Wind-power developers frustrated by regulatory hurdles and legal challenges say the state lacks a strong commitment to alternative energy, putting Maryland behind neighboring states in which wind turbines are already spinning.
The state Public Service Commission approved two western Maryland wind farms in 2003 and is considering a third, but none have been built. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania has six commercial wind farms operating and another in the works, and West Virginia has one running and two proposed.
Most of these projects are along the Allegheny Front, an Appalachian mountain ridge that includes the Eastern Continental Divide. Strong, relatively steady winds at elevations approaching 5,000 feet make the Allegheny Front attractive to wind-power developers.
Leaders of two Maryland projects told a state-sponsored meeting of wind-power proponents last week in Bethesda that Maryland’s government lacks a strong voice on energy issues, and the state’s power-plant approval process is flawed because it allows almost anyone to intervene.
Wayne Rogers, chairman of Annapolis-based Synergics Inc. and a member of Gov.-elect Martin O’Malley’s transition team, referred to “a vocal minority of anti-wind extremists” who “game the system.” He suggested creating a cabinet-level energy secretary, streamlining the approval process for renewable energy projects and tightening the rules to limit intervenors to those directly affected.
Kevin Rackstraw, Eastern development leader for Clipper Windpower Inc., said Maryland wind power is at a stalemate, partly because the regulatory process allows a small number of people to make “mischief” and partly because the government lacks a strong advocate for alternative energy.
The PSC approved his company’s proposed 40-turbine project in Garrett Countyin 2003 but it is being challenged in court.
Synergics’ proposed 17-turbine project, also in Garrett County, is under regulatory review. The company is fighting state Department of Natural Resources’ recommendations aimed at protecting endangered species habitats. Synergics also is battling five intervenors, including the nonprofit Maryland Alliance for Greenway Improvement and Conservation. They say the three-bladed turbines towering 40 to 60 stories above the ground would pose an uncalculated threat to birds, bats and property values, spoil scenic views and do little to reduce consumption of fossil fuels.
Alliance President Robert DeGroot said wind farms need more regulation, not less. Unlike conventional power-plant builders, wind-farm developers aren’t required to prepare comprehensive Environmental Impact Statements for projects that DeGroot said could damage miles of ridge lines and affect all kinds of wildlife.
And because wind energy is relatively new, public service commissions are ill-equipped to regulate wind farms, he said.
“Wind facilities are trying to get permits through PSCs without doing any basic, site-specific environmental studies that are needed to reveal the dangers they pose,” he wrote in an e-mailed response to questions from The Associated Press.
Bowie-based conservation biologist D. Daniel Boone, another Synergics intervenor, said Rogers’ call for less regulation indicates that amid growing opposition, the wind industry “wants to short-circuit any meaningful public participation and review process.”
Opposition to wind farms has increased, even in wind-friendly Pennsylvania, which Rogers cited as a model. Kerry L. Campbell, wind-energy specialist at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, told the Maryland Wind Working Group workshop in Bethesda that people reared in his state’s mountainous coal country tend to welcome wind farms as a cleaner, less destructive energy source. But he said city folks who have moved to the countryside “don’t want to see turbines.”
By David Dishneau, Associated Press
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