Even as a feisty grassroots citizen coalition steps up its campaign to block a proposed wind energy farm in southern Somerset County, Md., company officials continue to profess the ultimate success of the $200 million venture.
“The project is still very much on track,” said Adam Cohen, vice president of Pioneer Green Energy of Austin, Texas, who heads the company’s East Coast operations.
As envisioned, the Great Bay Wind Center would consist of a large colony of perhaps 50 wind towers, from which, opponents claim would extend blades 695 feet into the air.
The venture, again as envisioned, would impact an estimated 50 to 60 farms, either for tower construction or for rights-of-way for underground power lines.
Pioneer Green says the project will produce $44.4 million in county tax revenues on top of additional royalties and lease payments to farmers.
Opposition, which is coalescing under the banner of Safe for Somerset, raises a litany of fears and concerns about the project, including the reliability of its production of electricity — it only makes power when the wind is blowing, the opponents point out — to environmental issues associated with wind turbines.
Safe for Somerset supporters claim that turbines kill thousands of bald eagles, raptors and bats.
Harvey A. Kagan, who describes himself as a licensed professional engineer living in Somerset County, believes the wind farm poses a enormous threat to the future of the county.
“There are serious environmental and health issues and the long-term impact to the quality of life and character of Somerset County, as opposed to short-term financial gains by a few,” he said in a statement posted on the web.
Tammy Truitt, a member of a fourth generation farm family in the area of the proposed wind project — she raises broilers — is a leading spokesperson for the opposition.
She claims the 690-foot towers will vastly impact property values, that the cost of electricity in the area will increase, that tourism in the county will be impacted, and that homeowners near the towers will be affected by ground vibration and the so-called “shadow flicker” from the turning blades.
Truitt sits as a member of the county Planning Commission which is reviewing a 2 1/2-year ordinance governing the development of wind turbines, with an eye to updating it. She expresses confidence that in updating process, the county can essentially outlaw the Great Bay Wind Center.
But there is confidence too in the Pioneer Green development officials on assignment in Somerset County.
Paul Harris, Pioneer Green’s development manager, issued this statement: “Since 2010, when we first began working with the community to develop Great Bay, we have made it clear that our priority is to support the residents of Somerset County by creating jobs, generating new tax revenues and protect the rural agricultural traditions of the region.
“We have been pleased that so many residents of the Shore, as well as local and state officials, agree with those goals and have communicated their support for our project.
“Like in many other states, wind projects like this one offer a real opportunity for new revenue for farmers.
“We continue moving forward in obtaining the necessary local, state and federal approvals, and hope to begin construction next year.”
Area farmers, whose land lies in the path of the project, disdain the opposition.
Brian Johnson, who has agreed to allow a transmission line to cross one of his fields, calls the opposition “kind of ridiculous. ”
The transmission line will require a right-of-way of about 50 feet. Pioneer will play for any crop which will be destroyed as well as per foot rental. The trench, Johnson said, “will be deep enough for me to farm over it.”
“I am for it (the project as a benefit to the community,” Johnson commented.
He said he lies in bed in the morning and hears the trains going by in the distance.
“Look.” he said, “we let the trains go through ... we welcomed them.. they put people to work ... opposition to the wind farm is mere emotion.”
Kevin Miller is leasing two fields on his farm for towers. Each tower will require about a quarter of an acre.
“There are no negatives to this project,” he said. It’s a win-win situation. The Eastern Shore is energy deficient. The area gets power and the farmers make some extra money.”
He likened the opposition to the hubbub surrounding the development of genetically modified crops.
“It’s a lot of noise and some of the people making it are jealous they didn’t get in on the action,” Miller said.