About 75 local residents attended a Maryland Public Service Commission hearing Thursday evening at Garrett College on a proposed wind power project. PSC chief hearing examiner Bryan Moorehouse heard testimony from 30 residents, with 24 opposing the initiative. The event was nearly 3½ hours long.
Clipper Windpower, also known as Criterion Power Partners, plans to construct wind turbines along the Backbone Mountain ridgeline between Allegheny Heights and Wild Turkey Rock. The structures would have a combined generating capacity of up to 70 megawatt (MW) of electricity.
“This is not a new project,” said Kevin Rackstraw, Clipper’s eastern development leader. “It’s actually a very old project.”
Clipper has filed an application with the PSC for an exemption to the certificate of public convenience and necessity. Because the project is now under 70 MW, the exemption would allow it to be fast-tracked through the approval pro-cess under a new state law.
Clipper first proposed constructing 67 wind turbines in Garrett County about six years ago. The company later revised that plan and received a state permit to construct 40 turbines with a combined generating capacity of up to 100 MW of electricity. The company had until March 26 of this year to complete the project.
But, as Rackstraw noted, opponents have tied the project up in litigation for five years. He said three of their law suits have been dismissed by Maryland’s highest court. The fourth case has been re-appealed.
Clipper downsized the project further and in January filed the exemption application. The company now wants to build 28 Liberty 2.5 MW turbines standing 415 feet high (at vertical blade).
Twenty-five of those turbines are slated for private property. Clipper has easement agreements with the land owners.
Three turbines would be constructed at Landon’s Dam on land once owned by the Garrett County Sanitary Commission. The dam is the main water source for Mtn. Lake Park and Loch Lynn. Those towns and the now-defunct sanitary commission signed easement agreements with Clipper in 2003. The land, however, is now owned by the Garrett County government.
“The county asked to get out of the easement, but we declined,” Rackstraw said. “It (Landon’s Dam) is right in the center of our project.” That request was made three years ago, according to Clipper.
In reference to the entire $125 million Backbone Mtn. project, Rackstraw said all studies have been completed, but some construction permits are still needed. Clipper hopes to start construction in spring 2009, with a completion date of December 2009, he noted.
According to Rackstraw, the project is expected to pay more than $14 million in local taxes during its 20- to 30-year life span. He added that the initiative would provide approximately 110-120 “well-paying” jobs during the peak of construction. After the project is completed, four to six full-time operations and maintenance workers will be employed, Rackstraw noted.
Several local residents opposed the exemption and the project in general because of possible negative effects on wildlife, property values, view sheds, beauty, human well-being, water tables, and heritage issues.
“I am absolutely heart broken about this,” said Elene Stoger, Frostburg Road (Garrett County). “This is our children’s legacy.”
Accountant Jeff Conner, Avilton, questioned the project’s “benefits.” He indicated that decreases in real estate values, tourism dollars, and other factors would end up costing the county more than the $700,000 a year it would get in tax revenues from the project.
Conner also noted that the 110-120 promised jobs would be only for one year.
Other opponents said the project was not an old one, as described by Rackstraw, and that more studies needed to be conducted.
“The size and scope of this project has changed significantly,” said Paul Durham, Oakland. “I think the PSC has an obligation to look at this again.”
“You’re our only hope right now – please listen to us,” Annie Barstow, Frostburg (Garrett County), told the PSC.
She said granting Clipper an exemption would be a precedent setting move. She indicated that other companies were ready to take advantage of the new expedited review process, which would result in many more wind turbines being constructed.
“This is not just about Backbone, it’s potentially about all of Garrett County,” Barstow said.
Six others residents, however, said they supported wind energy and asked the PSC to approve Clipper’s application. Some stressed the need for clean energy, while others defended the rights of private property owners.
“Windmills are all over the country, and other places don’t complain about them like we do here,” said Garrett County native Donald Riley, who owns property on Backbone Mountain. “I don’t see what the problem is.”
He pointed out that the county and land owners who have leases with Clipper would lose much money if the project is not approved.
George Futch, Swanton, said the project would provide jobs. He said people talk about turbines spoiling the natural beauty of the county. Referring to development at Deep Creek Lake, he asked the crowd, “But what do you think of three- to four-story condos?”
“Wind power is not perfect,” said Steven Friend, who also owns property on Backbone Mtn., noting that the technology was still in its infancy. “But I’m proud to support wind power.”
He added that people should be able to lease their land if they choose.
“If you had property on the lake and wanted to build a mini-motel there, do you think I have any right to tell you no?” he asked the crowd.
Friend said his biggest fear is that Backbone will turn into another Deep Creek Lake.
“I’m very excited about having progressive energy,” said new Garrett County resident Anita Michael. She asked the crowd to be open to change and look at the positive aspects of the turbine project.
Michael added that modern technology does not bring property values down, it is the lack of home maintenance.
“Homes that are run down are not beautiful,” she said. “If you want to fight something, fight that.”
The PSC has extended the public comment period on the exemption application until April 7. Written testimony may be sent to the Public Service Commission, 6 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD 21202 (Re: Case No. 8938).
The PSC will hold an administrative meeting on the application in Baltimore on April 23. Interested persons may attend that event and submit oral comments.
Prior to that meeting, Moorehouse said, the technical staff will review the issue and make recommendations. Those comments will be available on the PSC web site, he said.
13 March 2008
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