The Allegany County Planning and Zoning Commission has to be commended for taking the first steps in pursuing a comprehensive regulation of industrial wind farms.
The zoning code currently only sets structure height and setback requirements in a permitting process, without hearings for input by the public. Important other concerns are left to the project certification before the Public Service Commission downstate.
The recently enacted fast track approval process by the Maryland Public Service Commission for projects with 70 megawatt or less capacity and the growing interest in investment in wind energy in our county highlights the need for comprehensive county rules.
Note that in Garrett County, the Dan’s Mountain project has been cut back from 100 to 70 Megawatt, to fall under the fast track exception of the Public Service Commission (even that reduced project will consist of 28 turbines, claiming to be able supply for 70,000 households with electricity when the wind is blowing).
New county rules should assure a review of issues of local interest, such as clear cutting; aesthetics; view sheds; noise; interference with wireless transmissions; shadowing and flicker; wildlife (including avian life and the proverbial bats); fragmentation of open space; damage from construction (access roads, blasting, erosion, water pollution); in general, minimizing conflicts between incompatible land uses as well as general public safety and welfare concerns; and securing of decommissioning cost.
If treated as “special exceptions” (as has been suggested), each project would be reviewed before the Board of Zoning Appeals under the amended Zoning rules, with ample opportunity for neighbors and the public for input in open hearings.
As to pending projects in our county, let’s not forget that a 40 megawatt wind farm (approximately 25 turbines) on Savage Mountain, west of Lonaconing, has been approved by the Public Service Commission; commencement of construction awaiting completion of strip mine reclamation. Thus, county rules amendment needs to be quick.
June 25, 2008
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