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Officials: Wind bill would hurt Somerset

PRINCESS ANNE – A Maryland state bill that sets new restrictions on wind turbines within a 46-mile radius of Naval Air Station Patuxent River has surprised Somerset County officials, who said it’s an attempt to halt wind energy development in the county.

“There’s no doubt this bill was aimed right at Somerset County,” said Rex Simpkins, president of the County Commissioners. “It’s pretty disheartening, I can tell you that.”

The bill ends an exemption for wind systems smaller than 70 megawatts, and requires them to get approval from the Maryland Public Service Commission.

The bill originally only addressed issues with overhead transmission lines, but was amended by southern Maryland legislators to include new restrictions on wind turbines.

Officials from Pax River in St. Mary’s County have expressed concerns that large scale wind turbines will interfere with the Doppler radar at the base.

“The southern Maryland delegation did what they needed to do to protect their constituents,” Simpkins said. “Unfortunately, we knew nothing about it.”

All of Somerset County is included in the 46-mile radius of the base, except for a small portion near the Worcester County line, to the east, he said.

Although the bill passed in this year’s session of the General Assembly, which ended more than a month ago, Somerset County Commissioners said they only learned of it recently.

As a result, Commissioners voted earlier this week against cooperating in a joint land use study with Pax River, saying they had been “back-doored” by the Navy.

While the new restrictions could affect smaller-scale projects, Adam Cohen of Pioneer Green Energy said it’s unlikely to create problems for his company, which has leases with more than 50 landowners in the county.

“We’re above 70 megawatts, so we would have to go before the Public Service Commission anyway,” he said. “I don’t see this impacting our project at all.”

Cohen said talks have been ongoing between Pax River and wind energy developers to try to resolve interference issues.

Some remaining questions could be answered soon by a new Massachusetts Institute of Technology study that is looking at how wind turbines affect radar systems.

The first draft of the study is expected to be released next week, Cohen said.

Devon Dodson, the legislative director at the Maryland Energy Administration, agreed the bill won’t have too much impact on the state’s efforts to develop alternative energy sources.

“It won’t stifle wind in Somerset – it’s just another hoop to jump through,” he said. “You guys down there have some excellent, excellent wind and we need to tap into it.”