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Wind farms remain pricy propositions

"These projects are very expensive and wouldn't happen without tax subsidies," he [Glenn Schleede] said. "Ordinary taxpayers are getting taken to the cleaners on this."

On the surface, the concept of wind energy is simple.

Wind spins the massive turbine blades, which generate electricity inside a cell the size of a bus. The electricity travels down the turbine tower into a transformer, which moves the electricity into an underground collection cable to a PPL substation and onto the regional grid.

But there is very little about the turbines that are simple, from construction to generation.

The Waymart Wind Farm, located in Clinton and Canaan townships in Wayne County, contains 43 1.5-megawatt turbines each producing enough electricity to power 400 to 500 homes every year.

A water source isn't required, unlike nuclear and fossil fuel power plants, and there are no emissions. But it takes plenty of planning and expense.

FPL Energy, which owns the Waymart site and four other turbine farms in Pennsylvania, spent $1.3 million to construct 1 megawatt of wind generation, according to community outreach manager Mary Wells.

The Waymart facility took five months to build during a very labor-intensive process. Wells said workers were able to build one turbine in a day, and the additional time involved road construction, lying underground cable and foundation work.

The biggest expenses were shipping and purchasing equipment. The blades are shipped from Brazil and the gearbox for each turbine is brought over on barges from Denmark.

Each turbine weighs 190... [truncated due to possible copyright]  

On the surface, the concept of wind energy is simple.

Wind spins the massive turbine blades, which generate electricity inside a cell the size of a bus. The electricity travels down the turbine tower into a transformer, which moves the electricity into an underground collection cable to a PPL substation and onto the regional grid.

But there is very little about the turbines that are simple, from construction to generation.

The Waymart Wind Farm, located in Clinton and Canaan townships in Wayne County, contains 43 1.5-megawatt turbines each producing enough electricity to power 400 to 500 homes every year.

A water source isn't required, unlike nuclear and fossil fuel power plants, and there are no emissions. But it takes plenty of planning and expense.

FPL Energy, which owns the Waymart site and four other turbine farms in Pennsylvania, spent $1.3 million to construct 1 megawatt of wind generation, according to community outreach manager Mary Wells.

The Waymart facility took five months to build during a very labor-intensive process. Wells said workers were able to build one turbine in a day, and the additional time involved road construction, lying underground cable and foundation work.

The biggest expenses were shipping and purchasing equipment. The blades are shipped from Brazil and the gearbox for each turbine is brought over on barges from Denmark.

Each turbine weighs 190 tons and requires a sturdy foundation to keep the structure stable.

At the Waymart site, the turbines rest on concrete foundations extending 30 to 40 feet into the bedrock. The foundations are reinforced by 14-foot and 12-foot diameter pipes, and the turbine is fastened to a bolt carriage that runs through the entire foundation.

The Waymart facility generates 64.5 megawatts of electricity, and the blades need a wind speed of 10 mph for generation. The top of the structure rotates 360 degrees to face the wind, and they automatically shut down when wind speeds reach 56 mph.

The electricity travels down the turbine tower into a transformer, where it is converted from 6,000 volts to 39,000 volts and sent to an underground collection cable and eventually to a PPL substation.

The electricity is marketed by Community Energy in Delaware County and purchased by Exelon Generation Company in Philadelphia.

"PPL meters how much power goes to their substation from Waymart and that's what we charge Exelon for," Wells said.

Wells declined to release how much Exelon pays FPL Energy for the electricity, but she said the facility has a narrow profit margin.

That's why federal tax credits are crucial toward making a new wind facility profitable, according to Wells.

Waymart receives a federal tax credit of 1.9 cents for every kilowatt produced hourly. The tax credits are good for 10 years after the start of operation, and Wells said they help offset the enormous initial investment.

"Because tax credits are based on production, you have to generate electricity to get them," she said. "At Waymart, we do OK but it's not like the big coal plants. The production tax credits do help you recover your capital investment."

