Two big Pennsylvania wind farm projects canceled

Source: John Beale/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette • Posted: Thursday, May 17, 2012

John Beale/Post-Gazette
Wind turbines are used to produce electricity.
 By Don Hopey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Two big wind development projects on Appalachian ridges in Bedford and Clearfield counties have been canceled, and fewer new turbines will be spinning across the nation next year due to the possible end of a federal tax credit program that has driven development.

Some environmentalists are applauding the potentially lengthy lull in wind development, but the industry says more than half of the 75,000 people working to make and install turbines could lose their jobs next year. And layoffs have already started.

Iberdrola Renewables confirmed Monday that it will not build the 24 wind turbines it had planned on Dunning and Evitts mountains in Bedford County and the 40 wind turbines in the Clover Run project in Clearfield County.

Paul Copleman, an Iberdrola spokesman, said that without the federal Production Tax Credits, which will expire at the end of 2012, its two projects and many others in the state and nation won’t get built.

“We’re focusing on operation of existing wind power in 2012 rather than new building due to low energy demands and an uncertain regulatory landscape,” Mr. Copleman said. “The tax credits are a big part of it. They drive job creation and remain a critical component of our development efforts in the U.S.”

PTCs provide wind power developers with tax credits — of 1.8 cents per kilowatt hour — for the production of renewable energy and have spurred investment in the small but growing component of the energy industry. They were previously allowed to lapse by Congress in 1999, 2001 and 2003, before action was taken to revive and extend them.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, which lobbies for wind power development, the first quarter of 2012 was one of the biggest for wind power development with the construction of 788 new turbines in 17 states producing 1,695 megawatts of electric power. That’s a 50 percent jump in installations from just one year ago.

The total installed wind power capacity in the U.S. is now 48,611 megawatts, with about 800 of those megawatts produced by turbines on Pennsylvania’s ridges.

There are 17 wind production facilities operating in Pennsylvania generating more than 2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity each year — enough to power nearly 240,000 homes. That’s still just a little less than 1 percent of the state’s energy needs.

“Wind power had been a big success story and it’s at risk now, especially the jobs in manufacturing,” said Ellen Carey, a Wind Energy Association spokeswoman. She said that without PTCs, wind industry employment nationwide could fall from 75,000 to 37,000, but if Congress acts to extend the tax credits, employment is projected to top 100,000. She said in 2005 about 25 percent of the parts of a wind turbine erected in the U.S. were made in the U.S. This year more than 50 percent of turbine parts are American made.

“The parts are big and hard to transport, so it makes sense to build them close to the building projects,” Ms. Carey said. “If we don’t have the PTCs we don’t have the certainty we need to build. That’s stopped some projects, and other companies are not placing orders or making parts. There have already been layoffs.”

According to a 2005 U.S. Energy Information Administration report, the lost tax revenue from extending the PTCs for wind from 2005 through 2015 would average about $1.6 billion a year.

While some environmental groups, such as the Clean Air Council, support wind energy as “a vital part of America’s shift to clean, domestic, renewable energy sources,” others are happy to see construction of the long-armed turbines stop.

Laura Jackson, a leader of Save Our Allegheny Ridges — an anti-wind turbine development group based in Bedford County — said it objects to the environmental impacts of wind turbines on birds, bats, forestland and watersheds.

“Ridges in this state are not suitable ecologically for wind or any other types of industrial development,” Ms. Jackson said. “The ridges are important flyways for raptors and birds, they’re steep and therefore ecologically sensitive, they’re a forested resource and they provide habitat for endangered species.”

Pennsylvania has no regulations for siting wind turbine projects. Instead it relies on voluntary guidelines negotiated by the state Game Commission and the wind power industry that have no enforcement provisions.

Ms. Jackson said many residents of the Dutch Corner Rural Historic District, which includes Evitts Mountain, were concerned that the wind project on that ridge would damage the aesthetic qualities that allowed the area to be designated one of the few “rural historic district” areas in the state in 2007.

“There are many people in the counties where the wind projects have been cancelled that are very happy,” Ms. Jackson said

As many as 20 wind projects are still in the planning stages in Pennsylvania, including the controversial Shaffer Mountain Wind project, which is under review by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service because of its proximity to a maternity colony of Indiana bats, an endangered species in Pennsylvania.