Maryland wants wind power, but advocates for Patuxent River Naval Air Station say putting up tall wind turbines on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay would threaten a unique radar system at the base.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) made a rare showing before the Maryland Senate finance committee Tuesday afternoon to say the state can have both wind power and protect Maryland’s military installations. “It’s not an either/or situation,” he said.
Southern Maryland lawmakers are seeking a one-year moratorium on tall wind turbines within 56 miles of Pax River, allowing time for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to finish a $2 million study on turbines’ impact on the radar system.
The Senate finance committee voted favorably on the bill, and it now goes to the rest of the Senate for a vote, which is expected Friday. House Bill 1168 already passed the House of Delegates by a vote of 112-22. This year’s session of the Maryland General Assembly ends Monday, April 7, at midnight.
If the bill passes the legislature, it will be up to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) to sign or veto the bill. On Thursday, the governor’s office forwarded a statement: “The O’Malley-Brown Administration has concerns about the potential impact of this bill and oppose it in its current form. 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.”
The Great Bay project would bring 25 wind turbines to Somerset County, an economically depressed area of the state, representing a $200 million investment by Pioneer Green along with 500 construction jobs.
“This is not a mom-and-pop type wind turbine,” Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s) said. “They’re expected to be high as 600 feet tall.”
At that height, “we know that conflicts with the ADAMS test range,” Hoyer said, which stands for Advanced Dynamic Aircraft Measurement System.
“This is a highly specialized radar system,” Bohanan said, and represents a $100 million investment. “It is unique. It is the only one in the United States Navy. The Navy is not crying wolf here. This is a real conflict.”
The spinning of the wind turbines, which is necessary to produce electricity and recoup the investment, would interfere with that radar. Adam Cohen, vice president of Pioneer Green, said the turbines can be turned off to accommodate the radar testing from Pax River and he had been working on an official agreement with Navy officials.
“To be clear, as of today, there is no final, signed curtailment agreement between the Navy and the developer, Pioneer Green,” Hoyer said.
A Navy statement said, “While representatives from Pioneer Green have stated they have an agreement with the Department of the Navy, the proposed agreement is still under review and has not been approved by the Navy.”
One member of the Senate committee asked Hoyer if he personally told the Navy not to complete the agreement.
“I haven’t told them not to do it,” Hoyer said.
“The Navy is reworking what was a working draft” of the agreement, Bohanan said. “It is a work in progress.”
If the ADAMS radar system is compromised, the Navy could take that work elsewhere, officials said. “If we don’t take action, we’ll see something like a curtailment agreement put in place. These jobs will be put at risk,” Bohanan said.
“As soon as you curtail [wind turbine activity], everybody knows you’re testing” the radar, Hoyer said.
“Is this a matter of national security, flat out?” asked Sen. James N. Mathias Jr. (D-Somerset, Worcester, Wicomico).
“This activity being done is a matter of national security,” Hoyer said. “Doing it at Pax is not.”
“If this cannot be done Patuxent River, it’ll go to California,” Sen. Roy Dyson (D-St. Mary’s, Calvert, Charles) said.
Sen. Allan Kittleman (R-Carroll, Howard) said, “I’m very conflicted on this one. I’m not sure what I’m going to do. This is really tough.”
Abigail Hopper, director of the Maryland Energy Administration, called the moratorium bill unnecessary as “the United States Navy will sign an agreement when they are comfortable with it. That is a compromise we can all live with.”
In pushing for wind energy on the Eastern Shore, “there’s no desire to hurt Pax River,” she said.
St. Mary’s County Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said he is in favor of wind power as well. However, “we’re most interested in that we BRAC-proof the state,” from future rounds of base realignment and closures that could shift military activities away from Maryland, he said.
A one-year moratorium on the Great Bay energy project “absolutely kills this project. It’s not posturing,” said Pam Kasemeyer, representing Pioneer Green.
In passing the moratorium bill, “you will create a reputation across the country that Maryland is not open for business,” Hopper said.
Sen. David R. Brinkley (R-Carroll, Frederick) said, “Some of us already think Maryland is hostile” to business. With a potential 500 jobs for the Great Bay energy project versus the 22,000 jobs at Patuxent River NAS, he asked Hopper, “the governor’s OK with playing a game of chicken? That’s all it is. The governor, your department, is saying the Navy will blink.”
“I believe the Department of the Navy will negotiate what they need,” Hopper said.
“The last thing we want to see is any harm to Pax River. We don’t control what Washington decides to do,” Brinkley said.
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