second-largest power company and the biggest operator of wind farms worldwide.

Brent Alderfer, executive vice president of Iberdrola's U.S. subsidiary, said advances in technology have made wind a more cost-effective means of producing electricity. He said the turbines at Locust Ridge start generating electricity at a wind speed of 8 mph _ little more than a gentle breeze _ compared to older turbine technology that required wind speeds of 15 mph (24 kph).

Wind power does have drawbacks. Although prices have dropped steeply over the past several years, wind power still costs more than electricity generated from fossil fuels such as coal. The turbines kill birds and some people do not like the way they look. And, since wind is variable, wind farms are a less reliable source of electricity.

But boosters say the environmental benefits far outweigh the negatives and that wind will be an important part of the energy mix as the U.S. seeks to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels.

''Pennsylvania is blessed with a very good resource that can provide significant amounts of pollution-free electricity to the state,'' said John Hanger, chief executive of the statewide environmental group PennFuture. ''That resource, if reasonably developed, will have the least environmental impact of any other way of making electricity.''

Pennsylvania is already among the more aggressive developers of wind power. Although the state's ''wind energy potential'' is ranked only No. 22 by the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group, its current generating capacity of 179 megawatts places it at No. 13 nationwide. Among eastern U.S. states, only New York produces more wind power.

Pennsylvania's ridge-and-valley topography makes it a good candidate for wind. Locust Ridge, for example, is about 1,925 feet (587 meters) above sea level, an elevation that produces enough wind to make electricity generation economically feasible.

With a 400-foot (122-meter)-tall turbine looking over him, Rendell flipped an oversized light switch to start its massive blades spinning. The turbines produce scarcely any noise _ just a soft whistling sound as the blades slice through the air.

Allentown-based utility PPL Corp. has signed a 20-year contract to purchase all of the electricity generated by Locust Ridge.


On the Net:

American Wind Energy Association

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