A Pennsylvania energy developer has the go-ahead to take two years longer than it originally planned to build a 40-megawatt wind farm on the border between Garrett and Allegany counties.
The Maryland Public Service Commission has granted an extension for Savage Mountain Windforce LLC, giving the developer until March 2010 to build 25 turbines on a roughly 1,052-acre parcel about 15 miles southwest of Cumberland.
The PSC approved the project in 2003, but also established a set of requirements for Savage Mountain, including a time frame that ends in 2008. The approval also required the company to conduct additional study of the project’s effect on birds and bats – though that study does not have to be released until the project is operating.
The conditions were negotiated with D. Daniel Boone, a Bowie environmental consultant who intervened in the case. He said he opposed an extension of time without a wider renegotiation of the approval.
Boone said he is concerned about the project’s effect on wildlife, and felt he had scored a victory with the time limit, because he did not believe that the turbines the project needs would be available by 2008.
The company’s permit allows for turbines up to about 475 feet high, but company officials believe they will likely range in height at around 400 feet.
“If it had not been for the extension, they would have had to put in smaller wind turbines,” he said.
U.S. Windforce LLC, the parent company of Savage Mountain Windforce, has argued that the reason it needed more time was essentially out of its control. The project would be at a former strip mining site, and the state recently finished environmental cleanup there.
“When the reclamation was finished, we looked at the schedule and realized our permit runs out too soon to get it done,” said David Friend, vice president of sales and marketing for U.S. Windforce. He said the next steps are to get the project financed and sell the power it will produce. When the project is operating at its full capacity, it will be able to produce enough electricity to power about 40,000 homes. Friend said the project should be completed by the 2010 deadline.
The company asked in May for an extension, and the PSC granted it in an order issued Sept. 5.
Boone said he thinks Savage Mountain Windforce might be having trouble financing the project, which could cause delays.
“They had plenty of time to build the turbines in the space that wasn’t affected by the reclamation,” he said, “and they had plenty of space.”
The study on bird and bats became an issue as the company sought the extension. Boone had contributed nearly $1,000 to the study, which according to PSC filings is close to completion, and the company ultimately reimbursed him.
But Boone has argued that the study should be made available now, before the project is built, though the approval is not tied to the actual findings of the study – it just has to be complete. The company also agreed to conduct a post-construction study
In a somewhat unusual move, PSC Commissioner Lawrence Brenner dissented from the regulatory panel’s other four members in the decision granting a time extension. Though he agreed with the time extension, Brenner wrote in his dissent that the decision does not go far enough in addressing Boone’s concerns.
“I would direct the parties to arrange for this pre-operation study to be completed and released to them by the original project completion date of March 20, 2008,” Brenner wrote.
Friend, of U.S. Windforce, directed questions about the avian study to Tom Matthews, the company’s president and chief operating officer. He was not available for comment, but the company has noted in filings with the PSC that the project will have to comply with environmental laws.
By Andy Rosen
16 September 2007
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