Need for wind farms in Maryland trumps aesthetics argument

December 26, 2007|By Mike Tidwell

With ominous global warming accelerating year after year, why can't Maryland construct a single clean-energy wind farm within its borders?

Gov. Martin O'Malley's blue-ribbon commission says we must get off fossil fuel very soon. But our state - one of the most vulnerable in America to global warming and one of the most politically liberal - can't achieve even the baby step of a single commercial wind farm. What's the problem? West Virginia has dozens of wind turbines; Pennsylvania even more.

The answer was on full display this month when word leaked that Mr. O'Malley was considering leasing state land in Western Maryland to turbine development. When word spread of the possible placement of 100 modern windmills in this same area, critics sharpened their knives.

Never mind that huge portions of the Savage River State Forest are already subject to logging by commercial timber companies. Never mind that many of the trees there are affected by acid rain from the very same coal-fired power plants that wind farms are meant to displace. Never mind, too, that unchecked global warming is projected to devastate our Appalachian ecosystems.

These same opponents, of course, are quick to say they support wind power in general. They just don't want wind turbines on limited public lands in rural Western Maryland. They don't want them on private land in Western Maryland, either. They also don't want them offshore near Ocean City or along the southern shores of the Chesapeake Bay. Wind farms have been proposed for all of these areas, and in each case, opponents have successfully waged media battles and/or frivolous legal challenges to slow them down or stop them outright. This despite polls showing Marylanders overwhelmingly support renewable energy development.

To be clear: No one is calling for the placement of wind farms on state or federal parkland or in sensitive wilderness areas. Again, the Savage River parcel is a "managed" state forest that is already being logged. With global warming rapidly accelerating, why not harvest wind power there too, in a few select locations?

Early arguments against wind farms as a danger to bird populations have been disproved by new scientific research. Now the main argument is the visual impact. Beauty is in the eye the beholder, of course. I believe most people are like me: They experience strong feelings of hope when they see slow-moving modern windmills in the distance. But others find them horrifying to look at even though, to cite one example, the proposed windmills off Ocean City would be half the size of your thumbnail when viewed from the beach.

And consider: What would be the visual effect of Ocean City underwater and abandoned because of sea-level rise, or our Appalachian forests dead from the record heat, drought and wildfires of global warming?

A final criticism of the Savage River proposal is that the wind farm would result in the serious clear-cutting of trees. The fact is, under normal "management" operations over the next 25 years, private timber companies will be allowed to cut 4,000 to 6,000 acres of the Savage River forest, according to a spokesman there. That's up to 10 percent of the entire state forest.

How many acres would the proposed wind farm displace over those same 25 years? Just 200 acres. And the project developer has pledged to compensate by purchasing 200 acres of unprotected forest elsewhere in Western Maryland and deeding it to the state for permanent protection, never to be logged.

In return, this one wind farm would provide clean, climate-safe electricity for Western Maryland.

Governor O'Malley is right to seriously consider supporting the Savage River wind project. He is also right to push hard for wind projects in other parts of our state, including the Ocean City offshore wind park. Indeed, on global warming, Mr. O'Malley was correct when he recently said, "The time for action in Maryland has passed. The time to catch up is now."

Mike Tidwell is executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. His e-mail is mwtidwell@aol.com.

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