Wind farm plan reduced

The Baltimore Sun

A wind farm developer is shrinking a proposal to build turbines in Western Maryland, making the project small enough to be exempt from a major environmental review.

Clipper Windpower Inc. officials say they now want to build 28 turbines instead of 67 along Backbone Mountain in Garrett County. That could make it the first project to be exempt from broad state review under a 2007 law meant to speed up construction of wind farm projects.

Clipper is one of three companies competing to be the first to build wind turbines in Western Maryland. Gov. Martin O'Malley recently announced that the state will ban turbines in state forests, but that decision does not affect Clipper or the other companies that want to build on private land.

Steven B. Larsen, chairman of the Maryland Public Service Commission, said yesterday that his agency will make a decision with-in a week about whether to grant an exemption for Clipper.

More than three quarters of the 30 people who spoke at a public hearing March 6 in Garrett County were opposed to an exemption.

If the PSC approves Clipper's request, construction of the company's $120 million wind farm southeast of Oakland could move ahead next year without more study by the Department of Natural Resources to assess the visual impact of the 40-story turbines and how forests and endangered species might be affected by them.

Kevin Rackstraw, a Clipper official, said his company "already went through one of the most extensive environmental reviews ever" in 2003, when the state approved a permit for a 67-turbine project along Backbone Mountain.

That project was delayed by lawsuits from local residents, and the five-year duration of the permit expired March 26. Instead of risking more lawsuits and delays by seeking an extension of the permit, Rackstraw said the company wants to get an exemption from permitting and state review allowed by the 2007 law.

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