Sustainable Energy Funds: Pa. leads eastern states in wind-generated electricity

SOMERSET, Pa., Nov. 28, 2001 – Pennsylvania now leads all states east of the Mississippi in the generation of electricity by wind power.

Just 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, within view of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, is the largest “wind farm” in the eastern U.S. A total of 16 wind turbines, with blades exceeding the wingspan of a jumbo jet, silently produce enough electric power to meet the annual needs of a community of 8200 homes.

Some of the 16 towers, not far from the pike’s Somerset exit, stand in clear view of the road. You can’t miss them. Soaring to a height of more than 200 feet, each turbine sports 112-foot triple blades and they are a sight destined to become more common throughout the Commonwealth.

That the wind farm exists at all is a testament to government doing something right. Funding for the wind project grew out of the deregulation of the electric industry that had its start in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives and was fine-tuned by the state’s Public Utility Commission. Part of the package was that the then-existing monopoly power companies – PP&L, PECO, GPU and West Penn Power – would each contribute funds to help finance the start-up of new, cleaner energy sources. Besides spurring competition for cleaner energy sources, each of the four Sustainable Energy Funds, or SEFs, is also involved in projects that help Pennsylvania business and industry operate cleaner, greener, and, most important in this economy, leaner.

The SEFs have provided low-interest loans to help businesses put energy management programs in place to help them buy the bulk of their power needs during off-peak hours when energy prices are lower; they have provided financing for the purchase of mini-turbines that convert the waste heat of manufacturing into electrical generation and water heating; they have captured methane gas at landfills and sewage treatment plants; and they have helped schools turn old structures into modern, energy-efficient green buildings.

Though fairly new, the SEFs are having an impact in helping Pennsylvania businesses end their reliance on foreign petroleum, while at the same time reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. One of the customers of the electricity generated by the Somerset/Mill Run Wind Farm is the University of Pennsylvania. Buying just five percent of their power needs from the facility, the University estimates their purchase will prevent 29,640,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the Earth’s atmosphere. That is the equivalent of taking more than 2,593 cars off the road.

According to Thomas Tuffey, executive director of the SEF in the PP&L territory, his group has more than $20 million to invest in projects in an area that encompasses some 29 counties in eastern Pennsylvania. And invest is the right word. He says his fund’s focus is on making attractive loans and investments in companies and projects that meet the fund’s sustainable energy mission.

“We’re looking to help companies use technologies that are in early-stage commercialization, things like mini-turbines and wind power,” Tuffey explains, “but we’re also looking to make investments that will influence the development of the energy marketplace while providing us a fair return on that investment.” Tuffey added that this is the outlook of all four of the state’s SEFs.

“All four of our funds loaned money for the development of the wind farm in western Pennsylvania. Our SEF went a step further and made an investment in Community Energy, the company that is marketing the power generated there and we are prepared to take equity positions in other companies when we see such investments as prudent and if they meet our criteria for advancing clean and renewable energy for Pennsylvania,” Tuffey said.

He explained that the loan and investment policies of the funds guarantee money will be cycled back, allowing them to finance new projects in the years ahead.

Businesses or institutions seeking more information on the SEF’s low-interest loans or investment policies may contact Tuffey at PPLTSEF@aol.com to request a copy of the fund’s annual plan. The SEF’s phone number is 610/740-3182.

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