The breezes rustling through dry oak leaves in Mahanoy Township will soon be powering the first commercial-size wind farm in Schuylkill County.
And the gales in Pine Grove may someday be harnessed by turbine blades.
“Wind power is the fastest-growing electric generation source in the nation, and among the fastest in the world,” said John R. Hanger, president of PennFuture, a nonprofit environmental group based in Harrisburg.
“We’re doing our part to deal with the energy crisis and we’re creating some jobs along the way,” said Frank J. Zukas, president of the Schuylkill Economic Development Corp.
Wind farms in Schuylkill County
Locust Ridge Wind Farm, Mahanoy Township, the first commercial-scale wind farm in Schuylkill County, is expected to be operational by mid-November.
Joseph B. Green was hoping all 13 turbines on the 1,038-acre operation off Route 339 would be assembled by Oct. 23.
“We had a little trouble getting parts here. There were some weather delays, and some learning curve issues,” said Green, Weston Place, the project manager at Locust Ridge Wind Farm. “But now they’re starting to come up pretty fast.”
Manufactured by Gamesa Corp. in Pamplona, Spain, each of the G87 turbines is made up of a tower measuring 256 feet, and three blades each 135 feet long. With blades fully extended, a turbine soars 407 feet high.
The G87 turbines are currently the largest turbines in the state. Twelve were erected at Bear Creek Wind Energy, Luzerne County, in 2005. And Gamesa Corp. is erecting 40 at Allegheny Ridge Wind Farm, Cambria and Blair counties.
“That is amazing,” Pottsville-based architect Yongcheol Kim said of the size of the blades.
The Schuylkill County Courthouse, Pottsville, measures about 140 feet high from the south entrance to the tower, Kim said.
“One blade is almost as high as the courthouse from the south entranceway,” Kim said.
So far, one Locust Ridge turbine is complete and five towers are awaiting blades.
“By the beginning of the second week of November, they’ll be all up,” Green said. “Some of them will be running in that middle of November time frame. They will all be running by the beginning of December.”
At any given time, 85 to 90 construction workers are on site, Green said, and three full-time workers will be hired to run the plant.
“This project has a 20-year life span. “But we’re hoping to extend that,” Green said.
Meanwhile, Community Energy Inc. is working to establish another 16 turbines on site, a project Green is calling “Locust Ridge Wind Farm II.”
The Schuylkill County Zoning Hearing Board is reviewing the lease agreement Community Energy has with Girard Estate and the Mahanoy Township Water Authority. Zukas said the board should make a decision in November.
“Schuylkill County has the potential for a fair amount of development,” Green said. “The ridge tops are areas anyone would look to locate turbines,” Green said. “And the northern part of the county has the ridge tops and the exposure to the winds that would make it probably feasible to build.”
Meanwhile, Gamesa Corp. is conducting studies atop Second Mountain, looking to put a wind farm up in the Pine Grove area possibly by 2008.
“I think that area is about 300 meters. It’s over 1,000 feet. It’s similar to the Locust Ridge area,” Peter K. Kennon, Gamesa project developer, said Thursday. “This area is obviously a very good wind area. Wind-energy sighting basically involves looking for a place that probably looks like it’s going to be pretty windy as well as a place that has existing transmission access, which this place has.”
Pennsylvania is not the windiest state in the nation. It’s not even close.
A 1991 Pacific Northwest Laboratory study ranked Pennsylvania 22nd in “wind energy potential,” while North Dakota topped the list.
But the Keystone State is where the world’s third-largest wind power developer decided to set up headquarters.
Gamesa Corp. established its U.S. headquarters in late 2004 in Philadelphia.
This year, Gamesa Corp. spent more than $84 million to open its first windmill blade manufacturing plant in the nation at South Park Industrial Complex in Ebensburg, Cambria County, and three other plants in Bucks County to produce windmill blades and towers, Kennon said.
