August 6, 2007

Schuylkill County has wind potential

An expert from the U.S. Department of Energy said Thursday there may be more opportunities for wind power locally, but future projects will still require research.

Dennis Elliott, principal scientist and leader of wind resource assessment for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, Colo., said the region has key elements with windswept ridges in the north and west and major utility lines that bisect the county.

“It looks like you do have some resources for development,” said Elliott, studying online wind contour maps created for the department by an Albany, N.Y., consultant, AWS True-wind.

In examining the possibilities, experts said average wind speeds of 13 mph or higher at altitudes of 70 meters or more must be considered for utility power generation.

“Most utility wind turbines are going to be higher than that,” said Christine Real de Azua, assistant director of communications for the American Wind Energy Association.

Real de Azua said a current 13-turbine wind farm in Mahanoy and East Union townships is small by the standards of states like Texas, but remains viable.

“There are certainly probably some business opportunities as well,” Real de Azua said.

She also said other options exist for wind power generation.

“If a homeowner wants to look into a turbine just for their own private use, that’s a possibility too,” she said.

Elliot said wind contour maps showed favorable conditions, together measured as “wind power density,” on ridges stretching from northeast to southwest in the county’s northern and western regions.

Ridges in a region southwest of the city of Hazleton look particularly promising, Elliott said.

Meanwhile, the proximity of utility lines from which the power generated by turbines can be fed to the larger power grid is also an important factor.

The farther lines transporting the electricity generated by wind farms must be run to major utility lines, the more expensive the project and the less economically feasible.

Despite the good initial indicators, Elliott said considerable site research would have to be done in most cases before further wind power development becomes a possibility.

Generally between one and two years of wind data must be collected at the site before wind farms capable of generating power for utilities can be considered a viable investment, he said.

The first challenge can be selecting the best potential location in which to collect that data.

In making the selection, Elliott said other factors, including land use and zoning regulations, must be considered.

Wind farms must also be located far enough away from wetlands and other environmentally sensitive areas due to the possible impact of their operation and in areas where a limited amount of bird life will be affected.

He said construction of smaller turbines for home or other individual use may not require the level of wind needed for large utility turbines but must pass muster with local zoning.

They must also be located in an elevated area free of too much tree cover where they can receive sufficient wind to operate.

Iberdrola Renewable Energies USA Ltd. operates the 13-turbine Locust Ridge Wind Farm near Brandonville constructed in late 2006 for more than $40 million, which is capable of supplying power for an estimated 8,000 homes.

A windmill installed in January at a cost of $78,000 at Tuscarora State Park is used to supply roughly 30 percent of the power for the park office and visitors center.

By Shawn A. Hessinger
Tamaqua Bureau Chief

The Republican & Herald

6 August 2007

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