The statewide public interest organization, PennFuture, involves changing how Pennsylvania uses and makes renewable energy for restoring the environment and the growing economy. It has five office locations across the commonwealth.
Since its formation 10 years ago, PennFuture has been the leader in advocating for renewable energy, building the market and creating the public will to move the renewable energy industry forward. When there was no renewable energy industry in Pennsylvania, PennFuture assisted at its birth, helping build wind farms, solar arrays, methane digesters and more.
PennFuture has worked with policy makers across the state and across the nation, helping change public policy to make renewable energy Pennsylvania’s energy leader.
Staffed by nationally respected energy experts, and as the leader in gaining passage of the first state law to expressly promote renewable energy (Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act), PennFuture has found that each new public policy initiative that it sponsors enjoys immediate credibility.
PennFuture Director of Outreach, Heather Sage, attended PA 30th District Sen. John H. Eichelberger’s town hall meeting this past Tuesday in Tyrone. PennFuture’s opinion is much different from the senator’s opinion on wind energy in the commonwealth.
“The wind resources are important, and counties like Blair have good wind resources; obviously that’s why companies are interested in exploring development option here,” said Sage.
PennFuture supports wind energy in general for numerous reasons; mainly due to the fact that Pennsylvania and the rest of the country needs to begin addressing energy needs. There are many impacts that are associated with traditional power generation, such as coal mining, acid mine drainage from previous mining operations, the transportation of coal and the burning of coal.
“Over a million Pennsylvanians are dealing with chronic respiratory problems, premature deaths that are occurring from respiratory issues and cardiovascular problems from pollution from coal-fired plants,” stated Sage.
She added, “We have the ability to make energy in a way that doesn’t have any of those types of negative health impacts to people.”
PennFuture cites another “big” reason for wind development in Pennsylvania – the very real effects of global warming. The impacts of global warming are enormous, and Sage says those impacts are going to cost every Pennsylvanian everywhere in ways that can’t begin to be accounted for.
“Every megawatt of wind energy that gets generated, displaces a megawatt of energy that would come from a conventional source,” said Sage. “It is incredibly important for wind to become more a part of the solution. It’s never going to be the solution 100 percent, but we have a responsibility to look for ways to generate electricity without these kinds of costs associated with them.”
Sage added that she noticed people at Tyrone’s town hall meeting with the senator were concerned about electricity bills and taxes steadily increasing, and she points out that wind doesn’t cost anything. She said once the turbine is up, the fuel source is free.
“You’re never going to have a price fluctuation like you have with natural gas, coal or nuclear,” stated Sage. “Renewable energy, once you build the facility, never has that fuel cost.”
She said it’s true that no matter where a wind facility is built, the electricity is all going into a grid and then coming back out to somewhere else. But, if there’s a coal plant in Tyrone, the community won’t specifically get that energy either.
“It’s not really true that people aren’t benefiting directly from a facility as far as the electricity generation goes, we are all benefiting in terms of the electricity generation,” added Sage.
Other benefits that PennFuture lists are for one, cleaner air, along with more jobs, economic development and lower electricity prices across the board for everyone. When fuel costs increase across the board for traditional electricity generation, everyone pays for that cost.
“Another big plus is that for every dollar invested in a new renewable energy source like wind, we’re seeing six to 12 dollars of private investment that’s going into that,” said Sage. “Already in Pennsylvania, we’ve seen over 2,000 jobs that have been created by the wind industry alone.”
Sage said there is a projection put together by the Blue/Green Alliance, which is the United States Steel Workers of America and Sierra Club, that looked at renewable energy job potential in Pennsylvania and it projects over 60,000 jobs could be generated in the state from the renewable energy industry.
Is the wind turbine project in Tyrone a good or bad project? Sage said PennFuture didn’t know and doesn’t get into the specifics of Tyrone’s project or other projects, because it’s really not up to PennFuture to determine that. PennFuture doesn’t promote particular projects, but does promote wind energy and its responsible development.
She said PennFuture is very involved in helping to form the Wind Wildlife Collaborative at the state level, which is a process the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is coordinating.
“The wind industry voluntarily has created its own set of standards that are the best in the country in terms of looking at how the industry can start to deal with some of the siting questions people have,” added Sage.
PennFuture was involved with helping create the model wind ordinance, working with the Pennsylvania Association of Township Supervisors, to give townships tools to start a blueprint for ordinances. Those ordinances can be modified to deal with siting issues, flicker issues, decommission issues and set backs; but it’s up to the local municipalities to determine that.
“I can understand not wanting them (windmills) in my back yard and wanting to have your place be your place, and not be impacted,” said Sage. “But the problem is that every place is being impacted by traditional power generation; we’re all paying that price. Unfortunately, the time is upon us where we really have to look at solutions to that problem, and wind is an important part of that solution.”
Sage added, “No form of energy generation is without impacts, but in Pennsylvania, wind energy is as close to perfect as it comes.”