Gov. Martin O’Malley faces quite a conundrum involving a $200 million wind energy project.
If he allows the project to go forward, he risks losing the multibillion-dollar Patuxent Naval Air Base operating in Maryland.
At issue at issue is whether wind turbines will interfere with radar testing at the base.
O’Malley has been inundated with letters, calls and face-to-face pleas urging him to veto a bill postponing the project. The developer warns any delay will kill it.
Renewable energy is part of the governor’s legacy. His administration testified in opposition to the bill.
Perhaps one clue in his thought process is in early March the Navy gave him a classified briefing on what’s at stake.
“Today, things are worse than they were when I left 35-40 years ago,” said Maryann Peterman.
Maryann Peterman and her husband Rick live on a 142-acre farm in a house built by her family in 1840. The retired teachers want to keep the property in the family for generations to come. They’re hoping the wind has the power to change their lives and their neighbor’s fortunes.
“We would welcome an opportunity for an additional income stream. The wind turbine that we are slated to get would give us that income stream,” Rick Peterman said.
The Petermans agreed to lease their field to pioneer Green Energy of Princess Anne for at least $20,000 a year.
They’ll build a 600-foot wind turbine – one of 25 planned for the area. Another 25 turbines will be constructed later.
“(That’s) for a total of 150 megawatts, which would power about 45,000 homes with clean, pollution-free energy,” Adam Cohen said.
The company chose Maryland because of the governor’s mandate for the state to use 20 percent of renewable energy by 2022. The company has spent $4 million over the past five years ramping up the project.
One wind-measuring tower is the only sign of things to come.
According to a study by the University of Baltimore, the project will infuse $273 million into Somerset County. Initially, it will generate 529 jobs and as many as 64 permanent ones.
Somerset gets $2.9 million in additional tax revenue each year.
“I tell you, when you are looking at one of the economically-challenged jurisdictions in the state, this is a big project,” said Danny Thompson, Somerset County director of economic development.
A really big deal in an area where unemployment is 10.4 percent and 18.6 percent of the population lives below the poverty level.
Opposition by elected officials representing the Patuxent Naval Air Station has jeopardized the project.
The base tests radar signatures of aircraft. There’s concern wind turbines will interfere with the station’s radar systems.
St. Mary’s County Democrat Delegate John Bohanan pushed a bill through the General Assembly putting a moratorium on turbines for a year so MIT can study the impact.
“We need to look at the entire impact of that project. The economic impact, the environmental impact and make sure it is right for our state,” Bohanan said.
Turbine opponents argue that Patuxent, a multibillion-dollar economic engine for the state, will leave if the project lives.
“The Californians have been looking forward to pulling Patuxent out to California and they have a huge, huge desert area where they would have no impact whatsoever,” said Sen. Roy Dyson, D-St. Mary’s County.
Pioneer Green and the Navy hammered out an MOU based on a solution offered by MIT researchers.
“If we shut down our turbines during testing times the radar would not be impacted,” Cohen said.
But elected officials intervened, stopping the agreement from going up the chain of command.
“If this bill goes into law, our project cannot move forward,” Cohen said.
The Petermans consider the turbine project a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“I think it is an insidious kind of thing to have legislation of this sort where you have the economic interest of a well-developed area, being pushed ahead of the most economic impoverished area of the state,” Rick Peterman said.
According to the House clerk, the governor was presented with the legislation on Thursday.
He now has 30 days to sign it, let it go into effect without his signature or veto the measure. The next bill signing is May 5.
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