Green Energy in Pennsylvania

RPA Energy is committed to being involved in green energy as much as possible. Se we want you to have some basics on Green Energy in Pennsylvania:

Though Pennsylvania has one of the nation's largest coal-mining industries and second-largest nuclear power fleet, the state has taken some important steps to develop its clean energy potential. In 2007, Montgomery County became the first wind-powered county in the nation. 

Pennsylvania's Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, enacted in 2004, has one of the most ambitious solar provisions in the eastern United States, requiring that solar energy generate 0.5 percent of the commonwealth's electricity by 2020. The Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority has invested upwards of $10 million each year since 2004 in clean energy projects. The projects selected for 2010 alone are expected to create 1,400 jobs and generate a lifetime energy savings of 10.9 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity.

Pennsylvania’s 63,000 farms and 2.7 million livestock animals also hold promise for renewable energy, in the form of biofuels made from energy crops and biogas from livestock waste.

Wind Energy

Pennsylvania's existing wind farms, mostly located in the Appalachian southwest, have the capacity to produce 750 megawatts of energy – enough to power the equivalent of 180,000 homes. With an estimated wind resource of 3,307 megawatts, there’s plenty of room for expansion. The state currently ranks 16th in the nation in installed wind power capacity.

Expanding wind energy can provide an economic boost to the state. In 2010, the industry supported, directly and indirectly, upwards of 4,000 jobs in Pennsylvania. Fifteen facilities manufacture components for the wind industry, including several plants operated by leading wind turbine builder Gamesa, which employs more than 800 people statewide.

In 2007, Pennsylvania's Montgomery County became the first wind-powered county in the nation. The county's two-year commitment to buy 100 percent of its electricity from wind energy (5 percent) and renewable energy credits derived from wind energy (95 percent) was one of the ten largest municipal green power projects in the United States that year.

The state's largest wind facilities are Armenia Mountain wind farm and Locust Ridge II, both built in 2009 with capacities of about 100 megawatts. Armenia Mountain, developed and owned by AES Wind Generation, sells its power to Delmarva Power and Light and Old Dominion Electric Cooperative. Locust Ridge II, in Columbia and Schuylkill counties, expands on a smaller wind farm launched by a local resident. The project is developed and owned by Iberdrola Renewables.

Biomass Energy and Cellulosic Ethanol

Corn and soybeans are not widely grown in Pennsylvania, so the state was not an early adopter of biofuel production. But Pennsylvania can excel in the ethanol industry's next wave: turning crop residues and fast-growing trees and grasses into cellulosic ethanol.

The best biofuels protect the environment and food supplies while improving the economic welfare of workers and communities. Cellulosic ethanol, which is made from crop waste and non-food crops, is the biofuel of the future. It can produce four to ten times as much energy as corn ethanol without swallowing up huge tracts of food-growing farmland or forests. Pennsylvania is at present the only state to mandate the use of cellulosic ethanol in gasoline, a provision which will kick in when in-state production reaches 350 million gallons.

According to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania has the potential to grow 825,000 acres of the energy crop switchgrass -- enough to make between 250 million and 1 billion gallons of ethanol, depending on the maturity of cellulosic ethanol technology.

Small-scale refineries are already exploring cellulosic ethanol potential in Pennsylvania. Solazyme received a $21 million federal grant in 2009 to expand its algae-based biofuels refinery on the site of a former pharmaceutical factory in Riverside, Pennsylvania. The facility could produce 500,000 to 1 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol using sucrose, switchgrass, and agricultural and municipal waste. Solazyme provides fuel to the U.S. Navy.

In Madison, a semi-commercial biorefinery launched by Coskata in 2009 uses a super-hot plasma torch and bacteria to make ethanol out of wood chips and other plant materials. GM is a partner in the venture and is testing the fuel produced at the plant.

Helios Scientific announced plans in late 2010 to launch a demonstration facility in Curwensville that would make 30,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol a year, primarily from corn husks, switchgrass, and wood waste.

Solar Energy

Strong support from the state, in the form of renewable energy mandates and rebates, has made Pennsylvania one of the top ten states in the nation for installed solar power capacity. Pennsylvania's Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard has one of the more ambitious solar provisions in the country, requiring that solar energy generate 0.5 percent of the commonwealth's electricity by 2020 -- enough power for almost 80,000 homes. It is expected to yield more than 700 megawatts of new solar photovoltaic capacity throughout the state. Pennsylvania utilities, required to purchase increasing amounts of solar power each year, are already ahead of schedule. The state government is considering revising the mandate.

Through the state’s $100 million Sunshine Solar rebate program, homeowners and small businesses have been earning rebates for installing solar electric and solar hot water systems. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, a 2.5-kilowatt solar system can produce about 3,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year in Pennsylvania -- at least one-third of a typical home's consumption, leading to an annual household savings of roughly $300.

The Pocono Raceway produces its own electricity and more from its 25-acre, 3-megawatt solar array. Keystone Solar, Pennsylvania’s first large-scale solar project, will break ground in 2012. The 6-megawatt ground-mounted array will be built on farmland in Lancaster, PA, and will generate 7,500 megawatt-hours of electricity each year -- enough to power about 950 homes. Franklin & Marshall College, also located in Lancaster, has committed to purchasing renewable energy credits from the project.

In 2007, Pittsburgh was one of thirteen cities to be named a Solar America City by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and in 2008 Philadelphia won the same designation. With financial and technical assistance from the DOE, including partnerships with universities, businesses, and nonprofits, these cities have developed comprehensive plans to expand their use of solar technology. Philadelphia plans to produce 58 megawatts of solar power by 2021 – its proportional share of the state’s solar goal. Pittsburgh is installing solar water heaters on city buildings and is investigating the potential of a former mining site to host the city’s first solar farm.

Biogas Energy

As of spring 2012, Pennsylvania has 19 operating manure digesters, primarily on dairy farms, with an installed capacity of about 2,300 kilowatt-hours. Biodigesters are creating a new source of income for swine and dairy farms as the market for carbon offset purchases grows. NativeEnergy, a carbon offset provider, has worked with several Pennsylvania farms to help fund biodigester projects by purchasing upfront renewable energy credits.

Renewable Energy Meets Wildland and Wildlife Conservation

Certain sensitive lands -- such as parks, monuments and wildlife conservation areas -- and ecologically sensitive marine areas are not appropriate for energy development. In some of these places, energy development is prohibited or limited by law or policy, and in others it would be highly controversial. NRDC does not endorse locating energy facilities or transmission lines in such areas. Siting decisions must always be made extremely carefully, with impacts mitigated and operations conducted in an environmentally responsible manner.

For more information on the intersection between clean energy development and wildland and wildlife conservation in the American West, including locations of parks, wildlife refuges and other conservation areas, see this Google Earth-based feature.

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