Pennsylvania is currently home to seven commercial-scale wind farms. The largest capacity is Waymart Wind Energy Center, Wayne County, built in November 2003. Its 43 turbines located along Moosic Mountain can produce 64.5 megawatts, or enough to power 22,000 homes per year.
Gamesa Corp. is developing the 80-megawatt Allegheny Ridge Wind Farm in Cambria and Blair Counties. Kennon said its 40 turbines should be online in a few months.
“By April 2007, we should have eight wind farms operating in Pennsylvania. We will have, roughly speaking, at that point enough wind power to supply the annual needs for about 80,000 households,” Hanger said.
In an effort to educate township leaders about wind-energy potential, PennFuture will hold a presentation from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Luzerne County Community College, Nanticoke. A model ordinance for wind energy facilities will be discussed.
“This is a new industry. There are a lot of misconceptions and some misinformation,” Hangar said. “So we, as a service to township officials, provide a forum, an opportunity for them to ask questions about wind power.”
Trend breezes into the United States
The windmill was invented in Persia around 500 A.D. to pump water and grind grain.
Steel-bladed models were built in America in the 1880s, and in 1888, Charles F. Brush used the first windmill to generate electricity in Cleveland, according to the federal government’s Energy Information Administration.
The energy crisis of the 1970s encouraged scientists to study wind power potential. And the first commercial-scale wind farms in the United States were constructed in California by the early 1980s.
“These were first-generation wind turbines. It was an entirely new technology being created,” said Christine Real de Azua, assistant director of communications for the American Wind Energy Association based in Washington, D.C.
Turbine design improved in the 1990s, and harnessing the wind became cheaper.
“That’s when you saw the first large-scale wind farms in the U.S. in Iowa and Minnesota. After that it started ramping up again,” Real de Azua said.
In 2004, the global turbine industry had a wind capacity of 47,317 megawatts. It increased 25 percent to 59,322 megawatts in 2005.
“Today, it’s closer to 60,000,” Real de Azua said.
One megawatt, equal to 1 million watts, can power 250 to 300 households per year.
According to the Global Wind Energy Council, Germany, Spain and the United States produce the most wind power.
“Currently, wind energy accounts for 6 percent of renewable energy production and 0.1 percent of total energy supply,” stated the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2005. “But it is growing fast,” Real de Azua said, “so it certainly can deliver on a much higher level. Over time, the U.S. will pull ahead because it is a larger market.”
The United States installed more turbines in 2005 than any other country at the time, approximately 2,431 megawatts of installed capacity, according to the Global Wind Energy Council.
In June, President Bush encouraged the development of an action plan having wind energy provide up to 20 percent of the nation’s electricity.
“He didn’t give a year,” Real de Azua said, “and obviously it’s not going to happen overnight because that’s a huge amount of electricity. It’s a big country. There’s a lot of demand. And the demand continues to grow.”
In 1992, the federal government offered turbine developers support with a Wind Energy Production Tax Credit of 1.9 cents/kilowatt-hour.
“It’s one of the single items that will determine the viability of a wind project,” Green said. “We’re generally competitive with conventional fuel sources for electricity. But without the tax credit, there would be very little development. It’s critical to the finance of the project.”
Construction of a 26-megawatt wind farm like Locust Ridge could cost $35 million to $40 million or more, Real de Azua said.
“It costs between 1.5 (million) to 1.7 million dollars per megawatt installed, which makes them fairly high capital costs. It’s expensive up front. This is a capital-intensive industry. The cost is up front. The advantage is over time there’s no cost of fuel,” she said.
On Aug. 8, 2005, Bush approved a two-year extension of the tax credit program. It’s scheduled to expire Dec. 31, 2007, and the wind industry is seeking a five-year extension.
“It’s easy enough to see the development activity in the United States very closely tracks the production tax credit,” Green said. “If it’s not extended, you’ll see wind development dry up in 2008.”
BY Stephen J. Pytak, Staff Writer
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