40-story turbines in Western Maryland?
When the Department of Natural Resources crafts its policy on whether to build wind turbines on public land, the testimony of emotional citizens will weigh heavily in its decision.
At issue are the proposals by a Pennsylvania company, U.S. Wind Force LLC, to construct 40-story wind turbines in Savage River State Forest and Potomac State Forest in Western Maryland, which would require clearing 400 acres of forest land.
The agency will review testimony posted on its Web site through March 3, and from public meetings in Annapolis and Garrett County, where the proposed 100 wind turbines would go up.
“The most significant consideration for us right now is the public comments,” said department spokeswoman Olivia Campbell. “That is going to weigh in very significantly in the decision-making process.”
The testimonials at the two public meetings last week were infused with emotional pleas to stop the 400-foot-high wind turbines from interrupting the quiet and beauty of the state forests, and the possible destruction of the area’s tourism industry.
“It is absolutely inconceivable to me, that for this piddling energy gain by this project, industrial wind plants are being considered for the state forest land,” said Mary Fletcher, who owns property in Garrett County.
Fletcher said it would be a step backward to build the turbines and “break a sacred trust” with citizens.
Several officials from Western Maryland spoke at the meeting to explain how their constituents feel.
“For the folks of Garrett County, it’s a real personal thing,” said state Del. Wendell R. Beitzel a Garrett County Republican. “It’s our home.”
Very few people stood up in favor of the wind turbines, but one wind and clean energy advocate from Pennsylvania appealed to the crowd to think beyond county borders.
“I’m here because air pollution doesn’t see the state lines,” said Tom Tuffey, director of PennFuture’s Center for Energy, Enterprise and the Environment.
In April, the state passed legislation that allows wind-powered energy facilities to sidestep a lengthy approval process with the Public Service Commission that can take up to seven months.
Under the new law, wind power companies looking to build facilities that generate less than 70 megawatts of electricity per year go through a two-month approval process with the PSC.
One megawatt of energy can power 800 to 1,000 households a year. The Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in Lusby produces 1,700 megawatts of energy annually.
The legislation only requires the PSC to determine the safety and reliability of the electricity system, eliminating the extensive review of environmental impacts.
The first company applied for exemption from the permit process in
January, so it is unclear exactly how the state’s environmental agencies will proceed, said John Sherwell, administrator of the Power Plant Research Program in the Department of Natural Resources.
Opponents at the Annapolis public meeting said clearing the forest would disrupt the habitats of animals and insects and could create a domino effect, allowing other industrial efforts to pop up on public land.
The state does not allow any businesses to build on public land, aside from the industrial practices that were already present before the state purchased the land, said Campbell of the Department of Natural Resources.
“People get frustrated because they think that something is being pulled over their eyes,” said Frank Maisano, who represents a coalition of mid-Atlantic wind developers, including U.S. Wind Force, in a phone interview.
“The reality is this state has demanded wind power through its policies,” he said.
If the Department of Natural Resources approves the construction of wind turbines on public land, the state will seek bids from several companies along with U.S. Wind Force, which wants to lease land from the state.
A deal would be negotiated on the lease terms, but the state could get $1 million a year for 20 years.
By Danielle Ulman
Daily Record Business Writer
1 February 2008
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