Environmentalists, Local Officials Oppose Wind Farms in Maryland

Published December 6, 2012

Two wind farms in Maryland, one proposed and the other one already in operation, are running into stiff resistance from local authorities and residents, conservation groups, state officials, and the U.S. Navy.

Threat to Naval Radar

Plans to build a giant wind farm on 10,000 acres in rural Summerset County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore were put on hold indefinitely in early November after County Commissioners halted consideration of a proposed ordinance that would have allowed installation of turbines on local farmland.

In tabling the ordinance, county commissioners took into consideration a new study brought to their attention by officials at the Naval Air Station Patuxent. The study, performed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, outlines how large-scale wind-energy projects could interfere with radar systems at the base across the Chesapeake Bay in St. Mary’s County.

The proposed wind farm, a project of Texas-based Pioneer Green Energy, would have to be approved by the U.S. Department of Defense and the Maryland Public Service Commission. Fearing the Navy would ultimately block the project, county officials decided it would be pointless to green-light the wind farm. 

Earlier in the year, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill placing new restrictions on wind turbines located within a 46-mile radius of Patuxent Naval Air Station. The bill ends an exemption for wind farms smaller than 70 megawatts. Almost all of Summerset County falls within the 46-mile radius of the base. 

Bird and Bat Deaths

Meanwhile, in the mountainous western part of Maryland, a coalition of eight conservation groups is rallying opposition to a 28-turbine wind project. The conservation groups say the Criterion Wind Project, located in Oakland, about 175 miles northwest of Washington, DC, is killing an unacceptable number of birds and bats.

In comments submitted to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), the environmental groups are seeking new limits on the operation of the Criterion Wind Project, a facility owned by Exelon Power. Criterion has requested an incidental take permit for the endangered Indiana bat from FWS.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) makes it illegal to “take” (kill or harm) wildlife listed as threatened or endangered by the federal government. An incidental take permit acknowledges that protected species can be accidentally or incidentally “taken” during the course of normal operations of a facility provided that its owner makes a reasonable effort to limit or minimize harm to a listed species. 

Under the ESA, there is a public comment period associated with such requests. Seizing the opportunity, the environmental groups are calling on FWS to require Criterion to obtain an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), a higher and lengthier standard of review than the environmental assessment that is currently underway.

Criterion has been in operation since 2010, and the company monitored bird and bat mortality on a daily basis between April 5 and November 15, 2011. Environmentalist groups say the mortality rates were disturbing, with Criterion reporting an estimated 1,093 bats killed (39 bats per turbine) and 448 birds (16 birds per turbine) in the seven-month period. 

Hidden Environmental Harms

“Some people believe wind power has no environmental downside, but the troubled installations in Maryland prove otherwise,” said Daniel Simmons, director of state policy at the Washington-based Institute for Energy Research. 

“Instead of being environmentally benign, it turns out that wind power jeopardizes national security and harms wildlife,” Simmons added.

Air Is Becoming Cleaner

“Environmental progress can be made, and is being made, without resorting to expensive wind power that kills hundreds of thousands of birds and bats each year,” explained Jay Lehr, science director for The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News. “EPA reports our nation’s air is 70 percent cleaner than it was in 1980, even though the nation has a much bigger population, uses much more electricity, and experiences much more vehicle miles driven than in 1980.

“Continuing technological advances will continue this trend toward cleaner air,” said Lehr. “There is no need to kill all these birds and bats when air emissions are already in dramatic decline.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.