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Wind farm opposition group hopes to educate public

KEYSER, W.Va. – Although members don’t oppose a specific wind farm, Allegheny Highlands Alliance is one of the groups that opposes wind farms in general, according to member Wayne Spiggle of Short Gap.

The group is a consortium of citizen/environment organizations from five states, and one of its goals is to inform the public about the science and the truth of wind farms. Wind energy is too costly for the taxpayer; too inefficient to keep its promises to generate electricity at the level claimed; and too destructive in its impact on the people and the environment in the vicinity of the turbine installations, said Spiggle.

“The current taxpayer subsidy to the industry exceeds 60 percent, a public outrage,” said Spiggle in a recent interview with the Times-News.

“Most people don’t realize they pay three times for wind. They pay the electric bill, pay taxes and they are paying because the government has to borrow money,” said Kolin Jan of Lakewood, who is also a member of the group.

The state of Maryland, which has a contract with Pinnacle Wind Farm on Green Mountain in Mineral County, is the primary source of income for the project, according to Charley Parnell, vice president of public affairs for Edison Mission Energy of Irvine, Calif. Edison purchased the Pinnacle Wind Farm in April.

“These revenues are not tax credits, rather an agreement that was competitively bid to supply the output of the project to Maryland’s University System to meet its renewable needs,” said Parnell in an email to the Times-News. “We do receive some tax credits from the federal government.”

As far as efficiency of wind goes, the effective class average capacity factor of wind is 13 percent and 38 percent for solar units, according to a PJM manual. The Pinnacle Wind farm is on the PJM grid, according to Spiggle. PJM Interconnection is a regional transmission organization that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in all or parts of 13 states and the District of Columbia.

The ratio between a wind installation’s average power output and its maximum capacity is what the PJM grid calls capacity value.

“In general, wind farms are expected to run at a capacity factor of between 30 and 40 percent,” said Parnell in an email to the Times-News. “That is to say that they run about 30 to 40 percent of the time.”

Wind electricity generation is variable but it can be managed.

“(Wind is) more variable than conventional generators, no disputing that,” said Paula DuPont-Kidd, spokeswoman for PJM Interconnection LLC, in an interview with the Roanoke Times. “However, several studies … conclude the increased variability is manageable.”

Both Jan and Parnell agree that wind doesn’t blow all the time and, therefore, power is not always generated. However, wind projects are designed to be as efficient as possible, “in that turbines are laid out to capture wind from different directions,” said Parnell.

Because of the variables associated with wind, Jan questioned the savings of carbon dioxide gases when coal is being used instead to generate electricity.

“The coal is already being burnt and is wasted. There is no way to capture those emissions,” said Jan.

When there is no wind, the coal takes a while to heat up and make steam so while the coal is ramping up, jet engines, which use petroleum oil and create emissions, are used, according to Jan. Jan noted that the argument would change if there was a way to capture the electricity and store it.

However, according to Michael Goggin of the American Wind Energy Association, the varying output from wind farms is relatively easy for system operators to integrate, because changes in wind energy output occur slowly and are predictable.

“U.S. Department of Energy data conclusively show that states that have ramped up their wind energy production over the last several years, like Colorado and Texas, have seen major reductions in air pollution (and CO2) emissions, and every independent utility system operator that has looked at the issue has found that adding wind energy to the grid results in significant reductions in fossil fuel use and emissions,” writes Goggin.

“Wind is one of a few forms of generation, along with solar, nuclear and hydro primarily, that generate carbon-free electricity,” says Parnell.

Jan also raises the concern about what happens to the turbines when they are no longer viable. Because most of the companies that own wind farms are limited liability companies, they could walk away and leave the turbines with little to no ramifications, he said.

“Those windmills are going to be there a long time whether they spin or not,” said Jan.

Jan noted that often the turbines, which are made up of composite materials, are just left there. He also stressed that although he is opposed to industrial wind farms, he is not opposed to other forms of wind energy.

“We have an agreement to decommission the project when it is no longer used and have set money aside to remove the project,” said Parnell. “I’m not aware of what happens to the blades and other equipment.”

The Pinnacle Wind Farm consists of 23 turbines along the top of Green Mountain, just southwest of Keyser.

Pinnacle will have a maximum generating capacity of approximately 55 megawatts and will generate about 170 million kilowatt-hours per year, according to US Windforce. The project will supply enough power for about 14,100 households annually, or about 600 households per turbine.