Wind power in Western Maryland has long been an issue of debate, but a recent proposal made by a Pennsylvania-based company could involve a change in policy for leasing out state lands for wind turbines.
US Wind Force has made a request at the state level to lease about 400 acres atop Backbone and Meadow Mountains, located in the Potomac-Garrett and Savage River state forests, with a total of around 100 turbines at the two locations.
“I think this has to be handled on a case by case basis,” Ernie Gregg, commission chairman said. “Some areas of the state could accommodate that. It needs to be handled judiciously.”
According to Dave McAnally, CEO, they have looked at wind resource maps in the state and have gone through an extensive process to determine the best possible locations of these turbines. He said that in looking at Garrett County, the company found that most of the viable ridgetops were on state-owned land and worked with DNR to determine those locations.
For this reason, he said, US Wind Force has requested the opportunity to lease the land from the state to begin the permitting process for the windmills, which could take several years to complete all the necessary tests on the available wind at these ridgetops and the studies of the natural wildlife in the area. He said that the company would also hold public meetings with the public to get an understanding for the opinions of residents.
Dave Friend, vice president of Marketing & Sales, said that the company chose the two locations not only due to wind production but because he said these areas of the two state parks already have existing transmission lines going through the area.
Friend said that along with the wind turbines, there will also be an underground facility and substation that will use the wind energy to supply power through the existing line.
He added that these areas have been used for other forms of revenue production for the state in the form of logging and cell phone towers and that neither location has been officially termed a wilderness area.
“There are pristine areas of forest in Maryland that should never have a wind project or any type of development on,” McAnally said. “There are wilderness areas in the Savage River State Forest, some wildlife areas. They should stay that way.”
McAnally said that his company is looking at the locations where there has been usage in the past of some sort, even traffic in the way of hunting and four-wheeling.
He also addressed concerns that ridgetops would become covered in wind turbines, saying that many ridges were analyzed for their viability and dismissed and that other state-owned land would likely never be available for lease.
At this point, McAnally said, there are seven wind projects in the works, including these two. His company recently received a two-year Public Service Commission (PSC) extension to build 12 wind-generating turbines on the Garrett and Allegany border on Savage Mountain near Lonaconing. There are also plans to build 28 or 29 turbines at Dan’s Mountain. He said there is also a third project in planning in Western Maryland on privately-owned land, but that discussions are still in the works for that location.
US Wind Force would not be the only windpower company located on Backbone Mountain, as the PSC also approved 40 turbines to be constructed there by Clipper Windpower, a California-based company, along a 10-mile stretch. Synergics of Annapolis is also looking at a project along Backbone, though it has not received PSC approval. Both of these projects received the approval of the county commissioners.
“Wind power may not be the answer,” Fred Holliday, commissioner, said, “but it’s one step. We need to look into the future.”
As for the two projects proposed on state land, Holliday said he did not know enough about them at this time to take a definite opinion.
As for the issue of energy production for the future, McAnally said he feels this is a necessary direction for Maryland, as energy needs continue to grow. He said that sources of energy will need to be sought out. According to McAnally, these turbines would be generating electricity 90 percent of the time. He said that estimates are that the seven proposed windpower projects for Allegany and Garrett Counties in both private and public lands would generate enough electricity for about 55,000 homes.
By Sarah Moses
12 December 2007
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