A proposed 40-turbine wind power project in Garrett County would shrink to 28 turbines – small enough to avoid some of the public scrutiny that has hampered its progress – under a change sought by developer Clipper Windpower PLC.
The project’s maximum output would drop from 101 megawatts of electricity to 70 megawatts, Clipper said in a filing with the state Public Service Commission. At that size, under a state law passed last year, the project wouldn’t need a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity – a power plant construction permit the PSC awards after lengthy rounds of reviews and public hearings.
Clipper, based in Carpinteria, Calif., is the first developer to apply for the permit exemption under a law the General Assembly passed last year to advance wind power projects by streamlining the approval process. Proponents say the fast-tracked projects still are subject to environmental regulations and that the public can participate during hearings on local permit applications.
Clipper “will fully participate in any public hearing established by the PSC during which the public will have an opportunity to comment on the application,” attorney Nadine Moustafa wrote in a letter accompanying the Jan. 23 application.
But wind power opponents, who claim the 40-story turbines are inefficient, unsightly and hazardous to wildlife, say the streamlined approach reduces public participation.
“I would expect every permit application from now on to follow suit and segment their permits in order to get around the necessary scrutiny for biological review,” said Ajax Eastman, a Baltimore-based environmental activist who is an intervenor in the Clipper case.
The Clipper project received a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity in March 2003 to build its project on Backbone Mountain, Maryland’s highest ridge. Moustafa said lawsuits have so delayed the project that Clipper can’t complete construction before the permit expires March 26.
Spokeswoman Mary McCann-Gates said Clipper has agreed to meet virtually all the conditions outlined in its CPCN permit and will work with the DNR to avoid placing turbines in sensitive areas. She said the new turbines would be taller, though – 408 feet instead of 393 – which could trigger new questions about bird and bat mortality.
Other developers who seek permit exemptions will face less scrutiny because there are no requirements in the fast-track process for state agency review, said John Sherwell, of the Department of Natural Resources’ Power Plant Research Program. Unless the project would disturb a wetland, or raises enough local concern to trigger a state investigation, it is “treated like a regular construction project,” Sherwell said.
No wind power projects have been built in Maryland. Beside the Clipper project, the PSC has awarded a permit to a 25-turbine, 40-megawatt project planned by Pennsylvania-based U.S. Wind Force on Savage Mountain in neighboring Allegany County. The company has obtained a permit extension to March 2010.
A third developer, Annapolis-based Synergics Inc., has proposed a 40-megawatt project on Backbone Mountain with 17 to 24 turbines. The permitting process for that project stalled when the Department of Natural Resources insisted on conditions to protect habitat for rare and endangered species. Frank Maisano, an industry spokesman, said Synergics is now pursuing local permitting with the intention of applying for a CPCN exemption.
Several other proposed wind farms haven’t yet entered the permitting process.
By David Dishneau
Associated Press Writer
7 February 2008
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