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Barbara Mikulski
Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Windmill developer, environmentalists turn attention to Mikulski

Environmental groups and the developer of a wind energy project in Somerset County want Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, to withdraw language in an appropriations bill they say will kill a $200 million renewable energy project.

In a letter signed by nearly two dozen organizations, Mikulski is asked to remove non-binding language directing the Navy Department to not enter into an agreement with Pioneer Energy related to the construction and operation of 25 windmills on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay adjacent to the Naval Air Station Patuxent River.

“We feel it is inappropriate for Senator Mikulski to add the language,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Committee. “It appears it is her intent to slow down the project.”

Those who have sought to slow down the energy project, including Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland and the No. 2 Democrat in the House, have expressed concerns that the wind turbines could interfere with sophisticated radar operations at the Naval station and potentially jeopardize thousands of jobs at the base.

Gov. Martin O’Malley vetoed legislation passed by the General Assembly this year that would have delayed the wind turbine project.

Paul Harris, development manager for Pioneer, said the delay would “have a chilling effect” on ongoing negotiations with the Navy over the operation of the windmills when the base is testing a sensitive classified radar system.

Harris described the negotiations with the Navy as “productive” and said he believes the company and base were close to a final agreement. The language added by Mikulski, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, has caused talks with the Navy to slow down, he said.

An initial study found looked at wind turbines taller than 600 feet — about the size proposed for the Somerset project. That study found that the effects of the turbines, which the radar would pick up, could be mitigated by turning them off during tests.

The second study will look at alternatives related to turbines less than 600 feet tall.

The language in the bill has been approved by the full Senate Appropriations bill and moves to the Senate for a final vote, which has not yet been scheduled.

“I look forward to receiving the letter and will review it closely when I do,” Mikulski said in an emailed statement. “I have been supportive of developing alternative energy sources. However, the Navy has commissioned a $2 million MIT study to make sure PAX’s test range is not disrupted. The study should be completed before next steps are taken. Better safe than sorry.”