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County studies wind energy; Two companies eye Somerset farmland

PRINCESS ANNE – Somerset County planning officials are looking into how to regulate large scale wind energy systems as two companies begin eyeing local farmland for turbine projects.

While the county enacted an ordinance regulating smaller residential turbines last year, the Planning Commission just started considering commercial operations last week, said Gary Pusey, the county’s planning director.

Staff members have been researching the issue and looking at ordinances adopted in other counties, he said.

It could take several more months before anything is put in place.

“We’re not done researching this,” he said. “This is just the first shot.”

Businesses are looking at the area because of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s goal of generating 20 percent of the state’s energy from renewable sources by 2022. They also are attracted by the grants, loans and tax credits offered through the Maryland Energy Administration.

There are two companies talking to Somerset County farmers and other owners of large tracts in hope of leasing areas to install turbines, Pusey said.

Representatives from one company, Pioneer Green Energy of Austin, Texas, told County Commissioners during a recent meeting that they have signed contracts on 6,000 acres in the county.

The leases allow farmers to have another source of income, said Adam Cohen, one of Pioneer Green’s founders.

So far, farmers like the idea, said Johnny Walker, a company official who also attended the commissioners’ meeting.

“I haven’t met a farmer that wants to keep his land in his family that doesn’t support this,” he said.

Benefits to the county include jobs, an increased tax base and educational opportunities, Cohen said.

The company is collecting data before building starts in 2012, he added.

Land from Deal Island Road southward to Crisfield is in the company’s target area, although areas near the Crisfield-Somerset County Airport have to be avoided.

Pusey said a New Jersey-based company also has been talking to land owners.

“Both these companies seem to be looking at the exact same area,” he said.

Meanwhile, Crisfield officials are hoping to build two or three large turbines – about 300 feet tall – on land next to the sewer plant to generate power for the facility.

The city, which has already adopted its own ordinance regulating wind turbines, is still waiting to hear if its $4.8 million grant application to the Maryland Department of the Environment has been approved.