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Md. wind-power project gets OK

A state Public Service Commission hearing examiner has recommended approval of a third western Maryland wind power project – but with environmental restrictions that could force developer Synergics Inc. to reconsider.

The order proposed Monday by Hearing Examiner David L. Moore will become final Nov. 30 unless it is appealed to the full commission.

Frank Maisano, spokesman for a coalition of Mid-Atlantic wind-power developers including Synergics, said today the company “may very well” appeal the proposed order.

“We’re pleased that they’ve thought it possible to approve the project. Obviously, we’re reviewing the details with what our options are, going forward, on a lot of the exclusions,” he said.

Synergics Inc., of Annapolis, wants to place 17 giant turbines along a three-mile stretch of Backbone Mountain about 15 miles south of Deep Creek Lake in Garrett County. The company contends the 40-megawatt project would help electric utilities in Maryland meet a state-mandated goal of producing 7.5 percent of electricity from renewable resources by 2017.

Opponents have argued the turbines would do more environmental harm than good by killing large numbers of migrating birds and bats, marring the mountain landscape and disturbing neighbors with their noisy, whirling blades.

Moore rejected those arguments but upheld 24 conditions recommended by the Department of Natural Resources to minimize any environmental harm.

One condition would bar construction in two sections of the project site to preserve habitat for 17 rare species, including the state-endangered mourning warbler, the state-endangered Allegheny wood rat and the globally rare timber rattlesnake.

Maisano and Furqan Siddiqi, vice president of development for Synergics Energy Services, said in July that realigning the 420-foot turbines to avoid the two “exclusion zones” could hurt the project because some would be in less windy spots or in locations that would be costlier to service.

“We’d have to look at the financial feasibility of what PSC will approve, and then we’d have to decide,” Siddiqi said.

Maisano added: “Anything that makes the project less competitive makes it harder to do.”

Jon Boone, a Garrett County resident who is among six individuals or groups opposing the project, said he was surprised by the hearing examiner’s decision. Boone said opponents would have to review the proposed order before deciding whether to appeal.

In 2003, the PSC granted permits, known as Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity, to two other western Maryland wind power projects but neither has been built. Maisano said a 40-turbine project planned in Garrett County by Clipper Windpower Inc. is tied up in court, and a 24-turbine project planned in Allegany County by US Wind Force was stalled by the company’s negotiations with a potential buyer of the electricity.
On the Net:
Case No. 9008, Public Service Commission: http://www.psc.state.md.us/psc/

By David Dishneau, Associated Press