State utility regulators extended the public comment period on a proposed Garrett County wind power project that could bypass a lengthy regulatory approval process, an official said Wednesday.
The Public Service Commission tacked on 30 days for comments following last Thursday’s public hearing in McHenry, said LaWanda Edwards, PSC spokeswoman.
“We felt that customers asked for it, and you know from our perspective we like to get as much input from the community as possible,” she said.
Last month, the Garrett County Commissioners requested that the PSC include a 30-day comment period as concerned citizens voiced their desire for a larger window of time.
“I’m pleased that the commission listened to the people who felt very strongly that it was not a responsible thing that the deadline to comment was [Thursday] and yet the hearing is [Thursday],” said John Bambacus, a former state senator from Frostburg.
If the Clipper Windpower Inc. project goes through, it is unknown what restrictions will be placed on it, because a state law passed last year to streamline the wind power construction approval process allows companies to circumvent the task of getting a certificate of public convenience and necessity, or CPCN.
Only companies with turbines that do not generate more than 70 megawatts of electricity can bypass the process. That amount of wind power would power between 15,000 and 21,000 homes, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
Last month, Criterion Power Partners LLC, a subsidiary of California-based Clipper, submitted a request to build 28 wind turbines that would generate 70 megawatts of electricity and be exempted from obtaining a CPCN.
“What concerns us is that this is the first application that the Public Service Commission will be dealing with under their expedited rules, which basically deregulates the wind power industry,” Bambacus said. “There are public safety concerns with these 400-foot turbines, not to mention environmental and water concerns.”
Bambacus said he is unsure of what the accelerated process would include. He wrote PSC Chairman Steven B. Larsen a letter asking about the procedure in January, but he said he has not received a response.
This is not the first time Clipper has gone through this process in Maryland. The company was approved to build 40 turbines that would have produced up to 101 megawatts of electricity in 2002, but several lawsuits halted the project before construction started.
The company’s five-year construction permit will expire this month, which made it necessary for the company to submit January’s application.
D. Daniel Boone, a conservation biologist who opposes the project, challenged Clipper’s proposal in 2003. He said the company has changed its plans so it can avoid public scrutiny.
“They’ve essentially sidestepped the conditions that were put on the project that we agreed to in 2003,” Boone said. “They are using the new law to get around the longstanding practice of having citizens of Maryland have input into land use decisions.”
More controversy surrounds the project because some of the turbines could go up on county land, and the county stands to make an estimated $840,000 in royalty payments, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
In 2003, Clipper made an agreement with the Garrett County Sanitary District, which operates water and sewer systems for two of the county’s municipalities, to lease some of its land and build three wind turbines on it.
When the county took over the land later that year during emergency legislation, the Board of County Commissioners knew that a deal had been proposed, but did not know it went through. Officials did not find out about the deal for two years, said Lamont G. Pagenhardt, county administrator.
“In 2005, the county was approached by Clipper about extending agreements for the placement of those turbines on county land,” Pagenhardt said. “We tried to get out of those agreements, but Clipper said no.”
The news of the government’s potential financial gain came after the county commissioners voted to oppose building a different set of wind turbines on state land because it would diminish the land’s value.
The county commissioners are opposed to having turbines on county land, Pagenhardt said, but the deal was “inherited.”
“I think right now if the county were to be approached, we wouldn’t go through with it,” he said.
By Danielle Ullman
Daily Record Business Writer
5 March 2008
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