A Maryland environmental group is attacking a bill that would make it easier to build large wind power projects in the state, while the bill’s sponsor said Thursday wind power should be encouraged because it is environmentally sound.
The measure would allow developers to build wind farms that generate electricity for the wholesale market without having to get approval from the Public Service Commission. It also would eliminate environmental reviews looking at the potential impact on wildlife, endangered species and forest fragmentation.
Bob DeGroot, president of the Maryland Alliance for Greenway Improvement and Conservation, said the bills would reduce environmental rights and reverse the concept of public involvement in the power-plant planning process.
‘The system that’s being proposed eliminates citizens entirely from the process,’ DeGroot said in a telephone interview.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, one of the bills sponsors, said the goal of the measure is to preserve the environment _ not hurt it.
A concern of environmentalists has been to preserve habitat for rare species _ such as the state-endangered Allegheny wood rat _ in parts of western Maryland where wind turbines would be built.
Miller said he wasn’t concerned about wood rats in the larger context of moving the state toward cleaner energy.
‘It’s like in St. Mary’s County, we couldn’t build a bridge, because there was a toad in the road,’ Miller said. ‘Every once in a while you have to make choices in terms of making progress.’
But DeGroot said the measure puts an undue burden on ‘the unsuspecting people in western Maryland,’ because the companies want to build wind turbines on mountains in that part of the state.
‘I think we’ll end up with wind towers on nearly ever ridge top in western Maryland, which will be a terrible situation for anybody that loves mountains,’ DeGroot said.
Miller said neighboring states already are moving ahead with wind power.
‘In western Maryland, you can look over the border in Pennsylvania and see … turbines and then you look over in West Virginia and you see the same thing,’ he said.
DeGroot, for his part, said claims of wind power efficiency are ‘a big question mark.’
‘We find that about only 15 percent of the efficiency is there during the periods when we demand more electricity like in the warm hot summer months,’ he said. ‘There’s very little wind blowing.’
The PSC approved two western Maryland wind farms in 2003 and is considering a third. None have been built.
Developers have complained that the state lacks a strong commitment to renewable energy, because of regulatory hurdles and legal challenges. At a state-sponsored meeting of wind-power proponents in December, leaders of two Maryland projects argued that the state’s power-plant approval process is flawed because it allows almost anyone to intervene.
A measure similar to the Senate bill has been introduced in the House of Delegates. The Senate Finance Committee and the House Economic Matters Committee have not yet voted on the measures.
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.
The Associated Press
1 March 2007
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