ANNAPOLIS – Southern Maryland lawmakers are seeking to delay the construction of wind turbines in Somerset County.
They say the unique radar system at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, across the Chesapeake Bay from Somerset County, would be significantly impacted by the construction of about 25 wind turbines between 300 and 400 feet in height.
House Bill 1168 would prevent the state from approving construction of wind turbines that exceed a range of heights within the Atlantic Test Range used by the Patuxent River Naval Air Station. If approved, the legislation would suspend construction of the 70 megawatt Great Bay wind project in Somerset County.
The legislation would take effect June 1, 2015, and end June 30, 2015, because of a study underway by Lincoln Laboratories at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to mitigate some of the problems with how the radar system interacts with wind turbines.
During a committee hearing Thursday, members of the southern Maryland delegation said the Somerset turbines, which have not yet been constructed, could cause job losses in and around the naval air station.
“We have folks in the community who are looking at potential job loss if this goes through,” said Delegate John Bohanan Jr., D-29B-St. Mary’s. “Not just in the hundreds, but the thousands if it goes through – it’s that critical.”
The proposed wind project would also put bald eagles at risk if it is approved for take permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service.
“U.S. Fish and Wildlife indicates this would be the largest eagle kill in the country at 15 to 18 birds,” Bohanan said. “The allocation they need to apply for is actually 20.”
Somerset residents attended the hearing, some in support of the postponement, some against.
Those who support the project asked committee members to be cognizant of Somerset’s economy and the boost the project could bring. Attendees also questioned if it could actually cause the naval air station to close.
“I’m in a little bit of a bewilderment that a wind turbine project would actually force a base to close,” said Joe Mangini, executive director of the Princess Anne Chamber of Commerce.
While the bill would only delay the projects, the fiscal note says: “while the bill places a one-year delay on construction, it may result in project failure if certain federal incentives expire or contractual timelines are not met.”
Pamela Kasemeyer, representing the Great Bay Wind Energy Center in Somerset County, told the House Economic Affairs committee Thursday the bill will kill the project. She added there is an agreement in place with the Navy to turn off the wind turbines when needed. While, not finalized, it would require the company to turn them off for between 950 to 1,500 hours annually.
Among concerns from supporters of the bill are “classified” national security concerns that couldn’t be discussed fully.
Some Somerset residents spoke about their concerns about the wind project and support for the bill. They cited worries about wildlife kills, a drop in housing values, noise and the problems that could be experienced by Pax River.
Somerset County resident and farmer A.J. King said the bill would be an opportunity killer for residents.
“If this passes, my lease payments will stop on the lease agreement we have,” King said, referring to the payments landowners receive for Great Bay Wind leasing their land for turbine construction. “Worst of all, the opportunity for $40-plus million of tax revenue in our county will disappear, so I’m here to beg you to kill this bill.”
King echoed a point made by many other residents, that Somerset County is the poorest county in the state.
“Please allow me and my sons to have the same economic opportunities that you and your sons have on the western shore,” King said.
Fifth generation farmer Steve Cullen, who said he would rather be cleaning out his chickenhouses than testifying, said the MIT study needs to be completed.
“We don’t know what effect the wind turbines will have on the people who live there, the eagles that live there,” he said. “I’d like to see this postponed long enough, so we can have a study.”
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