Saying the project is too important to let sit on the sidelines, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley on Friday vetoed a bill that would have “effectively killed” a $200 million wind farm being developed on the state’s eastern shore.
House Bill 1168 would have established a 13-month moratorium on the proposed Great Bay Wind Energy Center, a 150-megawatt farm which could potentially generate enough energy to power 50,000 typical U.S. households. The bill, which passed the Maryland General Assembly in April with overwhelming support, sought to delay the project because of its proximity to the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, which houses a sensitive radar system that tests the stealthiness of fighter jets. Many were concerned that the whirling turbines would compromise the system.
But O’Malley on Friday said the bill was “unnecessary,” citing a U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) process that will not allow any energy projects to move forward if they compromise military operations. What’s more, the DOD has already stated that the radar system will be fine, so long as the turbines stop spinning while it’s in use. The DOD has signed an agreement with the company, Pioneer Green Energy, committing to shut down the windmills whenever testing occurs.
“The real threat to [the Naval Station] is not an array of wind turbines on the lower Eastern Shore but rising sea levels caused by climate change,” O’Malley wrote in a letter announcing his decision to Maryland’s House Speaker, Michael Busch. “The bill would effectively kill a $200 million investment in the county, along with much-needed jobs and local tax revenue, all because of the perceived inconvenience that wind turbines pose to operations at [the station.]”
O’Malley also said delaying the project would only further prevent the state from fighting climate change, and would send the wrong message to clean energy companies looking to invest in Maryland. O’Malley had previously mandated that the state must use 20 percent renewable energy by 2022, a mandate that initially attracted Pioneer Green Energy to invest in Maryland in the first place.
“The developers of the Great Bay Wind project have engaged in years of painstaking negotiations, played by the rules, and invested millions of dollars in good faith reliance on the policies established by our federal and State legislative bodies,” O’Malley said. “If this moratorium were to take effect, it would send a chilling message to clean energy investors … that the State can change the rules at the eleventh hour.”
Despite the companies’ agreement with the DOD, the bill’s 13-month waiting period was proposed to give sufficient time for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to complete a $2 million study to evaluate ways to mitigate the turbines’ impact on the radar system. Democratic Delegate John Bohanan, who spearheaded the bill, issued a statement over the weekend saying he was “disappointed” in the Governor’s decision to “ignore” that study.
“This veto ignores the $2 million study currently underway to find a real solution to allow wind energy and sensitive radar systems to coexist,” he said.
O’Malley did receive praise for his decision from Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, who called the veto “a landmark day for the economy of Maryland’s Eastern Shore,” and director of the nonprofit Chesapeake Climate Action Network Mike Tidwell, who said the decision represented a “pivotal turning point” toward a clean energy economy in the state.
“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,” Tidwell said. “This will create a clean-energy foundation that Maryland families, farmers, workers and businesses so urgently need in the face of intensifying climate change.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed Peter Franchot’s quote to U.S. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.