Suppose an energy firm erected towering wind turbines by the dozens across the rural landscape. Then went out of business?
And suppose Somerset County bore the expense of dismantling an abandoned wind farm, or worse, the region lived on with the eyesore of ghost towers throughout the southern sections?
“What if” factors — Flicker. Decibel levels. Clockwise and counter-clockwise blade spinning. Decommissioning. — dominated this week’s work session for members of the Somerset County Planning and Zoning Commission wading through pages of potential provisions for inclusion in a proposed county ordinance for industrial-scale wind turbine operations.
“I’d like a simple answer,” said commission member Robert Fitzgerald. “Will wind turbines affect cell phones?”
“No,” answered Paul Harris, development manager at Pioneer Green that proposes an initial 50-turbine wind farm for energy conversion.
Spectators sat through the three-and-a-half work session on Thursday hoping for a discussion on the controversial issue of the distance a turbine must be from a home or property line.
“There are health issues, and I’m concerned about noise and the loss in property values,” said Harvey Kagan, a Stewart Neck resident who lives near a proposed turbine location and the Arbor Acres community near Westover. “They are unsightly.”
Board member Kevin Andersen said the panel would include all aspects of concerns at another work session scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 23 at the County Government Complex in Princess Anne.
The Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled to vote on a final draft ordinance at its Oct. 2 meeting, he said. Somerset County Commissioners have a final vote on the proposed ordinance.
Thursday discussions included a presentation by Danny Ervin, a professor of finance at Salisbury University and energy expert, who said economic benefits for residents from a wind farm could be limited.
“There will be jobs, somebody’s got to haul all this gravel in,” Ervin said. “I don’t know how many jobs that would be created from it” after the farm is operating, he also said.
He also told the board that according to data, most wind resources are in mountains and the mid-west, and that the lack of control over wind speed and solar rays could impact profits and output.
Based on a University of Baltimore study, the Pioneer Green project, if approved, would generate an estimated $44 million in county tax revenue over 30 years.
“There are hidden costs,” Ervin said.
The county drafted an initial wind ordinance three years ago as Pioneer Green and other energy companies arrived to the county with wind farm proposals.
Keeping watch on the proposed farm project is the Patuxant River Naval Air Station across the Chesapeake Bay from Somerset County. Navy officials have said they preferred that turbine height not exceed 400 feet, although the energy company’s filing with the Federal Aviation Administration calls for the contraptions to not exceed 599 feet.
Mary Fleury, chairwoman of the commission board, proposed adding an ordinance clause that would allow the Department of the Defense to halt the wind farm operation if justified. The stipulation was requested by the Navy, she said.
“If the deputy director of defense wants a clause in there, that is serious,” and perhaps the board should accommodate the request, she said.
Andersen quipped that Somerset County should not be hog-tied by St. Mary’s County and its industries, as Patuxant.
“We have to generate a tax base, also,” he said. “We’re not drafting the ordinance for the Navy.”
Board member Carol Samus cited a study showed that there was a “wosh” sound when a turbine was 1,000 feet from a structure, and a “mild wosh” at 2,000 feet.
“I could not hear the sound at all” at 4,000 feet away, or about a mile, she said.
The board is likely to establish a bonding structure that would to cover expenses associated with the decommissioning a large-scale wind project.
Allegany County set a bond at $100,000 per turbine, said a member of the panel.