Southern Maryland lawmakers have introduced a bill to put a one-year moratorium on wind turbine systems within a 46-mile radius around Patuxent River Naval Air Station, which would halt such projects on the Eastern Shore.
Large wind turbines, Southern Maryland officials said, would interfere with the unique radar testing systems at Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
If approved, the bill would prohibit the Maryland Public Service Commission from approving a wind-powered generating station that includes any wind turbine taller than 50 feet within that 46-mile radius before July 1, 2015. The radius covers most of Somerset County, all of Dorchester County, about half of Wicomico County, some of Caroline County, a sliver of Queen Anne’s County and most of Talbot County. Areas in Delaware and the Northern Neck of Virginia within the radius would not be bound by the Maryland state law.
The Maryland Energy Administration advised lawmakers the bill would suspend a major wind-energy project in Somerset County and other smaller municipal projects. Called the Great Bay Wind Energy Center, Pioneer Green Energy seeks to put up 25 large wind turbines in Somerset County.
“This is going to get highly contentious,” said St. Mary’s County Commissioner Todd Morgan (R), a defense contractor program manager, who testified on behalf of the bill Thursday afternoon.
“I’m for protecting St. Mary’s County, jobs in St. Mary’s County and promoting actual defense,” he said in an interview.
Pax River accounts for about 75 percent of St. Mary’s County’s economy, he said, and large wind turbines proposed on the Eastern Shore threaten specific radar systems at the base. “Some of the radar systems at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station are unique, so unique that they literally are the only ones that exist in the free world,” Morgan testified.
“We’re being reasonable,” Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s), chairman of the Southern Maryland legislative delegation, said this week. “Frankly we’d like a prohibition” on the wind turbines. “There’s a lot of unanswered questions,” he said.
“Frankly, let’s not make it a one-year moratorium, let’s just say no forever for this project and any similar ones within the Atlantic Test Range’s view shed,” Morgan testified.
“I’d like to see it go ahead and die,” Jack Russell (D), president of the St. Mary’s County commissioners, said Thursday.
The proposed wind turbines would be 600 feet tall with blades 550 feet long, spinning as fast as 200 mph, Bohanan said. By contrast, the Washington Monument is 555 feet tall.
“We are not against wind or alternative sources of renewable energy,” Morgan testified. “What we are vigorously opposed to is the location and height of the turbines.” Wind-turbine movement confuses the radar systems, which are trying to detect aircraft using stealth technology.
In testing, “We’re trying to hide [aircraft] and the radar’s trying to find them. There’s no known mitigation for the testing that gets done,” Morgan said. “The Navy’s been very clear: ‘If you can’t solve the problem, we’re going to go somewhere else.’”
Already, Pax River is facing downsizing like the rest of the Department of Defense. “It’s my estimate that the current negotiated defense budget will cost the Pax River economy around 1,000 jobs over the next year. We certainly don’t need to find ways to add to the decline,” Morgan testified.
“We can’t keep this under wraps and the Navy isn’t arguing with me about it,” Morgan said Wednesday of the job reductions he expects at Pax River.
Russell said the attrition of defense jobs could result in a loss of $5 million in county revenues, out of a budget of about $209 million.
“It’s a full-court press to protect our interests,” Bohanan said of the bill.
The wind turbines threaten birds as well as jobs at Patuxent River, Southern Maryland officials said.
Under a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife agency, the Great Bay wind-turbine project would be allowed to kill a certain amount of American bald eagles each year, Bohanan said. With 550-foot-long blades turning at a speed of up to 200 mph, “birds don’t have a chance,” he said.
“They’ll be swatting them out of the sky,” Morgan said.
Somerset County is not as economically well off as other Maryland counties, but some of its residents commute to NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Morgan said.
“We are working with Somerset County to promote and keep high-tech jobs,” he testified. “There is a strong relationship between Pax and Wallops Island. Multiple coordinated testing takes place at both locations,” he said.
“There’s opportunities here abounding. We are trying to work with them to do this stuff,” he said of Somerset County.
Russell said he has spoken with officials on the Eastern Shore about wind turbines. “We understand their plight, but it’s strictly an economic situation for us, our economic viability for the future,” Russell said.
However, Somerset County did not participate in an ongoing naval Joint Land Use Study, which included 13 counties in Maryland and Virginia, Morgan said.
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