- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 17, 2006

Wind-power developers frustrated by regulatory hurdles and legal challenges say Maryland lacks a strong commitment to alternative energy, putting it behind neighboring states in which wind turbines are already spinning.

The state Public Service Commission (PSC) approved two Western Maryland wind farms in 2003 and is considering a third, but none has been built. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania has six commercial wind farms operating and another in the works, and West Virginia has one running and two proposed.

Most of these projects are along the Allegheny Front, an Appalachian mountain ridge that includes the Eastern Continental Divide. Strong, relatively steady winds at elevations approaching 5,000 feet make the Allegheny Front attractive to wind-power developers.

Leaders of two Maryland projects told a state-sponsored meeting of wind-power proponents last week in Bethesda that Maryland’s government lacks a strong voice on energy issues and that the state’s power-plant approval process is flawed because it allows almost anyone to intervene.

Wayne Rogers, chairman of Annapolis-based Synergics Inc. and a member of Gov.-elect Martin O’Malley’s transition team, referred to “a vocal minority of anti-wind extremists” who “game the system.” He suggested creating a Cabinet-level energy secretary, streamlining the approval process for renewable energy projects and tightening the rules to limit intervenors to those directly affected — such as people who live or own property near a project site.

Kevin Rackstraw, a development leader for Clipper Windpower Inc., said Maryland wind power is at a stalemate, partly because the regulatory process allows a small number of people to make “mischief” and partly because the government lacks a strong advocate for alternative energy.

“I don’t see a major commitment by the government to push renewables or pull renewables into the market,” Mr. Rackstraw said.

His company’s proposed 40-turbine project in Garrett County won PSC approval in 2003, but is being challenged in court.

Synergics’ proposed 17-turbine project, also in Garrett County, is under regulatory review. The company is fighting state Department of Natural Resources’ recommendations aimed at protecting endangered-species habitats. Synergics also is battling five intervenors, including the nonprofit Maryland Alliance for Greenway Improvement and Conservation, who contend the three-bladed turbines towering 40 to 60 stories above the ground would pose an uncalculated threat to birds, bats and property values, spoil scenic views and do little to reduce consumption of fossil fuels.

Alliance President Robert DeGroot said wind farms need more regulation, not less. Unlike conventional power-plant builders, wind-farm developers aren’t required to prepare comprehensive environmental-impact statements for projects that could damage miles of ridgelines and affect all kinds of wildlife, Mr. DeGroot said.

And because wind energy is relatively new, PSCs are ill-equipped to regulate wind farms, he said.

“Wind facilities are trying to get permits through PSCs without doing any basic, site-specific environmental studies that are needed to reveal the dangers they pose,” he said.

Bowie-based conservation biologist D. Daniel Boone, another Synergics intervenor, said Mr. Rogers’ call for less regulation indicates that amid growing opposition, the wind industry “wants to short-circuit any meaningful public participation and review process.”

Opposition to wind farms has increased, even in wind-friendly Pennsylvania, which Mr. Rogers cited as a model. Kerry L. Campbell, wind-energy specialist at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, told the Maryland Wind Working Group workshop in Bethesda that people reared in his state’s mountainous coal country tend to welcome wind farms as a cleaner, less-destructive energy source. But he said city folks who have moved to the countryside “don’t want to see turbines.”

Developers are getting more help from the federal government, which wants to reduce America’s reliance on imported oil. Phil J. Dougherty, acting manager of the federal wind-energy program, said in Bethesda that the government wants to see 30 states producing at least 100 megawatts of wind-generated electricity each by 2010, compared with eight states in 2002. Maryland could reach that goal with Clipper’s 101-megawatt project alone.

The Maryland Energy Administration also is working harder to promote wind power. The agency recently granted $60,000 to Frostburg State University to construct a demonstration wind turbine, about one-tenth the size of commercial turbines, to show how wind can make electricity for individual homes, farms and businesses.

Crissy Godfrey, manager of the Wind and Climate Change Program at the Maryland Energy Administration, said she hopes the Frostburg demonstration project will help dispel “some misconceptions about wind energy in Western Maryland.”

“A lot of people have never seen a wind turbine, period. We’re hoping that with these efforts, people will become more informed,” she said.

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