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Public Service Commission approves Frostburg wind farm

Maryland’s third field of energy-producing wind turbines cleared its first hurdle Wednesday when the Maryland Public Service Commission unanimously approved the project’s construction on a mountaintop near Frostburg.

The $100 million, 60-megawatt project would be built atop Fourmile Ridge if developer Fourmile Wind Energy LLC — a subsidiary of Annapolis-based Synergics Wind Energy LLC — is granted permits by Garrett County. The Maryland Energy Administration supports the project, a spokeswoman said.

The PSC had expedited the project’s approval under a 2007 law that allows a streamlined process for projects under 70 megawatts. Wind developers had complained to Gov. Martin O’Malley and the General Assembly that projects were too often held up by excessive red tape.

The streamlining means that small wind projects do not need to seek approval from the state Department of Natural Resources. DNR is still allowed to provide input, but PSC staff told the commission Wednesday that the department had been “resolutely silent.”

Activists in Western Maryland have protested construction of wind farms because the spinning turbines could kill birds and an endangered bat species.

If building permits are granted, Synergics expects construction of the 24, 328-foot wind turbines to begin this summer. Once completed in 2014, the wind farm would produce enough energy to power 25,000 homes, said Wayne Rogers, the company’s chairman. Synergics has also built wind farms in Pennsylvania and built Maryland’s second wind farm.

The company erected 20 turbine towers atop Backbone Mountain near Oakland in 2011, a $110 million, 50-megawatt project. Constellation Energy developed the Criterion wind project on Backbone Mountain in 2010. The 28-turbine project, the state’s first, generates 70-megawatts of energy.

Under Maryland law, 20 percent of energy sold to utility companies in the state must come from renewable resources such as wind, solar and biomass by 2022. Less than 8 percent of energy is currently produced from renewable resources, and less than 1 percent of total energy produced in the state comes from land-based wind turbines.

The state’s goal is to increase that amount to 4 percent by 2022, according to the Maryland Energy Administration. The state legislature also approved a bill this year that requires offshore wind energy be added to the renewable energy portfolio. The MEA has set a goal of having about 5 percent of Maryland’s in-state energy generation come from offshore wind by 2022. Most of Maryland’s energy production — 60 percent — comes from coal.