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Wind Instead: The Implementation and Usage of Wind Generated Energy in Pennsylvania

Posted: May 19, 2016

By Jade Utz

Background

The implementation and use of wind turbines in Commonwealth of Pennsylvania instead of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) would result in an enhancement of Pennsylvania’s ability to generate and use renewable wind energy. Wind farms do not contribute to global warming, and the production of wind energy does not create air pollution, water pollution, or hazardous waste (Penn Future). The greater use of wind energy would allow PA to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, and advance the implementation of other alternative renewable energy sources. This would also result in PA being an independent producer and consumer of its energy.

Pennsylvania currently operates 24 wind energy generation projects, with a capacity of 1,334.5 MW. They currently generate 3,507,066 megawatt-hours (MWh) of clean wind energy every year, which is enough to power almost 389,674 homes (Penn Future). Montgomery County, PA became the first wind-powered county in America in 2007. That year, Montgomery County’s wind production was among the top ten largest municipal green power projects in the United States. They agreed to a two-year commitment to receive 100% of its electricity from wind energy and renewable energy credits derived from the wind energy (NRDC).

A map showing the locations of current wind turbine fields in PA

A map showing the locations of current wind turbine fields in PA (Penn Future)

Within the next 10 years, Pennsylvania has the potential to acquire more than 4,000 megawatts (MW) of wind produced energy, which could power more than one million homes (Penn Future). The Wisconsin Energy Bureau states that three times as many jobs are created per dollar invested into wind energy production than per dollar invested into fossil fuel energy production (Pennsylvania Wind Working Group). Every megawatt of wind energy produced creates between 15-19 jobs (Black & Veatch).

Washington D.C. has recently signed a contract with the PA wind power company, Iberdrola Renewables, to receive wind generated electricity for the next 20 years. Through this agreement, D.C. will acquire about 35% of the electricity needed to power their municipal buildings from Iberdola. D.C. will also be buying Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) from Iberdrola Renewables. Current wind energy production prices were a persuasive factor in D.C.’s decision because they are currently at the lowest price point in history (U.S. Department of Energy). Even our nation’s capital sees the value in Pennsylvania’s wind energy production.

A chart showing the estimated benefits of wind energy by facility size

A chart showing the estimated benefits of wind energy by facility size (ConEdison Solutions)

Legal Framework

The current policy regarding alternative energy, including wind energy, is the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS). This policy passed by Pennsylvania State Legislature in 2004 requires that at least 18% of the energy sales by electricity supplying companies must be generated through alternative energy sources by the year 2021. In order to meet these standards, wind energy constitutes the most popular renewable energy resource option. From 2004-2011, 86% of the PA Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) requirements were met through the generation of wind energy, which also helped drive Pennsylvania’s economic development (AWEA).

In 2007, Pennsylvania Game Commission developed a Wind Energy Voluntary Cooperative Agreement with wind developers. The Cooperative Agreement aims to aid the development of increased wind energy production while helping project managers to reduce, avoid, and properly handle any of the potential negative environmental impacts affecting Pennsylvania’s wildlife or natural resources that could occur during the energy generating process (Pennsylvania Game Commission).

The current policies have been very successful and set a precedent for Pennsylvania’s future generation and consumption of alternative energy sources like wind energy. The positive results that have occurred so far as a result of implementing and consuming wind energy in PA have played an important role in influencing other states’ attempt to switch to more “green” methods of energy acquirement.

The Issue

Wind generated energy is an incredible renewable and sustainable energy option, especially in Pennsylvania.  Energy production methods in Pennsylvania should steer towards increasing the production of wind generated energy and decreasing the prevalence of fracking and other fossil fuel related methods of energy production.

Analysis

Generating wind energy is very “farmer friendly --very important in Pennsylvania -- because of the significant amount of rural and agricultural land. Wind turbines can be located directly on a farmer’s property without causing much disruption; the base of the turbine does not occupy too much land. The presence of wind turbines barely interferes with a farmer’s ability to grow crops or let their animals out to graze because the land can be used up to the base of the turbine. Wind energy is also ideal for Pennsylvania and its farmers because wind turbines also do not require water to function and thus results in less resource waste (U.S. Department of Energy).

Pennsylvania-- especially the rural areas-- can also benefit from the greater introduction of wind energy generation because the energy, jobs, and money created as a result will stay within the community. Farmers and other rural landowners can lease the land that the wind turbines occupy for a profit. A rural community’s ability to thrive economically from the production and use of wind generated energy is especially important in Pennsylvania because of the upsurge of fracking rushing to the Marcellus Shale regions.

Opponents of wind energy often state that wind energy production is loud and disruptive; however, wind turbines actually produce very little noise. At a distance of just 750 feet, a wind turbine farm is as loud as a humming kitchen refrigerator (U.S. Department of Energy). Wind energy critics also state that wind turbines damage the environment because birds can be killed by flying into wind turbines. In reality, wind turbines have a very small impact on bird populations; more bird fatalities are caused by birds flying into buildings and other human-man structures (U.S. Department of Energy). Fracking causes air pollution, water pollution, and exposure to toxic chemicals that are damaging to people and the environment, while wind turbines create no pollution. The environmental impacts of fracking and other fossil fuels have a significantly larger effect on not only birds, but also our environmental and human health and well-being.

