PITTSBURGH – Wind energy installations almost doubled in Pennsylvania last year, but the industry still provides only about 1 percent of the state’s electricity, far behind Iowa, Texas and others.
Pennsylvania now ranks 16th in the nation in wind power, with 1,430 megawatts, according to the American Wind Energy Association’s Annual Market Report for 2012, which was released this month.
Iowa leads the nation, getting 24.5 percent of its electricity from wind power in 2012. South Dakota was at 24 percent, Minnesota 14 percent, Colorado 11 percent and Texas just over 7 percent. New York was at 2.2 percent, and Maine led the Northeast at almost 6 percent.
Even some advocates of renewable energy wonder if Pennsylvania will ever reach the wind energy levels of Iowa and some other leaders.
“My view is, probably not,” said George Jugovic, president of PennFuture, an environmental group. “I think it’s just economics.” Jugovic supports wind energy and still believes it will grow here, just not at the scale of other states.
Iowa, Texas and a number of other states have sustained high winds and large areas of flat land that are relatively easy to build on, while states such as New York have the potential for extensive offshore wind farms. In Pennsylvania, the windiest areas tend to be on mountain ridges.
Wind also has another potent competitor here and in the region: the tremendous amounts of natural gas that are being produced from the Marcellus Shale, a gas-rich formation that is being tapped in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.
In Pennsylvania, “it seems the majority is pushing natural gas right now,” said state Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware. He introduced legislation in February that would require Pennsylvania electric companies to get more of their power from renewable sources by 2023. Current law requires companies to purchase 8 percent from renewable sources by 2021, but Vitali proposed increasing the target to 15 percent.
But the bill hasn’t drawn widespread support in the legislature, and Vitali doesn’t expect it to become law this year. “We have not gotten support from utilities,” he noted, adding that the coal industry has opposed the bill, too.
The local debate over renewable energy is related to the national debate over wind energy tax credits. That credit was first signed by President George H.W. Bush and backed by a number of prominent Republicans, but last year a number of Republicans objected to an extension of $12 billion tax credit, saying the industry had been receiving such support for long enough.
Congress finally passed an extension of the tax credit as part of a broader budget deal.
Patrick Henderson, Gov. Tom Corbett’s energy executive, said Corbett supports growth in wind energy but doesn’t believe utilities or customers should be forced to choose one type of energy.
“I don’t think we should make a case” for a single type of energy, Henderson said.
One wind energy firm that completed a large Pennsylvania project in 2012 is still optimistic about the future.
“The smart folks will continue to bet on both” wind and natural gas, noted Art Sasse, a spokesman for Iberdrola Renewables. The Oregon-based company is the second-largest developer of wind projects in the U.S. It currently has four wind farms in Pennsylvania but also owns gas-fired power plants.
“Long-term, we remain enthusiastic about the future of wind” in Pennsylvania, Sasse wrote in an email, adding that while no further winds projects have reached the permitting stage here, various others are in the “early planning process.”
The American Wind Energy Association notes in its report that 2012 was the industry’s best year ever in the U.S., with 13,000 megawatts of new power capacity installed and $25 billion of investment. In total, the association says 45,000 wind turbines are generating 60,000 gigawatts of wind energy across the nation, which is able to power about 15 million homes.
The association also noted that nationwide, wind made up 56 percent of all new electric generation projects in 2012, compared with 31.5 percent for natural gas.