Bay Journal

Company suspends plans for wind farm on MD’s Eastern Shore

Officials, citing concerns about radar at the nearby Patuxent Naval air station, raised roadblocks

  • By Rona Kobell on April 30, 2015

The company behind an Eastern Shore wind farm that has been in development for nearly five years has decided to pull the plug.

Adam Cohen, president of Pioneer Green Energy, wrote a letter to Somerset County’s commissioners to inform them that plans for the wind farm have been suspended.

“After careful review and discussion with stakeholders, it is apparent that we are no longer able to proceed with our investment in any way in the near term. We are forced to thus place the project in indefinite suspension and as such we will not be requesting a permit for construction of the Great Bay Wind project in Somerset County at the current time or in the foreseeable future,” Cohen wrote.

Company spokesmen declined to comment further, saying the letter should speak for itself. The company wants to develop a solar project in Somerset County, but officials there said they were not ready to discuss those plans.

Environmentalists, farmers and former Gov. Martin O’Malley were supportive of the wind farm, which would have allowed farmers to place the windmills on their private land and generate income. According to the Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore, the Great Bay Wind Project would have generated 529 jobs, and contributed more than $2.9 million to the county’s tax revenues and $3.3 million in combined local and state taxes in its first year.

The institute estimated the installed cost of the project at $273.6 million. There would also be ancillary jobs connected with the operation: turbine manufacturers that might have relocated here, more businesses for the port of Baltimore in shipping components, and more people coming into lower shore towns to patronize local restaurants and hotels.

Renewable energy softens the blow of climate change, which is keenly felt in Shore towns. They grapple with sea level rise, stronger storms and frequent floods.

Maryland passed an off-shore wind bill a few years ago to strengthen its renewable portfolio standard and promote green energy to interested businesses.

But Great Wind ran into a powerful adversary: Rep. Steny Hoyer. The influential congressman came to Annapolis, where he had served as senate president decades before, to urge lawmakers to pass a bill that would block the wind farm. Hoyer said the wind turbines would interfere with radar from the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, which is in his district (the wind farm across the Chesapeake Bay was not). The Navy initially said it could work out an agreement with the wind farm, and the company agreed to the Navy’s terms. Then, officials changed their tune.

The state bill passed, but O’Malley vetoed it, saying he supported wind energy. Then, Sen. Barbara Mikulski inserted language into an unrelated piece of federal legislation that, in Cohen’s words, “placed the entire Great Bay Wind’s investment and business into a state of uncertainty.”

The Mikulski language requires waiting to develop the wind project until the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratories finishes studies that look at interactions between radar and turbines. Delays would mean the company would miss tax credits, and that would make it hard, if not impossible, for the company to operate.

Though Pioneer Green may be gone, wind is still chugging along as a power source in the Chesapeake. Exelon Corp. operates a wind farm in Western Maryland. Company officials say that, if merger plans with Pepco succeed, they would try to place more wind farms in Maryland.

In Virginia, Dominion Power recently secured permission to build a pair of 6-megawatt test turbines about 25 miles offshore from Virginia Beach. They are a demonstration project to help the company develop a facility that will be large enough to power 700,000 homes.

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About Rona Kobell

Rona Kobell is a former writer for the Baltimore Sun. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Read more articles by Rona Kobell

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