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Three organizations urge O’Malley to veto wind farm bill

A coalition of three environmental groups Tuesday called for the veto of a bill imposing a moratorium that would affect a proposed Somerset County wind farm.

In a joint statement, the American Sustainable Business Council, the Chesapeake Sustainable Business Council, and Green America called House Bill 1168 “the anti-wind bill” and urged the governor to reject it.

“If this bill is allowed to stand, it will have a negative impact on land-based wind production in Maryland well into the future. Local business leaders urge the Governor to build Maryland’s clean energy economy and veto HB 1168,” Stephen Shaff, executive director of the Chesapeake Sustainable Business Council, said in the statement.

The bill, passed overwhelmingly in both the House and Senate, prohibits a windmill of any size in a zone that stretches 24 miles east of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station. 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 also prohibits 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 the Patuxent base.

Supporters of the bill, including Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., assert that construction of the windmills in Somerset County would interfere with the highly sensitive and unique radar system. The delay in permitting would allow for completion of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology mitigation study paid for by the Navy.

Hoyer and others said the windmill facility could result in the Navy moving operations at the station to another state in any future round of federal military base consolidation. Opponents of the bill dispute that assertion.

O’Malley is scheduled Thursday to sign the last round of bills passed earlier this year by the General Assembly. The fate of the windmill moratorium bill remains unclear.

“It’s still under review,” said Nina Smith, an O’Malley spokeswoman.

O’Malley has made renewable energy a focus his administration. Supporters of the proposed Great Bay Wind Energy Center say a moratorium, even a short one, will kill the project and have a chilling effect on other investors who might be considering Maryland.

The governor in April said he was trying to understand the need for the bill.

“I understand there’s some that feel very passionately about it,” O’Malley said, adding that “windmills on the Eastern Shore would add greatly to our renewable energy supply and would be only an inconvenience, if that, to the operations at PAX River.”