A Virginia energy company pursuing a large wind turbine project across 5,000 acres of farmland in Kent County, Md., is slowing its construction timeline after local residents and officials protested the project recently on the Eastern Shore and at the State House in Annapolis, a company official said last week.
Apex Clean Energy was planning to seek approval for the project known as Mills Branch Wind through the state’s public utility agency, the Public Service Commission, within the next few months, said Dahvi Wilson, spokesperson for the Charlottesville-based company. A utility company seeking to build or change an electric generating plant in the state must receive a permit from the commission known as a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity, commonly referred to as a CPCN.
“We have decided to slow that process down so that we can have more time to hear from the community, share more information about the project, and work with local residents to make sure they have the facts they need to understand what the Mills Branch project would mean for Kent County,” Wilson said in an e-mail to The Delmarva Farmer. “We do not have a specific permit application filing date in mind, but we no longer intend to file in the immediate term.”
State Sen. Stephen Hershey Jr., R-Kent, sought earlier this month to prevent Apex from getting the permit by submitting a bill that would have given Kent County the right to vote on the project.
County officials have protested Mills Branch Wind because the turbines — which would be about 500 feet tall — violate county restrictions. But state law, due to the project’s size, mandates Apex go through the Public Service Commission for approval.
With roughly two weeks to make it through the legislature, the bill never made it out of the Senate Finance Committee before the state’s legislative session ended Feb. 13.
Regardless, the bill was likely dead on arrival, Hershey said, due to the precedent it would set — granting a single county say over the fate of a large public utility proposal.
“We knew we had an uphill battle just on the timing of this… but we also knew one of the main things we were going to be able to do was get this hearing and draw attention to this project,” he said.
Many local residents protested the project before the committee April 7 when the bill was given a hearing.
The interim president of Washington College in Chestertown, Jay Griswold, sent an email to the college community, encouraging them to attend the hearing as well.
Among the college’s concerns: what affect the turbines would have on migratory waterfowl and how the skyscraper-tall turbines would “despoil” the county’s scenic landscape.
“I think Apex also heard loud and clear that Kent County’s not the right place for their project. Whether they will continue with their project obviously remains to be seen,” he said.
Hershey said the commission will also receive a letter signed by Senate Finance Committee Chair Thomas “Mac” Middleton and House Economic Matters Committee Chair Dereck E. Davis reiterating the county’s desire to be involved in the project’s approval.
County commissioners, for instance, could be invited to Public Service Commission hearings and testify, Hershey said.
“If this is where we are, where the counties don’t have enough say, then maybe the process is flawed or at least not current to the types of projects we’re seeing now,” he said.
Many details about Mills Branch Wind project have yet to be finalized, according to the company’s website.
About 25-35 turbines would stretch over six miles from downtown Chestertown and about two and a half miles from Kennedyville and Galena under the current plan, Wilson said. It would eventually be capable of generating 100 megawatts of energy, enough to power up to 30,000 homes each year.
The company also claims the project would create 70-100 temporary construction jobs and six to eight permanent, local jobs after it went online.
It would also provide income for those farm owners who decide to allow the construction of turbines or transmission equipment on their land.
Local residents have said they worry the turbines could create a host of problems from noise to migratory bird kills and plummeting property values. Apex officials say there isn’t research to support any of those claims.