When Penn announced plans to begin buying pollution-free wind power back in 2001, it lent credibility to a power source that many at the time considered unreliable and impractical.
With the announcement this spring that the University would be tripling its annual wind power purchase, Penn is doing the wind industry another favor: It’s making a statement that wind power is here to stay.
“We consider ourselves on the cutting edge of this movement,” says Mike Coleman, executive director of operations in the Division of Facilities and Real Estate Services. “It’s a place we like being at.”
Under its previous green power agreement—one of the largest wind power deals in the country in its own right—Penn was buying 40,000 megawatt hours of wind power each year, and only from Pennsylvania wind farms. Under the new agreement, announced early this month, Penn will now purchase 112,000 Mwh—enough to power nearly 10,500 American homes—from wind farms across the country.
The purchase will meet about a third of Penn’s annual energy needs, and is the largest ever made by an institution of higher learning. It is a national statement, both about Penn’s commitment to renewable energy and the practicality of wind power today, Coleman says.
“In fossil fuels, we’ve all heard about emissions, and when you burn [fossil fuels] there is a residual byproduct,” Coleman says. “You don’t have that with wind. In essence, the University is now consuming its energy about 30 percent cleaner.”
Penn has been a leader in the clean energy movement for years. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has listed Penn among the Top 25 of U.S. organizations for buying green power, and with its latest wind power purchase, Penn will now move up to No. 8 on that list. Other institutions and companies on the list include Whole Foods Market, Starbucks and the City of San Diego.
Penn’s support for green power has been credited with helping wind energy gain a foothold in Pennsylvania, and Coleman says the new agreement should do the same for the entire country. Certainly, the industry has come a long way since Penn’s first purchase five years back.
The EPA reports that nationwide installed wind turbine capacity has more than doubled since 2000. The average large-scale wind turbine (some boast blades that are as long as half a football field) can now produce 1.5 Mwh or power—enough to power 450 homes for an entire year—and the cost of maintaining those turbines has dropped, too. Today, wind energy is one of the fastest growing and most widely consumed renewable energy sources.
“When we first did this, we were the first,” Coleman said. “But you’re seeing more and more about [wind energy] in the news. … I feel we’ve been a big part of that.”
Originally published on April 27, 2006