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Wind project to move forward despite hurdles in Somerset Co.

WESTOVER, Md.- Texas-based wind developers are not giving up on their plan to bring a proposed wind project to Somerset County, despite a few hurdles. The county’s Planning and Zoning Commission was supposed to submit recommendations to County Commissioners last week, but accepted an extension to allow more time to review and revise a draft ordinance.

Pioneer Green Energy is the company behind the $273 million investment. Developers want to bring 25 wind turbines to Westover, but the proposal has met some pushback from some Somerset County residents and Maryland lawmakers who worry about the turbines interfering with the radar system at Patuxent River Naval Air Station. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) were behind a push to allow time for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to conduct a study on the effects of turbines on the radar system.

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) vetoed a bill, that passed in the Maryland General Assembly this year, that would have delayed the project. Though developers are not able to move forward until County Commissioners’ adopt an ordinance, Development Manager Paul Harris tells WBOC that Pioneer Green does not plan to kill the project, which has been speculated.

Somerset County’s Planning and Zoning Director Gary Pusey said the current draft ordinance involves turbines that are 400 feet with a setback of at least 1,000 feet. Harris said 400 feet is not tall enough for utility scale turbines. He said Pioneer Green wants to use turbines that are no more than 599 feet.

While height is one issue that is being discussed, noise standards were recently under review. Before commission members reversed a decision to issue a nighttime limit of 55 decibels at night and 65 decibels during the day, 40 decibels, which is lower than the state standard, was put in place.

In a statement, Harris addressed the changes to the ordinance.

“While there are many things to like in the draft wind ordinance, there remain some troubling areas that may make it difficult to move forward with our private investment in clean energy and job creation on the Lower Eastern Shore. We remain hopeful that more changes are made to bring the proposed ordinance in line with state and national standards prior to sending it to the County Commissioners.”

The Great Bay Wind project is awaiting approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to deem the project as “no hazard.”

“The FAA has been collecting comments from the relevant parties with respect to airspace issues. With that comment period now closed, we expect that the FAA will work to issue a determination that either gives approval for our project, or lays out a path forward to win approval,” according to a statement rendered by Harris.

“We are confident that the FAA will follow the process as required by federal law, and not be affected by the Washington-insider politics that are seeking to block this investment in clean energy and jobs on the Eastern Shore to bring Maryland closer to meeting its renewable energy goals,” Harris said.

Members of Safe for Somerset, a group that does not support the wind project, are still apprehensive about the proposal.

” There’s just no way that you can visualize having a giant turbine; a tower with a turbine on it, being that close to anyone,” said E.J. Monheiser, a member of the group.

Monheiser delineates a few concerns.

” One of them is the property values; the other is the noise,” Monheiser said. “[Another reason] is what they call shadow flicker, which is the strobe light effect.”

Jerry Swift of Westover does not have a problem with the plan that is now focusing on height and noise restrictions.

“I mean with jukeboxes cranked up in your house, the fire whistle when it blows; they’ve got it located in three or four places of the city, you hear that , but that’s stuff that you get used too,” Swift said.

Somerset County’s Planning and Zoning Commission will submit final recommendations to County Commissioners Oct. 28 before the ordinance is finalized and adopted.