Lawmakers agreed Friday on a measure that will make it easier to build large wind power projects in Maryland, after the Senate voted 40-6 to agree to a similar bill passed in the House with amendments.
The measure would allow developers to build wind farms that generate electricity for the wholesale market by eliminating environmental reviews looking at the potential impact on wildlife, endangered species and forest fragmentation that currently are part of the Public Service Commission’s approval process.
That part of the bill brought a protest from the Maryland Alliance for Greenway Improvement and Conservation, which contended the measures would reduce environmental rights and reverse the concept of public involvement in the power-plant planning process.
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.
But bill supporters argued the bill only cuts out a duplicative PSC environmental review. They also have contended that Maryland has been too restrictive on wind-power and has held back its development in the state.
An amendment clarifies that the bill may not be construed to limit regulatory authority of any state or local agency with matters relating to a wind power generating station that is exempt from requirements of the PSC environmental review.
Another amendment requires the commission to report annually for three years on the number of applications for wind power generating stations and their locations.
Gov. Martin O’Malley has expressed interest in the bill and has indicated he would sign it, his spokesman, Rick Abbruzzese, said.
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.
By Brian Witte
Associated Press Writer
6 April 2007
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