Josh Kurtz: The Wars of Wind, Part 2

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By: Josh Kurtz 

OK, maybe it’s not like Vietnam – maybe it’s a shorter and less bloody incursion, like when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands.

Two days ago in this space, I wrote that Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s decision to issue a statement casting doubt on the proposal to put wind turbines on farmland by the Chesapeake Bay was comparable to Walter Cronkite expressing skepticism about the Vietnam War on a CBS News broadcast, given Mikulski’s popularity.

Based on the statement that Mikulski’s office provided to the Baltimore Sun over the weekend, and the Sun’s interpretation of it, it sounded as if Mikulski was supporting a bill making its way through the Maryland General Assembly that would delay the turbine project for 15 months – effectively killing it, in the words of the windmill developer.

So I, as a columnist fond of hyberbole, made the Cronkite comparison. And then Mikulski’s phone started ringing off the hook. So it’s time to issue a clarification of sorts.

There is a bill in the legislature to delay the turbine project, advanced by the Southern Maryland delegation to protect the Patuxent River Air Naval Station amid fears that the windmills across the Chesapeake Bay could interfere with the radar testing taking place at Pax River. But, unlike Congressman Steny Hoyer (D), Mikulski doesn’t support it – because Mikulski typically does not take a position on any legislation in the State House.

Mikulski does, however, share the concerns of political, business and civic leaders in Southern Maryland that the turbines could compromise Pax River’s critical mission, and the economic benefit the air station brings the entire region. Here is the statement she gave the Sun, in its entirety:

“I have very serious reservations about the impact on Patuxent River Naval Air Station's ability to do its job. The appropriate oversight and regulatory committees in Annapolis need to listen to the Navy and take their concerns into consideration.”

Which doesn’t mean “vote for the bill.” But it’s easy enough to see how certain people thought it might.

At any rate, with the bill having gotten through the House of Delegates earlier this month, attention has now turned to the state Senate, where the Finance Committee is holding a hearing on April 1. Pioneer Green, the company developing the wind farm, says that any delay will kill the project, given the timing of permits and contracts and tax credits the company is relying on to push it forward.

Environmental, labor and agricultural groups wrote a letter to all 47 state senators yesterday, urging them to reject the legislation. They warned lawmakers that killing the Somerset County proposal could jeopardize the state’s long-term appeal to the wind energy industry – which potentially could bring $1 billion in business to Maryland, according to economic estimates. The state has a mandate in place to get 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2022.

“A lot of jobs are going to be lost if we fail to deal with the climate crisis – jobs in ports, jobs in agriculture, jobs in tourism, jobs in government, jobs in transportation,” Joe Uehlein, a former steelworker who is director of the Labor Network for Sustainability, said during a conference call with reporters yesterday.

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who has made clean energy a cornerstone of his administration, also opposes the bill – but he hasn’t indicated if he will veto it if it advances to his desk. If the project goes forward without delay, it could be operating by late 2015 – just around the time O’Malley could be pitching himself to presidential primary voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere.

Pioneer Green has agreed to turn off the turbines whenever the Navy wants to test its radar systems at Pax River – though a final agreement has not been signed by all parties. A Pentagon spokesman told a colleague of mine at Environment & Energy Daily that such an agreement, if executed, should satisfy the Navy’s concerns.

Whether that satisfies Hoyer, or Mikulski, or the military men who run Pax River, or the myriad other people fretting about the future of the naval base, remains to be seen. Whether it can slow the momentum the bill appears to have in the state Senate is anyone’s guess.

What’s abundantly clear is that the last few days of the legislative session in Annapolis are going to be filled with a lot more intrigue than anyone imagined a few weeks ago.

DISCLOSURE: Some of the founders of Center Maryland are working with the Somerset County wind project. The opinions expressed here are strictly mine.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at .

 

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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.


But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.


The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.


In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.


Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.