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Wind farm value in Tioga County addressed

MANSFIELD – Matt Riel, general manager of the Armenia Mountain Facility, AES Armenia Mountain Wind LLC, spoke to about 50 students and community members Thursday about the wind farm that was established in Tioga County in 2009.

Riel was at the Mansfield University as part of the Institute of Science and the Environment Speaker’s Series, formerly the Marcellus Institute.

Riel told the group the 67 wind turbines spanning about 7 miles across the top of Armenia Mountain has a 100.5 megawatt capacity, enough to power about 23,000 homes.

“That is not an insignificant amount of energy,” he said.

The average American home uses about 400 kilowatt hours per month, Riel said.

A former coal fired plant manager from Pittsburgh, Riel said he also has managed plants in Hawaii.

Riel told the group that though his company is “not a household name by any stretch, it is an independent power producer.”

“AES sells the electricity it produces to utilities and they mark it up and sell it to consumers,” he said.

AES’ two customers are Del Marva Power and Light and Old Dominion Electric, which serve the Delaware, Maryland and Virginia area.

AES has other energy producing facilities that are not just wind farms, but also coal, natural gas, solar and hydro powered in 21 countries, employing 22,000 people.

“By fuel type, the company has just about every developed technology with the exception of nuclear and geothermal,” he added.

Last year AES produced 37,159 megawatts, the majority of it produced in the United States, and revenues totaled $16 billion.

One megawatt equals 1 million watts.

Each one of the turbines on Armenia Mountain has a 1.5 megawatt capacity.

“So if wind is blowing sufficiently, each one can generate 1.5 megawatt hours, or enough to power 332 homes,” he said.

Riel explained how the generators that are housed in the nacelle at the top of the 73-foot pole produce energy at 690 volts, as it goes through the pad mount transformer it is stepped up to 34,500 volts and then cables carry it underground to the substation on Swamp Road, where it is stepped up to 115,000 volts.

A 2.3-mile-long transmission line carries the electricity off the mountain where it interconnects with Penelec’s transmission line at a switch yard.

It takes a wind between 7 and 24 mph to have the turbines generating at full capacity, he said.

Wind on top of Armenia Mountain averages about 14 mph.

In response to the often-asked question of why are they getting the energy we produce in our backyard, Riel said electrons are a commodity, and are sold to the highest bidder.

“Although it is true, electrons are a commodity no matter how it is generated, what our generators produce also go to support the local grid here, providing more reliable and better quality power,” he added.

“Prior to our project coming on line, the grid here wasn’t very stable or well supported, and that causes power fluctuations,” he said, which can damage electronic equipment that needs a consistent current.

Although wind energy accounts for only about 6 percent of total energy generation, it has doubled from last year to this.

“The cost of wind generation continues to drop and become more cost competitive with the other fuels,” he said. “I see it continuing to capture market share of our country’s energy mix.”