3 Rivers Clean Energy

Innovative Energy Solutions for the Future
From Southwestern PA and West Virginia

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Energy from Wind

A big part of the solution to the energy situation in the U.S. is, in fact, blowing in the wind.

About 6% of the U.S. land area, or about 180,000 square miles, has enough wind to power a windmill. If every gust of wind energy in the United States were captured on that 6%, it would equal about 600 gigawatts (that's 600 billion watts), or about 20% of the national need for electricity. That's nearly as much as nuclear-powered plants and twice what natural gas powered plants provide now. It's also twice what all the renewable sources combined provide today (with hydropower representing almost all of that).

Wind is a great resource in that it has virtually no greenhouse gas emissions and the fuel is free, but it also has some serious limitations, the primary one being that wind tends to blow strongest at night and in the winter when it is needed the least. Efficient storage systems would eliminate the "timing" problem and would help to deliver power during the summer in the middle of the afternoon when it is needed the most to take the load off the coal-fired generating plants. Storage systems would also help with the variability of the power.

Wind also has other challenges: windmills kill birds and bats, and they significantly change the appearance of the land and interfere with scenic viewsheds. Concerns about these kinds of impacts are holding up wind projects across the country.

Wind presents an important opportunity for the U.S. to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels. Costs of wind power have been declining rapidly as more and more countries are building wind installations. However, costs are still not competitive with energy sources like coal and nuclear power, and federal subsidies have been needed to help wind power developers in the U.S. The Federal subsidies will expire at the end of 2007, and if they are not renewed, it will slow the development of new wind farms.

The available wind energy in Pennsylvania and West Virginia represent only a small portion of the national potential - only about 0.5% and 0.1% respectively. The Midwest holds the greatest promise. But there is still much opportunity that can be reaped in the 3 Rivers Region.

West Virginia has wind resources suitable for utility-scale production, with some areas rated outstanding to superb in the mountains. The state is currently ranked 17th in wind-fueled electricity production and has strong potential for growth. FPL Energy's Mountaineer Wind Energy Center is home to a 66MW, 44 turbine facility. U.S. Windforce and others have numerous projects in planning or construction. However, these projects have also raised serious concerns about their impacts on viewsheds.

Pennsylvania wind resources are not as strong as those in West Virginia, but there are still many locations in Pennsylvania that can support utility scale production, particularly southeast of Pittsburgh in the mountains of Fayette County. Robert Morris University has received a University Innovation Grant from Innovation Works to demonstrate the commercial viability and advantages of a vertical axis windmill design which would potentially be applicable to both large and small windmill farms.

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©2007 Janet S. Lauer Consulting. All rights reserved.