It’s called the Allegheny Plateau, a wide span of ridges stretching across west-central Pennsylvania and then south into West Virginia.
The wind patterns and terrain characteristics of the plateau make it the primary reason why Cambria and Somerset counties soon will be home to more than 500 new windmills during the next few years, with predictions of more on the horizon.
That number is in addition to the 34 existing turbines in Somerset County and includes the 90 proposed for the Allegheny Ridge.
By 2020, Pennsylvania must comply with the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, a 2004 mandate by Gov. Ed Rendell requiring that 18 percent of all electricity sold in the state come from clean energy sources. Wind is just one of those sources.
Turbine opponents say that the next decade could push the number of windmills statewide to 17,000. Proponents call the figure a scare tactic and speculate it will be closer to 1,750 statewide built during the next 13 years.
Regardless, there is a growing sense that many windmills will be in this region.
“Of all of Pennsylvania the Allegheny front is certainly were the wind is most efficient,” said Terry Doran, whose home is in the Folmont Resident Wilderness Community, near Central City.
“That’s where they’re going to build them.”
Pete Weaver is one of 220 development property owners in Stonycreek, Shade and Allegheny townships, Somerset County, and Juniata Township, Bedford County ““ where turbines soon may be plentiful.
He and other property owners have banded together to fight the expansion of windmills in that area.
“Nobody’s put it together, what the face of this region is going to look like,” Weaver said.
Residents of the Folmont development fear they will eventually have 60 turbines within a mile radius of their homes.
“We’re going to be a little island,” said Weaver, whose group is fighting for local ordinances to make it easier to live with the windmills.
“˜An important step’
PJM Interconnections LLC is a Valley Forge-based group representing various utilities. The company provides electricity for 51 million people in parts of Pennsylvania and 12 other states. PJM’s service region stretches south through Washington, D.C., to North Carolina and Tennessee, and west to Michigan.
The company oversees the power interconnections and secures generation commitments from power producers in a method similar to a cooperative, PJM spokesman Ray Dotter said.
From the company’s Web site of interconnection queues, current and potential windmill locations are listed. As of Dec. 18, the site showed that developers are planning enough wind development to represent around 500 turbines ““ a signal that the region will be a major player in the wind energy market.
Projects are at various stages of development and a spot on the list is not a guarantee that a wind farm is on the way.
“The list is updated on an as-needed basis,” Dotter said
No target dates are given, but getting on PJM’s list as a potential power source is essential for financing to build a turbine project, said Eric Foley, director of the Renewable Energy Center at St. Francis University, Loretto
“It doesn’t mean they are a sure thing,” he said. “But it is an important step along the way. It is one of the first things you do after you know you have good wind reserves.”
The capital investment locally to build the turbines could top $1.6 billion, and host fees could pump $1.5 million annually into Cambria and Somerset municipalities, Foley said.
“˜We need to diversify’
Along with the Allegheny Plateau, a second prime mountain range has been designated in the Scranton-Wilkes Barre area.
“There are two wind regions in Pennsylvania and we are smack dab in the middle of one,” Foley said. “The other is in the northeast.”
A less important area has been designed near Lake Erie.
While available wind power may be better in the Western states of Montana and North and South Dakota, location is key, Foley said. These states are thousands of miles from the energy hungry Northeast and the key is getting the power to the customer.
PJM’s list of 18 proposed local wind projects shows Somerset can expect 255 more in addition to its existing 34 windmills. Cambria is looking at 234 windmills.
Projections are based on each turbine generating two mega-watts of power ““ today’s industry standard.
One factor that could slow windmill construction is a lack of blades. While Gamesa has not released sales or contract figures, sources say fiberblades manufactured at the Cambria Township plant have been sold through 2009.
Getting the windmills up and operational is good news for the region, state and nation, said John Hanger, the president of Penn Future, a statewide environmental group.
“Conventional energy methods are dirty and costly and while there is no way of making electricity without environmental impact, wind happens to have the least environmental impact,” Hanger said.
He downplays the perception of bird and bat deaths caused by the turbines, predicting far more winged species will be extinct through use of fossil fuels.
“We have too many eggs in the fossil fuel basket,” Hanger said. “We need to diversify.”
By Kathy Mellott
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