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Wind turbines to be installed near Pennsylvania Turnpike

Tuesday, April 24, 2001

By Don Hopey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The Pennsylvania Turnpike will soon have a new bit of scenery to go with the orange barrels and barreling tractor-trailers.

Somerset Windpower will begin construction this summer of six wind turbines, with blades 230 feet long, on a ridge top visible from the toll road.

The 400-acre site, leased from three property owners, is on a farm field in Somerset Township, Somerset County. The turbines, each on towers 210 feet tall, will be lined up along a one-mile stretch a half-mile from the turnpike.

They will produce an estimated 25,000 megawatt hours of electricity a year, or enough to provide power to 2,500 families.

Although the wind farm is in southwestern Pennsylvania, the power will be marketed to customers of Philadelphia-based PECO Energy Co. under a partnership agreement with Community Energy Inc., a renewable energy marketing company. The marketing campaign will involve a coalition of environmental groups, government agencies and businesses.

"This is the top green energy product in the market," said Brent Alderfer, president of Community Energy, who noted that it used no fuel, was emission-free and was local.

Financing for the Somerset Wind Farm will come in part from Pennsylvania's regional sustainable energy funds, which were created in 1998 by the electric restructuring cases to support renewable and clean energy and energy efficiency. It also will benefit from a federal wind energy tax credit that is scheduled to expire at the end of this year.

The sustainable development funds also provided financial support for the Mill Run Wind Farm project, a larger, $18 million facility in Springfield and Stewart, Fayette County.

When that 10-turbine, 15-megawatt wind farm is completed in the fall, it will generate more electricity than any such facility in the eastern United States -- enough for 5,700 homes.

Currently, the largest wind farm in Pennsylvania is in Garrett, Somerset County. The 10.4-megawatt power plant, developed for GreenMountain Energy, can produce enough electricity to power about 2,500 homes.

Wind farms have been cropping up in California and other places as a lower-cost, more environmentally friendly way to produce electricity, though to date, wind energy represents less than 1 percent of the nation's energy production.

"This is a terrific Earth Day present for the people of Pennsylvania," said John Hanger of Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future. "PECO customers will be the first in the commonwealth to directly help the planet through their local electricity choices."

About 52 percent of the electricity used in the United States is generated from coal-fired plants. In Pennsylvania, the fourth largest coal-producing state, the figure is about 60 percent.

Although plentiful, coal has its drawbacks. Mining coal often scars the environment and coal-fired power plants emit tons of pollutants.

Advocates of wind power note that wind is a renewable resource and that wind-driven turbines produce electricity with no harmful emissions.

The electricity produced at the Somerset and Mill Run facilities will have a ready-made market. Exelon Power Team, a division of Exelon Generation, has agreed to buy the electricity from the Mill Run wind farm for 20 years and to manage the wholesale energy delivery to the regional power grid.

Exelon Generation was created last year through the joining of PECO Energy Co. and Chicago's Unicom Corp.

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