Talks over Somerset wind turbine proposal continue
Months after Gov. Martin O’Malley vetoed a bill that would have all but killed it, sponsors of the stalled proposed industrial wind turbine project are re-energized to win formal approval from Somerset County Commissioners.
A green light at the state level for the Great Bay Wind Energy proposal also has awoken longtime critics of the renewable energy project, who want county officials to require increased protections for residents, school children and properties in the proximity of the proposed turbines.
Principals of the proposed industrial wind energy project on Tuesday renewed an appeal to county elected officials for support of the proposed industrial wind energy conversion system that would erect 25 wind turbines and generate royalties for participating landowners and during three decades, a total of $44.4 million in county tax revenue.
The proposed turbines are three-bladed and at least 500 feet tall, and each would occupy about a quarter of an acre, although the company has leased 10,000 acres for the project.
The bill faced opposition from southern Maryland legislators until Martin O’Malley vetoed House Bill 1168, which would have all but stopped the wind project. The veto reopened the gate for the process to continue.
“Support runs deep across the county,” said Adam Cohen of the Great Bay Wind Energy Center. “We’ve spent five years and a lot of money to bring the wind farm to Somerset County.”
Cohen, along with Great Bay principal Paul Harris, asked County Commissioners to finalize a proposed county wind energy ordinance, a process they said would be a formal indicator that the county is on board with the project.
County Commissioners said that while the turbine proposal is attractive financially, they want assurances that residents and schools are safe.
Commissioner Charles Fisher wondered whether commissioners should adopt an ordinance and grant the county’s blessing to Great Bay without an endorsement of the project by the Patuxent Naval facility across the Chesapeake Bay in southern Maryland.
Officials at the naval facility have expressed concern about turbines as tall as 500 feet, saying that without compromising measures, the spinning of turbine blades could interfere with exercises involving radar.
“It looks like you’re working on one side of the street,” Fisher told the Great Bay principals, referring to a lack of a formal endorsement from the naval facility.
Harris told commissioners the company has secured air space agreements with about seven governmental agencies, and said that the Navy and the Department of the Defense have offered verbal commitments of support pending recommended adjustments.
Those adjustments, Harris said, involve “curtailing turbines” during naval radar exercises.
Commissioner Jerry Boston said “the biggest issue” from constituents is creating distance requirements for safety purposes.
“We are going to have to address setbacks,” Boston said. “From the county roads, schools, everything else.”
E. J. Monheiser, a Marion Station resident and turbine critic, attended the meeting with other critics of the project. Commissioners told the audience they would have a chance to voice their opinions at a public hearing that would be scheduled before the county moves to update a proposed ordinance or gives a formal green light.
“We want a setback change — there’s the big fight,” Monheiser said in an interview. “Noise, shadow flicker, possible health issues, people can’t sleep. Also, there are concerns about inaudible noise. ‘NIMBY — next it might be you.’ “
The Maryland Energy Administration is optimistic about projects like the one proposed in Somerset, according to the Maryland Energy Administration.
“We are really in the final stretch here,” Cohen said, adding he expects to start construction by 2015. “We really need your support,” he told commissioners. “We would be so much stronger together, in partnership. We could fill your budget deficit.”
The Westover region, which Great Bay officials have said is a preferred area with respect to wind generation, also is densely populated and therefore an attractive setting, she also said.
County Commissioners said a next move would be to decide whether the county Planning and Zoning division reexamines a draft ordinance for the industrial wind energy conversion system, or calls in an expert to study the issue.
Commissioners were not specific on when or how it intended to proceed next on the Great Bay proposal and the draft ordinance.