Cumberland (MD) Times-News: “Wind farm opponents seeking clarification on federal court ruling”

Excellent article from the Cumberland (Maryland) Times-News, an increasingly important source of regional issues:

Published: February 03, 2010 11:50 pm

Wind farm opponents seeking clarification on federal court ruling

(Feel recent decision could impact projects in Western Maryland)

Megan Miller
Cumberland Times-News

CUMBERLAND — A recent federal court decision has some Western Maryland wind farm critics pushing state and local officials for increased regulation.

On Friday, a letter signed by the four members of the District 1 legislative delegation was sent to Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler, seeking a formal opinion on the responsibility of state agencies “as it relates to the protection of the state’s endangered species.”

The letter, sent at the urging of former state senator and Allegany County resident John Bambacus, asks the attorney general to consider whether Maryland state law prohibits a corporation from building wind turbines if the project could potentially harm endangered species.

The question centers on two issues: the first, a recent federal court decision placing restrictions on a West Virginia wind farm because of concerns it could harm an endangered bat; the second, Maryland legislation that went into effect July 1, 2007, to allow proposed wind power projects to bypass an extensive permit review process if the projects have a maximum capacity of no more than 70 megawatts.

In early December, a federal judge halted the construction of additional turbines at Beech Ridge Wind Farm in Greenbrier County, W.Va., because of concerns that the federally endangered Indiana bat could be harmed by the project. The case reached a settlement that allowed construction to move forward, but will limit the facility to about 20 fewer turbines than originally proposed and restrict operation times to daylight hours during the summer months, when bats tend to be active at night.

D.J. Schubert, a biologist with a group opposing the Beech Ridge project, called the settlement a victory for those who feel green energy companies “have to be held to some standard in terms of ensuring their projects do not harm and threaten the environment,” according to the Associated Press.

“A standard has been set now, and we certainly hope the renewable energy industry takes heed,” Schubert said.

Bambacus and some other Western Maryland residents say they believe the case did set a standard, one they want Maryland to follow by toughening up the Public Service Commission’s review process for wind farm permits.

“Prior to the 2007 legislation, Maryland had one of the strongest and most respected programs in the U.S.,” Bambacus said. “None of us could argue that the process itself was faulty. Now there’s virtually no process at all.”

Previously, wind power developers in Maryland were required to secure a permit known as a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity. Developers had to go through an extensive review process with the PSC, including conducting environmental review studies and making their case for a permit in formal administrative law proceedings. In those proceedings, other parties, including government agencies, environmental groups, and individuals, could file their own testimony and cross-examine other parties involved.

But since 2007, wind developers can apply for an exemption from the certificate requirement. Developers still have to notify a long list of state and federal agencies, including the Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, about proposed projects, but the exemption process cuts down on things like project review time and impact studies, as well as the public’s ability to weigh in on an application.

Both Sen. George Edwards and Delegate Wendell Beitzel filed bills in the 2009 legislative session to repeal all or part of the exemption law, but the measures failed.

Despite the fast-track legislation, and the PSC’s approval of several wind project permits, no wind farms have actually been erected in Maryland to date. But Bambacus said he thinks the 2007 legislation leaves a lot of unanswered questions about the potential impact of such facilities in the state.

For example, wind farms in Western Maryland could also have an effect on the Indiana bat. Dan Feller, western region biologist with the DNR, said Indiana bats haven’t been confirmed in Garrett County since the mid-1990s, but one was found in Allegany County as recently as the late 2000s. Feller said major hibernation spots for the bat are located less than 20 miles from Maryland in West Virginia.

“We know they’re around, and they’re very rare,” Feller said.

Bambacus called the letter to the attorney general “my last gasp” before turning to the courts for an answer.

Kimberly Connaughton, an Oakland attorney and Garrett County resident concerned over proposed wind power development projects at Backbone Mountain near her home, said she, too, sees the Beech Ridge decision as opening up new legal options for pursuing stricter regulation.

Connaughton, along with her husband, Stephan Moylan, and neighbor Eric Tribbey, sent an open letter to the Garrett County Commission at the end of January, requesting it to rescind or put on hold all pending and granted permits related to wind project construction in the county.

“At this point, we’re trying to get the local executive branch to do something,” Connaughton said. “The last thing we want to get involved in is a federal lawsuit. That’s not what we want to be doing, but we don’t want the highest, longest ridge in Maryland to be ruined forever.”

Contact Megan Miller at mmiller@times-news.com.

Times-News article ends!

From Allegheny Treasures 2/2/10 post – Maryland Delegates request AG provide opinion on industrial wind impact on endangered species.

What follows is a brief history posted earlier at AT covering the excellent work of Mr. Bambacus, a resident of Frostburg, which ultimately lead to the  formal request by Maryland State Delegates that the Maryland Attorney General provide an opinion on the matter of state agencies, industrial wind and endangered species.

On the day of Judge Titus’ ruling against the wind developer, Mr Bambacus emailed the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary to advise of the ruling, and its possible impact in the state of Maryland:

In mid-December, Mr. Bambacus again wrote to the Secretary John Griffin, posted here, suggesting that “In light of the fact that work on a nearby WV wind project has been halted by U.S. District Court Judge Roger W. Titus, it is respectfully requested that any and all permits pending or granted for Garrett County wind development projects not be granted or be rescinded until consideration be given to threatened and endangered species as required by the court ruling and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (Incidental Takings Permit).”

Maryland DNR Secretary Griffin provided this response to Mr. Bambacus’ two inquiries:

Following Secretary Griffin’s response, Mr. Bambacus sent this email to wide distribution in Maryland government:

The result of the efforts by Mr. Bambacus is this important request from Maryland Senator George C. Edwards, and Delegates Wendell Beitzel, Kevin Kelly and LeRoy Myers, Jr. to the Maryland Attorney General, Douglas F. Gansler:

We at Allegheny Treasures applaud Mr. Bambacus for his untiring efforts to protect the Allegheny Mountains.  We also commend Senator Edwards, Delegate Beitzel, Delegate Kelly and Delegate Myers for their efforts.

Related post:  Baltimore Sun: “WV wind farm bows to bats, as issue arises in MD”

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One Response to Cumberland (MD) Times-News: “Wind farm opponents seeking clarification on federal court ruling”

  1. Allegheny Front Alliance says:

    This is a great story.

    AFA offers compliments to Mr. John Bambacus for making this an important issue that deserves discussion in a public venue.

    AFA also compliments Senator Edwards, Delegate Beitzel, Delegate Kelly and Delegate Myers for their efforts.

    AFA appreciates the Times News for assigning Megan Miller to reporting this important story. The Times News is an important paper for the Maryland and also Potomac Highlands. The media is not just a business, but it also serves as the essential fabric of the community. The media is crucial to helping people learn and understand what change is occuring.

    Maryland elected representatives have taken a bold stance, sharing their concerns deserve attention. Industrial wind projects politics should not be discussed behind closed doors and the backrooms of Annapolis statehouse buildings.

    Industrial wind represents high costs with low benefits. Environmental studies which that will withstand agency and peer review, are conducted with scientific rigor, having valid and reliable measures should be part of the process. To go forward with ill-sited wind projects on fragile ecological ridgelines makes no sense.

    AFA thanks Allegheny Treasures for breaking this story.

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