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Brian Roche Examines Wind Power Practicality


POSTED: 3:56 pm EDT August 14, 2006
UPDATED: 8:21 am EDT August 15, 2006
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Last week, News 8 explored the promise of wind energy and how it’s the second fastest growing source of energy in the world.

In this segment, News 8 On Your Side consumer reporter Brian Roche takes a look at how wind power is being put to work and why it might not be the perfect energy solution.

Supplemental Power

Just outside of Atlantic City, N.J., is a wastewater treatment plant that services 14 communities, including Atlantic City.

“We consume almost as much energy as let’s say a small town. I would think we would be closer to 1,500 to 2,000 homes,” said Paul Gallagher of the Atlantic County Utility Association.

But since last December much of the energy the wastewater facility uses comes from wind power.

“When we were looking at our power consumption, 2000 to 2001, we were seeing the cost was moving to 15, 18, 23 percent of our annual budget,” Gallagher said.

Then a renewable energy company out of Pennsylvania approached the utility and offered to put five wind turbines on its property.

“While it’s a smaller project compared to other wind projects around the country, we certainly view this as a commercial scale power plant,” said Paul Copelman of Community Energy.

The first wind farm in New Jersey, it’s now saving the utility about $1,000 a day and enjoying a new reputation.

“For years we were the sewer plant, and now we’re the wind farm,” Gallagher said.

The Down Side Of Wind

But even on a good wind day, the turbines at the wastewater treatment plant churn out just 70 percent of the energy the plant needs. One of the big issues with wind energy is reliability. Not the reliability of the turbines, but with the wind. It’s a fact of nature that the wind does not blow all the time and that’s why the turbines will never be able to provide more than just a portion of our energy needs, Roche reported.

Currently, wind turbines supply less than 1 percent of the power used in the United States. And according to the Department of Energy, a best-case scenario for wind turbines is one in which they would supply 20 percent of U.S. energy needs.

The actual power output of most wind turbines is typically 25 to 30 percent of their capacity. That power, per turbine, is still enough to supply energy to power about 500 homes per year.

Turbines Have Literal Impact On Environment

While wind energy is pollution free, it may not be impact-free.

There is a concern that wind turbines could be deadly for bats, which help control the insect population.

“Some scientist think that perhaps there are lots of insects attracted to the turbines because of the lights, and the bats are attracted to the insects,” said Dr. David Zegers of Millersville University.

At the Atlantic City wind farm, the Audubon Society is monitoring the turbines to see if they affect the migratory patterns of birds.

Pa. Wind Farms

There are currently four wind farms either in operation or development in Pennsylvania.

None is planned for the Susquehanna Valley because wind currents in the valley are not strong enough.