University a leader in consumption of wind energy

March 19, 2003

By Bill Campbell
Special to Public Information

With deference to Bob Dylan, "The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind. The answer is blowin' in the wind."

And, in seeking the answer to clean, environmentally friendly energy to help meet its extensive electrical power needs, the University has become one of the largest purchasers of wind power in the United States.

Penn State made its first commitment to wind energy in October 2001 with a five-year contract for the purchase of 5 percent -- or 13.2 million-kilowatt hours annually -- of total electricity demands at the University Park campus.

It strengthened its leadership role last July through another five-year contract for the annual purchase of 4.5 million-kilowatt hours at non-University Park campuses.

University officials estimate the environmental benefits of purchasing the output of more than four, 220-foot-tall wind turbines are equivalent to saving 59 million pounds of coal usage, taking some 29,000 cars off the road or planting more than 28,712 acres of trees each year.

"Wind power proved a perfect opportunity to demonstrate Penn State's environmental leadership and reduce national dependence on fossil fuels," said Ford Stryker, deputy associate vice president for Physical Plant and manager of Environmental Strategy for Finance and Business. "Our use of wind power also helps support the new renewable energy market in Pennsylvania so that it will become increasingly desirable and affordable to all Pennsylvanians."

While wind energy is the world's fastest growing form of electricity generation, it's estimated that about 60 percent of electricity currently used in Pennsylvania is generated from coal and another 37 percent comes from nuclear power. Only a fraction comes from wind and other renewable resources such as hydroelectric and solar.

According to Doug Donovan, energy program engineer in Physical Plant, the wind power purchase supports the University's Environmental Strategy to move toward sustainable practices and enables Penn State to play a role in helping the emerging renewable energy market.

"In evaluating various 'green' or environmentally friendly power options," he said, "we felt that wind power was the best renewable energy choice. There is enough wind power to provide all of the United States' energy needs. The problem is to get the power from where the wind blows to where energy is needed and used. We are trying to make this a Pennsylvania project, using Pennsylvania wind to offset power generated by coal-fired plants in Pennsylvania."

Penn State's source for wind-generated electricity is Community Energy Inc. (CEI), a leading green electricity marketing company based in Wayne. CEI develops and markets wind power, including two new wind farms in southwestern Pennsylvania's Fayette and Somerset counties. The 15-megawatt (MW) Mill Run and the 9-MW Somerset Wind farms produce 24 MW of new wind generation utilizing 16 state-of-the-art 1.5-MW GE wind turbines that are some of the largest ever used in the country. Their three, 230-foot diameter blades rotate 11 to 20 revolutions per minute, start turning at wind speeds of seven miles an hour and turn off at 56 miles an hour.

Proponents of wind power are quick to point out its benefits:

* Wind energy is a 100 percent emission and pollution-free renewable resource, while conventional fossil fuel electricity generation is the leading contributor to acid rain, smog, global warming and poor air quality.

* Wind energy is a fuel-free, homegrown source of electricity generation that offers long-term stable energy prices, and has the potential to lead the way to United State's energy independence.

* Wind energy brings jobs and revenue for rural communities, both in royalties to landowners and as a tax base.

And it's getting cheaper. The cost of wind energy has dropped from 38 to 40 cents per kilowatt hour in 1980 to 4 to 7 cents today, compared to three cents per kilowatt hour for fossil fuel and nuclear power.

"We believe the gap will continue to shrink in the next 10 to 15 years as this new technology becomes more affordable," John Halley, CEI sales director, said. "The gap is lessened even more if the costs of pollution and environmental and health concerns associated with fossil fuels are taken into consideration. If new leaders in the field such as Penn State are willing to pay a premium cost now to develop new wind farms, the cost will drop and everyone will benefit in a short period of time. We have demonstrated that there is a marketplace for wind power on the East Coast and that these customer-driven projects can be developed economically."

Halley said the 2001 major purchase of wind energy by Penn State, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pennsylvania has led to a total of 32 colleges and universities in the state, including the State System of Higher Education, making a commitment to wind energy.

"It is a nationally leading effort in higher education and has directly led to the development of more wind farms," he added. "We hope other leading universities in New Jersey, Washington D.C., and Maryland take a leadership role and follow suit, and over time, we hope universities add more wind power to their energy portfolios, especially as the cost comes down. More wind farms are being built. The largest wind farm east of the Mississippi River, the 44-turbine, 66-MW Mountaineer Wind Energy Center in West Virginia came online in December. Seven projects, including the 61-MW Pocono Wind Farm near Scranton, are planned in Pennsylvania, and others are planned for New Jersey, Maryland and West Virginia.

"There is a need to support the technology today in order to support the future. Universities are the natural leaders who understand the benefits of renewable energy. We believe they have been the models for business and industry to follow."

For its efforts in promoting renewable energy, Penn State has become a member of the U.S. Environmental Protection agency's Green Power Partnership and received an EPA/DOE 2002 Green Power Leadership Award and a PennFuture 2001 Green Power Award as Community Institution of the Year.

Donovan believes that wind power has the potential to become a major source of electricity generation in the future.

"We continue to look at ways of increasing the University's use of renewable energy, particularly wind power," he said. "Investing in green power requires a University commitment and truly is an investment in state-of-the-art technology. We pay a premium to use green electricity, but, as more projects are developed, the cost of wind power will come down. Eventually, there will be little difference in wind power costs as opposed to traditional electric power production and it will become an important marketplace competitor."

Bill Campbell can be reached at wjc1@psu.edu.

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Last Updated March 19, 2009