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PSC approves Western Md. wind farm

The Baltimore Sun

A wind farm proposed in mountainous Western Maryland has cleared a key hurdle under a year-old law that streamlines state review of such projects. However, a potential new hurdle has arisen: the recent financial market meltdown.

The state Public Service Commission approved plans Wednesday for 28 wind turbines to be built on about 3,000 leased acres atop Backbone Mountain, southeast of Oakland. The project, proposed by a subsidiary of Clipper Windpower, still must obtain permits to clear land and build the turbines, among other things.

Kevin Rackstraw, eastern representative for the California-based company, said it hopes to begin construction next year, contingent on being able to secure financing for a project expected to cost more than $120 million. Given the credit crisis, that "obviously in this environment is a challenge," he said.

The project is the first to win approval under a 2007 state law that exempts from extensive environmental review any wind project that would generate 70 megawatts of power or less. Another company, Synergics of Annapolis, is also seeking PSC approval for turbines in Western Maryland.

Clipper originally won approval five years ago to erect 67 turbines on the mountain. But the project was held up by appeals filed by opponents, who argued that the turbines would threaten bats and migratory birds and could be noisy nuisances to neighbors. This year, the company scaled down its proposal and applied again.

Malcolm Woolf, head of the Maryland Energy Administration, said he was "very excited" to see that commercial-scale wind projects are starting to move ahead in the state. He noted that demand for wind power should be heightened because of a new state law requiring more alternative energy generation.

John Bambacus, a former state senator from Frostburg, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the state approval. The 2007 law "tied the hands" of the public to prevent it from challenging such projects, he said.

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