ANNAPOLIS – Congressman Steny Hoyer returned to a Maryland Senate committee room Monday for the first time since 1978.
Speaking in support of a bill that would limit wind turbines within varying differences from the U.S. Naval Air Station Patuxent River base in Southern Maryland, the Minority Whip in the U.S. House of Representatives said limiting the height of turbines while a study is completed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology would be in the best interest of clean energy and Southern Maryland’s economy.
“While I’m committed to developing sources of alternative energy, as I have said, including wind, I want to ensure the location of such projects does not diminish Pax’s testing capability and the research value of the Adams range,” Hoyer said. “The Adams range is a unique, classified national asset.”
The base, located just across the Chesapeake Bay from Somerset County, is inside Hoyer’s congressional district.
The naval base employes about 22,000 people, impacts 70 to 80 percent of the local economy and generates $7.5 billion for the state’s economy every year, Hoyer said.
Providing a letter co-signed by Maryland U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, Hoyer urged the Senate Finance committee to pass House Bill 1168.
Hoyer said if the study at MIT’s Lincoln Labs can be completed, it could find a way for wind turbines to process clean, renewable energy while allowing Pax River to conduct tests using its ADAMS radar system.
Even with Hoyer’s support, the bill needs Gov. Martin O’Malley’s signature to become law.
In its current from, the governor does not support the legislation, which passed the House of delegates in mid-March.
“We continue to work with members of the general assembly to forge a compromise that recognizes the concerns of Pax River while still allowing the Somerset project to move forward,” O’Malley said, in a written statement on Monday.
Director of Maryland Energy Administration Abigail Hopper reiterated that sentiment during Tuesday’s hearing.
That agreement, which is written but lacks the required signatures, would have the wind turbines turn off every time Pax River is using the radar system.
Adding an amendment in the Senate would also mean the legislation has to go back to the House of Delegates for a final vote. That would have to happen before Monday’s midnight adjournment.
If approved and signed by O’Malley, the legislation would limit the height of wind turbines at varying distances from the Pax River Naval Base. The Somerset turbines, which would be taller than the Washington Monument, could not be constructed until the MIT study is completed in the summer of 2015.
While the bill would technically delay the project for about a year, Vice President of Development for Pioneer Green Energy Adam Cohen said if it passes, construction won’t take place.
“The delay would kill our project and not allow a win-win,” he said.
Somerset County resident Mary Ann Peterman, who has signed a contract with Pioneer Green to have a wind turbine installed on her farm, hopes the project can move forward.
“Somerset County has always had a real strong tradition of agriculture and we’re seeing that slip away and this gives revenue to farmers to help keep their farms,” she said.
Even with the economic development and job creation, not all Somerset County residents are supporters of the project.
Ryan Taylor, who lives in Kingston, said he is concerned about noise the turbines may generate and the amount of Bald Eagles and bats that could be killed annually. The project is anticipated to kill between 15 and 18 bald eagles annually.
“Bats provide about 3.7 billion annually in crop pest management services, so when these turbines are installed bats tend to be killed in high numbers, reducing populations, pest levels go up and it increases burdens on our local farmers,” he said. “I’m not happy about the eagle kills that may potentially happen as well.”
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