The Power of Wind

Last weekend, the weather was nice so we departed our summer home on Lake Wallenpaupack for a random motorcycle ride on the backroads of northeastern Pennsylvania. We rode through Greentown, Hamlin, Jessup, Archbald (not a typo), Jermyn, Carbondale, Waymart, Honesdale, Hawley, Paupack, and back to Greentown, where we live. During the second half of our 75-mile ride, we ended up on Route 6. U.S. Route 6 is a transcontinental United States Numbered Highway, stretching from Bishop, California, in the west to Provincetown, Massachusetts, in the east. The PA Route 6 Alliance says, 

Named by National Geographic as “One of America’s most scenic drives”, US Route 6 in Pennsylvania is the heart of the American Dream. This magical and tranquil highway along Pennsylvania’s northern tier is 400 plus miles of history and heritage, linking small towns, generations of people and wondrous sights often forgotten. 

Not sure it is magical and tranquil or the American Dream, but it is a beautiful ride. As we approached Waymart, about 15 miles west of Honesdale, we suddenly saw giant turbines emerge seemingly out of nowhere. The wind turbines appeared huge, and the closer we got the more amazing the size appeared.

For most turbines, the blades are 120 feet long, so the total height from the ground to the tip of the blade is more than 380 feet, approximately the height of a 32-story building. Depending on wind conditions, the blades turn between 10 and 20 revolutions per minute, making loud swoosh sounds as they turn. I have heard of cows falling over from the noise, and farmers who sold or leased their land to turbine operators getting headaches. There is more to the story of wind energy.

On average, a single wind turbine produces more than 6 million kWh in a year, enough to supply the average electrical needs of 1,500 households. I had never thought of Pennsylvania as a significant source of wind power, but there are more than twenty wind power projects operating in the state. The most productive wind energy regions generally fall in mountain or coastal terrains. The northern portion of the Appalachian chain, including most of Southwestern Pennsylvania, is one of the areas with the highest potential for wind energy in the Eastern United States. The mountain ridges of central and northeastern Pennsylvania, including the Poconos in the eastern part of the state, where we were riding, offer some of the best wind resources in the region.

Currently, wind power is producing less than 2% of the state’s needs, but if all the wind energy potential in Pennsylvania was developed, it could produce approximately 6.5% of the state’s electricity consumption. The latest data I could find shows the state currently has 777 wind turbines. I was curious about which Pennsylvania power company owned the wind turbines. I was surprised to learn the owner is from Florida!

NextEra Energy Resources (NEER) is a wholesale electricity supplier based in Juno Beach, Florida. NEER is a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, a Fortune 200 company. Prior to 2009, NextEra Energy Resources was known as FPL Energy, and before that Florida Power & Light. The company has $5 billion of assets and more than 5,000 employees. They operate wind facilities in 21 states. Major tech companies, such as Google, which run massive data centers for cloud computing, are customers of NEER.

Congressional hearings by Congress will start on Monday, looking to find all the bad things the companies are doing. When it comes to global climate change, they have a good story. Last week I described Amazon’s Pledge to become carbon neutral. This week, Apple announced a very aggressive plan to be carbon neutral within ten years. More on that in the news section of johnpatrick.com.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,