Language included in a federal Defense Appropriations bill report has led to yet another showdown between a Maryland legislator and environmental and clean energy advocates over the fate of the Somerset wind turbine project.
The debate is renewed three months after a veto from Gov. Martin O’Malley prevented the General Assembly from delaying construction of the project.
Maryland legislators along with advocacy groups and wind farm developers are calling on U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., to change nonbinding language in the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2015 which would prevent the U.S. Navy from finalizing any agreements with companies looking to develop wind farms.
The language of the report states that no agreements can be reached until the completion of the second phase of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study on the effects it will have on naval bases and their radar testing systems.
Advocates for the farm argue the language could jeopardize the construction of the proposed 50-turbine wind farm planned for construction in Somerset County, across the Chesapeake Bay from the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Mary’s County.
In response, a group of 21 environmental and clean energy organizations sent a letter to Mikulski’s office Thursday requesting she change the language as it “would be a huge step back in the progress that Maryland has achieved,” the letter reads.
Negotiations between the Navy and the farm’s developer, Pioneer Green Energy, are close to being finalized, according to the company’s Development Manager Paul Harris.
However, he and others fear that the language would send a sign to other potential developers and investors that the state does not support a progressive energy policy.
“The language does send a very chilling effect regardless of whether it’s nonbinding or not,” said Harris. “We are not a national security issue.”
Harris was joined by state Senator Jim Mathias, D-38-Worcester, as well as Mike Tidwell, the director for the environmental advocacy group Chesapeake Climate Action Network in his opposition to the measure.
There are a number of factors that ride on the removal of Mikulski’s provision, said Harris, including whether Pioneer Green Energy would be able to complete negotiations with the Navy so they could begin construction and meet construction deadlines by the end of 2015 to receive production tax credits.
Tidwell pointed to the fact the study has “definitively declared” that shutting down the turbines while the base conducts its tests would solve any conflicts with the base’s radar system testing.
“It appears her intent is to slow down the project,” said Tidwell.
Tidwell echoed O’Malley’s statements from May about further concerns regarding the development of the farm and how they could interfere with the base’s operation, saying “there are already federal and state laws in place to deal with any conflict with clean energy.”
Harris said the company has already spent close to $4 million on the project, which is expected to generate 75 megawatts of power when completed.
With the total cost looking to eclipse $200 million by its completion, Harris said Mikulski’s proposal could scare away investors.
“I think we as a company, it’s harder and harder to legitimize our investment in the project,” said Harris.
Mathias said Mikulski’s proposal also prevents other businesses from looking at the state as a potential landing spot for alternative energy projects.
He added he wants businesses to see Maryland as “a place that we’ve invited you to go and do good business … where we don’t have government opposing us every step of the way.”
In a statement, Mikulski said she had yet to receive the letter Thursday, but that she has “been supportive of developing alternative energy sources” and wants the MIT study to be completed before moving forward with the project.
“However, the Navy has commissioned a $2 million MIT study to make sure (the naval base’s) test range is not disrupted,” the statement reads. “The study should be completed before next steps are taken. Better safe than sorry.”
Tidwell countered the study has already ruled on the issue of the radar systems and that by not moving forward with the project, the senator is ignoring larger issues of climate change.
“The number one solution to climate change is clean, renewable energy,” said Tidwell, adding Mikulski should focus more on combating climate change “instead of chasing a phantom.”
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