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Somerset wind turbines find backing

PRINCESS ANNE – Somerset County farmers hoping wind turbines sprout across fields alongside crops are closer to a gusty harvest. Key support came this week from the county’s Planning Commission that recommended proposed provisions to allow onshore industrial wind turbines by special exception.

“Our goal is to help farmers diversify and keep farming,” said Adam Cohen, a principal at Pioneer Green Energy that wants to build turbines in the county. “They can farm on land that has turbines.”

Planning Commission members were prepared to hear the pros and cons of provisions drafted to make way for wind energy conversion systems at various county locations. All comments at a public hearing Thursday supported proposed provisions that now must be approved by Somerset County Commissioners and state regulatory agencies.

“It’s not over, but we’ve come a long way since we had the first meeting,” said Gary Pusey, planning director for Somerset County. “It took a while, a good year, to get here.”

Industrial Wind Energy Conversion Systems would convert wind into electricity with turbines as high as 500 feet in some places, generating renewable energy for the PJM power grid that powers the Delmarva Peninsula. By comparison, the wind turbine on eastbound Route 50 at Chesapeake Community College near Easton is 250 feet tall.

A major goal for Somerset County is to contribute toward Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard that requires 20 percent of the state’s electricity to be generated from renewable energy sources by 2022.

Andrew Gohn, a manager at the Maryland Energy Administration, said the county’s proposed ordinance applies exclusively to onshore wind, unlike a proposed offshore project in Delaware that went belly up last month when the parent company could not find a buyer for the venture, Bluewater Wind.

“Offshore is a different technology and so is the financing associated with it,” Gohn said. “This is land-based technology and it shouldn’t be impacted.”

The sparse audience Thursday was that of mostly Navy and state environmental officials and developers that hope to install turbines. Christopher Jarboe of the NAVAIR Ranges Sustainability Office at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station said he was satisfied with what he called a compromise measure that encourages applicants to notify Patuxent when planning to install a wind energy system greater than 200 feet in height. The compromise measure means the county would not be obligated to submit applicant plans to the air station for screening. The air station’s primary concern is that the height of turbines in some locations does not interfere with Patuxent radar signals.

“It’s a compromise; we wanted to be a little more involved in the review process,” Jarboe said after the hearing. “It informs developers, encourages them, to contact Patuxent to work through a potential conflict.”

The Planning Commission’s draft ordinance also stipulates that proposed wind turbines taller than 200 feet undergo a military compatibility review by the Department of Defense’s Siting Clearinghouse. Applicant plans by law also would be subject to review by a Federal Aviation Administration clearinghouse.

Pioneer has leased 8,000-9,000 acres of land from 40 landowners, mostly located between Marion Station and Westover on the southern end of Somerset. During the last two years, the company conducted wind feasibility and other studies at the properties, and Cohen said leases would continue for land that generates the desired amount of wind.

Windmills would not be clustered, but rather, spaced some 1,100 feet to 1,200 feet apart.

Pioneer proposes an output of 150 megawatts of energy – enough to supply 45,000 homes – for the electric grid.

Some power would be purchased by retail utility providers as Old Dominion, Baltimore Gas and Electric and Pepco, the parent company of Delmarva Power, Cohen said.