Whatever is causing turbine blades made at Gamesa Energy USA near Ebensburg to splinter should be known within weeks, a company representative said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the startup of the Allegheny Ridge Wind Farm ““ which will become Pennsylvania’s largest wind farm ““ will be on hold until the blade investigation is completed, Ellen Lutz, director of development for Gamesa’s Atlantic Region, said Wednesday.
“We must wait until the investigation is finished,” Lutz told the editorial board of The Tribune-Democrat. “We want to make sure it never happens again. Our primary concern is the safety of the community.”
The vinyl stretched over the blade frame peeled off two turbines and fell to the ground, and cracking problems showed up on five others.
Still in progress are Gamesa’s plans to participate in the development of about 30 turbines on Shaffer Mountain on the Somerset-Bedford county line. Lutz said that project could begin in mid-summer.
The blade problems at Allegheny Ridge were made public in March. Gamesa officials told Portage and Washington supervisors they had detected problems in seven of the estimated 360 blades manufactured at the Fiberblade plant in Cambria Township.
Production at the plant has continued, Lutz said, and none of the more than 300 employees has been laid off.
“They’ve stopped shipping the blades until everything has been cleared up,” she said.
The overall demand for energy is increasing nationwide by 3 percent annually. Meeting that demand, Lutz said, requires the equivalent of 40 new coal-powered nuclear power plants per year.
Estimates are that seven wind farms statewide will be generating energy by Dec. 31, and western Pennsylvania remains a prime location.
Lutz said the Allegheny Ridge is an ideal place to build wind farms. “There are very good … wind patterns.”
Lutz, along with Scott Tattar, vice president of a Philadelphia communications company representing Gamesa, were in the area Wednesday for a Gamesa-sponsored town meeting in Blair County. The meeting was an effort to open communications between the public and the Spain-based company.
Allegheny Ridge eventually will place as many as 90 turbines along 13 miles in Portage and Cresson townships and into Blair County. Efforts are under way to develop a separate site outside Altoona where Gamesa is seeking changes in a local ordinance that severely limits the number of turbines.
“We’re here because we are dedicated to the community and the community’s environment. That’s at the core of this town meeting,” Tattar said.
About 60 residents and officials attended the meeting at the Blair County Convention Center, where Lutz outlined the need for wind power as the demand for renewable energy grows nationally.
Residents from across the region attended, including Cresson resident Etta Albright. She challenged Gamesa to look closer at the impact turbines may have on bats.
Lutz said Gamesa is open to suggestions and already is part of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Wind Cooperative Agreement, which includes a study of the bat population.
By Kathy Mellott
25 April 2007
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