If it’s true that the wind turbine project on the Eastern Shore is about to be suffocated, it will bring to an end a long-running battle to protect activities at Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
Here’s a brief recap, and restatement of why this is important to the Navy base here, to St. Mary’s County and to Maryland.
Pioneer Green proposes to build 25 wind turbines at its Great Bay Wind Energy Center in Somerset. The fears are this could interfere with testing of the sophisticated ADAMS radar system at Pax River.
The Maryland legislature passed a bill to delay state approval of the project for one year while awaiting the results of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study of the effects of the turbines on radar. That delay, it was widely understood by both proponents and opponents, would likely kill the project as federal tax credits would expire.
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who it is clear is exploring a presidential run, vetoed that bill. That was a victory for Pioneer Green.
It was not the end of the battle. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.,5th) and Sen. Barbara Mikulski began pressuring the Navy, which had sent conflicting messages, and the Department of Defense to file a formal objection to the location of the turbines.
That objection is expected to be sent to the Federal Aviation Administration this month, according to Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s), who is also a senior adviser to Hoyer. The project cannot proceed unless the FAA determines it presents no hazard.
Meanwhile, at a local level, the planning commission in Somerset County has proposed restrictions on the turbine project that, if they stand, “would make utility-scale wind power virtually impossible,” a Pioneer Green official was quoted as saying.
Another Pioneer Green official said the FAA “should not be affected by Washington-insider politics that are seeking to block this investment in clean energy and jobs.”
Let’s remember that the legislators elected by voters from all over Maryland voted emphatically to delay the wind turbine project while waiting for the MIT study. It passed the House of Delegates 122-12 and the Senate 31-16.
So yes, it’s true that those who represent St. Mary’s in Washington — and Annapolis — have used their considerable political influence to try to block this project. Just as Pioneer Green and environmental groups pushed the governor to veto that attempt in Annapolis, which he chose to do for political reasons of his own.
Here’s the bottom line: Pax River contributes $7.5 billion in economic activity to the state of Maryland every year. If the Navy’s ability to do radar testing at the Navy base here is compromised that work can be moved elsewhere, eroding the value of Pax River to the military.
With the Department of Defense facing a future of diminishing financial resources, competition for those resources will intensify. The state and St. Mary’s County must be alert to this and act to protect Pax River.
The congressman, U.S. senator and state legislators who have tried to sidetrack the wind turbine project are representing their constituents and the state’s best interests. This is not blanket opposition to alternative energy. There are many areas on the Eastern Shore where wind turbines could be placed without jeopardizing one of Maryland’s greatest economic assets.