By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) announced yesterday morning that he will bar commercial wind turbines from state-owned land, satisfying Western Maryland opponents of the turbines but disappointing supporters of the wind energy industry.
Speaking at a scenic overlook in the Savage River State Forest in Garrett County, O'Malley said the state remains committed to exploring renewable energy sources but said the wind energy industry should look to other land for large-scale wind farms.
"While we must continue to explore and make progress on creating a more sustainable and independent energy future for Maryland, we will not do so at the expense of the special land we hold in the public trust," he said.
The decision primarily affects one project, a proposal by Pennsylvania-based U.S. Wind Force to build 100 wind turbines, each 400 feet tall, in two state forests in Garrett County. The company had asked to lease state land for the project.
The idea attracted considerable opposition from residents who feared the turbines would mar the area's natural beauty and hurt tourism.
"A big part of our economy is based on tourism. You'd have to put in roads, dig up property to put these things in," said Sen. George C. Edwards (R-Garrett). "It would distract from the scenery of the forestlands."
At a packed state hearing in January, many residents said they feared that construction of the turbines would hurt the wildlife of the state forests. Olivia Campbell, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said the state received about 1,400 comments on the idea, 82 percent of them opposed.
Proponents of wind energy believe it is a clean alternative to coal-burning plants and other energy sources. Although disappointed with O'Malley's decision, they said they would press ahead with plans for commercial wind farms on private land. O'Malley noted that private land as well as property owned by local jurisdictions or the federal government would not be affected by his decision.
"I definitely think this will be empowering to opponents," said Frank Maisano, a spokesman for the mid-Atlantic wind power industry, including U.S. Wind Force.
He cited polls showing that most state residents favor the use of wind energy, including the building of turbines on state land.
"We'll have to keep fighting from every mountaintop, saying why these projects are important, not only to the environment but to local economies," he said.
Maisano played down the decision's practical impact, noting that U.S. Wind Power is pursuing two other projects on private land.
The debate has pitted environmentalists committed to preserving open space against those who fear the effect of power production on climate change.
Legislation adopted by the Maryland General Assembly in its recently concluded session requires that 20 percent of the state's energy come from renewable sources by 2022. The bill awaits O'Malley's signature.
Meanwhile, energy demand in Maryland is on the rise, but the supply has not expanded. A report by state regulators last year predicted brownouts by 2011 if more power plants are not built.
O'Malley said yesterday that he remains "committed to becoming a more sustainable Maryland by increasing development and use of clean, renewable energy sources."
"Working together, we will implement innovative sustainable solutions to address climate change and energy independence without destroying the resources that are already providing invaluable environmental, social and economic benefits," he said.