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Crisfield delays wind project over $35,000 to fund study

CRISFIELD – The construction of a wind energy system to power Crisfield’s sewage treatment plant will likely be delayed after city officials learned this week they must first pay for a study on how it will affect the power grid.

Delmarva Power is requiring the study be done and has asked for $35,000, but it’s money the city doesn’t have, Mayor Percy “P.Jay” Purnell.

“I don’t have $35,000 lying around,” he said. “Even 35 cents is a stretch.”

Purnell said he has contacted the Maryland Department of the Environment to see if the city can use some of the $4.8 million grant it was awarded to pay for the study.

More importantly, he hopes MDE will front the money, otherwise it will have to come out of a city budget that is already stretched thin.

“My question is, how far out on a limb do we have to go?” he said. “It’s unnerving.”

Under the terms of the grant, the state won’t release the funds until the project is ready to begin construction.

Jay Apperson, a spokesman for MDE, said state officials are looking into whether the grant can be used for the impact study.

“No final determination has been made,” he said.

Purnell said he talked to Delmarva Power officials and learned that studies are required for anyone wanting to connect to the grid, including a new manure-burning power plant being constructed at Eastern Correctional Institution.

The utility will also require the city to pay for any necessary upgrades to equipment, Purnell said.

Delmarva Power requires impact studies for all large-scale projects, such as the turbine planned in Crisfield, said company spokesman Matt Likovich.

“Any time a customer wants to connect an alternative energy system to our grid, we have to make sure that system – in this case wind – meets safety and compatibility standards on our electric grid,” he said. “We have a responsibility to our 500,000 customers to make sure that our system is operated in a safe and reliable manner at all times.”

The $35,000 fee is charged by an outside contractor. Delmarva Power does not make any money on it, and any portion of the fee remaining after the study is completed is refunded to the customer, Likovich said.

Construction that was originally scheduled for sometime in June will be delayed about six weeks while the study is completed, Purnell said.

Although the turbine is expected to generate more than enough electricity to power the sewer plant, it must still connect to the grid since the plant needs a consistent source of electricity, and the turbine’s output could fluctuate depending on how windy it is, Purnell said.

The city also can sell the excess electricity back to the grid.

The $4.8 million is enough to cover the cost of construction, plus the Delmarva Power study because the project has been scaled down after officials at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Mary’s County expressed concerns that turbines will interfere with radar systems.

The 750-kilowatt turbine planned for a site next to the sewer plant on Seventh Street will be under the 300-foot height limit set by the Navy, Purnell said.

Preliminary design work for the turbine has been completed, and a site survey and borings at the property are under way, he said.

The city still needs to get the project approved by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Defense.

Once the system goes online, it is expected to save the city about $20,000 per month on electricity.