There is no doubt that national security is of paramount importance. But what if Maryland can protect one of its crown jewel military assets, the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, while also boosting domestic energy security and taking advantage of the economic development wind energy provides in an area in need of good jobs and investment?
Such win-win opportunities are available. Unfortunately House Bill 1168, currently sitting on Gov. Martin O'Malley's desk, stands in the way by unnecessarily impeding private investment in wind energy in Maryland. We urge the governor to veto the bill.
The proponents of HB 1168 have raised concerns about the impact wind turbines could have on the unique radar and testing mission at the Patuxent River base. However, a proven solution is available to mitigate any potential impact: turning off the turbines when necessary to accommodate base activities.
HB 1168 would impose a moratorium on wind energy in southern Maryland until at least July 2015 after an additional study on mitigation options may be finished. But there is no need to wait, which puts hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment at risk.
In an October 2012 briefing for Somerset County, the Navy acknowledged that shutting off the turbines at certain times is already known to work, while a variety of other mitigation options would all need to be validated through testing.
David Belote, a former Air Force fighter pilot, commander of Nellis Air Force Base, and director of the Department of Defense Siting Clearinghouse, echoed this Navy view when he testified to the Maryland legislature.
"Simply put, if the turbines aren't spinning, there's no interference" to the Patuxent River NAS radar, Mr. Belote stated in written testimony. "There's no need for additional studies to determine that stationary turbines cannot affect radar systems."
Federal law establishes a process under which energy project developers are to engage with the Department of Defense to vet proposed projects to ensure they do not harm national security. As a part of this process, the DOD can object to a project, and rightfully so, if it poses an unacceptable risk. The Navy has not objected to the project in southern Maryland. Yet the state legislature stepped in anyway.
In the last five years, wind energy has represented more than 30 percent of all newly installed electric generating capacity in the U.S. There are more than 61,000 megawatts of wind energy installed in 39 states and Puerto Rico, including 120 MW in Maryland, which represents an investment of over $200 million in the state.
Nationally, wind turbines provide electrical output equivalent to 53 average coal plants or 14 average nuclear plants. On an average annual basis, wind energy produces more than 25 percent of the electricity in two states, 12 percent or more in nine states, and 5 percent or more in 17 states.
While wind energy currently generates around 1percent of Maryland's electricity, the available potential for both land-based and offshore wind energy in Maryland is enormous, representing more than 2.8 times the state's current electricity needs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
At the end of 2013, the wind energy industry supported more than 50,000 direct jobs, including thousands of manufacturing jobs across 580 facilities in 44 states, with two of those facilities in Maryland.
The cost of wind energy has fallen more than 40 percent over the past five years, with wind energy second only to a combined cycle natural gas plant in terms of lowest cost new generation. Further, by locking in prices for 20 to 30 years, wind energy is guaranteed to remain affordable.
The industry has supported $15 billion of private investment annually in U.S. communities over the past five years, with $400 million in property taxes paid annually across the country and around $120,000 per turbine in payments to landowners over the life of the project, or around $360,000 annually in Maryland alone.
HB 1168 sends a chilling message to the wind industry. It sends a signal that wind energy investments are not welcome in Maryland. This is a particularly unfortunate signal to send when it is not necessary to protect Maryland's valuable military assets.