Zoning/Planning and Maryland
It had been suggested at a planning meeting last week that the commissioners approve a moratorium on development of wind turbines and that they pursue legislation to allow the county to have some form of authority over future projects. That suggestion was deemed impossible by the commissioners after consulting with the county attorney.
They said that a moratorium would require a halt on all building projects in the county and that without some form of zoning, no legislation would have any authority behind it.
The commissioners said they would be open to putting zoning up for a referendum, but only if there is a definite showing of support for the action. This would allow the zoning to be grouped by district as the Sunday alcohol sales have been.
Recommendations made by the Garrett County Planning Commission are not possible, according to the Garrett County commissioners, who say they will not pursue a moratorium on wind turbine development or legislation to provide regulation of the industry.
"A moratorium would (have to) be on all building construction, not just wind power," Monty Pagenhardt, county administrator, said. "They have to regulate everything. What the planning commission tried to suggest through some kind of legislation just can't be done outside of countywide zoning."
The commissioners sent out a statement saying that they looked into both suggestions made by the planning commission Wednesday, and that they were advised by legal counsel that neither the moratorium nor the legislation on wind turbine projects in the county would be possible.
Questions brought up over wording in the comprehensive plan have led to a decision by the Garrett County Planning Commission to recommend legislation and a moratorium on wind power in the county.
The decision for the board to make the suggestion to the county comissioners was made Wednesday in a 6-2 vote, with an additional unanimous vote to remove the wording of county support for wind power from the comprehensive plan draft.
"I've listened to arguments about parking places and signage," John Bombacus, a local resident, said. "These things are going to be 400 feet tall."
Some of those in attendance were worried that by letting regulations go through their traditional processes, it might be too late to effect new, smaller projects from getting approval at a state level.
A proposed 40-turbine wind power project in Garrett County would shrink to 28 turbines — small enough to avoid some of the public scrutiny that has hampered its progress — under a change sought by developer Clipper Windpower PLC.
The project’s maximum output would drop from 101 megawatts of electricity to 70 megawatts, Clipper said in a filing with the state Public Service Commission. At that size, under a state law passed last year, the project wouldn’t need a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity — a power plant construction permit the PSC awards after lengthy rounds of reviews and public hearings.
While they say there can be no definite stance taken by the county for wind power projects on private land, the Garrett County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to oppose the use of public land for that purpose.
"Based on the substantial outpouring of public opinion and my opinion," Ernie Gregg, commissioner, said, "I feel that it is a wasteful use of recreational lands."
The three commissioners agreed that the majority of public opinion was against the use of the land for this purpose, based upon the meeting at Garrett College on Jan. 30 and in Annapolis on Jan. 31.
Commission chairman Denny Glotfelty said that he feels that the state land needs to be preserved for future generations.
When the Department of Natural Resources crafts its policy on whether to build wind turbines on public land, the testimony of emotional citizens will weigh heavily in its decision. ...The agency will review testimony posted on its Web site through March 3, and from public meetings in Annapolis and Garrett County, where the proposed 100 wind turbines would go up.
"The most significant consideration for us right now is the public comments," said department spokeswoman Olivia Campbell. "That is going to weigh in very significantly in the decision-making process." ..."It is absolutely inconceivable to me, that for this piddling energy gain by this project, industrial wind plants are being considered for the state forest land," said Mary Fletcher, who owns property in Garrett County.
Residents of Western Maryland's Garrett County pride themselves on their scenic byways and fall foliage, the whitewater rafting and skiing. Like others in the state and around the country, they are concerned about the environment and understand the need for renewable energy sources.
But a proposal to erect 400-foot tall wind turbines to generate clean electricity drew almost unanimous opposition at hearings this week from residents who, while supportive of alternative energy, would prefer not to spoil the scenic views of their state land.
The proposal, by Pennsylvania-based U.S. Wind Force seeks annual leases on roughly 400 acres of publicly-owned land for about 100 turbines.
Around 700 people attended Department of Natural Resources meetings Wednesday and Thursday nights in Garrett County and Annapolis, with only a handful speaking in favor of the turbines.
The public will have until March 3 to respond to the issue of putting wind power on public lands in Maryland.
"We'll be compiling and reviewing all comments," Olivia Campbell, media relations manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said Thursday. "I expect the decision to be made shortly after the comment period."
Public meetings were held Wednesday and Thursday in McHenry and Annapolis for the public to comment on the issue of placing wind turbines on state forest land.
Campbell said there is no policy in Maryland for this use of public lands, and that is the reason for the hearings and comment period.
More than 200 people turned out last night to debate the merits of allowing wind turbines in state forests.
The vast majority of those who signed up to speak at a public hearing in Annapolis opposed using public lands for private energy projects.
Pennsylvania-based U.S. Wind Force has proposed erecting about 100 turbines in the Savage River and Potomac state forests in Garrett County. ...A hearing Wednesday night in McHenry drew 500 Western Marylanders, most of them strongly opposed.
Critics said allowing what amounts to an industrial project in state forests would set a bad precedent for exploitation of other public lands.
The Western Maryland Delegation has retracted its support for a wind turbine project being proposed for state land in Garrett County. U.S. Wind Force recently asked Gov. Martin O'Malley for leases in Potomac and Savage River state forests to clear an estimated 400 acres in order to construct up to 100 40-story-tall wind turbines.
The delegation - made up of 15 lawmakers from Garrett, Allegany, Washington, Frederick, and Carroll counties - wrote a letter to O'Malley on Oct. 1, 2007, indicating its support for the project.
