Like other businesses, so much of success in producing energy from wind comes down to location, location, location.
Developers looking to tap the renewable energy source need to find locations for their massive turbines in the remote spots atop mountains or across prairies that get the most wind. Yet the wind farms need to be close enough to population centers wired for transmission to have any chance of connection to the grid. And they can’t interfere with migratory bird patterns.
It’s why they’ve built so many in Iowa, where wind produces more than a quarter of that state’s electricity.
In Pennsylvania, their prominent and longtime location along the Allegheny ridges, within eyesight of the turnpike, might lead some people to believe we have a lot of wind power in this state.
The numbers say “no.”
The state gets less than 2 percent of its electricity from the 720 turbines spread over 25 wind farms.
That’s only enough to power about 300,000 homes. And only when the big turbine blades are moving.
Which doesn’t seem to be very often at one of the oldest and most visible wind farms in the state.
On many days, there’s little action from the six turbines that tower 213 feet above a farm just south of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Somerset County. The windmills seem to have hit a standstill.
The Somerset Wind Energy Center went online 13 years ago in the earliest days of the state’s wind industry. Its 1.5-megawatt turbines are weaker than new turbines with nearly double that power.
The facility’s owner, NextEra Energy Resources, did not respond to questions about its operation or future.
Such low productivity from turbines in a high-profile location can’t help the advocates making their case for more government subsidies for wind.
The debate cropped up again this month when the U.S. House approved a bill that would retroactively extend a tax credit for wind producers through this year. The Senate was considering it.
Those who say wind energy could provide a reliable and more environmentally conscious alternative to the fossil fuels that keep our lights on want a multiyear extension.
“Why end a successful policy like this?” asked David Ward, deputy director of strategic communications at the American Wind Energy Association, who says the subsidy has helped drive private investment and jobs by making its price competitive.
Opponents hear only hot air in that argument.
“I could not support this wind subsidy tax package and the billions of taxpayer dollars it would continue to waste in an effort to prop up the failing wind industry,” Rep. Bill Shuster, a Republican from Blair County, said in explaining his “no” vote on the House extension.
His district is dotted by wind farms stretching from north of Altoona to south of Somerset. It’s a great location, as long as the turbines continue to spin.