Comptroller Peter Franchot urged Gov. Martin O'Malley on Wednesday to veto a bill that would halt a major wind energy project on the Eastern Shore, arguing that Somerset County desperately needs the jobs the project would generate.
Franchot wrote in a letter to the governor that stopping the $200 million wind farm project would have a "devastating effect" on one of Maryland's most impoverished areas and would threaten the state's ability to meet its goal to increase electricity generated from renewable sources.
In urging the governor to veto the bill, Franchot enters a fray that has divided the O'Malley administration — which opposed the bill — from two powerful members of the state's congressional delegation who argue that the wind project would threaten a prized military base in Southern Maryland.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer personally appealed to Maryland senators to pass the bill, contending that the 600-foot-tall wind turbines could jeopardize radar operations at Naval Air Station Patuxent River.
The Navy worked with the wind project's developer on a deal that calls for shutting off the windmills during radar testing. But Hoyer and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski have argued those constraints could weaken the military's resolve to keep the testing facility in St. Mary's County.
O'Malley's energy advisers unsuccessfully tried to persuade lawmakers to kill the bill during the General Assembly session. The governor has said he is trying to understand the value of the legislation, which would impose a 15-month moratorium on wind projects across a wide swath of the state to allow further study. The developer of the Great Bay wind project planned for Somerset County has said the moratorium would kill that project.
A spokeswoman for O'Malley said Wednesday that the governor has not decided whether to veto the bill.
"The governor is reviewing the legislation to find a way to balance some of the concerns that Pax River has with our efforts to advance renewable energy in the state of Maryland," O'Malley spokeswoman Nina Smith said, using the base's nickname.
Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, a Charles County Democrat who led the floor debate to pass the bill, said he found it "very disappointing that the comptroller would be on record urging the governor to veto this."
Middleton said that allowing a wind farm that could interfere with a huge economic engine in Southern Maryland would send a message to other states that Maryland was not interested in protecting military assets.
"It sends the message that we're ripe for the taking," he said.
Franchot, echoing statements made by the O'Malley administration, argued that allowing the wind farm would not harm operations at Patuxent River. But allowing the bill to take effect "would prohibit the placement of wind turbines on nearly 40 percent of the state's cumulative land mass, and would therefore call into question our state's commitment to energy independence through the cultivation of sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel," Franchot wrote.
"For a state that has taken justifiable pride in its leadership on such initiatives, this legislation would send precisely the opposite message to our citizens, stakeholders and counterparts," he wrote.
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