Gov. Martin O’Malley Friday announced that he vetoed legislation that would have prohibited a wind turbine farm on the Eastern Shore for at least a year.
The bill he vetoed was backed by Southern Maryland legislators, those whose work is tied to Patuxent River Naval Air Station and others in the region, who fear that the turbines will interfere with radar testing at the Navy base.
In a statement Friday, the governor emphasized his commitment to Patuxent River Naval Air Station because of its critical importance to Maryland. “There are already safeguards in place to ensure that no renewable energy projects conflict with military facilities – those safeguards render this bill unnecessary,” he said in the statement.
The developers of the Great Bay Wind Project in Somerset County offered to halt the windmills during radar testing, but Pax River supporters said if the military has to coordinate with private commercial industry before testing activities the value of the Navy base to the military could be eroded.
Greg Gillingham, with the Southern Maryland Navy Alliance, said last month that even short-term delays in testing schedules, as windmills are running, would cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
“It would be death by 1,000 cuts,” St. Mary’s County Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said last month. If the military can’t operate its aircraft testing programs at Pax River without interference by civilian activities, he worries that the Navy slowly, and perhaps quietly, would begin moving work and related jobs at Pax River elsewhere.
Pax River employs more than 20,000 people directly, and thousands more jobs from restaurants to doctors’ offices and home building firms now depend largely on the base’s presence. The Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development estimates that Pax River contributes $7.5 billion a year to Maryland’s economy.
In his statement, the governor noted that the Great Bay Wind Project, which plans 25 wind turbines, helps alleviate the threat to Pax River caused by rising sea levels. Sitting on the Eastern Seaboard, Maryland is particularly vulnerable, as is Pax River, the governor said, to the effects of climate change.
“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by increasing our use of renewable energy will help tackle environmental challenges like carbon pollution and sea level rise,” O’Malley’s statement said.
Josh Tulkin, director of the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club, said in a statement that O’Malley “took a brave and bold step in vetoing HB1168, the anti-wind bill that would have killed the Great Bay Wind Project. This project will be an inspiring step in Maryland’s path towards clean energy When complete, the project would generate $200 million for Somerset County, the poorest in the state, and create more than 750 jobs, 500 of which will be in Somerset.”
The bill the governor vetoed was drafted to delay the Somerset County wind turbines for 13 months to allow Pax River to work with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study the potential impact that those turbines on the Eastern Shore could have on Pax River’s aircraft testing over the Chesapeake Bay. It passed the Senate and House by large margins.
“We’ve always been pretty vigilant in protecting Patuxent River,” Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s), who with all of the other state legislators representing the region backed the bill, said last month. “It’s our economic engine.”
The problem is not that Navy aircraft cannot operate in the face of wind turbines, Gillingham said. The issue is that the type of testing that needs to be done, in some cases to determine the stealth of certain aircraft and protect American interests against enemy forces, would be impossible to execute.
If you have a pilot going into Baghdad, “how close could it get before Baghdad’s radars would have picked it up?” he asked. “How close did it get before you need to start worrying?”
The ability to take measurements for those tests could easily be affected by changes in frequency created by large windmills, Gillingham said. “The environment needs to be pristine.