- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Montgomery County leaders are proposing that the county government and other local agencies buy 5 percent of their power from wind farms, a renewable energy source that officials hope will reduce air pollution threatening the Washington area's transportation funding.
The purchase of 26 million kilowatt hours per year from mountaintop windmills in West Virginia would be among the largest public usage of wind power in the nation by local governments, said County Council member George Leventhal.
The move would cut modestly into the county's dependence on power plants that burn fossil fuels, which now account for most of the energy that the county buys.
"We must look at a variety of ways that move away from energy sources that cause pollution," said Mr. Leventhal, at-large Democrat.
Mr. Leventhal plans to propose today a change in the county's energy policy to adopt the 5 percent rule. He said he has the support of much of the council. County Executive Douglas M. Duncan will help present the plan. The council could vote on the measure by March.
The Washington area is in violation of federal ozone standards and must set restrictions on traffic, power plant and other emissions by 2004. If the region does not meet requirements of the Clean Air Act, the federal government can withhold much-needed transportation funding.
Montgomery County buys power as part of a 14-member consortium that includes the county school system, Montgomery College, the city of Rockville and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. Almost all of that power comes from a Mirant Corp. generator in Dickerson and other plants that burn coal and natural gas, Mr. Leventhal said.
Under the wind-power proposal, the consortium would draw energy from windmills on Backbone Mountain near Thomas, W.Va. The wind farm, owned by Florida-based FBL Energy, went into operation in December.
If the entire consortium switches to the 5 percent wind-power plan, its energy bill will rise $400,000 each year. Montgomery County government now spends $8 million per year for energy.
Mr. Leventhal said that extra cost can be recouped through energy-saving plans in county office buildings. The use of energy-saving features on county computers, for example, could save an extra $204,000 per year, Mr. Leventhal said.
"What we are proposing is cost-neutral," he said.
Several area universities, including American and Catholic universities in the District, have signed contracts with wind farms to provide a percentage of their energy.
Mr. Leventhal said the Montgomery consortium would be one of the largest public power consumers to adopt a wind-power policy. Los Angeles is the largest.


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