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Local Sierra Club members oppose wind turbines

If you did not believe, or simply were unaware, that politics can make strange bedfellows, then read on.

At least two local members of the Sierra Club oppose the idea of putting wind turbines on state land in Garrett County.

Mark Diehl, conservation chairman of the Western Maryland Group of the Sierra Club, and Sam White, Western Maryland representative of the Maryland Sierra Club, both told the District 1 legislative delegation Saturday during a public forum at Allegany College of Maryland they oppose that type of renewable, clean, alternative energy source.

But why?

For starters, Diehl said, “it’s just not worth it. It seems like a good idea” but it’s not.

He said it would take too many tall, unsightly turbines – “thousands, maybe tens of thousands” – to gather enough wind and produce enough energy to make a difference.

The alteration of the area’s scenic beauty, he said, isn’t worth the sacrifice.

If state officials allow those turbines, Diehl said, “you look at ruining all of the forest ridgetops in Western Maryland. I do not exaggerate.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley has proposed leasing state park land for wind turbines in Western Maryland. State Sen. George Edwards said Saturday that government officials have been approached by one company to lease state land.

Edwards said there first would be a public hearing and the state’s Board of Public Works – which is comprised of O’Malley himself, along with state Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Comptroller Peter Franchot – has the final say.

“We still have to do have an open bid process,” Edwards said.

The first company to approach the state might have submit the best, highest bid and land the contract.

Diehl encouraged the delegation to “take a deeper analysis” of the system “and look at what it really might entail. I will stand against it, period.”

Diehl realizes his statements – he said he was giving his personal views, not that of the Western Maryland Group of the Sierra Club – would cause some heartburn with the environmentalists back east.

“The Maryland and national Sierra clubs have a fundamentally pro-wind turbine stance,” Diehl said. “They’re a major component of a renewable energy portfolio.”

The Sierra Club’s official stance, he said, is that 7.5 percent of Maryland’s energy will come from renewable energy sources in the near future, “of which wind is a major component.”

Diehl admitted there would likely be “internal conflicts” between himself and local, state and national club officials over the issue.

“I agree,” said Delegate Wendell Beitzell. “There should not be any windmills placed on state property. Can you imagine what 2,000 windmills would do to the landscape of Western Maryland?”

Beitzell said he’s written a letter to O’Malley expressing his reservations.

He said it’s difficult to believe the Department of Natural Resources – a keeper of the forest by limiting or prohibiting various types of access to state lands – would sign off on the proposal.

“I’m totally opposed to it,” Beitzell said. “DNR’s got to have heartburn over the issue.”

A turbine for land-based farms, according to the American Wind Energy Association Web site, can have rotors ranging between 50 and 90 meters in diameter, “and with towers roughly the same size.”

A 90-meter machine would have “a total height from tower base to tip of the rotor of approximately 442 feet.”

Delegate LeRoy Myers suggested getting results to eastern state lawmakers by placing a wind turbine in the House chamber.

Delegate Kevin Kelly didn’t say whether he supported the proposal or not but did seem in favor of some form of alternative energy source. He did have a concern about “when gas is $6 a gallon and you go to turn on the light switch and nothing happens. There’s going to be hell to pay.”

White said conservation is the way to go. He advocated new construction to include geothermal buildings as “the No. 1 way to reduce” energy costs.

By Kevin Spradlin

Cumberland Times-News

10 December 2007