ANNAPOLIS— As wind energy companies try to find their footing in Maryland, state senators proposed a bill that would limit turbines’ heights, as well as their companies’ interests, in southern Maryland.
Proposals had placed wind turbines in the Chesapeake Bay near the Patuxent River, and along the Atlantic Coast near Ocean City, but this bill would only limit development near the river’s Naval Air Station.
Sponsored by Senator Steve Waugh, R-Calvert and St. Mary’s, the bill would allow wind energy companies to build turbines near the Naval Air Station on the Patuxent River so long as they do not exceed certain heights based on distances from the base that could cause inaccurate radar readings.
“The purpose of the bill is to protect the Atlantic Test Range, which is a national asset and used by the Naval Air Station Patuxent River (for) developmental test activities,” Waugh said.
“It’s mirroring limits that exist already for (agricultural) preservation land,” which provide staggered height limits for wind turbines based on distance away from a determined point, Waugh said. The farther away, the taller the turbines could be.
Applying the state’s current agricultural regulations to the base would keep wind turbines at least 24 miles away from the Naval Air Station, and they could not exceed 100 feet in height if within 24 to 30 miles of the base.
But taller towers allow for more energy to be generated because of faster wind speeds at greater heights, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Therefore, height restrictions could limit profitability for energy companies.
Bruce Burcat, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition, said the bill’s provisions are too geographically limiting, making wind turbine development not as profitable — and therefore less attractive — for energy companies to build in Maryland.
“We still have some serious concerns about it,” Burcat said. For example, he said, “there is no provision for reviewing down the road — hopefully just a couple years — to see if circumstances have changed to the point where they would have more comfort with development in that region.
Senator Thomas Middleton, D-Charles, said he supports the bill because it enables the employees of the Naval Air Station to keep working.
“It’s hundreds of jobs and lots of economic development to southern Maryland, and going forth…we feel it’s necessary to really protect” the base’s radar system, Middleton said.
Meanwhile, state Senate Minority Whip Stephen S. Hershey Jr., R-Caroline, Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne’s, introduced a bill on Tuesday that would give Kent County commissioners the ability to approve wind energy companies’ land-based wind projects within their own county rather than requiring the Public Service Commission’s approval.
Waugh’s proposal comes after U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, tried to put a hold on any agreements between the U.S. Navy and wind energy companies at the mouth of the Patuxent River in July 2014 until an MIT study analyzing the turbines’ potential effects on radar testing is completed, which is expected to be published in summer 2015.