Wind farm operators, wind energy suppliers and environmental groups hope to raise demand for electricity generated by wind turbines in Pennsylvania through a new website and publicity campaign.
EverPower Wind Holdings Inc., with an office in Lawrenceville, partnered with other companies and organizations on Thursday to introduce the initiative – ChoosePAWind – with the Internet address www.choosepawind.com, at a Duquesne University event.
Pennsylvania consumers who pay a premium on top of their electricity bills for wind credits often don’t realize they might be tied to generating facilities in Texas or other states, said Katie Bellezza, marketing manager for EverPower, a New York-based investment firm that operates two wind farms in the Johnstown area and is building two more in the state.
“We want to make sure people understand they have a choice, just like buying locally grown produce,” she said.
But only one of the three electricity suppliers identified by ChoosePAWind as having an all-Pennsylvania wind product that can be purchased by residential customers – Community Energy – is active in Western Pennsylvania. Big power-users such as universities, companies and shopping centers have more choices.
For consumers, buying energy from renewable sources such as wind can be difficult to grasp.
A homeowner who uses 830 kilowatt hours a month of electricity might pay an extra $12 a month, on top of a typical electric bill, for wind credits to match the electricity consumed, said John Hanger, special counsel with law firm Eckert Seamans Cherin Mellott LLC and former secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Electrons flowing into a power grid can’t be tracked. “When a wind facility creates power, it’s a commodity called a renewable energy credit,” Bellezza said. “Whoever owns that (credit) has the right to say they own the power from that wind farm.”
Customers who buy credits from remote regions served by other power grids aren’t getting the economic or environmental benefits that they would by buying Pennsylvania wind, Community Energy spokesman Jay Carlis said.
The company has more than 20,000 Pennsylvania customers, who purchase wind energy from two Eastern Pennsylvania utilities, other competitive power suppliers and a wind credit add-on product available in Western Pennsylvania. The number of customers statewide who are paying for renewable energy credits isn’t tracked, Bellezza said.
PPL EnergyPlus, which serves Western Pennsylvania, isn’t on the ChoosePAWind site. It’s part of Allentown-based PPL Corp.
PPL EnergyPlus sells some Pennsylvania wind power, but a product offered in several utility territories is a combination of multiple sources that include solar, hydro power and landfill gas, spokesman George Lewis said. Most of the projects are in Pennsylvania, and there are a few from surrounding states, he said.
More than 17 wind farms operate in the state, and 23 are in development. Between 3,000 and 4,000 workers are employed in the industry, either at wind farm developers or businesses that support them.
Still, low electricity prices have slowed Pennsylvania wind farm development, as have large commercial or industrial customers who opt for cheaper wind credits from generators elsewhere, Carlis said.
Hanger said consumers who buy Pennsylvania wind “are avoiding 100 percent of the mercury, soot, smog-causing pollution, acid rain-causing pollution and carbon pollution that would otherwise be caused by the electricity you get.”
Also yesterday, plans for offshore wind farms off the East Coast took a step closer to reality with the completion of a review that showed they would cause no major environmental damage.
Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said his agency was trying to speed the process for issuing renewable energy leases. Wind projects off the coasts of Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and New Jersey are being studied.
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