Wind energy opponents argue the tax credits are nothing more than a subsidy and wind farms are erected primarily to take advantage of the financial benefits while producing small amounts of electricity.

The FPL Group, which owns FPL Energy, paid no federal income taxes in 2002 and 2003, yet realized $1.2 billion in depreciation deductions, according to Glenn R. Schleede.

Schleede, a Virginia resident, has worked on energy matters for the government and private sector for 30 years and has written extensively on wind energy.

He said taxpayers should not have to subsidize wind farms through tax credits and subsidies for power generation that is insignificant.

"These projects are very expensive and wouldn't happen without tax subsidies," he said. "Ordinary taxpayers are getting taken to the cleaners on this."

Location is crucial in designing a wind park, Wells said, and FPL Energy studied wind data on Moosic Mountain for two years before choosing turbine locations. Dr. Kenneth Klemow, who served as a consultant for the Waymart Wind Farm and the proposed Penebscot Mountain Wind Farm in Bear Creek Township, said the turbines are located using Global Positioning System and Geographic Information System technology.

Waymart's 43 turbines are in a straight-line configuration along six-and-a-half miles of Moosic Mountain. Each turbine sits on a 100-foot diameter cleared area and is connected with a 70-foot wide road corridor.

The turbines at the Penebscot facility, which is being designed by Energy Unlimited in West Conshohocton, will use a 70-foot cleared area, according to Klemow.

The 800 feet between each turbine at Waymart will be similar to the Penebscot site, as will the turbine dimension, Klemow said.

"In some ways, the nature, size and lining of the Waymart turbines will be similar to Bear Creek," he said. "The Bear Creek site will be two-dimensional, with some turbines on the ridge top and other rows to the south. If people want to get an idea of what Bear Creek's site will look like, visit Waymart."

Although wind energy is a relatively new energy production, one that requires no water source and is emission-free, it's unlikely wind will diminish the reliance on nuclear and fossil fuels for energy production.

Wells said when the turbines at Waymart are producing 60 megawatts of electricity, which means another power source isn't required to run.

But wind energy won't replace coal and nuclear generation, Wells said.

"We're a nation that has a huge demand for electricity and it's increasing. FPL Energy believes there's room to make electricity that doesn't pollute," she said. "We own coal, nuclear and gas power plants, but our focus is on wind. We believe in it, and we also know that shutting down coal and nuclear plants is unrealistic."

The ability of wind to lessen the reliance on nuclear and fossil fuel energy is a misconception, according to Schleede, who said wind energy will still represent less than 1 percent of all U.S. energy production by 2025.

Wind turbines are unreliable and they don't offset the emissions realized from fossil fuel plants, he said.

"When you have a hot afternoon in August with very little breeze, you need a lot of energy production. But you can't rely on turbines at these times so you need other reliable sources in place," Schleede explained. "When you operate under a cap and trade system for emissions, even if wind turbines did displace emissions the power plants can still sell there credits somewhere else. Also, when a turbine is running there still has to be another generation source on-line to make up the difference."

John Connelly of Energy Unlimited sees wind energy augmenting other forms of electrical production. While wind energy represents less than 1 percent of production in the U.S., Connelly said that figure could increase to 4 or 5 percent in the future.

"That would be a huge accomplishment," he said. "Wind energy can also serve as a backup source. We're offering an emergency backup supply to the water company's filtration plant at Crystal Lake."

The 34-turbine Penebscot Mountain facility will generate between 50 and 70 megawatts, according to Connelly. The completed project will be sold and Connelly said four or five companies have expressed interest.

Energy Unlimited hopes to move forward with the Penebscot Mountain construction next spring. Connelly said they are still awaiting approvals from Bear Creek officials and they are continuing with the design and study phase.


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MAY 15 2005
http://www.windaction.org/posts/807-wind-farms-remain-pricy-propositions
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