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Wind farm is a windfall for Somerset

Sunday, May 21, 2000

GARRETT -- Don Decker was waiting to drive his wife to a doctor's appointment when he saw a passing motorist do more than pass by his 600-acre hilltop farm just outside this Somerset County town.

 
  A windmill beside a farm near Garret, Pa. , is one of eight that help supply energy to the area. (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)

The man got out of the van, held something up in the air, got back in, drove a short distance and repeated the sequence.

Decker walked out to the road and met Richard Curry, a suburban Washington, D.C., consultant who was using an electronic device to gauge the strength of the wind that chilly day in December 1998.

Curry said he was looking for a site for a wind farm to generate electricity.

"I told him the wind blows up here all the time," Decker said.

Does it ever.

More than 1,500 people, triple the number expected, found that out yesterday at the formal dedication of the Green Mountain Wind Farm. The wind, pleasant when the sun was out, forced most visitors into sweatsuits, down vests and jackets.

Representatives of GreenMountain Energy of South Burlington, Vt., which provides what it calls "cleaner electricity" to homes and businesses, and National Wind Power Limited, the British-owned developer, owner and operator of the wind farm, welcomed visitors with giveaways, a free picnic lunch and a tour of the base of one of the eight wind turbines that have sprouted from the landscape since late March.

The line for the tour was longer than the line for steak sandwiches, chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, veggie burgers, baked beans and macaroni salad.

"They told us to expect 500 people, we brought enough food for 750 and then more than 1,500 showed up," said Amy Trimpey, a prep cook for The Chuckwagon Restaurant in nearby Somerset. "We ran out of steak and chicken but we were able to get more of everything else, so nobody would go hungry."

Despite the nippy weather, those in line for the tour waited patiently for their turn to board a yellow school bus and two minibuses that took them about one-half mile to the base of the No. 3 tower.

Each of the 200-foot-high light gray tubular steel towers is about 14 feet in diameter and sits on a round concrete foundation that's 30-foot deep. A turbine the size of one of the minibuses sits atop each tower. The turbine is turned by three, 90-foot-long blades, each of which weighs five tons.

The fiberglass-composite blades, which look like a Mercedes Benz hood ornament in motion, make from 12.7 to 19 revolutions a minute, depending on the wind speed. They generate enough electricity to provide power to approximately 2,500 Pennsylvania homes.

Everyone associated with the $10 million project acknowledged that the output is small when compared to the more traditional coal-fired electrical generating plants. But they quickly point out that the wind farm annually will save 135 tons of acid rain producing sulphur dioxides from being spewed into the air, along with 35 tons of smog-generating nitrogen oxides and 17,500 tons of carbon dioxide, a gas that contributes to global warming.

"It's all pretty amazing," said Michele Johnson of Garrett after she, husband Fred and children Austin, 7, and Larissa, 5, completed the tour. "We watched them all go up and can see all eight of them from our home. It won't be long before the tour buses start arriving."

"These wind farms might put me out of buisness," said Fred Johnson, who applies fiberglass coatings on the inside of scrubbers that power plants use to reduce the amount of air pollution they generate. "This is really something."

Keith and Patsy Gnagey, who live across the road from the wind farm, are enthusiastic about its future but won't be around to see it. New jobs will take them to Georgetown, Del., and they've put their three-bedroom red brick house on the market for $98,900.

"I think the wind farm is great," Keith Gnagey said as he greeted friends from his front porch. He assured them he and his wife weren't moving to get away from the increasing number of visitors who drive by, especially on weekends.

He said the only accommodation they've had to make is to look in the rearview mirrow before backing out of their asphalt driveway. "Never had to do that before," he said.

The wind farm sits on about 40 acres of land owned by Don and Irene Decker and Bob and Cindy Decker, brothers and sisters-in-law. In addition to their annual rental income, the families also receive free electricity.

"I think this will be a win-win for everyone," Don Decker said. "I never thought I'd see anything like this."



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