The idea of using wind power as a green alternative to burning coal to make electricity has been a controversial topic in the region.
Attempts in recent years to install wind turbines in Ulysses and Allegany, N.Y., have shown that, in addition to those who feel there is an environmental benefit to wind power, there is a strong group which has questioned its impact on neighboring residents and wildlife.
To shed some light on the matter, a panel discussion was held Thursday evening at the Bradford Area Public Library, sponsored by the library and the Energy Institute at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford.
The program was purely informative. No plans to install a wind farm in the Bradford area were raised at the meeting.
The panel included Dr. Matthew Kropf, director of Pitt-Bradford’s Energy Institute, John Taucher, water pollution biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission and Lisa DiFrancisco of REVision Consulting LLC.
Kropf provided some general background on the subject. He explained that more people are looking at new ways to create electricity due to man-made climate changes, and wind power is the fastest-growing way to produce electricity. Wind power, he said, offers the highest return on investment of all ways to create electricity.
Pennsylvania, which gets about 1 percent of its electricity from wind power, has a long way to go to use its wind power potential, according to Kropf.
Important considerations when finding a place to install a wind turbine include locations with good conditions wind conditions that are accessible by the electric grid, the cost and condition of land and the results of an environmental impact assessment.
When it comes to new wind projects, it is local regulations, such as zoning and building permits and inspections, which “can make or break a wind project.” As shown by local attempts at developing wind power, it can take years.
In regards to one concern residents near a wind project area have about turbine, the noise, Kropf said the decibel-level of a turbine falls between the sound of a quiet bedroom at night and the inside of a home during the day, he said.
Many also oppose the impact turbines have on the visual landscape of an area. Kropf said while a view is “obviously a personal preference,” he noted that “it was really hard to find bad pictures of wind turbines” when he was searching for photos for his presentation.
As wind power becomes more popular, the technology has continued to evolve. Since the 1980s, wind turbines have become increasingly taller and bigger. To lower the cost of wind energy, people are focusing on the cost maintaining rather than the cost of manufacturing and installing them. Efforts are being made to simplify the equipment so there is less to maintain.
Taucher’s talk focused on birds and bats, flighted animals that are affected for the duration of a wind turbine’s existence.
He talked about the Commission’s Wind Energy Volunteer Cooperative Agreement. While there is a lack of regulation in Pennsylvania on the wildlife impact from wind turbines on private land, many companies have entered into the agreement with the Commission to lessen the impact on animals.
What they’ve found collecting data in Pennsylvania over the past few years is that birds are not killed as often by turbines in Pennsylvania as they are by turbines out West, but bats are killed in more alarming numbers.
One turbine kills an average of four birds in Pennsylvania per year, while 27 bats per year are killed by each turbine. New technology is being sought to try to decrease bat mortality, too, such as by feathering the blade or raising the cut-in speed. Research has shown that most bird deaths occur when a bird is directly struck by a turbine blade, but that bats often die simply by being near a turbine, suffering a condition that is similar to the bends in humans.
At each site, the Commission determines whether the risk to birds and bats is high or low and makes suggestions based on the findings.
In addition to lessening the impact on animals, the Commission also asks companies to minimize their footprint on the land by doing things such as using existing roads when possible rather than building more, only clearing the amount of forest needed for a project and using reclaimed strip mines.
DiFrancisco, who was an installer of small wind and solar power equipment for 15 years or more, became a consultant so she can work with legislators and zoning authorities and not be seen as a saleswoman. Her experience, she indicated, has given her insight in effective and ineffective ways to use wind power. Her own experience is not with large wind farms but instead with small wind sites, where an individual or organization might install one or two.
She explained that from the perspective of a consumer, there are six basic concerns regarding wind power – cost, function, permitting, sound, safety and aesthetics.
DiFrancisco talked about some myths people have about wind turbines. She said that, even in turbulent weather, turbines will not fall over and cause damage; if anything happens they are designed to crumple, rather than fall like a tree. Also, the blades do not throw ice, though ice can fall from a turbine, so she wouldn’t recommend standing underneath one.
Regarding the noise a turbine makes, a well-functioning turbine is much quieter than, say, a window air conditioner. If a turbine is making loud sounds, something is not working right, she said. She noted they can make louder noises during a storms or power outage.
Of the two kinds of turbine – horizontal axis wind turbines (HAWTs) or vertical axis wind turbines (VAWTs), VAWTs do not work as effectively as HAWTs. Also, taller wind turbines are more cost effective than smaller ones, although for small wind the cost effectiveness drops off after 160 feet in height.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding