- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — A Maryland environmental group is attacking a bill that would make it easier to build large wind power projects in the state, while the bill’s sponsor said yesterday that wind power should be encouraged because it is environmentally sound.

The measure would allow developers to build wind farms that generate electricity for the wholesale market without having to get approval from the Public Service Commission. It also would eliminate environmental reviews looking at the potential impact on wildlife, endangered species and forest fragmentation that currently are part of the PSC approval process.

Bob DeGroot, president of the Maryland Alliance for Greenway Improvement and Conservation, said the bills would reduce environmental rights and reverse the concept of public involvement in the power-plant planning process.

“The system that’s being proposed eliminates citizens entirely from the process,” Mr. DeGroot said.

But Wayne Rogers, chairman of Annapolis-based Synergics Inc. and a bill supporter, said the measure only cuts out a duplicative PSC environmental review, which has created “a regulatory morass.”

“The public will still have lots of opportunity for input,” Mr. Rogers said, adding that the bill does not affect the state’s endangered species law.

Synergics has proposed a 17-turbine project in Garrett County that is under regulatory review. Mr. Rogers said wind projects face greater regulatory hurdles in Maryland than in other states, and that is why Maryland doesn’t have any completed.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Southern Maryland Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors, said its goal is to preserve the environment, not hurt it.

A concern of environmentalists has been to preserve habitat for rare species — such as the state-endangered Allegheny wood rat — in parts of Western Maryland where wind turbines would be built.

Mr. Miller said he wasn’t concerned about wood rats in the larger context of moving the state toward cleaner energy.

“It’s like in St. Mary’s County, we couldn’t build a bridge because there was a toad in the road,” Mr. Miller said. “Every once in a while you have to make choices in terms of making progress.”

But Mr. DeGroot said the measure puts an undue burden on “the unsuspecting people in Western Maryland,” because the companies want to build wind turbines on mountains there.

“I think we’ll end up with wind towers on nearly every ridgetop in Western Maryland, which will be a terrible situation for anybody [who] loves mountains,” Mr. DeGroot said.

Mr. Miller said neighboring states already are moving ahead with wind power.

“In Western Maryland, you can look over the border in Pennsylvania and see … turbines, and then you look over in West Virginia and you see the same thing,” he said.

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.

Mr. DeGroot, for his part, said claims of wind-power efficiency are “a big question mark.”

“We find that about only 15 percent of the efficiency is there during the periods when we demand more electricity — like in the warm, hot summer months,” he said. “There’s very little wind blowing.”

Frank Maisano, a spokesman for a coalition of wind developers in the Mid-Atlantic region, said more renewable power is needed to supplement other energy sources to help achieve reductions in greenhouse gases.

“We’re doing it to remove emissions and move our sources of electricity more toward renewables,” he said.

The PSC approved two Western Maryland wind farms in 2003 and is considering a third. None has been built.

Developers have complained that the state lacks a strong commitment to renewable energy because of regulatory hurdles and legal challenges. At a state-sponsored meeting of wind power proponents in December, leaders of two Maryland projects, including Mr. Rogers, argued that the state’s power plant approval process is flawed because it allows almost anyone to intervene.

A measure similar to the Senate bill has been introduced in the House of Delegates. The Senate Finance Committee and the House Economic Matters Committee have not yet voted on the measures.

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