Going with the wind

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SOMERSET, Pa. – More than 500 schoolchildren helped “flip the switch” to turn on 16 giant windmills on two new “wind” farms in Somerset, Somerset County, and Mill Run, Fayette County.

The two farms were dedicated and officially opened by local, state and national officials Oct. 24.

These two new wind farms are located in the heart of the Allegheny Mountains along more than a mile of ridge-top pastureland, ranging in elevation from 2,700 feet to 2,900 feet.

Six of the huge wind turbines catch the attention of travelers on the Pennsylvania Turnpike as they appear on the landscape near exit 10 between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.

The turbines at the two new wind farms will help to nearly triple the amount of wind energy in the Eastern United States, supplying as much as 63,000 megawatt hours of emission-free electricity annually. That’s enough energy to power 8,200 Pennsylvania homes, according to Environmental Protection Secretary David E. Hess.

Soaring growth. Wind energy is the world’s fastest growing form of electricity generation, meeting a growing demand for clean renewable energy. Wind turbines generate electricity with no emissions and no fuel at prices slightly above current generation costs (approximately 2 cents per kilowatt hour).

At the dedication last week, the University of Pennsylvania, Penn State University, Carnegie Mellon University, Philadelphia Suburban Water and Giant Eagle announced agreements for new wind energy purchases.

These purchases, along with those of several other organizations, account for 75 percent of the newly available wind energy.

“When wind energy customers see those big blades turning, they can take pride in knowing they brought us a new source of home-grown energy with no fuel, no smoke, and no price spikes,” said Brent Alderfer of Community Energy, which will market the wind power to commercial and residential customers.

Alderfer said that each of the five top purchases is the largest retail wind energy purchase in the country to date. Community Energy, an electricity marketing company, is headquartered in Wayne, Pa.

Huge blades. Each turbine’s three blades are 230 feet in diameter. The 24 megawatts of new wind generation will generate approximately 63,000 MWh per year of emission-free electricity.

As compared to the same amount of conventional generation, this wind generation is estimated to avoid about 75 million pounds annually of CO2 emissions, equivalent to taking 5400 cars off the road, or planting more than 10,000 acres of trees each year, according to Alderfer.

The price of energy from the new projects is lower than wind energy previously developed in the region, thanks to favorable wholesaling arrangements handled by Exelon Power Team, the long-term wholesale purchaser of the wind energy.

The projects were built by Mill Run Windpower and Somerset Windpower, joint ventures between Atlantic Renewable Energy Corporation, the leading developer of wind projects on the east coast, and Zilkha Renewable Energy, a Texas-based developer, builder, owner and operator of wind power plants worldwide. State-of-the-art 1.5 mega-watt wind turbines produced by California-based Enron Wind Corporation use longer, slower-turning blades to provide higher efficiencies in the moderate, steady wind regimes of the mid-Atlantic.

Funding. Financing for the projects was provided in part by Pennsylvania’s Sustainable Energy Funds, which support renewable and clean energy projects in the state. The Sustainable Development Fund, the Sustainable Energy Fund of Central Eastern Pennsylvania, the GPU Energy Sustainable Energy Fund and the West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund are co-investors in the project.

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