Gov. Martin O’Malley inspected some proposed wind-power sites in the western Maryland mountains Friday and said he is seeking a balance between the need for clean, renewable energy and the potential for environmental damage from scores of giant windmills.
Wind farm development has been stalled in Maryland for years, with four projects proposed but none built despite the state Public Service Commission’s approval of two wind farms in 2003. Earlier this year, O’Malley signed legislation sought by developers that eliminated from the PSC’s approval process reviews of large wind farms’ potential effects on wildlife, endangered species and forest fragmentation.
O’Malley said he is satisfied that the change, making Maryland’s regulations similar to those in neighboring states where windmills are whirling, won’t weaken the protection of natural resources because developers are still subject to environmental enforcement. But O’Malley said he hasn’t yet decided whether he wants giant turbines lining Maryland’s highest ridges at the chosen sites.
“Whether one location is a good location or not is something that still needs to be worked out,” he said.
By viewing the sites by helicopter, O’Malley said he hopes “to try to find a balance between cleaner, renewable energy supplies that are here in Maryland and also the natural resources which all of us pay or taxes to preserve for future generations.”
The two PSC-approved projects are a 40-turbine wind farm planned on Backbone Mountain in Garrett County by California-based Clipper Windpower Inc. and a 25-turbine project planned by Pennsylvania-based US Wind Force on Savage Mountain in Allegany County. US Wind Force also plans to build a smaller project on Dan’s Mountain in Allegany that won’t need PSC approval because it would produce less than 70 megawatts of electricity, president Thomas Matthews said.
The fourth project, proposed by Annapolis-based Synergics Inc., would put 17 turbines on Backbone Mountain in Garrett County. That project stalled before the PSC last year when the Department of Natural Resources concluded that construction would destroy habitat for 17 rare species, including the state-endangered mourning warbler, the state-endangered Allegheny wood rat and the globally rare timber rattlesnake.
Frank Maisano, a spokesman for wind power developers in Maryland, said all the projects are proceeding through local permitting steps, and that construction of the Clipper and US Wind Force projects could begin late this year or in early 2008. He said Synergics may reapply to the PSC under the new, streamlined rules after securing local construction permits.
By DAVID DISHNEAU
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