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Councilman proposes new zoning for wind turbines in Baltimore

Wind turbines could dot portions of the Baltimore skyline if one city elected official gets his way.

James B. Kraft and Lucy Bannon

Baltimore City Councilman James B. Kraft, center, speaks at Federal Hill Park on Wednesday as Lucy Bannon from Environment Maryland looks on. (Alexander Pyles/The Daily Record)

Baltimore City Councilman James B. Kraft said Wednesday he has proposed that the city’s zoning code be amended to allow the installation of energy-producing wind turbines, both near the harbor and in some residential areas.

The city is working on its first zoning overhaul in 40 years, a project officials are calling “Transform Baltimore.” The Department of Planning has provided a draft to the City Council, and public hearings are being held over the next several months.

Kraft said this is the perfect time for the city’s zoning code to embrace clean energy production.

“We should do it and we should do it now,” Kraft said. “There’s plenty of places we could put wind mills.”

The councilman, a Democrat who represents Southeast Baltimore, said turbines could be placed on the docks to produce energy and could be installed by residents to power their homes.

Kraft made his comments as he joined clean energy advocates with Environment Maryland in Federal Hill Park to urge Congress to extend federal wind energy production and investment tax credits, set to expire at year’s end.

“Our message to Congress is clear,” said Lucy Bannon, a field organizer with Environment Maryland. “Don’t throw wind power off the fiscal cliff.”

Industrial wind turbines are already turning in Garrett County, and some state jurisdictions allow wind energy systems for residential or business use. A federal renewable energy production tax credit has aided those projects.

Land-based systems in Maryland displace as much global warming pollution as taking 35,000 cars off the road per year, according to Environment Maryland, which lobbies local, state and federal government on environmental issues.

Also at risk in Congress is a federal tax credit applied to offshore wind development. Gov. Martin O’Malley has introduced legislation in the last two General Assembly sessions that would have guaranteed a market for companies that build and operate wind turbines 10 miles off the coast of Ocean City, but both times the bill failed to gain momentum in the Senate.

Takirra Winfield, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Wednesday a bill “very similar” to the one introduced in 2012 would be introduced in 2013. The bill would force wind energy to factor into the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires 20 percent of energy to be produced by renewable sources by 2022.

But the wind energy industry may balk if the federal tax credit is not extended. Installing offshore wind turbines is an expensive and lengthy process that some companies say they could not undertake without the federal subsidy.

In a statement, U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said the country’s use of wind power had more than doubled since 2008.

“The wind production and investment tax credits … have played a big role in that success,” Cardin said. “Wind power is an excellent source of clean, renewable energy that is essential to achieving U.S. energy security and improving the air we breathe.”

Cardin said he was “hopeful” the credits would be extended. If it is, Kraft may push harder for his city zoning amendment.

In 2009, a Federal Hill woman petitioned Baltimore officials to install a wind turbine on the roof of her 100-year-old row home. The Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals voted 4-1 against allowing the installation, citing city zoning codes.

Reports at the time indicated neighbors were concerned about the turbine causing damage to shared row house walls. Others worried the turbine would block views from nearby roof decks.

Kraft said he didn’t buy into such reasoning, and hadn’t heard a good argument against wind turbines.

“We should be doing this,” he said.