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Diversity group hears wind energy proponents

Mike Wooton said the local zoning regulations were created by the community, reflecting what the community wants. He asked why Apex continues to push for the project in the face of community opposition, including the county commissioners and the state's General Assembly delegation.

CHESTERTOWN — Representatives of the Mills Branch Wind project came to the diversity dialogue group Monday, June 8, to make the case for their project. Also present were representatives of two groups promoting renewable energy in the state.

A number of opponents of the project were also present. Notably, only a handful of regular diversity group members attended — and for the most part, they let the wind farm advocates and opponents have the floor.

Hope Clark, who acts as the group's moderator, introduced Charlie Johnson, development manager for Apex Clean Energy, the developer of the Mills Branch project; Andrew Gohn of the American Wind Energy Association; and James McGarry of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Each was given 10 or 15 minutes to make a presentation, followed by a question and answer period.

Johnson led off, giving an overview of Mills Branch Wind. He said Apex has projects all over the country, currently producing more than 400 megawatts with facilities for another 1,000 megawatts under development. He said wind energy is now a mainstream technology, with more than 50,000 wind turbines producing energy in the United States.Modern turbines... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

CHESTERTOWN — Representatives of the Mills Branch Wind project came to the diversity dialogue group Monday, June 8, to make the case for their project. Also present were representatives of two groups promoting renewable energy in the state.

A number of opponents of the project were also present. Notably, only a handful of regular diversity group members attended — and for the most part, they let the wind farm advocates and opponents have the floor.

Hope Clark, who acts as the group's moderator, introduced Charlie Johnson, development manager for Apex Clean Energy, the developer of the Mills Branch project; Andrew Gohn of the American Wind Energy Association; and James McGarry of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Each was given 10 or 15 minutes to make a presentation, followed by a question and answer period.

Johnson led off, giving an overview of Mills Branch Wind. He said Apex has projects all over the country, currently producing more than 400 megawatts with facilities for another 1,000 megawatts under development. He said wind energy is now a mainstream technology, with more than 50,000 wind turbines producing energy in the United States.Modern turbines have become highly efficient, Johnson said, making it possible to generate useful power from areas formerly considered marginal, such as the upper Eastern Shore. He said Apex has test towers and sonar equipment in the field to verify that Kent County has enough wind to return a profit.

Johnson said the value of wind energy is that it doesn't require fuel, giving utilities a hedge against volatile fossil fuel prices. He said the company has done extensive research to minimize the impact iof the project on wildlife, including flyovers to locate the nests of eagles and other raptors.

Johnson also spoke of the potential of wind turbines as a tourist attraction, citing other areas where they have drawn visitors interested in the technology. Tax revenues are another benefit to the community, he said, with one Oklahoma county building a new $6 million school with tax dollars from the local wind farm. The tax revenues come without any draw on county services, he said.

Johnson said the attraction of Kent County for Apex is its expanse of farmland, allowing adequate setbacks for the turbines. There are also available transmission lines along the railroad track through the section of the county where the turbines are planned. He said the 25 to 30 turbines being planned would produce about 100 megawatts of power. Buildout would take six to nine months from issuance of permits — probably in 2017, if all goes smoothly, he said.

Over the life of the project, he estimated the community will receive $12 million to $20 million in leases for the turbines; $20 million to $25 million in tax revenues; $30 million to $60 million in locally bought supplies and equipment and other expenditures during construction, such as meals and lodging. The project will produce the equivalent of 70 to 100 full-time jobs during construction, with eight to 10 long-term jobs in management and maintenance.

A number of questions followed, almost all from opponents of the wind farm project. Asked how many farmers would benefit from leases, Johnson said 13 had signed up so far. Leases would pay a minimum of $20,000 to $25,000 per turbine, he said. When pushed for details, he said the leases are confidential and he couldn't discuss specific terms.

Asked whether Apex would abide by local zoning regulations, which limit the height of wind turbines, Johnson said the issue will be decided by the Public Service Commission, under state regulations. Apex has not yet filed applications for the necessary permits, he said.

Mike Wooton said the local zoning regulations were created by the community, reflecting what the community wants. He asked why Apex continues to push for the project in the face of community opposition, including the county commissioners and the state's General Assembly delegation.

Johnson asked people to try to understand what the project entails before making up their minds to oppose it. Apex has received letters of support from the community, he said, so opponents of the project aren't necessarily a majority.

Gohn said he helped create zoning ordinances on wind turbines for most Maryland counties, including Kent. He said the restrictions in the ordinances reflected the technology at the time, when the area was not considered good for commercial wind energy. Technical advances have changed that, he said.

In other Maryland counties where wind turbines have gone up, there is much less opposition once people see the results, Gohn said. There is still mixed opinion, but “the sky doesn't fall.” He listed the general economic and environmental benefits of wind power. He did not endorse Mills Branch Wind, because his organization doesn't endorse specific projects, he said.

Gohn said that policymakers and community members will have a say in the approval process for the project, and the PSC will listen to their concerns. The towers Apex builds will reflect the best fit for local conditions, based on a cost-benefit analysis.

McGarry said the Chesapeake Climate Action Network is not part of the wind power industry, but is a climate activist group. “For me, wind energy is about the future,” he said. He said he wants to live and raise a family in a world with clean renewable energy, which means “getting fossil fuel off the grid.” He called the Shore “the gold mine of wind in Maryland.”

Clark then opened the floor to questions. Concerns included the economic viability of the project, litigation against wind projects in other jurisdictions and the secrecy in which opponents said the early stages of the project have been conducted. Johnson and Gohn answered most of the questions.

Responding to a statement that solar power is better suited to the region than wind, Gohn said the amount of land needed to generate an equivalent amount of power from solar energy was much greater.

A Chesterville resident said he was concerned that the turbines would hurt his property values. He said he spoke to someone from Vermont who said the turbines “drive people away,” making nearby homes impossible to sell. He said it was inequitable for a few landowners to make a profit while others lose their homes.

Gohn said there is research that shows turbines have no adverse effect on property values or the health of nearby residents. He said there is no guarantee that property values will remain stable in any case. With the number of turbines now operating, any major health risk would well known by now, he said.

Johnson said anyone who had questions can contact him and he will answer them. A flyer distributed at the meeting gave the email addrress, millsbranch@apexcleanenergy.com and the phone number 667-201-2801 for the project.


Source: http://www.myeasternshoremd...

JUN 9 2015
http://www.windaction.org/posts/42840-diversity-group-hears-wind-energy-proponents
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