Protective zone made around Pax River; Wind turbines within 46-mile radius require extra review so they don’t block radar
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) wants more wind turbines in Maryland. Somerset County on the Eastern Shore wants to bring on more wind turbines. Patuxent River Naval Air Station wants to make sure wind turbines don’t interfere with its work.
As part of the balancing act a bill was signed into law, which took effect June 1, setting up a 46-mile radius around Pax River to add an extra layer of review on certain wind turbines.
“There’s no doubt this bill was aimed right at Somerset County,” Rex Simpkins, president of the Somerset County commissioners, told the Delmarva Media Group last month. “It’s pretty disheartening, I can tell you that.”
He said the bill was passed without the Somerset County commissioners’ knowledge.
The law, which requires a certificate of public convenience and necessity by the Public Service Commission for wind turbine systems of less than 70 megawatts within the 46-mile radius, was signed by O’Malley on May 22. It can take several wind turbines to generate 70 megawatts of electricity.
Because it is a Maryland law it does not affect the Northern Neck of Virginia or a sliver of Delaware falling within that radius.
The bill passed the Maryland Senate by a vote of 46-0 and the Maryland House of Delegates by 127-8. Eastern Shore representatives did not vote against it. The opposition came from Baltimore County.
The House bill was sponsored by Del. Sally Jameson (D-Charles) and Del. Steven R. Schuh (R-Anne Arundel). “It wasn’t intended to run under the radar,” Jameson said Wednesday. The bill was filed late in the session.
Another part of the law allows a requirement for construction of overhead power lines for good cause to be waived.
O’Malley’s administration set a goal of renewable power accounting for 20 percent of all electricity used in the state by 2020, with a significant portion coming from wind turbines.
But wind turbines can interfere with ADAMS radar systems at Pax River, where aircraft are tested. A cluster of wind turbines can look like an aircraft on radar.
“This bill does not stop anyone from putting up a windmill,” Jameson said. There is just an extra step in regulations.
As for Somerset County’s efforts to erect wind farms, “It was not my intention to try to impede that,” she said.
St. Mary’s County’s economic driver is the Navy base, as it provides 22,200 jobs. The average median household income in St. Mary’s in 2010 was $88,444, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The population of St. Mary’s was 101,151.
By contrast, the population of Somerset County in 2010 was 26,470 with an average median household income of $42,443. It is home to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and the Eastern Correctional Institution.
When contacted this week about the 46-miles radius around Pax River and its impact on wind turbines, Simpkins said, “Somerset County has no comment.”
However, the Somerset County commissioners have opted out of the Department of Defense’s Joint Land Use Study intended to include 10 counties in Maryland and Virginia close to Pax River. The study is intended to ensure surrounding civilian activities are compatible with the military installation. Among the compatibility issues are renewable energy, noise complaints and dense development underneath flight paths.
Gary Younger, spokesman for Pax River, said, “We’re planning to include Somerset as much as we can anyway” in the joint land use study. “There is a seat at the table for them.”
This is the largest joint land use study being conducted now. “This one is 10 counties, two different states – that’s huge,” Younger said.
The counties involved in Maryland are St. Mary’s, Charles, Calvert, Dorchester, Talbot, Somerset, Wicomico and Caroline. Those in Virginia are Westmoreland and Northumberland.
Since 1985, 89 Department of Defense land use studies have been completed.
“The last thing the economy of Southern Maryland needs is the potential of something that will harm jobs,” Jameson said. “This isn’t just a regional issue or a state issue; it’s an issue of national security.”
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