Sunday, March 27, 2005

Pennsylvania considers wind farms on forest land

Posted on Thu, Mar. 24, 2005
State considers wind farms on forest land

By Marc Levy

The Associated Press

HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania has made more than half a billion dollars from logging and oil and gas exploration on state forest land since 1935. Now, the state's parks and forests department is considering using its land to harvest another natural resource, the wind, as a way to promote clean energy.

Officials have been discussing the idea for a few months and say they still are studying whether wind farms on state land will be feasible.

With 2.1 million acres of state forest land blanketing some of the state's highest ridge lines, forestry officials say there is plenty of possibility. The wind-power industry has noticed and approached the department in recent months, said Michael DiBerardinis, secretary for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

"I think we're attractive by the sheer size of what we own, but then where we own it," he said in a recent interview.

Plus, he said, wind energy can help reduce reliance on coal-fired power plants, a source of the acid rain that damages forests.

In this pursuit, Pennsylvania has plenty of company: At least a dozen other states are engaged in or discussing putting wind farms on public land. Most are in the western United States, where a handful of wind farms already dot state lands.

Plus, the federal Bureau of Land Management is hoping to multiply the 500 megawatts of wind power already generated on its land to more than 3,200 megawatts by 2025.

On private land, Pennsylvania has five wind farms producing 129 megawatts, enough to power almost 40,000 households, the most of any state east of the Mississippi River, with two more set to open this year.

For now, the department legally cannot authorize a wind farm on state land, so it would have to obtain the right from the General Assembly.

Pinpointing a suitable location for a wind farm could take awhile.

Officials have a long list of factors to consider, including the effect on animals and forests, the location of transmission lines, and the massive turbines' wind exposure and visibility.

They expect only a small fraction of state forest land will be suitable.