- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2008

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett loves talking about energy conservation, but there is one audience he hasn’t been able to reach: the thousands of tourists who drive through his Western Maryland district to visit the nation’s capital.

Now the Maryland General Assembly is considering a bill that could help revive the Republican congressman’s dream of combining the latest energy-saving technology with a highway rest stop along busy Interstate 270 near Frederick.

The bill has bipartisan support and backing from the administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat. It would create a state Clean Energy Center. Like the Maryland Technology Development Corp., it would foster businesses dedicated to renewable-energy resources such as solar, wind, ethanol and biodiesel.

The measure doesn’t specify a location for the center’s headquarters, but Mr. Bartlett and other proponents favor the Goodloe Byron Scenic Overlook, a 15-acre parcel owned by the State Highway Administration along I-270, just south of Frederick and with views of the Monocacy National Battlefield.

The overlook, named for a local congressman who died in 1978, is also the site of a proposed environmentally friendly welcome center that received about $1.3 million in federal highway funding in 2003 and 2004. The project, initiated by Mr. Bartlett, stalled because federal procurement rules wouldn’t permit the sort of structure he envisioned: a self-sustaining showcase for cutting-edge technologies donated by businesses, including nearby BP Solar, that would receive prominent mention on signs or plaques.

Supporters say the center could bypass federal contracting restrictions by turning the proposed welcome center into a demonstration site for the technologies it promotes and funds.

“Much of what they want to do in the Maryland Clean Energy Center is exactly what we wanted to do with our green welcoming center, and that is to showcase the technologies that people could use themselves,” Mr. Bartlett said. He mentioned rainwater collection, composting toilets, wetlands for filtering wastewater, solar panels, passive solar heating and wind turbines.

Those were among the features in designs submitted by architects in a competition Mr. Bartlett orchestrated in 2003 and 2004 to develop ideas for the welcome center. John W. Spears, president of the Gaithersburg-based International Center for Sustainable Development, was a contest judge who has been working with Mr. Bartlett and the Maryland Energy Administration to create the Clean Energy Center.

“If it all comes together, we’ll have one of the best examples in the country of an off-grid site demonstrating solar, wind, water conservation, rainwater collection, composting toilets and compressed-earth brick systems,” Mr. Spears said.

The bricks, made from local soil, would be used in the building construction, he said.

Don’t expect something like the giant toilet-and-tourist-information Maryland welcome centers along Interstate 95 north of Baltimore. Mr. Spears said the 5,000- to 6,000-square-foot Clean Energy Center would have a residential look, so “people can come and see this building and relate to it as a home.”

The center would have bathrooms, but its mission would be public education, not tourism, said Charles B. Adams, director of environmental design for the State Highway Administration.

“It would be a learning experience for people,” he said.

Mr. Bartlett, who drives a Toyota Prius and thinks the world’s crude-oil supplies may have peaked, said the need for such a site is greater now, with oil near $110 a barrel, than it was in 2003, when oil was priced at less than $40.

“I think the public interest will be even greater, and we’re excited this is going to happen,” he said.

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