Legislation that would put a one-year moratorium on a project to build large wind turbines on the Eastern Shore has passed through the Maryland House of Delegates and awaits action by the Maryland Senate.
The bill would delay the construction of such turbines of certain heights within up to 56 miles of Patuxent River Naval Air Station. Officials say the large turbines would interfere with specific radar systems on the base.
The founder of Pioneer Green, the company behind the 25-turbine Great Bay Wind Energy System planned for Somerset County, said the moratorium would kill off the project, which he said would otherwise boost the local economy on the Eastern Shore and bring clean energy to Maryland.
The moratorium is intended to allow time for an MIT study to be completed on the wind turbines’ effect on the radar systems.
The bill, HB 1168, passed the house 112-22.
Adam Cohen, vice president and founder of Pioneer Green, said the company already agreed to turn off the turbines when radar systems are testing at Pax River.
“If we’re delayed by 13 months, it would kill this project,” Cohen said. The project has already been scaled back from 70 turbines to 25, he said, and the company has spent $4 million in development and four years in the various permitting processes. There is only one existing electrical transmission line through the area, and so “you can’t just pick them up and move them,” he said of the turbine pad sites.
“We’ve agreed to shut down our turbines when testing” at Pax River, he said. “Shutting down our turbines mitigates the impact. That’s why this bill is unnecessary.”
The turbines’ spinning interferes with the radar systems’ motion detection, advocates for the legislation say.
The bill and its impact, Cohen said, is “taking a win-win for Maryland and totally turning it into a loss. What that says to the business community is ‘just go to another state.’” Cohen asked, “Why are we just saying no?”
St. Mary’s County Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) is also a program manager for a military contracting firm. “Basically it’s a two-fold problem,” he said via email this week. “The first is encroachment. This has always been an underlying issue, that once one set of turbines go up more will come, new arrangements will have to be accommodated. Future missions/requirements performed at Pax could be compromised and moved to other places.
“This is one of the greatest threats to performing our mission here at Pax and is a huge grading factor in BRAC rounds. We have to be ever mindful of all threats to this (Pax River) national asset,” he wrote. BRAC stands for base realignment and closure, a process that can close or move military operations from one base to another.
The next concern with the wind turbines, he wrote, “is operational security, we simply want to protect the good guys from the bad guys. I’ll leave it at that.”
The Great Bay project represents $200 million in taxable value for Somerset County, which could generate $40 million in new revenues for the county, Cohen said. Construction could bring about 500 jobs, “a great economic ripple and you get clean energy,” he said.
The final design of the turbines has not been selected yet, but they wouldn’t be taller than 600 feet, he said. The height of the blades’ hub would be around 330 to 350 feet, with blades 200 feet long.
Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s) and Morgan also noted the impact wind turbines have on bald eagles. The Great Bay project seeks a permit from U.S. Fish and Wildlife for any incidental killing of bald eagles from the spinning blades. The permit would require the bald eagle population to remain stable with up to 5 percent of the population being killed. “There’s not a number attached to it,” Cohen said, as long as the bald eagle population remains stable.
“The biggest threat to bald eagles is climate change, habitat loss and sea-level rise,” he said, and clean energy “directly combats that.”
Bohanan said this week that Southern Maryland lawmakers would speak to the state senator from the Eastern Shore about the legislation and its impact on wind turbines.
However, by the end of this year’s session of the Maryland General Assembly, “we’re going to make sure we get it through,” he said.
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