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Alternative energy likely focus of PACE meeting in Annapolis

Edwards: most oppose wind turbines on state land

This is the year Mountain Maryland begins to take a serious look at alternative energy sources.

The issue is likely to be the focus of more than one discussion Thursday and Friday during the PACE reception and breakfast in Annapolis.

Allegany County Commissioner Jim Stakem, a PACE committee member, has called the 32nd annual gathering one of the most important series of meetings the county attends. It’s time local officials research and find ways to develop alternative energy sources, he said, whether through wind or solar sources.

“We also feel coal is viable to the equation, and how to make coal into cleaner energy,” Stakem said. “We think we have the poster child of the United States of America in AES Warrior Run. It’s the cleanest plant you’re going to find anywhere.”

Sen. George Edwards, who sent a letter Friday to Gov. Martin O’Malley opposing energy-producing wind turbines on state lands in Western Maryland, said the issue must be resolved.

Edwards said he’s spent considerable time meeting with a number of constituents and groups to learn more about the issue.

“The way the majority of these people (think), even those who support windmills, oppose putting them on state land,” Edwards said. “I think there’s other things better we can do on state land, than put windmills, that would provide a lot more benefit for local people. The best thing the state can do is not allow windmills on state land in Allegany and Garrett counties.”

Edwards said wind turbines on private land “is a little different than (placing them on) state-owned property” and questioned whether it is a good idea to rely on wind as an energy source for the masses.

“You can never build enough windmills in Maryland,” he said, to meet the increase in demand in electricity between now and 2025. “We’re going to have to do other kinds of things. I believe energy is one of the biggest issues we have in our country today. We need to get off our butts and address it.”

AES Warrior Run is one of five top-level corporate sponsors of the PACE event. Four primary sponsors relate to energy, including Clipper Windpower, Columbia Gas of Maryland and US Windforce LLC. The fifth is Bill’s Marine Service in Oakland.

Stakem said it’s important for local businesses that use Maryland coal, such as AES Warrior Run in Mexico Farms and NewPage Corp. in Luke, to continue receiving a 3 percent tax credit. Stakem said some lawmakers have targeted that credit as a potential revenue source.

Matt Diaz, director of economic development for Allegany County, told the commissioners during Thursday’s public meeting that O’Malley will soon make a trip to Western Maryland and that Allegany County will be a “priority stop” for the state’s top elected official. A date for that visit has not been confirmed.

The PACE reception is set for 6 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Loews Annapolis Hotel and a breakfast is scheduled for 8 to 9:30 a.m. Friday. But a lot of behind-the-scenes discussions take place Thursday before the dinner hour.

Stakem said many meetings with state officials are “hit-and-run” and not planned formally. County Attorney Bill Rudd said most of the scheduled meetings include negotiations and are not open to the public.

A full day of meetings is scheduled for Thursday beginning at 9 a.m. between the Maryland Department of the Environment, state Department of Planning and other funding agencies with county and municipal leaders. Stakem said one of the county’s top concerns is the cost of the upgrades to the Georges Creek wastewater treatment facility.

The county is looking at financing $10 million of the $28-million project, Paul Kahl, deputy director of Allegany County Department of Public Works, said last month.

“That debt would be paid back by its users,” Kahl said, noting a possible annual bill increase from $380 to $500 for each customer.

“Our goal is try to get safe water to everybody in Allegany County,” Stakem said. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but that’s one of our goals.”

Official PACE legislative talking points include a county’s right to implement local planning, forest defoliation by gypsy moths, funding for a new computer and communications building at Frostburg State University, and continued funding for a North/South Highway Corridor.

For more information, log on to www.mtmdpace.com.

Kevin Spradlin

Cumberland Times-News

19 January 2008