Sen. Steve Waugh (R-St. Mary’s, Calvert) introduced legislation this week that goes beyond a temporary moratorium on a proposed wind turbine farm across the Chesapeake Bay in Somerset County.
The bill would require the Maryland Public Service Commission to evaluate the impact of a proposed wind project that “directly or indirectly encroaches on existing, private, state, federal or military infrastructure, resources, facilities, ranges, or operating environments,” and prohibits the commission from approving such a project “unless the proposed offshore wind project will not impact restricted areas and a specified warning area in a specified manner.”
Pioneer Green’s Great Bay wind energy project in Somerset County poses an interference threat to a specialized radar system at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, home to some 22,000 jobs in St. Mary’s County. In last year’s session, Maryland lawmakers approved a bill to put a moratorium on the project’s approval until the Massachusetts Institute of Technology completed a $2 million study on the impact of wind turbines on the ADAMS radar system.
Then-Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) vetoed that bill last year, citing his support for renewable energy.
Great Bay is still awaiting several approvals though, and faces federal restrictions that have been imposed.
The veto “left us in a vulnerable position,” Waugh said Wednesday. “We know that windmills are an existential threat to the Atlantic Test Range.”
Instead of reintroducing another moratorium bill this session as legislators said they planned in January, Southern Maryland lawmakers wanted to “come up with a permanent, complete protection,” Waugh said. “I’m not going to leave this up to chance. I’m going to make sure they’re constrained by law to protect those ranges. This change will very specifically constrain what the commission can and can’t approve.”
And though the bill refers to “offshore wind,” it would apply to the Great Bay project, Waugh said, and other areas within Maryland.
“Fairly rapidly I got the sense putting a temporary moratorium on it wasn’t the right answer,” he said. The MIT study is due to be completed by the end of this year.
The Department of Defense has already told the Federal Aviation Administration it objects to the Great Bay wind project because of its impact on national security.
There are also federal restrictions by the U.S. Senate that prevent any testing curtailment agreement between the Navy and the Great Bay project, which would turn off the wind turbines when radar testing is underway.
Those protections continue through fiscal 2016, but in 2017 “anything’s possible,” Waugh said. “I don’t want to fix it for the next nine months. I want to fix it for the next 90 years.”
St. Mary’s County Commissioner Todd Morgan (R), a defense contractor program manager, had reservations in January about another moratorium bill. Morgan learned of Waugh’s new bill at a Southern Maryland Navy Alliance meeting on Wednesday.
Later that day, he said, “I applaud Waugh. Anything they can do to protect and enhance our mission here at Pax is a good thing, and I support it all the way.”
The Maryland Senate bill is co-sponsored by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Prince George’s, Charles) and Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles).
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