CHESTERTOWN — The diversity dialogue group, meeting May 11, heard from a group opposing plans to install an industrial wind farm in Kent County.
Elizabeth Watson and Judy Gifford of Keep Kent Scenic told group members about the plan by Virginia-based Apex Clean Energy to build the Mills Branch wind energy project in the vicinity of Kennedyville and Galena.
Reports say the project could involve as many as 35 turbines as high as 500 feet.
Watson said the project raises complicated questions, including potential effects on wildlife, health, conservation, farming, local planning and many others. She said renewable energy is important, but Kent County already has the highest per capita renewable energy production in Maryland, mostly from solar power generation. She characterized the Mills Branch project as “the right idea in the wrong place.”
Hope Clark, moderator of the diversity group, invited questions. Donald Wilkerson asked where else the towers have been approved.
Watson said the majority of existing wind power projects are in western states, but there is one in Maryland. Another, near the Patuxent River naval station, was not approved because the towers could impair radar performance there.
Craig Mcsparran said the problem the turbines are meant to solve — the effect of fossil fuel use on the environment — will linger long after steps are taken to address it. “We need to deal with it now,” he said.
“What if they don’t solve the problem?” said Gifford. She said wind power is low-efficiency and cannot replace fossil fuels. She said Germany has built extensive wind power plants, without taking a single coal-powered plant off line. “It’s like widening a highway,” she said. “You just get more cars using it.”
Ted Newcomen said global warming is at a point where drastic solutions are needed. He said the Keep Kent Scenic group was “addressing the wrong issue,” because global warming will put Kent County under water in three generations. He also said there is too little wind in this part of the world to make turbines cost-effective. He also said, “Nobody is paying the true cost of power.”
Clark said the real issue may be the need to fight government subsidies for renewable power that make the wind farms a profitable venture.
Gifford said a key issue is preservation of agricultural land. She sliced an apple to show how much of Earth is covered by ocean, by ice caps, cities, etc. until she had a small slice left representing farmland available for growing food. She said the concrete bases for the turbines would use up 880 cubic yards of valuable farmland for each turbine. Infrastructure such as access roads and buried power cables would eat up even more, she said.
Clark said KKS should drop its focus on the destruction of scenic viewscapes and tell people about the loss of farmland.
Clark said the point is to reduce carbon emissions, and the argument is about what kind of development will take its place. She said the perception that opponents of the turbines are making a “not in my backyard” argument is problematic. Food and jobs are more important to most people than scenery, she said.
She said opponents of the project should involve the larger community in the discussion, with focus on the issues that affect local people and ways they can be solved on the local level.
Also at the meeting, Carol Niemand spoke about Africa by America Day, Saturday, May 30, a multicultural celebration built around the performance of several Gambian musicians who have settled in America and begun to perform here. She said representatives of the Gambian embassy and of the United Nations plan to attend. There will be children’s activities, and a CD release party at the main concert.
The Rev. Ashley Jones, who was attending a diversity group meeting for the first time, commented on the need to involve young people who see the group addressing their real problems. “You need to meet them where they are,” she said.
Armond Fletcher said people “can’t disenfranchise themselves” by failing to take part in groups or events that could be relevant to their needs. “You need to be at the table,” he said.
The diversity dialogue group meets at 6:30 p.m. the second Monday of each month at Bethel AME Church in Chestertown. The group discusses “issues including oppression, inequality and privilege, in a spirit of partnership to take actions toward solutions for our entire community.” All are welcome.