Coal Gets a New Legacy Thanks to Wind Developers
Five years ago, Ryerson Station State Park
would have been a lovely place to hold a summer festival. But in 2005, the linchpin of the park, the palatial Duke Lake, had to be drained after Consol Energy’s
Bailey Mine operation caused an unsafe breach in the lake dam. After running through the courts in 2008, the Department of Environmental Protection conducted an independent study
and announced in a report earlier this year that Consol’s long wall mining efforts were responsible for the damage to the Duke Lake Dam. But a lack of litigation funding and a slow-moving legal process has resulted in the lake remaining dry. Since 2005, the Washington County advocacy group Center for Coalfield Justice
to commemorate the draining and to call for the restoration of Duke Lake.
This festival is a community tradition in Washington County but it could take place in hundreds of communities, on thousands of acres across Pennsylvania. Coal production has a long, prosperous history in the Keystone State but today, it's home to more than 250,000 acres of abandoned surface mines and 2,400 miles of streams that do not meet DEP water quality standards because of drainage from abandoned mines. After years of long wall, strip and room-and-pillar mining, many coalfields have been left to rot, leaving communities to wonder what could be built in their place. Recently, State advocacy groups and wind energy companies launched initiatives to put these lands to use, demanding remediation and building a new energy future in the lakebeds and abandoned ridge mines of our coal producing past.
"There are specific impacts that we are concerned about from a coal perspective," says CCJ executive director Raina Rippel. “We are looking at a fall initiative where we might start looking at some brownfield opportunities in and around the (Monongahela Valley) area. We are really examining coal waste as an issue, but in addition to that, what are some forward-thinking opportunities that could bring some more industry to the area, including wind farms, including manufacturing?”
Rippel is not alone. As a member of the Pennsylvania Alliance for a Coal-Free Generation
, CCJ joins Clean Water Action
, the Sierra Club
and three other environmental advocacy groups working to see that coalfield lands are returned to their pre-industrial glory. Once they are, Sierra Club’s PA chapter director Jeff Schmidt says these lands will become profitable. But until someone pays up to make the lands shovel-ready again, these parcels will remain empty. And getting someone to pay is always a problem.
"Reclamation of abandoned mine lands is enormously expensive and the state has a fund that is being used to clean up abandoned mine lands but that fund is running out of money," says Schmidt. "We are trying to get the general assembly to approve a new source of funding for abandoned mine land clean-up."
In the 1960s, the state issued a bond program called Operation Scarlift
, which sought to repair damaged minelands to the tune of $200M. The program completed over 500 stream pollution abatement projects, extinguished 75 underground mine fires and stabilized over 150 areas subjected to mine subsidence. But even with the passage of a national reclamation fund, paid for by the mining industry, in 1977, problems still arose and in 1997, the DEP issued a comprehensive plan
to address the mining issue. The state once again created a fund, acknowledging that they were never going to be able to save every piece of land. The available funding was to be reserved for pieces of land that would give the most bang for the remediation buck. According to 2004's Project Selection amendment
, the most significant parcels would be those that could be sold to development projects or technology companies.
"Wind energy is a very good source of energy but if you are spending a lot of money doing the clean-up, there may not be enough money left over to build the turbines," says Schmidt.
As state environmental programs continue to revive these mine lands, developers have begun eyeing the more breezy parcels for a new energy employer that is poised to overtake coal as our favorite power source. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Pennsylvania has the potential to get 30 percent of its energy
from wind. The state currently ranks 15th in overall production and fifth in wind power employment. To fulfill this potential, wind power companies have begun to develop mine lands in former coal capitals where communities are thirsty for new energy employment to carry on the coal-fired legacy.
It was this very potential that allowed Pennsylvania to lure Spanish turbine manufacturer Gamesa
to headquarter here in 2004. As a late entrant into the bidding process, PA looked like it would lose the battle to Texas, whose large Latino population added a cultural commonality and a built-in, Spanish-speaking workforce. But with wind power already a leading alternative resource in Texas, the potential for growth and the state-wide promotion of renewables was higher in PA, allowing the state to add 1,000 jobs and a new hometown industry.
Gamesa shot out of the gate early and today boasts the largest wind power projects in the state. Since its arrival, the company has made a concerted effort to build on brownfield lands and develop rusting industrial centers. Its Fairless Hills manufacturing center
, which opened in 2006, was built on former steel plant lands in Bucks County. And to continue developing the green jobs workforce, the company announced its partnership with the Bucks County Community College to create the Green Jobs Academy
. Unveiled on June 28, the academy will focus on careers and best practices in renewable energy, pollution prevention and "brownfield" cleanup. Their latest wind energy project is Chestnut Flats
, a 19-turbine facility currently under construction on an abandoned strip mine in Blair County. The plans include cleaning up existing mine access roads and uses an existing mine spoil pile as part of the wind farm’s staging area.
"The reindustrialization of America depends on our ability to convert brownfields to greenfields," says Gamesa Director of External Affairs Michael Peck. "If the wind resource is there and the structural integrity is appropriate, then a good approach to optimize that resource and bring more wealth and more jobs back into that community using a renewable energy resource and transition to the future."
Gamesa's success led the world’s largest wind energy company, Iberdrola Renewables
, to open their first U.S. wind project in Allentown in 2006. Just two years later, the company dedicated the Casselman Wind Power Project
, a 23-turbine installation producing 34.5 megawatts of energy, enough to power more than 10,000 homes. As a part of their agreement with the Somerset community, Iberdrola and their partners built eight of the turbines on a rehabilitated surface mine, which netted the project $500,000 in incentives from the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority
. The construction and maintenance of the turbines created 150 new jobs for Pennsylvania and brought a new industry to Somerset County.
"If we feel a site can support a wind farm, we are interested, it’s as simple as that," says Iberdrola spokesperson Paul Copelman. "If we feel there is a good wind resource, an ability to bring that power to market and a community interested in hosting a wind farm, we will consider additional engineering challenges to make it work. And with the Casselman project, we have proved that it can work."
With 10 wind farms producing 2.3 billion kilowatt-hours, today’s wind production is a drop in the state energy bucket, as coal produces 118 billion kilowatt-hours. But Pennsylvania’s wind energy companies claim they are taking a pragmatic approach when dealing with coal manufacturers, espousing the benefits of collaboration and working to build choice over competition. It is in this way, Peck stated in an op-ed piece
to the Somerset County Daily American this week, that consumers, green job seekers and the state as a whole will benefit most.
"There's no reason coal and wind can’t coexist in Pennsylvania. In fact, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory and first-tier engineering firms have done breakthrough coal-wind studies showing it's possible to create good and green jobs, lower emissions and generate more energy by placing new wind farms at or near the point of transmission interconnect for a new or existing coal-fired power plant. This sort of juxtaposing--and a new way of thinking, reflecting cooperation rather than an 'us vs. them' mentality--can actually benefit consumers."
John Steele is a freelance writer and blogger
in Philadelphia. He enjoys music snobbery, trash television and laughing at
hipsters. Send feedback here.To receive Keystone Edge free every week, click
Turbines at Casselman wind project
Woman looks on at the Casselman project
Raina Rippel (yellow shirt on right), executive director of the Center for Coalfield Justice, and staff members gather in front of the dam of the former Duke Lake at Ryerson State Park during their recent "Dryerson Festival"
Dam at the dried up lake in Ryerson State Park
The former Ronald J Duke Lake
All Photographs By Heather Mull