Article

Wind power on its way to Del. grid

Delmarva Power's four power purchase agreements with wind developers should begin paying dividends by the end of the year, with the first clean-energy electrons flowing to the state later this fall. One land-based wind farm under contract to the local utility could start sending electricity to Delaware by year's end, and another in western Maryland could get its permit soon despite concerns the turbines could harm endangered species. That project has an easier path to approval thanks to a controversial new law that exempts smaller wind farm projects from an extensive environmental vetting.

Farms under contract with Delmarva on fast track thanks to a change in law

Delmarva Power's four power purchase agreements with wind developers should begin paying dividends by the end of the year, with the first clean-energy electrons flowing to the state later this fall.

One land-based wind farm under contract to the local utility could start sending electricity to Delaware by year's end, and another in western Maryland could get its permit soon despite concerns the turbines could harm endangered species. That project has an easier path to approval thanks to a controversial new law that exempts smaller wind farm projects from an extensive environmental vetting.

The proposed wind farm, developed by Synergics, Inc., of Annapolis, could get its permit Wednesday when it comes before the Maryland Public Service Commission in Baltimore.

The three wind farms are expected to help the utility fulfill its Delaware renewable power purchase requirements. Environmentalists demanded the requirements to help combat climate change, lessening the state's reliance on fossil-fuel power.

Although the three land-based wind farms would be hours from Delaware, they are designed to add power into the... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Farms under contract with Delmarva on fast track thanks to a change in law

Delmarva Power's four power purchase agreements with wind developers should begin paying dividends by the end of the year, with the first clean-energy electrons flowing to the state later this fall.

One land-based wind farm under contract to the local utility could start sending electricity to Delaware by year's end, and another in western Maryland could get its permit soon despite concerns the turbines could harm endangered species. That project has an easier path to approval thanks to a controversial new law that exempts smaller wind farm projects from an extensive environmental vetting.

The proposed wind farm, developed by Synergics, Inc., of Annapolis, could get its permit Wednesday when it comes before the Maryland Public Service Commission in Baltimore.

The three wind farms are expected to help the utility fulfill its Delaware renewable power purchase requirements. Environmentalists demanded the requirements to help combat climate change, lessening the state's reliance on fossil-fuel power.

Although the three land-based wind farms would be hours from Delaware, they are designed to add power into the regional electricity grid, to which both Delmarva and the Delaware Electric Cooperative are connected.

The first of Delmarva's wind projects to come online will be a 70-megawatt wind farm in Bradford County, Pa., in the north-central portion of the state. Delmarva will take half of the power from the AES Corp. project, with the other half going to Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, of which the Delaware Electric Cooperative is a member. The turbines are under construction, and are expected to start generating electricity by year's end.

Next is expected to be Synergics' controversial 24-turbine, 50-megawatt Roth Rock project. Synergics had been hoping to build the project this year, but as winter approaches, the company now is targeting spring for the start of construction. It's expected to be fully functional by the end of 2010. Delmarva also has a contract with Synergics for another nearby 50-megawatt project called Eastern Wind that's in its preliminary stages. Delmarva expects this to be ready by 2011.

Delmarva also has a contract with Bluewater Wind to buy up to 200 megawatts of offshore wind power once the project targeted for a site off of Rehoboth Beach is complete in 2013.

Environmentalists love wind energy, but the development of land-based wind farms can divide them based on circumstances on the ground, and flying in the air. The Roth Rock project is a case study in such divisions.

Amid complaints from the public and Maryland environmental officials, that state's Public Service Commission scaled down the project. Critics said it could cause harm to species like the woodrat, mourning warbler and Indiana bat.

But in 2007, with the backing of wind farm developers, Maryland lawmakers voted for a streamlined state approval process. The law eliminated the requirement for a lengthy state environmental review for projects not exceeding 70 megawatts although it didn't stop local zoning laws from kicking in. The state review now focuses on the safety and reliability of the electric grid.

Critics of the law pointed out that as former chairman of the state Democratic party, and sometime-energy adviser to Gov. Martin O'Malley, Synergics' president Wayne Rogers, was well-connected in pushing for the law change, which passed by wide margins.

The governor and Maryland state legislature demanded more wind power, and the new law helps make that possible, said Frank Maisano, a spokesman for a coalition of wind developers in Maryland. The political connections are "something opponents like to make a big deal about, because they don't have a lot of good arguments against the projects."

The expedited review "has helped, but it hasn't sped up the process as much as we thought it might," Maisano said. He said it does provide another avenue to get small wind projects built when they run into people who refuse to negotiate.

On Wednesday, the Maryland PSC will reconsider Synergics' full proposal, and few doubt its passage.

The Roth Rock project would be built in Garrett County on former logging land and in a coal mining area, and has a lease with abutting landowner John Roth to build a few turbines on his land.

Another wind farm along the same Backbone Mountain range about five miles away, developed by Clipper, won approval from the Maryland PSC a year ago under the new rules, but has not yet been built. The Clipper project had previously been sidetracked by environmental complaints and concerns the turbines would make too much noise.

Monty Pagenhardt, Garrett County administrator, said the county commissioners have supported wind farms because of the tax benefits and economic development. He said there have been studies that show there could be harm to animals, but the only question for the county is whether the project violates the local ordinances, and it doesn't.

"We treat them like anybody else," Pagenhardt said. "You couldn't say a cell tower could go up, but not a windmill."

Pagenhardt, who used to work on the administrative side of a mining company, said wind energy is far more environmentally friendly. "I guess, it seems to me if you're an environmentalist, you'd want to be totally in favor of that."

Jon Boone, a retired University of Maryland administrator who lives in nearby Oakland has been an intervenor in the case, criticizing the project for what he said would be a devastating impact on wildlife.

He criticizes wind power as wrong-headed, saying it introduces uncertainty into the electric grid and doesn't displace enough fossil fuels to make it worthwhile. But he said such projects are mostly benign to wildlife in flat areas. Mountains, especially the ones nearby, are a different story, he said.

"Four-thousand feet high, you're adding another 500 feet on top of that with a moving rotor. That's a horse of a different color. The science is overwhelming about this. It's going to kill birds, it's going to kill bats," Boone said.

The law change has rendered the state toothless to address legitimate environmental concerns, Boone said. There was a local public hearing, but he described it as "just going through the motions."

The developers, naturally, see things differently. The wind farm project means the mountaintop won't be logged, which will help preserve the habitat there, Maisano said. With the turbines there, "I suspect there will be very little impact" on animals, he said.

Maisano said there are lot of positive attributes to the project, not the least of which is producing clean energy.

"The opponents dug in their heels and chose not to be reasonable," Maisano said. "It's part of the reason this new process is moving forward."

Land-based wind farms have greater impacts on wildlife than offshore wind farms, said Nick DiPasquale, a former Delaware natural resources secretary. The infrastructure, including building new roads, can have unintended consequences, he said.

But land-based wind is far preferable to mining coal, which wreaks greater havoc on the ecosystem, he said. Some wind farms are easier to build than others, DiPasquale said.

Delmarva spokeswoman Bridget Shelton said her utility was comfortable with doing business with Synergics, saying it made the decision because the price was right, the timeline was sufficient, and the developer had good credit.

"Before we did sign the contract, we checked to make sure there were no land mines," she said, metaphorically speaking.


Source: http://www.delawareonline.c...

OCT 11 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/22604-wind-power-on-its-way-to-del-grid
back to top