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Despite the reorganization of the federal offshore leasing bureaucracy, it's possible the red tape holding wind projects back might get streamlined, since the Obama and O'Malley administrations both are strongly behind renewable energy. But economic and political obstacles loom as well. As The New York Times reported this week, the Great Recession and cheap natural gas prices have made regulators in some states leery of letting utilities buy power from "green" energy sources.
After listening to proponents and opponents of wind power for approximately two hours, the Mineral County Commissioners voted 2-1 Tuesday to approve U.S. Wind Force's recommendation to hire G.L. Garrad Hassan to perform a required decommissioning study on the Pinnacle Wind Farm.
The Obama administration opened Maryland's coast to offshore wind farms Monday and is seeking bidders to erect more than 300 turbines in a 206-square-mile area off the coast of Ocean City. The move makes Maryland the second state in the nation, after Delaware, to have reached this stage in off-shore wind development.
The study, required by the West Virginia Public Service Commission as part of its permitting process, is designed to determine the cost of decommissioning, or dismantling, a wind farm after it has exceeded its useful life. That money is then set aside as a means of ensuring that the useless turbines are not abandoned with no means of funding their removal.
CIER Researchers said the offshore wind farm would be unlikely to cause problems at other mid-Atlantic radar stations, but would pose an issue for US military operations on air or sea by Maryland's coastline. However, they concluded that with sufficient information regarding these activities, "it may be possible to abate conflict".
Mineral County Commissioners once again heard from both sides of the wind farm issue as they gathered information this week in regard to the independent consultant required to conduct a study of what it would take to decommission - or dismantle - the turbines at Pinnacle Wind Farm once they have outlived their usefulness.
Issuing temporary permits for wind speed indicators, known as anemometers, would help determine whether turbines are feasible, said Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, whose rural, northern county district has been the source of much of the opposition. ..."I couldn't see authorizing windmills without even knowing if we had enough wind," McIntire said.
Inspection confirmed that the site was in compliance, according to MDE spokesman Jay Apperson. But Apperson declined to comment on the possibility of fines or other punitive measures against Synergics, saying the situation is "still an active case."
"The state has to meet a certain percentage of its power goals by 2022," she said. "If (the state) took all of its land space sources that currently existed, it wouldn't meet that goal, so offshore wind was identified as a potential source of alternative energy."
After years of planning and bitter debate, Maryland's first commercial wind energy project is taking shape in rugged Garrett County - just as a new legal challenge arises that could alter or even halt the $140 million venture in its tracks.
The project is still on track to meet its goal of entering commercial operation by the end of the year, he said. But opposition to the project could also be gaining steam. In a June 23 letter, the Garrett-based group Save Western Maryland and the Maryland Conservation Council provided formal notice to Constellation, county government officials and related state and federal agencies that they plan to sue unless Constellation seeks an incidental take permit.
Save Western Maryland and the Maryland Conservation Council gave Constellation notice June 23 that they plan to attempt to block its Criterion wind project on Backbone Mountain in Garrett County. They argue the project puts at risk Indiana bats and Virginia big-eared bats, both federally protected as endangered species.
To prevent a lawsuit, the opposition groups stated, Baltimore-based Constellation must seek an incidental take permit from USFWS. The permit effectively protects developers from violating the act by creating a plan in advance to deal with the possibility that endangered wildlife could be harmed by a project.
A group of Western Maryland residents and a state conservation group have filed formal notice they'll sue to stop construction of a wind farm in Garrett County, contending the massive turbines "almost certainly" will harm endangered bats in the forested, mountainous region.
Over the next several months, the DPU must determine if utility National Grid's agreement with developer Cape Wind Associates is consistent with Section 83 of Green Communities Act, which allows companies to procure long-term contracts for renewable energy.
Work could begin as early as fall on a controversial, 23-turbine wind farm in Mineral County. Despite that, environmentalists opposed to the project say their fight continues. ...Frank O'Hara, a spokesman for Allegheny Front Alliance, said many West Virginians are just now learning about the wind farm project -- and aren't eager to see it take shape.
Workers have begun clearing timber on the site of what could become one of two commercial wind power facilities atop Backbone Mountain. ...Synergics plans to sell its product to several Maryland state entities, including the University of Maryland, through a 20-year power purchase agreement. Rogers did not specify whether or not that agreement is finalized.
Opponents of a Garrett County wind power project have hired the same attorney who helped another opposition group delay a West Virginia wind farm in federal court. Morgantown attorney Brad Stephens represented the group Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy in opposing the Beech Ridge Energy wind farm during its permit process with the West Virginia Public Service Commission.
Baltimore company Constellation Energy has finalized its acquisition of a Garrett County wind project, closing a deal for the $140 million, 70-megawatt Criterion wind farm with California-based Clipper Windpower Inc. The project, now under construction, is scheduled to go online by the end of 2010.
On Tuesday county officials approved a revised project plan for a proposed Garrett wind farm, putting developer Constellation Energy one step closer to building an electrical substation and 28 wind turbines atop Backbone Mountain near Eagle Rock. The Maryland Department of the Environment halted work last week on the site of a planned electrical substation along Eagle Rock Road due to issues with water runoff and erosion controls.