Energy-generating changes are in the wind for Maryland

Plans for huge towers, turbines in east, west

September 17, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Maryland's shoreline and some of its most scenic mountains could soon be home to hundreds of towers that look like science fiction or the latest in modern art - wind turbines that stand 300 feet high and have blades that reach more than 100 feet into the air as they spin.

Three energy firms are seeking state and federal approvals to erect huge wind farms 3.5 miles off Ocean City, along a 10-mile stretch of mountains in Garrett County and along a three-mile stretch of Big Savage Mountain in Allegany County.

The developers say that the projects will mean clean power, help cut back on foreign oil imports and - in Western Maryland - bring jobs and tax revenues to a region where unemployment is among the highest in the state.

"We think we'll be beautifying our site," said Tom Matthews, president of US Wind Force, the Pittsburgh-based company that wants to build 25 wind turbines on some former strip mines southwest of Cumberland in Allegany County.

Matthews said that the towers west of Lonaconing will range in height from 213 feet to 328 feet, and that each will have a turbine mounted on it generating enough power for 500 homes.

But opponents say the towers - which will be visible from the Ocean City coastline and the shoreline of Deep Creek Lake - will pose a danger to birds and create an eyesore in some of Maryland's most scenic areas.

Robert McIntire, a Baltimore lawyer who was born and raised in Garrett County and owns property there, said plans by California-based Clipper Windpower Inc. for 67 towers along Backbone Mountain will forever mar the beautiful views along Deep Creek Lake.

"This is going to have a major impact on Deep Creek Lake, one of the state's premier resort areas," he said. "You're talking about million-dollar home sites out there."

Worries about birds

Bird enthusiasts also are concerned.

"They're just ready to sacrifice whatever scenic beauty they have to. It's the greed factor at work," said Floyd Presley, who holds a federal permit to capture and place bands on hawks and other predatory birds for tracking by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Presley, a retired engineer, said that Big Savage Mountain is a flyway for golden eagles and a habitat for red-tailed hawks and peregrine falcons. All are rare predators that will be put at risk by the towers, he said.

"They talk about acceptable losses of birds, but what's acceptable to them might not be acceptable to me and other people," he said.

The Public Service Commission has scheduled a hearing at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow to begin reviewing proposals submitted by US Wind Force and Clipper Windpower Inc.

Industry officials say the projects will kill fewer birds and be no more visible than the cellular telephone towers that dot landscapes throughout the state.

The wind-farm towers are built on a single shaft and their blades spin slowly, making them less of a danger to birds than the lattice-style towers that killed birds when the first wind farms were built in the 1970s, they say.

"The technology's improved to a point where there really isn't a problem," said Ron Orozco, who is managing Clipper's 67-turbine project planned near Oakland.

`Constructive addition'

Frederick H. Hoover, Jr., director of the Maryland Energy Administration, said that any environmental concerns raised by opponents will be carefully examined. But he said that a wind farm would generally be considered a "constructive addition" to Maryland's power system.

"We're actually kind of anxious to see this type of energy source come into the state," Hoover said.

Winergy LLC, of Shirley, N.Y., which is planning the wind farm off Ocean City, has yet to submit plans to the PSC.

But the firm has submitted plans to the Army Corps of Engineers to mount up to 350 towers on concrete platforms and anchor them in 60 feet of water across a 71-square-mile area of the Atlantic, roughly 3.5 miles off Ocean City.

Winergy's towers would stand about 300 feet above sea level, with three rotating blades that reach an additional 150 feet in the air when they spin, said Dennis Quaranta, Winergy's president.

Developers of the two Western Maryland sites hope to begin operating by the end of next year. But Winergy's president said the federal approvals for any ocean-based wind farms - such as have been built in Europe but not in the United States - might take three to five years.

Winergy has announced plans for wind farms at 17 sites along the East Coast. One of its proposals, to erect 400 towers in the waters off Massachusetts near Nantucket Island, has drawn fire from environmentalists, who say the project amounts to placing an industrial facility in a setting known for its natural beauty.

Quaranta anticipates similar criticism about his plans for the site off Ocean City. "There's going to be a lot of people who are going to like us and a lot of people who are going to hate us," he said.

Technology and taxes

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