- The Washington Times - Monday, April 14, 2008

BITTINGER, Md. (AP) — Gov. Martin O’Malley says his administration will not allow commercial wind turbines on state forestland, ending a heated four-month debate.

“While we must continue to explore and make progress on creating a more sustainable and independent energy future for Maryland, we will not do so at the expense of the special lands we hold in the public trust,” Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, said Saturday.

Mr. O’Malley spoke at a news conference at a scenic overlook in the Savage River State Forest. Opponents had said that allowing 40-story windmills on state-owned land in mountainous Western Maryland would reduce its recreational value, spoil the landscape and lower property values, especially in the thriving Deep Creek Lake resort area of Garrett County.

Mr. O’Malley said the ban applies only to conservation lands owned outright by the state and managed by the Department of Natural Resources. It’s not meant to discourage wind-power development on other local, federal or privately owned land, he said.

The announcement follows four months of debate triggered by the Baltimore Sun’s report in December that Pennsylvania-based U.S. Wind Force was seeking to lease and clear about 400 acres in the Potomac and Savage River state forests to erect roughly 100 wind turbines. The company estimates that the leases could bring Maryland about $30 million over 20 years.

The state sought public comment on the concept, bringing 1,400 responses, 83 percent of them opposed, DNR spokeswoman Olivia Campbell said. About 500 people packed a hearing in January in Garrett County and nearly shouted down wind-power industry spokesman Frank Maisano when he likened wind farms to logging, which he called an “industrial” use of the land.

Advocates for state wind farm leases have cited the growing demand for energy in Maryland, which faces the risk of rolling blackouts as early as 2011 without additional power generation, according to PJM Interconnection, which runs the transmission grid for a 13-state area.

A bill proposed by Mr. O’Malley and passed by the just-concluded General Assembly requires that 20 percent of Maryland’s power come from renewable sources by 2022.

Mr. Maisano said Friday that regardless of Mr. O’Malley’s decision, wind-power developers would keep pursuing projects on private land in Western Maryland. “Some are moving forward toward construction as early as next year,” he said.

David F. McAnally, chairman of U.S. Wind Force, which is seeking Public Service Commission approval for a 28-turbine project on private and county-owned property in Garrett County, said: “We must have wind projects in order for the state to meet its renewable policy priorities, as well as providing important jobs and tax revenue for local communities.”

Two other companies are planning at least two other wind farms, totaling 42 turbines, on private land in Western Maryland.

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