Gov. Martin O’Malley has vetoed a bill that would have delayed construction of a Somerset County wind farm until a study determines whether it will affect radar use around Naval Air Station Patuxent River in St. Mary’s County.
“There are already safeguards in place to ensure that no renewable energy projects conflict with military facilities. Those safeguards render this bill unnecessary,” O’Malley said in a statement released Friday afternoon.
While the governor stressed his commitment to Pax River, he said House Bill 1168 would have derailed the wind project in a county with one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.
“The bill would effectively kill a $200 million investment in the county, along with much-needed jobs and local tax revenue, all because of the perceived inconvenience that wind turbines pose to Pax River,” O’Malley said in a letter to Speaker of the House Michael E. Busch.
Adam Cohen, vice president of wind farm developer Pioneer Green, said he was happy with the governor’s decision, and that he will continue to work with Pax River officials to resolve any conflicts between the turbines and the base.
“As we have said throughout the process, existing federal and state laws already contain extensive protections of the interests of Pax River, and we pledge that we will continue to work with the military to ensure our project and the base’s military testing will successfully co-exist,” Cohen said.
Delegate Charles Otto, R-38A-Somerset, said he was happy the governor vetoed “a poor public policy.”
“Now the project can move forward on its own merits,” he said.
The veto also was applauded by renewable energy supporters, including Josh Tulkin, director of the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club, who called it “a brave and bold step.”
“This project will be an inspiring step in Maryland’s path toward clean energy,” he said. “We applaud this bold move and look forward to supporting this process, and making (the) project into a reality.”
While the bill has seen wide support among Somerset County officials and residents, Safe For Somerset, a local grassroots organization opposed to the project, has raised concerns about how the turbines might affect the environment, health of nearby residents and the general quality of life.
The group’s next step will be to try to work with the county to revise an existing proposed ordinance to regulate industrial wind farms, said E.J. Monheiser of Marion Station. Although the county’s Planning Commission completed work on the draft ordinance in 2012, County Commissioners have never adopted it.
“We need to put on our battle dress, gather our weapons and put on our war face,” she said. “It’s time to act.”
Southern Maryland officials have argued it was important to consider the needs of the base, a big economic engine in that area.
With Friday’s veto, Pioneer Green can continue to move the project forward. In order to capture production tax credits, the wind farm has to be in operation by the end of 2015, Cohen said recently.
During the past two years, the company has gotten 70 signed agreements with about 200 landowners in an area that extends from Marion Station to Westover, he said.
The plan calls for 50 wind turbines to be erected during two phases of construction.
O’Malley has made environmental issues a top priority during his administration. Last year, he successfully pushed through legislation to create a regulatory framework to create an incentive for companies to invest in offshore wind projects.
The bill put lawmakers on the Eastern Shore against lawmakers in southern Maryland. It also put O’Malley, a Democrat, on the opposite side of an issue with U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, whose district includes the naval station.
The veto is an unusual one from O’Malley, who hasn’t exercised his veto power very often in the last seven years against legislation passed by the Democrat-controlled Maryland General Assembly.
Lawmakers would need a three-fifths vote in each chamber to override O’Malley’s veto. They would have to petition themselves back into session in order to do that before January. That’s because the General Assembly can’t override a veto during the first year of a new legislative term, since the bill would have been passed by the previous Legislature.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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