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Lawmakers poised to give officials wind farm regulatory power

OAKLAND – The Maryland House of Delegates Economic Matters Committee has advanced a bill that would give the Garrett County commissioners the authority to enact ordinances relating to setbacks and the decommissioning of wind turbines, according to a news release.

“This is a very large step towards providing some safeguards for the citizens of Garrett County,” Delegate Wendell Beitzel said.

The companion measure to H.B. 747, sponsored by Sen. George Edwards, has been unanimously approved by the Senate. The two legislators have sponsored measures to give local governments authority to regulate wind turbines during the past several sessions. However, this is the first time that the House Economic Matters Committee and the Senate Finance Committee have approved the measures relating to Garrett County.

“Senator Edwards and I sought to put these protections in place prior to windmill development on Garrett County’s mountaintops. With passage of this bill, the commissioners will have authority to establish setback and decommissioning provisions for wind turbine projects. I applaud my colleagues for recognizing the need for this very important legislation,” said Beitzel.

Both measures must now be approved by the House and Senate by midnight April 9, when the 2012 legislative session ends.

During the Draft Land Management Ordinance work session in March, the county commissioners discussed an ordinance that would call for wind turbine setbacks of 2,000 feet from a residence, church, school or other occupied structure and 1,000 feet from a property line. The draft ordinance also addressed a decommissioning agreement requirement.

A third Draft Land Management Ordinance work session will be held April 10 at 10 a.m.

The two proposed wind turbine projects at St. John’s Rock and Four Mile Ridge are progressing. Eleven agreements have been recorded and executed with property owners for wind turbines on the St. John’s Rock ridge, according to Jim Torrington, chief of the Garrett County Permits and Inspections Division. In February, a metrological tower permit was issued to Synergics Wind Energy LLC for a tower along St. John’s Rock Road. Synergics has proposed 24 wind turbines.

The next step in the county permitting process would be a grading permit, according to Torrington, who noted that for the first wind project (Roth Rock) it took Synergics 18 months to get a grading permit. However, since Synergics has already been through the process, Torrington thinks that the process will be smoother and take less time. Gestamp Wind North America of Houston now owns the Roth Rock project.