Del. Robert A. McKee, Dist. 2A, however, wrote another letter to O'Malley on Monday, Jan. 28.
In a crowd of more than 325 Wednesday night, proponents of wind power on public land were in the minority.
"I made my choice," Delegate Wendell Beitzel said. "My choice is not to include wind turbines on state land in Maryland. For me, it's personal... This is our home. It's where we live. The state forests here define who we are."
Beitzel was the first of many to speak during the public comment portion of a public hearing held in the Garrett College auditorium to address a plan proposed by U.S. Wind Force, a privately held company based near Pittsburgh. The firm wants to lease and clear about 400 acres in the Potomac and Savage River state forests and erect about 100 wind turbines.
Local residents who attended Tuesday's Garrett County commissioners meeting feel that the draft of the county comprehensive plan does not recognize their opinions on bringing wind power to the county.
"I've been disappointed that you've held no hearings, answered no questions and basically you put what I know to be a developer boiler plate for your passage in the comprehensive plan," John Boone said.
Boone argued that not only does the draft plan seem to show support for the existence of wind power in Garrett County, but that he believes such support is unfounded.
The portion of the plan reads, "While the county acknowledges the potential negative impacts of wind power facilities, it also recognizes the benefits, especially those related to clean, sustainable power generation, and the socioeconomic and fiscal benefits to the county. On balance, the county supports wind power at appropriate locations, provided any site-specific negative impacts can be mitigated."
Business and political leaders in Western Maryland's Garrett County are lining up against a proposal to allow the clearing of up to 400 mountaintop acres of state forest for the construction of 40-story wind turbines.
With a pair of public hearings scheduled this week, Garrett's Chamber of Commerce, Board of Realtors, Democratic Central Committee and Republican state delegate and senator have come out against the proposal to use two state forests in the county for wind farms. So has the mayor of the town of Oakland.
'I've taken time to talk to a lot of people, and a vast majority are against this,' said state Sen. George C. Edwards, a Republican who heads the delegation from Garrett and Allegany counties. ...But David F. McAnally, chairman of Pennsylvania-based U.S. Wind Force, said he believes people will support his company's proposal to build a total of 100 turbines on two state forest tracts once they hear all the facts.
The Garrett County Democratic Central Committee voted to oppose a proposal to use public state forest land to build industrial-size wind turbine plants in the Potomac State Forest and the Savage River State Forest. The GCDCC will present testimony in opposition at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources public hearing ..."We are aware of the lobbying in Annapolis that US Wind Force is paying for," he continued, "and we are aware of the law that was passed deregulating wind plants. We also know that the county has not adopted any zoning laws restricting wind industry development, and the draft Garrett County Comprehensive Plan appears to encourage such development."
Stanton said that the effect of those decisions is to block most opportunities for public input. "Therefore it is absolutely critical that the public be heard through at-tending and speaking at the public hearings, through letters and e-mails, and by telephone calls."
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources will hold public hearings next month on whether the state should allow developers to build wind turbines in state forests, a proposal being advanced by a Pennsylvania company.
U.S. Wind Force is asking the state for leases in Potomac State Forest and Savage River State Forest in Western Maryland so it can clear about 400 mountaintop acres and raise about 100 wind turbines. ..."Maryland is committed to developing clean, renewable energy sources that support a healthy environment," said Natural Resources Secretary John R. Griffin. "However, our public lands belong to Maryland's citizens and it is critical they have a voice in a decision-making process that could forever change our rural landscape."
The PSC approved the project in 2003, but also established a set of requirements for Savage Mountain, including a time frame that ends in 2008. The approval also required the company to conduct additional study of the project’s effect on birds and bats — though that study does not have to be released until the project is operating.
The conditions were negotiated with D. Daniel Boone, a Bowie environmental consultant who intervened in the case. He said he opposed an extension of time without a wider renegotiation of the approval.
The wind power law allows developers to build wind farms without a certificate of public convenience from the Maryland Public Service Commission. While critics argued it will cut out public input on wind projects, the law's supporters said the law only removes extra environmental reviews that were stifling wind power development in Maryland. Frank Maisano, a spokesman for a coalition of Mid-Atlantic wind-power developers, said the law was needed to help the state meet goals for Maryland-produced renewable power.
But critics say that under the new law, strides toward renewable power could come at the expense of wildlife.
Frederick County's federal elected representatives are keeping an open mind about a proposed power line that would end in Kemptown.
U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-6) touted the benefits of the proposed twin-500 volt power line that will run through parts of the county in a statement Friday.
"Residents and businesses in the Sixth District expect to have electricity for heat, light and air conditioning when they need it," he said. "In addition to these benefits, an upgraded transmission system could accommodate more renewable energy generation, such as wind or solar power."
The state's two senators, however, were more reserved when discussing the line.
The state Court of Appeals cleared a California energy company yesterday to build what would be Maryland's first windmill farm, a 42-turbine facility along Backbone Mountain in Garrett County.
The wind farm was approved by the Public Service Commission in 2003, though it was not built because the developer, Clipper Windpower Inc., initially was unable to induce utility companies to buy power from the facility.
The project now has utility customers and is expected to proceed.
Maryland's highest court on Friday cleared the way for a wind-power project in Garrett County that was challenged by a neighbor.
The court unanimously ruled that the challenge by Eric Tribbey to the 67-turbine project was not valid.