PRINCESS ANNE, MD. – Plans to build a wind farm in Somerset County were put on hold indefinitely after County Commissioners agreed to table adoption of an ordinance that would allow installation of industrial turbines over 10,000 acres of Westover farmland.
The decision to set the matter aside came three weeks after officials with Naval Air Station Patuxent River presented the findings of a new study that detailed how large-scale wind energy systems could interfere with radar systems at the base across the Chesapeake Bay in St. Mary’s County.
Since wind farm developers would need to get approval from the U.S. Department of Defense and the Maryland Public Service Commission before they begin construction, commissioners said they feared the Navy would try to veto any projects.
Officials also have seen opposition to the ordinance from a group of residents in Marion Station who are concerned about whether turbines can create health problems for people living within a close proximity to the structures.
“The commissioners aren’t willing to move on this when there’s the possibility it will be shut down by the Public Service Commission and the Navy,” said Rex Simpkins, president of the County Commissioners. “All you’ve done is make constituents mad.”
In spite of the tabling of the ordinance, Paul Harris of Pioneer Green Energy said company officials remain optimistic.
“We are disappointed, but we’re still working to bring jobs and tax revenues to the county,” he said.
The company has been involved in discussions with Patuxent River officials and met with them recently to review the latest study which was done by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The study outlined potential problems was well as measures that could be taken to reduce or eliminate interference.
Earlier this year, Somerset County officials were taken by surprise by a bill that sets new restrictions on wind turbines within a 46-mile radius of Naval Air Station Patuxent River, and commissioners saw it as an attempt to halt wind energy development in the county.
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.
Most 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.
Although the bill passed in this year’s session of the General Assembly which ended in April, Somerset County Commissioners didn’t learn of it until a month later.
Meanwhile a University of Baltimore study released in June shows a proposed wind farm could bring in hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars to Somerset County that could benefit local schools, roads and police.
The study by the university’s Jacob France Institute and commissioned by Pioneer Green Energy predicts the construction phase of the project alone would require an expenditure of $50.2 million within Somerset County. Within the county, it would generate 529 jobs, add $13.2 million to labor income and generate a total of $66.8 million in additional economic activity.
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