Mikulski pushes to delay Somerset wind turbines

Source: By Nicole Clark Staff Writer, Southern Maryland Newspapers • Posted: Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Texas-based wind company Pioneer Green has plans to build 25 turbines, each potentially nearly 700 feet tall, near the bay shoreline. Meanwhile, Navy and industry leaders in St. Mary’s fear those windmills could interfere with sensitive radar tests done, in part, to determine the stealth of jet aircraft.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was among several lawmakers who last week suggested changes to the Senate version of the defense spending bill. Mikulski’s changes, if implemented would prevent the Navy from entering into an agreement with Pioneer Green until further study could be complete. Pioneer Green has offered to turn off the wind turbines when the Navy is testing radar.

“For her to take the time to ensure this is in the legislation really is a reflection of her understanding of our mission,” said Glen Ives, president of the Southern Maryland Navy Alliance.

Earlier this year, 143 Maryland legislators supported the idea of forcing Pioneer Green to hold off on its project at least until the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could complete a study determining how spinning turbines might affect Navy radar. However, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) vetoed that measure, saying rising sea levels were a greater threat to Pax River, and that renewable energy would, over the long term, would help protect Maryland, and the world, from those rising water levels.

“I’m just sorry the governor vetoed the bill,” said St. Mary’s County Commissioner Todd Morgan (R), adding that it seemed to be a decision made for O’Malley’s possible interests in a bid for the presidency, and likely on a platform that promoted renewable energy. “Or we wouldn’t have to be where we are today,” he said.

The case to delay the Navy from entering into a curtailment agreement, where radar testing would stop when wind turbines were spinning, seemed to be well documented, Morgan said.

After the governor’s veto, Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s), Mikulski, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), said they’d continue pushing to protect what they called Pax River’s mission and national security interests.

Mikulski’s amendment, adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee last Thursday, says, “the committee directs the Navy to refrain from executing any agreement with respect to the operation of the proposed wind energy project until the [MIT] study is provided to the congressional defense committees.”

Mikulski’s office did not provide a comment by deadline Tuesday.

But, the push to wait for the MIT study is not complete. The full Senate has to review the measure. And, Congress would have to reconcile a House version of the defense spending bill, which does not contain Mikulski’s changes, with the Senate bill that most likely would. There also is a chance that Congress will not pass a defense bill and instead operate under a continuing resolution.

Ives said he realizes this is not “a done deal,” but it’s a step in the right direction. “Let’s just not rush into this” wind turbine project, he said. “Just do the analysis before we commit to anything long term.”