Penn State Intercom......November 1, 2001

University plugs into wind power

By Paul Ruskin
Office of Physical Plant

Demonstrating their commitment to renewable energy resources and the environment, windmillsthe University signed a contract with Community Energy Inc. (CEI), a renewable energy marketing firm, to purchase 5 percent of University Park's electrical needs from wind energy over the next five years.

On "Wind Energy Week" as proclaimed by Gov. Mark Schweiker, this landmark pledge establishes Penn State as a national leader in wind energy, joining The University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon University. By purchasing 13.2 million kilowatt hours (kWh) annually -- or the energy output of more than three, 215-foot-tall windmills -- the University will become the second-largest user of retail wind energy in the United States.

Three turbines were dedicated to the University at the Exelon-Community Energy Somerset Wind Farm, visible from the Pennsylvania Turnpike southeast of Pittsburgh. The two new, state-of-the-art wind farms are stretched on ridges in Somerset and Mill Run, rural towns in Pennsylvania's Allegheny Mountains.

The three 'Penn State University turbines' will supply 13.2 million kWh of the annual electrical needs of the University Park campus. The wind farm's sixteen, 215-foot-tall turbines cover only 5 percent of the two agricultural farms. The 112-foot blades span almost halfway down the height of the towers and will operate whenever the wind exceeds 6.7 miles per hour. Six windmills stand at Somerset and 10 at Mill Run.

This purchase of New Wind Energy has zero emissions associated with it. Compared to the average electric generation in the Mid-Atlantic Region, 4,644 tons of coal and about 7,914 tons of carbon dioxide emissions will be saved annually, which has the equivalent carbon dioxide benefits of taking 1,130 cars off the road or planting 2,152 acres of trees.

By taking part in this pioneering effort, the University helps to support the developing infrastructure for wind energy while raising the standard for environmental stewardship in Pennsylvania. The price of wind energy has dropped 80 percent since 1980 and today is increasingly affordable. This step not only makes environmental sense, but supports the emerging Pennsylvania wind-energy industry that has many rural economic development benefits as well. These wind farms provide steady, sustainable income for farmers, add to the tax base and provide short-term construction jobs followed by permanent operations and maintenance positions.

Wind energy is the world's fastest growing form of electricity generation, meeting the growing demand for clean, renewable energy. Wind turbines generate electricity with no emissions and no fuel at prices 2 to 3 cents per kWh above current generation costs. In addition to the environmental benefits, wind generation can offer stable 20-year prices because it is not subject to fuel price risks. Many analysts have pinpointed short-term contracts and skyrocketing fuel prices as key components to the dramatic collapse of electricity deregulation in California.


Paul Ruskin can be reached at