Close to 200 people attended a community forum on a proposed industrial-scale wind farm proposed for Somerset County, the majority of speakers critical of county elected officials who they claim are blinded to potential pitfalls.
“Turbines decreased property values in a Wisconsin community,” said Harvey Kagan, a Westover-area resident said. “Based on studies in other areas, they find that you’re going to lose property value if your property is within 1,500 feet of them. No one wants to buy them. It’s the noise.”
The forum on Thursday at the Princess Anne Civic Center was sponsored by Safe for Somerset, a grass roots organization that formed to challenge a plan by a wind energy company to build at least 25 turbines taller than 400 feet across dozens of acres of farmland in the county’s Westover region.
Pioneer Green energy already has leased the land and conducted tests throughout the impacted region, and awaits a go-ahead by Somerset County Commissioners that first must decide on provisions of a proposed wind ordinance that established guidelines for industrial wind energy projects.
The Somerset County Planning and Zoning Commission is expected to vote Oct. 28 on proposed wind turbine provisions. The document would then be forwarded to County Commissioners for a final vote.
Speakers at the forum urged elected officials to weigh evidence and studies in other communities with similar projects before signing off on wind provisions and approving the proposed wind farm.
Some want the proposed wind farm and governing provisions to be a focus in the November election. Organizers urged those in attendance to approach elected officials about safety measures and property tax structuring for wind farms.
“People will ask questions, talk to County Commissioners and hopefully, County Commissioners will listen,” said Tammy Truitt, a forum organizer and member of Safe for Somerset. “No County Commissioners showed up today, and I’m hoping people will follow through.”
Elected officials attending were Charles Otto, R-38-Somerset, and Mike McDermott, R-38-Worcester. Truitt said representatives were present from offices of Md. Senators Democrat Barbara Milkulski and Republican Andy Harris.
Otto did not address the audience, but said in an interview that the wind turbine push is tied to Maryland’s goal to draw electricity from alternative sources to oil by 2022.
“It divides the community, and out to see if there is enough merit to them to overcome that type of issue,” Otto said. “Quite frankly, I would assume to not see them, but what makes them economically feasible is the renewable energy requirements. I would assume to see a windmill in the air and a farm under it, then to have solar panels cover the ground.”
Jim Sharp, a Westover resident, complained that the county has failed to establish an adequate property tax structure that would require property owners to pay a business tax if they host industrial wind turbines
“It makes no economic sense if the property owner engages in interstate commerce by generating electricity to the electric grid,” Sharp said. “It should be taxed as a business, not as a farm.”
Tim Maginnis, a Princess Anne resident, said he was disappointed that forum speakers offered viewpoints from critics but not supporters.
“I came hoping to hear from both sides,” he said. “I haven’t decided how I feel about it because what I’ve heard – ‘they make too much noise, house values would drop’ – are made to be scare tactics.”
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