Md. governor to veto bill that threatens giant turbine project

Source: Josh Kurtz, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, May 19, 2014

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) will buck the wishes of senior members of his state’s congressional delegation and will veto legislation designed to delay — and possibly kill — a wind energy project on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, his top energy adviser told the Associated Press today.

O’Malley is expected to release a letter explaining his decision later this afternoon, Abigail Hopper, director of the Maryland Energy Administration, told the AP.Pioneer Green, a Texas company, wants to erect 25 wind turbines, each about 600 feet tall, and possibly another 25 eventually, close to a transmission line on farmland near the Chesapeake Bay. Called the Great Bay wind project, it would provide an estimated 400 jobs in one of Maryland’s poorest areas and would help the state achieve its mandate to use 20 percent renewable energy by 2022 — a nice accomplishment for O’Malley, who is preparing to run for president in 2016 and is hoping to tout his environmental record.

But an array of elected officials, led by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), warned that the windmills could interfere with critical radar testing across the Chesapeake at Patuxent River Naval Air Station — and thus jeopardize the entire existence of the naval base, the economic driver for southern Maryland. They rallied around a bill in the state Legislature that would delay consideration of any wind turbine project within 56 miles of the naval station until July 2015, when a Navy-sponsored study on mitigating measures is expected to be completed.

But Pioneer Green executives insisted any delay would effectively kill the wind farm, because many of the permits and tax credits they obtained for the project are due to expire before then (E&E Daily, April 2).

Although the bill delaying the project passed both houses of the Legislature by comfortable margins, after unusual public prodding by Hoyer and behind-the-scenes pleading by Mikulski, Cardin and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), O’Malley apparently is satisfied that Pioneer Green’s offer to shut down the turbines any time radar testing is taking place will sufficiently protect Navy operations and the Pentagon’s investment in the base.

The Legislature is currently out of session. If lawmakers want to attempt to override O’Malley’s veto, they will have to go into special session before January, when a new governor and Legislature will be sworn in. It takes a three-fifths vote of the state House and state Senate to override a gubernatorial veto.

The wind project is still a long way from receiving final approval. Among other things, it needs a takings permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the bald eagles that could be killed by the giant windmills.

At press time this afternoon, Project Green and members of Congress were withholding comments until O’Malley formally announced his veto. But in a news release sent out by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, environmental groups hailed O’Malley’s decision.

“Today will be remembered as a pivotal turning point in Maryland’s march toward a clean energy economy,” Mike Tidwell, director of CCAN, said in a statement. “The governor’s veto of this unnecessary anti-wind power bill will open the door to a billion dollar wind industry on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. This will create a clean-energy foundation that Maryland families, farmers, workers and businesses so urgently need in the face of intensifying climate change.”

The news release also featured comments from Sierra Club President Michael Brune and Bill McKibben, co-founder of