ANNAPOLIS — The effort to place a moratorium on a proposed Eastern Shore wind farm got a major boost Tuesday in the form of testimony from U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer.
Hoyer, the second-highest ranking congressional Democrat and a former president of the Maryland Senate, returned to Annapolis to urge the Senate Finance Committee to approve a bill that imposes a 13-month moratorium on the project.
The 17-term congressman said the renewable energy project could ultimately endanger the state’s ability to retain the Patuxent River Naval Air Station if the federal government undertakes another base realignment.
“We have been one of the biggest winners [under] BRAC in the country,” Hoyer told the committee, adding that the Navy has invested $100 million in the specialized radar system in use at the base.
Failure to pass the bill “sends a message that we might not be willing to protect our military bases,” Hoyer said.
House Bill 1168 would prohibit a windmill of any size in a zone that stretches 24 miles east of the base. Beyond 24 miles, the windmill can be 100 feet tall, and the height limit gradually increases to 700 feet for locations 49 miles from the base.
The bill would also prohibit the Maryland Public Service Commission from issuing permits before June 30, 2015, for the 25 windmills that are part of the Great Bay Wind Energy Center proposed for Somerset County until studies can be completed on the effects on specialized, classified radar equipment used across the Chesapeake Bay at Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
Hoyer and legislators want the 13-month moratorium because the Navy has commissioned a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on potential ways to mitigate interference with the ADAMS radar system in use at the base. (ADAMS stands for Advanced Dynamic Aircraft Measurements System, and the one at Patuxent River is the only one in operation by the Navy.)
“We can be for alternate energy and for our military bases,” Hoyer said. “It’s not an either-or situation but we ought not pay a price of undermining our national security.”
Supporters of the wind energy project said passage of the bill will kill the Somerset County project, costing the developer $4 million that has already been invested.
“We are not [in]sensitive to the concerns that are raised,” said Pamela Kasemeyer, a lobbyist who represents Great Bay Wind Energy Center and its parent company, Austin, Texas-based Pioneer Green Energy.
“A delay kills us,” said Adam Cohen, vice president of Great Bay Wind Energy Center.
The proposed Somerset project has the support of Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Abigail Ross Hopper, director of the Maryland Energy Administration, said passage of the bill would send the wrong message to green energy investors.
“This is one project but it’s not the only one,” Hopper said. “It creates the reputation across the country that Maryland is not open for business for clean energy.”
Opponents of the moratorium want to see the bill amended to allow the company to move forward if the Navy signs off on a draft proposal under which Great Bay Wind Energy Center would agree to turn off the turbines when the radar is in use.
So far, the Navy has not signed the agreement. It is not clear if the agreement would be signed before completion of the MIT study.
Hoyer said he sympathizes with investors but doesn’t want to risk losing the naval station.
“If you’re talking about $4 million versus $100 million, I don’t think it’s a tough choice,” Hoyer said.