Coalition promotes ‘homegrown wind’ for Pa. consumers

Source: Daniel Cusick, • E&E • Posted: Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pennsylvania, one of the nation’s premier coal states, is promoting wind energy under a new partnership that seeks to expand the state’s wind portfolio to as much as 6 percent of total generation over the coming years.

The initiative, known as ChoosePAWind, launched yesterday with a website portal providing businesses and consumers with information about what companies and institutions are investing in wind power across the commonwealth, as well as how and where to purchase electricity generated by Pennsylvania turbines.

“Choosing Pennsylvania wind products is a great way for energy consumers to show their commitment to sustainable energy and help to grow the alternative energy industry across the state,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) said at a Philadelphia news conference launching the initiative.

Organizers say they hope ChoosePAWind will help propel Pennsylvania into the top echelon among wind power-producing states. According to the American Wind Energy Association, Pennsylvania ranked 15th among the states in total installed wind power capacity, at just under 800 megawatts.

The majority of the state’s electricity is produced by coal (48 percent) or nuclear plants (34 percent), according to the Edison Electric Institute, while 1 percent comes from hydropower resources and 3 percent comes from other renewables like wind, solar and biomass.

Among the Eastern states, Pennsylvania’s wind industry ranks second behind New York, which claimed 1,403 megawatts of installed wind power capacity at the end of 2011. But rapid growth on the state’s western flank, including in Ohio and Michigan, could leave Pennsylvania at risk of losing its competitive edge.

Pennsylvania is currently home to 17 wind farms, with another 23 under development, according to backers of the initiative. Direct and indirect employment from those wind farms in 2010 is estimated at between 3,000 and 4,000

Promoting homegrown power

Dan Lagiovane, a spokesman for EverPower Wind Holdings Inc., one of the initiative’s primary backers, said ChoosePAWind was launched after a number of Pennsylvania wind power producers noticed that a growing number of green power purchases by Pennsylvania businesses and institutions were coming from vendors in Texas and Illinois

“Our primary goal is to raise awareness about Pennsylvania wind, but we also want keep the economic and environmental benefits that come with green energy development from leaving the state,” he said

EverPower, with offices in Pittsburgh, owns and operates a 62.5-MW wind farm in Cambria County in southwest Pennsylvania, and is in the process of building a 150-MW project in Somerset County, the state’s largest planned wind farm to date.

Other backers of ChoosePAWind are wind power generators such as the Energy Cooperative, Community Energy, Penn Wind and OwnEnergy, as well as turbine makers Nordex and Gamesa and some of the state’s leading environmental nonprofits.

Jossi Fritz-Mauer, co-director at the Energy Cooperative, a 30-year-old supplier of wind and solar power to consumers in PECO’s service territory of Philadelphia and surrounding counties, said the ChoosePAWind initiative gives power customers the chance to “transform their support of clean energy into a commitment to buy electricity made from new wind farms coming from right here in Pennsylvania.”

According to federal estimates, Pennsylvania’s wind resources are sufficient to produce as much as 6.4 percent of the commonwealth’s electricity. But achieving that goal depends on a number of factors, including consumer demand for green energy and rate-based utilities’ continued interest in contracting for homegrown wind power

Such power has been price competitive over the last three years as the federal production tax credit (PTC) has helped to drive down generation costs. But if the PTC is not renewed by Congress, the energy landscape could shift toward less expensive fuels such as hydro and natural gas, experts say

Locating plants over coal mines

But wind energy proponents believe Pennsylvania already has critical foothold in the wind industry, especially in southwest Pennsylvania, where many wind farms are being clustered along the Allegheny Mountains, including atop reclaimed coal mines.

A recent study commissioned by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance found that many of the business sectors involved in the wind power supply chain — including the metals, plating and electronics industries, as well as turbine manufacturer Gamesa — are already established in western Pennsylvania.

Dewitt Peart, president of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, said the region’s strengths in materials science and manufacturing, as well as its proximity to major research universities and the National Energy Technology Laboratory, make it an ideal place to grow the renewable energy supply and support sector.

“When you look across the portfolio of different energy sources that we have here, we see Pittsburgh as having something of a competitive strength,” he said.

Elsewhere in the commonwealth, the Philadelphia region is home to the principal East Coast office of the Spanish wind power giant Iberdrola, and GE Wind operates an office in Mainesburg, north of Williamsport, Peart said.

Click here to view the ChoosePAWind website.