One of the most unexpected sights in central Pennsylvania is the series of wind farms along the I-99 corridor from Altoona to just north of Tyrone. Towering high above the treetops along the Allegheny Front, the wind turbines are majestic, foreboding, slowly and gracefully spinning hundreds of feet from base to the tip of the uppermost blade. In the adjacent counties of Cambria, Blair and Centre, there are at least six wind farms — Allegheny Ridge, Chestnut Flats, Highland, North Allegheny, Patton and Sandy Ridge. Together they comprise 159 wind turbines. The oldest of the six — Allegheny Ridge — has only been operational for seven years. The youngest — Patton and Sandy Ridge — have only been operational for two years.
To State College commuters heading home on I-99 South, the 25 turbines of Sandy Ridge Wind Farm that overlook Tyrone are a relatively new sight when crossing over the Skytop wind gap from Nittany Valley into Bald Eagle Valley and descending to Port Matilda. Developed and operated by internationally successful Gamesa Corporación Tecnológica and owned by Alonquin Power Company, Sandy Ridge’s G9X-2.0 wind turbines have a total nominal power of 50 megawatts and an expected energy production of 158.3 gigawatt hours (GWh) per year.
Less visible to the general public are the towers of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) wells extracting oil and natural gas in the Marcellus shale deep beneath the ground throughout Pennsylvania and other areas of Appalachia. In these same three counties, corporations Anadarko E&P (a division of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation), EXCO Resources, Chevron Appalachia, Range Resources Appalachia, Williams Production Appalachia and Carrizo are just a few of the many corporations tapping into the immeasurable oil and natural gas reserves in the subsurface shale abundant in this region.
Pennsylvania has always been a hot zone of strong opinions and disagreements. We all know it is where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were drafted, and where President Lincoln made the historic Gettysburg Address. The Amish and Mennonites live in harmony with the modern world. The liberal ideals of the southern urban areas meet healthy debate with the conservative ideals of the rural north. Steelers and Eagles fans live under the same roof.
It should come as no surprise that opinions on energy sources also contend. Sustainable energy versus fossil fuels. Pennsylvania is known for its bituminous and anthracite coal mines. Dotted throughout the Commonwealth are seven nuclear power stations, including the now-infamous Three Mile Island near Harrisburg. And now the fracking industry has become a key point of contention in the re-election bid of Republican Governor Tom Corbett, who supports it.
Central Pennsylvania is the crossroad of conflicting ideals. In south central and east central Pennsylvania, wind farms abound. All of the major solar farms in the Commonwealth are located in the southeastern corner. Seven of the nine hydroelectric power plants are in the middle to southern region. On the flip side, the largest concentrations of hydraulic fracturing wells are in extreme southwestern and northeastern corners, with the swath from north central to west central claiming the majority of the rest. Centre County, alone, has 47 fracking wells according to StateImpact Pennsylvania.
In the coming years, the contention will likely increase. Sustainable energy is growing in value, acceptance and popularity, with increasing return on investment to developers and service providers. Fracking is also growing as a cost-efficient means of extracting oil and natural gas, and as a way to quickly reduce dependence on foreign fuel sources. The battle revolves around what is more important — near-term self-reliance as a nation or long-term care of the planet. That debate will not end anytime soon. Just as Pennsylvania has historically initiated key decisions in the formation and evolution of American society, so it will likely continue to be at the forefront of these critical energy decisions.
- Algonquin Power Company: http://www.algonquinpowercompany.com
- Anadarko: http://www.anadarko.com
- Carrizo: http://www.carrizo.com
- EXCO Resources: http://www.excoresources.com
- Gamesa Corporación Tecnológica: http://www.gamesacorp.com/en
- Range Resources Appalachia: http://www.rangeresources.com
- Williams Production Appalachia: http://co.williams.com