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Wind power gains steam in Pennsylvania

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By Rick Stouffer
Friday, April 9, 2010

Wind power came on strong in Pennsylvania in 2009, with the electricity generated by windmills more than doubling, the American Wind Energy Association said Thursday.

Windmills now stand atop hills in nine counties across Pennsylvania, including Fayette, Somerset, Cambria and Blair. The first windmill in Southwest Pennsylvania began generating power in 2000. Five years ago, the region had four wind farms with a generating capacity of 64.5 megawatts.

Last year, more than 387 megawatts of wind power capacity was built in the state, with five new wind farms coming online, according to the association. That increased the state's wind capacity to 748 megawatts. One megawatt of wind power generates enough electricity to power about 300 homes.

"The wind industry knows Pennsylvania wants wind, that we will work with the industry, because we want the jobs, and we want the clean energy," said John Hanger, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Hanger said Pennsylvania's public policy shows the state is friendly toward wind farms and equipment makers.

A 2004 state law mandates that electricity utilities supply 18.5 percent of their sales from alternative sources, including wind, by 2021. This year's goal for energy supplied from alternative sources is 9.2 percent, according to Public Utility Commission spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher.

The association said that between 4,000 and 5,000 jobs have been created by wind power in the state since 1999. Wind project owners pay $1.3 million in annual property taxes and annual land-lease payments total about $2.2 million, it said.

The Spanish company Gamesa SA opened a windmill blade manufacturing plant in Ebensburg, Blair County, in 2006. Its North American headquarters is in Philadelphia, with another plant in Fairless Hills, Bucks County. Gamesa's total state employment is more than 250.

The association's annual state of the industry report released yesterday showed 2009 was a record-setting year nationwide with more than 10,000 megawatts of wind power installed. Total capacity now stands at 35,086 megawatts, the most of any country.

Wind supplied nearly 2 percent of U.S. energy needs last year, the association said. One big reason for 2009's expansion was the federal stimulus package signed into law more than a year ago. It included an extension through 2012 of wind energy-related tax incentives and a $4 billion loan guarantee program to promote renewable energy.

Experts say that for wind industry momentum to continue, the U.S. must pass a federal renewable energy portfolio standard mandating that a share of every state's power come from renewable sources, such as wind, solar and geothermal.

"We're the only major developed country in the world with no renewable standard," said Don Furman, president of the association's board, and a senior vice president with Iberdrola Renewables Inc. The company, the country's second-largest wind power owner, has developed two wind farms in Pennsylvania, and owns a third.

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