Others argue wind energy production will not be a strong industry because it requires a production tax credit (PTC) to achieve its predicted economic success. However, all methods of energy production receive considerable amounts of federal subsidies. Fracking and other fossil fuel production may appear to be more lucrative methods of energy generation, but only if looking at the surface of the situation. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, energy production through fossil fuels receives significantly more money from federal subsidies. For every $1 that the renewable energy industry receives in federal subsidies, the fossil fuels industry receives $5.

A graph illustrating the disparity in federal subsidies received by fossil fuel and renewables

A graph illustrating the disparity in federal subsidies received by fossil fuel and renewables (U.S. Government Accountability Office)

Many rural communities agree to allow fracking because of the subsequent financial benefits. If more rural Pennsylvanian communities recognized the positive economic development associated with wind energy, fracking would be less enticing. Instead, communities should invest in further developing their own renewable energy production.

A graph showing the recorded and predicted reductions in emissions from using wind energy

A graph showing the recorded and predicted reductions in emissions from using wind energy (U.S. Department of Energy)

Solution

In order to achieve more success with wind energy generation in Pennsylvania, three main changes need to be put into action: reducing the cost of developing renewable energy, better facilitation of wind energy on electrical grid infrastructures, and the adoption of the Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) renewable energy requirements. The best results could be achieved by combining all three options, though the feasibility of adopting all practices proves more complicated than one policy change. The reviews and critiques of each individual option are as follows.

Lowering the financing costs required to develop new renewable energy projects through long-term contracting agreements results in an overall reduction in the costs associated with the generation and production of wind energy (Clean Energy Wins). With this policy alternative, developing new wind energy projects appeal to investors as economic stability and potential wind energy instills a greater sense of confidence in investing. However, it is too early in Pennsylvania’s transition to renewable energy for this to be easily implemented or monitored as an energy production regulation.

Increasing Pennsylvania state government’s coordination with regional electrical grid planners would result in the better facilitation of wind energy into the PA Public Utility electrical grid. If the wind energy can be more easily incorporated into the electrical grid, it would be very cost-efficient and advantageous to the completion of Pennsylvania’s renewable energy goals (Choose PA Wind). However, this may be too demanding of state and local governments. Additionally, the level of coordination required to facilitate wind energy into the electrical grid will organically increase and develop on its own, as the production and demand for wind generated energy broadens.

The final proposed policy alternative is an adjustment of Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS). The PA AEPS renewable energy requirements request that 18% of the electricity supplied by Pennsylvania’s electric distribution companies and electricity generation suppliers come from alternative energy resources by 2021. If the AEPS requirement was raised just 2%, from 18% to 20%, it would significantly increase the competitiveness of Pennsylvania’s renewable energy markets. This recommendation could have a profound effect on increasing alternative energy initiatives; in addition, the 2% AEPS requirement increase is not too drastic, so citizens are less likely to reject it. Pennsylvania has the means to achieve even more than a new minimum of 20% renewable energy sales, but may not yet fully realize this ability. Increasing the amount required alternative energy production required will compel Pennsylvania to establish even more renewable energy projects, which in turn will continue to provide economic and energy production benefits.

Resources

1. The National Resources Defense Council

2. Penn Future

3. The American Wind Energy Association

4. The American Wind Energy Association

5. U.S. Government Accountability Office

6. U.S. Department of Energy

References

Penn Future, “An organization of citizens committed to a vision of the future that places the conservation of our natural resources at the center of a vibrant economy.” “Energy Center” www.pennfuture.org/content.aspx?SectionID=192 (2015)
Detailed information regarding Pennsylvania’s wind energy, and information about wind energy use in the individual counties within PA. Source of PA wind projects map used in brief.

National Resources Defense Council, “NRDC is the nation's most effective environmental action group, combining the grassroots power of 1.4 million members and online activists with the courtroom clout and expertise of nearly 500 lawyers, scientists and other professionals.” “Renewable Energy: Pennsylvania” www.nrdc.org/energy/renewables/penn.asp

Pennsylvania Game Commission “Wind Energy” www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=514&objID=613068&mode=2 (2013)
Information provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania regarding nature preservation and wind energy development.

Penn Future “Clean Energy Wins: A Policy Roadmap for Pennsylvania” http://cleanenergywins.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/CleanEnergyWins_PolicyRoadmap.pdf (2014)
A very long and detailed account of various current renewable energy resource generation techniques and policies.

ChoosePAWind is an initiative to encourage energy consumers in the state to power their businesses and homes with energy from PA wind farms: http://choosepawind.com/ (2014)

American Wind Energy Association, “State Wind Energy Statistics: Pennsylvania” http://awea.files.cms-plus.com/FileDownloads/pdfs/Pennsylvania.pdf (2014)
A quick-facts sheet about wind energy statistics in Pennsylvania.

Black and Veatch Holding Company
www.bv.com (2015)
“Black & Veatch is a leading global engineering, consulting and construction company.”

U.S. Department of Energy “Wind Energy Benefits” www.pawindenergynow.org/wind/wpa_factsheet_series.pdf (2005)
A very informative pamphlet detailing quick facts about wind energy benefits.

ConEdison Solutions
http://www.conedsolutions.com/Libraries/New_CES_Logo_Fact_Sheets_Brochures/Wind_Power.sflb.ashx
Source for the second chart used in the brief.

U.S Department of Energy “Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy” http://www1.eere.energy.gov/wind/pdfs/42864.pdf (2008)
Source for first graph used in brief.

US Government Accountability Office
http://www.gao.gov/ (2015)
“The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress.”

StateImpact Pennsylvania
https://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/2015/08/11/d-c-to-buy-pennsylvania-wind-power/