ANNAPOLIS – The Senate finance committee passed a bill Wednesday that would limit the height of wind turbines at varying distances from the U.S. Naval Air Station Patuxent River base in Southern Maryland.
The legislation would technically delay construction of a wind farm in Somerset County until the second phase of a $2 million study can be completed by Lincoln Labs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Wind farm developers contend the 13-month delay would kill the project.
Throughout the life of the wind turbines, Somerset County expected to collect about $40 million in revenue form taxes and several landowners were to benefit for granting use of their property to the structures.
Voting no, Sen. Jim Mathias, D-38-Worcester, said the issue could be taken care of by existing state and federal laws.
“It’s vastly unfortunate we have to sit here and pick and choose,” Mathias said.
Having already passed the House of Delegates, the proposal now moves to the Senate floor for a final vote.
It’s unclear if Gov. Martin O’Malley will sign the bill without an amendment that would allow the Somerset County wind farm to be built if an agreement is signed with the Navy.
On Monday, O’Malley said he opposes the legislation in “its current form.” He did not go as far as saying he would veto the bill.
“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.
The amendment could still be added during floor debate in the Senate.
Proposed by the Southern Maryland delegation, House bill 1168, would delay the Somerset County wind farm, because the turbines would be taller than 400 feet and could interfere with the Navy’s ADAMS radar system.
The legislation has placed legislators from Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore on opposite sides of debate.
It has also placed Congressman Steny Hoyer and O’Malley on opposite sides of a policy issue.
Both are unusual in Maryland politics.
Hoyer, who serves as the Minority Whip in the U.S. House of Representatives testified in support of the bill on Tuesday. It was the first time since Hoyer left the state Senate in 1978 that he testified on pending state legislation.
Hoyer told members of the Senate Finance committee when looking at the $4 million invested in the Somerset County wind turbine project by Pioneer Green Energy and the 22,000 people, 70 to 80 percent of the local economy and $7.5 billion for the state’s economy that Pax River generates annually, the choice should not be hard.
The O’Malley administration, on the other hand, said it would not support the bill without an amendment that says the Somerset County project can move forward if an agreement between the developers and the Navy is signed.
Even if the amendment is added before final passage, the Navy may not sign the agreement with the the wind turbine company laying out when the turbines would be turned off.
“I have made it clear to the Navy I do not want this to go forward,” Hoyer said Tuesday. “And I’ve asked them to hold until the Massachusetts Institute of Technology study is done.”
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